Mandarin Oriental, Las Vegas

Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas is in a league of its own. Most of the other luxury accommodations on the strip are ostentatious and classless, preferring to concentrate on their in-house casinos and the business it brings in. Staying true to the brand, Mandarin Oriental is a conventional hotel, focusing on beautiful design, ultimate luxury and the highest level of service.

It was blissful to walk inside the sophisticated lobby of the Mandarin Oriental… the air scented with exotic flowers and all our luggage and car instantly taken care of. We zoomed up to the 23rd floor where the formal reception is found, after a swift check-in (complete with herbal tea and cold flannels) we found ourselves in room 1703 on the 17th floor of the hotel. Though the style and details are similar to other MO hotels, the floor to ceiling bedroom window offers a birds-eye view of the Strip, a constant reminder of the Vegas hysteria.

There are 392 rooms and suites at the hotel. Our King room was decorated in warm beiges and golden creams, fresh orange tulips arranged on the table, and striped cushions on the bed. The space felt spacious but cosy. The open plan bathroom had a freestanding bath (complete with bath salts), his and her marble sinks, a power rain shower and Shanghai Tang toiletries.
I woke up late after a replenishing sleep in the luxurious bed. Wanting to make the most of the facilities I made my way to the outdoor pool on the 8th floor. After a brief swim I went to try the complimentary yoga class with Amanda. The hotel offer two free yoga or pilates classes a day, the perfect way to unwind and relax. Yoga was both good exercise and a refreshing way to clear my mind after a busy few days. With a spa, sauna/steam rooms, gym and fitness centre, there is everything a guest could need after an extravagant night on the town.

Mandarin Oriental are proud to have the fine dining restaurant ‘Twist’ by three star chef Pierre Gagnaire in the hotel. If you are after a more casual meal Mozen Bistro caters for every occasion. Offering an eclectic mix of Asian-American dishes it is the perfect spot for breakfast or lunch. On Sundays between noon and 2.30pm a special Brunch is served, including the $39 Bento brunch, which includes a main course and a trio of Asian tastes. The bacon waffle, fried chicken, peach and bourbon bbq sauce was a particularly indulgent and creative dish. For a tasty oriental option try the Korean Bulgogi – marinated stir-fry beef, jasmine rice, bibb lettuce and house made Kimchi, it was flavoursome and healthy.

The Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas feels almost boutique in comparison to the other five star hotels in this crazy city. After visiting most of the establishments on the strip I can honestly say this is the place I would hope to stay in if I returned to Las Vegas.

More information and book a room at Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas here.

Things to do in San Francisco

I have always dreamt of visiting San Francisco… and when I did finally get the chance last month it excited but disappointed me simultaneously. The huge metropolis is difficult and frustrating to navigate as a traveller, and many areas are gritty and unkept. As the start up and tech capital of the world; I expected the home of Google, Apple and Uber to be more stylish. However the food scene exceeded all my expectations, delicious and affordable eateries on every corner – there weren’t enough meals in the day to try it all. In between meal times there are some great shops, sights and attractions, if you know where to look.

To Stay

San Remo Hotel – San Francisco is an extremely expensive city to stay in so we were lucky to discover the affordable and characterful San Remo Hotel in the North Beach district of town. This historic hotel is small but welcoming, decorated in a quirky style, with thoughtful details everywhere you look.

To Eat

State Bird Provisions – There is no sign to alert you of this restaurant’s whereabouts, but the constant queue outside is a clue. This modern Michelin-starred venue offers a menu of small plates of rustic American fare, but most come for the dim sum style “provisions”. My highlights included the speciality CA state bird and the pork belly pluot salad.

La Taqueria – This Mexican institution has been awarded the best burrito in America. There are only a few options of tacos and burritos so the queue moves fast as the delicious food is freshly prepared at staggering speed. I tried the flavoursome and tender super pork burrito, washed down with an ice-cold corona.

Rich Table – Don’t miss this informal foodie destination. Set up by chef couple, Evan and Sarah Rich the daily changing menu is always filled with tasty, innovative dishes. The porcini doughnuts with raclette has become a favourite and is always on the menu, a salty cheesy delight. I also enjoyed an expertly mixed ‘Newton’s Law’ Bourbon cocktail and a bowl of wonderfully comforting homemade spaghetti with braised duck, tomato gravy and candied almonds.

Spruce – This smart Michelin starred restaurant is usually unaffordable but on Sundays they offer a reasonable brunch menu. The Spruce burger is absolutely delicious or if you want something more breakfast based opt for the Challah French Toast with apricot jam, almond butter and warm maple syrup. For a naughty addition try the addictively light Beignets with crème anglaise.

To Snack

Mr Holmes Bakehouse – Recognisable on social media from its neon ‘I got baked in San Francisco’ sign, this trendy bakery sells a small selection of fine cookies, cakes and savoury baked delicacies.

Smitten – When it gets hot in San Francisco there is one place the locals flock to get their ice-cream fix. Smitten started as a street wagon and now has numerous locations around the city. The made-to-offer nitrogen ice-cream is blissfully silky and creamy and the flavours are vibrant and rich. My favourite was the TCHO 60.5% chocolate.

Craftsmen and Wolves – A contemporary patisserie in the hip Mission district run by chef William Werner. After staring at the awe-inspiring baked creations in the glass cabinets, I eventually decided on a smoked cheddar, hot pepper gougère, a light cheesy puff with a kick of peppery spice.

To Drink

Sightglass Coffee – There are now three locations though I recommend visiting the flagship café in SoMA. The chic industrial space also houses their roastery and the coffee is smooth and delicious.

Four Barrel Coffee – Well known in San Francisco for their drip coffee, at Four Barrel they source, roast and brew beans ensuring top quality and taste. They don’t offer free wifi or power so guests are forced to relax and concentrate on enjoying the superior cup of coffee in their hand.

Saint Frank – Before visiting this neighbourhood coffee shop I had noticed their brand of beans in a number of other cafes. On a Saturday morning the minimalist venue was jam-packed with fitness fanatics and dog-walkers getting their morning fix. The coffee here is delicious and the croissants were flaky and buttery.

ABV – This walk-in bar in the Mission district serves top cocktails and award-winning food. Sit at the bar and chat to one of the expert mixologists about your preferred spirit or choose from the detailed menu of exciting concoctions.

Trou Normand – A swish bar in the centre of town with craft cocktails and an impressive range of charcuterie. The perfect Friday night spot for a date or to catch up with friends. Behind the bar a giant nude by Ebecho Muslimova adds a striking creative allure.

To Do

Alcatraz – I loved experiencing Alcatraz, a mesmerising piece of American history. Just 10 minutes from the San Francisco port this once maximum security federal penitentiary closed in 1963 and housed many famous criminals including Al Capone. The 45-minute audio tour is a must, detailing the lives of the inmates and officers while walking you round the eerie prison building. Book well ahead, preferably for the first ferry of the day to avoid the crowds. You can also see the retro ‘View Alcatraz’ sign at Pier 41.

Pier 39 – weave your way through the tourist crowds to Pier 39 where a group of seals sunbathe. Watch them as they swim, fight and play with each other, just a few metres out to sea.

Bay City Bike Rentals – rent a tandem from one of their four accessible locations and ride over the Golden Gate Bridge to Battery Spencer for unrivalled views of the towering red bridge.

Exploratorium – a playful learning laboratory for kids and adults alike, their mission is to change the way the world learns. This interactive museum has an unrivalled range and variety of hands-on experiments and experiences. Entry is free with the San Francisco CityPASS.

Pop Physique – If you’ve got a burst of energy whilst visiting San Fran, push yourself with a high intensity Pop Physique class. The artistic approach to exercise was launched in 2008 in LA by ex-ballet dancer Jennifer Williams. There are now 15 locations in America several of which are found in SF. We visited the Russian Hill studio for a fun but challenging hour long work-out.

To Shop

March – A beautiful store of aesthetic high-quality homeware for the kitchen and pantry and a range of vital cooking ingredients. They also host family style supperclubs.

Levi’s Store – This mega brand was started in San Francisco in 1873. The new Market Street flagship store features their more exclusive lines, including Made & Crafted and Levi’s Vintage. You can also have your favourite jeans or garment personalised with the in house tailor.

City Lights Bookstore – Open since 1953 this iconic independent bookshop made a name for itself publishing the nation’s most daring literature. It is most famous for its large collection of Beat poetry and prose. As many before me have, I purchased a copy of Jack Kerouac’s ‘On the Road’, a very suitable travelling companion.

To Escape

Oakland – This area used to be a dangerous suburb of San Francisco, but is now celebrated as a popular destination with a burgeoning scene of restaurants and creative outlets. Visit Kronnerburger for one of their amazing burgers or enjoy a bowl of warming noodles at Ramen Shop. Coffee lovers will want to visit the first official Blue Bottle Coffee here. For book browsing head to Book/Shop a lovely store that opened in 2013 dedicated to all things literary.

The city is best explored with a CityPASS which offers over 40 % off top attractions plus a 7-day Muni & Cable Car Pass.

Many thanks to the San Francisco Tourist Board for their help with this trip.

Four Seasons Beverly Wilshire

The Four Seasons Beverly Wilshere feels instantly luxurious. The moment you hand over your car keys to the valet you know you are in safe hands. Located moments away from Rodeo Drive, it is the perfect place to stop after a tiring morning of shopping, or window-shopping in my case.

The spa is found a few floors up, a quiet oasis of calm, away from the buzz of the city. This sanctuary offers a range of indulgent treatments using the renowned Barcelona brand, NuturaBisse. I was lucky to experience their 90 minute Diamond Rose Facial, a thoroughly cleansing and moisturising treatment, with visible results. My therapist Sanam was also a trained masseuse and incorporated this into my facial to relax and remove tension from my shoulders, neck and face. The facial combined a variety of specialist techniques and unique products to brighten and polish the skin. As she applied different serums and creams from the Diamond range, I could smell the delicious and exotic scents from the products. I was almost asleep when she finished the treatment, feeling totally refreshed and revitalised. The 90 minutes of pampering had a visible effect on my previously tired skin, a moisture boost that continued to benefit my face days later.

For a sophisticated dining experience, the BLVD restaurant on the ground floor is the perfect place to sit back and enjoy a meal of casual classic dishes. When I visited on a Saturday evening, the eatery was full and consequently service was slow. Apologetic for the delays, the waiter ensured my glass of Moet & Chandon champagne remained topped up at all times.

A jazz quartet played standards in one corner of the room, which created a lovely atmosphere in the bar and restaurant area. Many guests seemed to be visiting just for cocktails and snacks before going out on the town. We skipped starters and tasted a few of the meatier mains. My lamb (with potato & eggplant “cannelloni”, marcona almonds and carrot purée) was an unusual combination. I found the plate of food too dry, the chunks of lamb had a nice depth of flavour but the log of cannelloni was unsuccessful in my opinion. The generously-sized 28-day aged “four story hill farm” rib-eye was presented clumsily on a plate. It was a tasty steak with a rich peppercorn sauce and thick homemade chips, but I expected more from a Four Seasons restaurant, especially considering the price tag.

We finished our meal with true American-style doughnuts, and the Chocolate Experience (sacher torte, warm fondant with vanilla ice cream, peanut milk chocolate parfait and crème brulee), which was a delicious sweet treat, cooked to perfection with a very gooey centre – it didn’t last long on our table.

With new Executive Chef Thomas Belle recently joining the kitchen at Beverly Wilshere, I hope he will reinspire the menu and add some extra sparkle in the coming months.

More information about Four Seasons Beverly Wilshire here.

Where to Eat, Drink and Shop in Auckland

On first look Auckland is ugly and uninspiring, but discover the hidden corners of creativity and you will have a great time. I particularly loved Ponsonby, an up-and-coming hipster neighbourhood with characterful coffee shops, independent fashion boutiques and forward-thinking eateries.

To Stay

The Langham Auckland – Despite its grandeur and prestige the pretty-in-pink Langham has rooms that are affordable yet luxurious. While you are staying treat yourself to the delectable Afternoon Tea in the Palm Court.

To Eat

Coco’s Cantina – a characterful and welcoming Italian restaurant in Ponsonby. This little neighbourhood eatery was opened in 2009 by two sisters and has become one of Auckland’s most popular dinner spots. The menu offers comforting rustic pasta dishes and homely meat and fish recipes.

Burger Burger – there are two branches of this celebrated burger chain in Auckland. I visited the small outlet in Ponsonby Central, and tried a classic beef burger. Made with Savannah Grass-fed local beef, a secret patty mix, mayo, mustard, tomato jam and homemade pickles, it was a juicy and flavoursome burger, finished within minutes.

Orphan’s Kitchen – the recipient of numerous awards Orphan’s Kitchen delivers on all accounts. The décor is simple and stylish and the food is innovative and delicious. On the first Tuesday of every month they hold a ‘test kitchen’ with a four course set menu to experiment with new recipes.

Geeks on Sainsbury – A recent addition to the food scene in Auckland, GOS is already a favourite with hipsters living nearby. The coffee is supplied by Wellington Roasters Red Rabbit. I sat outside and enjoyed a seriously good brunch and can recommend the BLT ‘best ugly’ bagel with chunky bacon hock, or if you feel like something sweet order the freshly made banana and granola waffles.

To Drink

Golden Dawn – often the most inconspicuous bars serve up the best drinks. This is true of Golden Dawn, the black run down corner shop in Ponsonby… open the front door to reveal the top cocktail bar in town. Try a ‘La Traviata’ cocktail from their winter menu, made with an alluring mix of Saffron gin, lemon, homemade raspberry & rose syrup and cardamom tincture spray.

Camper Coffee – serving up, without doubt, the best coffee in Auckland this tiny hole in the wall in the Newmarket district of town is a must for coffee lovers. I tasted a delicious flat white made by Lee with Rocket beans, strong but smooth, creamy and rich.

The Return of Rad – this trendy café opened in 2014 and is great for brunch or just for a good cup of coffee (using a house blend of Flight beans). The family-run venue is found in Mt Eden Village and is always busy thanks to the friendly atmosphere.

To Shop

Deadly Ponies – perhaps the most prominent designer to come out of New Zealand in recent years, Deadly Ponies (by Liam Bowden) presents high quality leather handbags and purses. All the products are cut and sewn in the heart of New Zealand, and are made to last. The deer nappa leather is soft and durable, and the accessories come in a range of timeless styles and colours.

Miss Crabb – Kristine Crabb designs and creates beautiful and ethereal silk garments. Choose from the range in store or order a bespoke, unique piece. When in store look out for the Curio Noir scented candles in hand blown glass vessels.

Commoners – Founder and designer Jae Mills created the NZ-based label Commoners in 2009. He aims to offer a clean unbranded range of luxe wardrobe staples. 

Everyday Needs – a little boutique stocked full of homeware, stationery and other practical aesthetic items from around the world, with a particular focus on Japanese products. Carefully curated by Katie Lockhart, it is a treasure trove of goodies for collectors.

To Escape

Waiheke Island – Just 35 minutes away by ferry this idyllic region has beautiful golden sand beaches, art galleries to enjoy and plenty of excellent local wine to try.

Thoroughly Modern Milly travelled around New Zealand with the Kiwi Experience, find out information here.

Hakkasan, Las Vegas

If you walk through the doors of a Hakkasan restaurant, anywhere in the world, you are guaranteed a great meal. The Hakkasan group of fine dining restaurants in London is renowned for serving the best Cantonese cuisine in the city. The branch in Las Vegas, however, is best known for its exclusive nightclub, but it was the food and service that made this place special for me.

We were greeted by a group of welcoming staff, who helped us navigate our way through the dimly-lit maze of tables. After a glass of fine Louis Roederer champagne we started looking through the extensive and luxurious menu. Though I recognised several dishes from the London eatery, there were a range of unique new recipes to try.

If you feel like something fun and fabulous, you are in Vegas after all, order one of the ‘Only in Vegas’ cocktails, more specifically the ‘Buddha’s Palm’ – a mix of Buffalo Trace bourbon, Velvet Falernum, yuzu juice, yuzu marmalade, black grapes, white balsamic vinegar, mint – it has a vibrant and exciting taste. The black grapes offer a particularly interesting flavour, a rare and unusual fruit that I had never tried before.

Our waiter highly recommended the signature Crispy duck salad with pomelo, pomegranate and pine nut, and I would agree it is a must. The neat stack of leaves and crispy duck meat was delicious enough, but the addition of the red jewel pomegranate and toasted pinenuts created an irresistible texture and balance of sweet and salty flavours. I also loved the Hakka steamed dim sum platter, a basket of beautifully made coloured dumplings, each filled with a different delicious delicacy of vegetables, fish or meat.

For main course we chose the Roasted chicken with satay sauce, Stir-fry black pepper beef ribeye with merlot, Pak choi with garlic sauce and Steamed jasmine rice. Portions are generous and the food is rich, but it is so tasty we couldn’t resist finishing the feast on our table. My favourite was the decadent Hakkasan classic stir-fry, high quality beef cooked in a sophisticated red wine sauce. The dish is artistically presented in a crispy rice shell, which you can eat if you’re still peckish. The roasted chicken is a simpler dish but equally well executed and served with a creamy, moreish peanut sauce.

We tried a trio of exquisite deserts, all new to the menu. Prepared with great precision by the pastry chef, they looked almost too beautiful to eat. The highlight was the Sicilian pistachio semi-freddo with violet crème, yoghurt meringue and cassis sorbet. It is a light and palate-cleansing final course, with an exciting range of flavours and textures.

After our meal we were lucky to have a sneak preview of the fashionable 3-level Hakkasan Nightclub, with its oversized VVIP booths and epic dancefloors that play host to the world’s biggest DJs. It is one of the most popular party spots in Vegas, but for me the magic of Hakkasan is still down to its faultless food and thoughtful service.

More information on Hakkasan Las Vegas here.

Things to do LA

Los Angeles is a strange and seductive place, if you know your way around. For a visitor it can be rather daunting… geographically huge, pricey and almost impossible to explore without a car. Once you’ve ticked off the tourist essentials (Walk of Fame, Hollywood Sign, Rodeo Drive), concentrate on a few friendly neighbourhoods and enjoy the cafes, bars and boutiques who offer some of the best food, culture and shopping on the west coast.

To Stay

Mama Shelter LA – The newest hotel in the hip Mama Shelter chain, this branch only opened in July 2015 and is already popular for its quirky minimalist bedrooms, lively bar and unique gift shop. With reasonably priced rooms and a great West Hollywood location, it is a brilliant accommodation option for design conscious travellers.


To Eat

Bestia – One of LA’s most celebrated restaurants, Bestia is always busy. Located in a former warehouse in an unlikely pocket of downtown LA, it is the project from husband and wife team Ori Menashe and Genevieve Gergis. Sit at the bar and order a ‘Puddle Jumper’ bourbon, fig and apricot cocktail. When it comes to food there are a lot of enticing dishes, my highlights were the peppery Alla ‘nduja pizza (housemade spicy ‘nduja, san marzano tomatoes, mozzarella, black cabbage and fennel pollen) and the innovative Agnalotti alla Vaccinara (cacao pasta parcel, braised oxtail, burro fuso, grana padano, pine nuts and currants).

Animal – A restaurant by foodies, for foodies. Chefs Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo practice nose-to-tail style cooking with a focus on meat. Try: grilled quail with plum char-sui; Mexican street corn with epazote, Serrano and parmesan; and Bacon chocolate crunch bar with salt +pepper ice cream for dessert.

Alimento – The Silverlake area of town is home to a host of neighbourhood restaurants. Alimento is a small welcoming Italian eatery, which has won a handful of awards for its homemade pastas. I tried their delicious speciality Tortellini in Brodo “al contrario” ($15). The delicate parcels of artisan pasta contain a hot meat broth and are coated in a buttery sauce. It was one of the best pasta dishes I have ever eaten, so good that I ordered a second bowl!

Pine + Crane – Ideal for a speedy lunch, this trendy Taiwanese café serves authentic and flavoursome food. I loved the moreish Beef roll and Three cup jidori chicken, and to accompany it I enjoyed a pot of their fragrant tea.

Night + Market – For a vibrant Asian meal try Night + Market or the newer outpost Night + Market Song. The colourful little restaurants are cheap and cheerful with a menu of tempting recipes. Chop-suey chinese eggplant with bean sauce, chili, garlic and thai basil was addictively tasty. I also tried the popular Thai boxing chicken, BBQ chicken with a lovely chargrilled flavour served with som tum papaya salad and sticky rice.

Tsujita Annex – Across the road from the original Tsujita noodle house, this tiny Japanese café is just as popular. The menu is very brief and really there is only one dish to try… the Tsukemen with char siu (pork) is a warming and wonderful bowl of broth with handmade udon noodles. The regular size (250g) is big enough to share and costs just $14.95.

Sprinkles ATM – I had dreamt of visiting the Sprinkles ATM ever since spotting a picture of it on social media. There are pink Sprinkles shops all over LA but for the magic ATM visit the Beverly Hills branch, just off Rodeo Drive. I tried the simple but delicious vanilla with chocolate icing, after popping in my card a cake appeared in a box less than 30 seconds later.

To Drink

Lock + Key – There is a lot of bar competition in LA so every local has their own favourite cocktail hangout. I liked Lock + Key in Korea Town, an unpretentious and fun prohibition style bar. Once inside the lobby you have to choose from hundreds of keyholes to find the correct entrance. The signature ‘Old Money’ cocktail is a strong and sophisticated mix of scotch, sugar, ginger, bitters and orange peel.

Go get ‘em Tiger – There are plenty of great independent coffee places to choose from in LA but I particularly liked this cute and characterful café serving a range of beans, including Ritual and Parallel, to a dedicated crowd of fans. They also serve a delicious brunch menu.

Verve Coffee – Passionate about great coffee, the Verve team started in Santa Cruz and now have two locations in LA. The spacious industrial Melrose branch is filled with coffee addicts ordering their favourite style of coffee. I ordered a flat white which was perfectly smooth with a delicious rich flavour.

To Do

Getty Museum – The Getty’s hilltop location overlooking the city is as impressive as its collection of art. The curved white building was designed by Richard Meier and the different pavilions house paintings and sculptures from across the ages. I particularly enjoyed the West Pavilion, which showcases masterpieces from 1800 onwards. It is also worth visiting the beautiful original Getty Villa. Admission is free at both.

LACMA – The Los Angeles County Museum of Art has recently expanded and is now spread over eight hectares. When I visited I saw the intriguing temporary exhibition, New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919-1933. The show documents a time of huge upheaval and thriving creativity. I particularly loved seeing the work of Georg Schrimpf, Otto Dix and Max Beckmann.

To Sweat

Soul Cycle – I could not visit America without trying a class at Soul Cycle. This fitness fad has spread fast across the country and LA has studios in every district. It was the hardest exercise class I have ever taken. 45 minutes in a dark hot room clicked into a bike, with blaring beats and a screaming teacher. The aim is to never stop cycling as the resistance changes from high to low and the exercises vary according to the song being played. The keen class around me whooped and cheered as we struggled through the class together.

Barre Belle – I have tried a range of barre classes, but Marnie Alton’s boutique studio was the most stylish and friendly I have visited yet. The ex-dancer started up her motivational classes after establishing herself as one of the founding instructors at Bar Method. She describes Barre Belle as “kick butt ballet barre”. I joined a large one-hour class and tried to keep up with the pros. Marnie’s extremely inspirational teaching style and hands on approach helped me really push myself, and I felt great at the end of the hour.

To Shop

Fred Segal – This boutique department store stocks a carefully curated selection of local designers. You can find stylish and unique items from jewellery to swimwear. I couldn’t resist buying some humorous socks by Ron Herman, which you can also personalise with your own image.

Abbot Kinney – Venice was easily my favourite neighbourhood in LA, a friendly area with a bohemian community. The main street, Abbot Kinney is a shopper’s paradise, each shop could have tempted me to spend a fortune. Charity-driven shoe brand Toms started here and for nourishing skincare pop into Aesop. I fell in love with Strange Invisible Perfumes, a local scent designer who creates beguiling perfumes. I bought a small bottle of the memorable and distinctive Fair Verona scent. When your bags begin to drag head to Intelligensia coffee for a great cappuccino.

To See

Warner Bros Tour – If you want an insight into the world of Hollywood the Warner Bros Tour is a must. The two and a half hour trip will take you around the back and front lots to see famous facades and important sound studios. Our knowledgeable and enthusiastic tour guide, Tim, pointed out spots used in popular TV shows and films including Oceans 13, Gilmore Girls, Pretty Little Liars and Spiderman. The studio is currently celebrating the 75th anniversary of Batman and has the real batmobiles and outfits on display. If you are a Potter fan the museum will impress you, with a talking sorting hat (I was Griffindor, phew), models of the creatures and a variety of artefacts and memorabilia. Perhaps the most exciting part comes at the end of the tour when you can sit in the original ‘Central Perk’ café set from Friends.

Griffith Observatory – This popular tourist attraction sits atop Mount Hollywood. The grand art deco building is mainly visited for its views of the Hollywood sign, which are particularly atmospheric at sunset.

LA Galaxy – Made world-famous by the signing of David Beckham, LA Galaxy still has a number of British stars leading the team. Catch a game at the StubHub Center for a whole new experience of soccer. It is much more than just a football match, with plenty of entertainment for all the family.

Venice Beach – When you need some down time from the city, head to Venice Beach for surfing and skating. The laidback boardwalk is home to legendary Muscle Beach and Venice Skatepark, though I enjoyed simply wandering barefoot in the sand and watching the world go by.

Walk of Fame – LA, and more specifically Hollywood, is home to many of the world’s most prominent film, TV and music celebrities, so it seems fitting that there is a street honouring them. With over 2,500 stars across 15 blocks of Hollywood Boulevard and three blocks of Vine Street, it’s best to look up the location of your favourite stars of stage and screen before walking the whole distance. I spotted Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, Liberace, and Grease hero, John Travolta.

Four Seasons Beverly Hills

When you need a break from busy city life in Los Angeles, the Four Seasons Beverly Hills provides the perfect refuge. Leave your car with the valet and say hi to Marilyn on your way in (there is a statue of the film goddess by the entrance). In the extravagant lobby I noticed the prestigious Krigler perfume shop, where guests can personalise their own scent or choose from one of the famous fragrances.

It was Sunday morning and I was here to try the spa and Cabana restaurant. LA locals get their nails done every week, but for me a manicure and pedicure was a very special luxury. I was the only guest in the nail bar and my therapist worked meticulously on my hands and feet to ensure I left looking like an LA girl.

From their huge selection I chose two Essie colours, a pretty shade of pale pink (‘Hi Maintenance’) for my fingers and a punchy shade of coral (‘Tart Deco’) for my toes. With a cappuccino in hand and my feet soaking in warm bubbly water I felt completely relaxed. After an hour of pampering my nails looked very neat and professional – carefully trimmed cuticles and perfectly painted nails. After a few minutes letting them dry by the pool I headed to the leafy al fresco dining room for lunch.

The Cabana eatery offers casual poolside dining. We enjoyed refreshing homemade fruit juices before ordering a range of summery dishes. The food is simple and nicely presented, the menu features international favourites such as BLT sandwich and seasonal additions like the burrata, peach and tomato salad. Unfortunately the food looked better than it tasted, particularly unsuccessful was the very plain Parsley and Kale Superfood Rigatoni. However, the new dish of crispy crab cakes was better, an appetising soft texture and deliciously seasoned.

For dessert we indulged in their decadent ice-cream sandwich. Chewy (slightly stale) cookies cemented together with creamy homemade ice cream. It was a childish but fun pudding, ideal in the lunchtime Californian heat.

Four Seasons Beverly Hills is a temple of luxury to escape Hollywood. Though I can’t recommend the uninspiring Cabana restaurant when there are so many great restaurants on the streets of LA, the spa is a great place to treat yourself to a luxurious weekend mani-pedi.

More information about the Four Seasons Beverly Hills here.

Things to do Palm Springs

When I arrived in Palm Springs for a weekend I was ready for a few days lounging by the pool… but I soon discovered there was plenty to see and do in this hot desert town from adventure jeep tours to date farming.

To stay

Stay at the hip Ace Hotel and Swim Club where the rooms are decorated in a fitting rustic beach style with Rudy’s Barbershop toiletries and memorable design features (like the matchstick bedside lights!) When the sun goes down visit the Amigo Room bar for tasty pork shoulder tacos and a ‘Desert Facial’ cocktail. I was lucky to be there on a Tuesday evening when ‘Terry’s Karaoke’ was in full swing.

To eat

I wasn’t overly impressed by the food options in Palm Springs, but was delighted to discover Smoke Tree BBQ, thanks to a recommendation from a fellow foodie in London. Don’t let the unlikely location put you off, this friendly local eatery serves delicious BBQ meat. I tried the amazing slow cooked beef brisket and baby back ribs, super soft meat with a huge depth of flavour. The creamed corn was the perfect accompaniment.

To drink

Whether its morning or afternoon, Ernest Coffee is the best place to get your iced coffee fix, serving the popular Stumptown brand of roasted beans.

To do

Desert Adventures offer manageable tours of this areas top sights and attractions. I joined them for the popular sunset tour of San Andreas Fault Line. Six of us loaded into an open air red jeep with our lovely tour guide Dick and headed off into in the sandy horizon. We learnt a huge amount about the history of the Californian desert, the culture of the native Cahuilla Indians and the unique wildlife and geology of the area. We stopped at a natural palm oasis and spotted three wild rattlesnakes, before heading to famous fault line to stand between the Pacific and North American tectonic plates.

For a dose of culture, head to the Palm Springs Art Museum. We enjoyed the Killer Heels temporary exhibition, which showcases some of the most impressive designer shoes from through the ages. Upstairs there is a collection of contemporary works and outside a colourful sculpture garden is particularly striking against the palm tree backdrop.

Palm Springs is well known for its dates and the Shields Date Garden is a great place to learn about the fruit as well as tasting the sweet delicacy. The farm has been around since 1924, and now offers a contemporary cafe, garden walk and a short video about the sex life of a date! Don’t leave without trying the famous date milkshake.

When you need a city escape the dry and deserted Joshua Tree National Park is unique place to explore. Entry for a car costs $20 and you are then able to spend as long as you like enjoying the various natural wonders. Don’t miss the Cholla Cactus Garden and Keys View.

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is the number one attraction in Palm Springs offering unrivalled views of the valley and Mount San Jacinto. The world’s largest rotating tram will take you up 8516 feet above sea level, where the temperature is a staggering 20 degrees less than ground level. When at the top there are numerous trails and hikes to enjoy, or simply admire the amazing views.

Mystère by Cirque du Soleil, Las Vegas

Cirque du Soleil shows are always amazing, wherever you see them in the world, but in Las Vegas this theatrical circus company has found a real home. There are currently seven permanent shows performing in the desert funfair city, all residents of huge hotel complexes where specially designed theatres are built into the buildings. These auditoriums are playgrounds for the talented acrobats, comedians and musicians, and they bounce and fly around the arenas with ease and genuine enjoyment.

Mystère was the first show to arrive in Las Vegas in 1993, with the first performance thrilling audiences at Treasure Island on Christmas Day. 22 years and 10,000+ performances later this magical show is still considered by many to be the best show to see in Las Vegas. Loosely following the theme of the mystery of life, the show begins with two wailing prams left stationary on stage. There are a few other hints towards this subject, though in true Cirque du Soleil style the piece of theatre takes on a life of its own.

A number of acts have been with the show since it started, a dedication that is testament to the company. We were first greeted with the mischievous clown Brian Dewhurst, marching around the theatre, deceiving innocent guests and throwing popcorn around. He has been on the show for 17 years and still has boundless energy at 83 years old.

The stage is an impressive feat of technical design, no surface is permanent, every part constantly evolves and the scale is astounding. The performance runs seamlessly for 90 minutes, without an interval, which keeps the audience’s attention focused and immersed. A series of dramatic acts in spectacular costumes grace the stage, each with their own supernatural talent. I found the Hand-to-hand act particularly moving, two brothers illustrate super strength, balancing in a range of spectacular poses. As expected the most awe-inspiring acts are left for the finale. A group of acrobats hurl themselves into the air, catapulting each other onto giant trampolines and forming human pyramids. Then we watch high above our heads as brave performers swing on trapezes and swap mid air – it has a dreamlike impossibility.

Every sense is entertained with this award-winning show from the Cirque du Soleil team. I have always loved their circus extravaganzas but somehow it feels bigger, better and more unbelievable in the setting of Las Vegas’ Treasure Island theatre.

More information and book tickets to Mystère here.

The Best of Sonoma

I have the fondest memories of my time in Sonoma. Often forgotten in the shadow of its showbiz neighbour, Napa Valley, this idyllic area of Californian wine country does not get the praise and attention it deserves. I spent three days soaking up the golden sunshine, tasting the finest wines and feasting on the fantastic food. The people here are kind, genuine and welcoming and the setting is stunning.

To Stay

Farmhouse Inn – for me this hotel ticked every box… charmingly rustic yet luxurious rooms, Michelin-star dining, beautiful but unpretentious spa and thoughtful details everywhere you look. I checked in late afternoon and was greeted with a chilled glass of local Chardonnay then offered (as much as I liked) from the pick’n’mix station of homemade bath products. I was already in heaven, and then I entered my room. It was like a double page spread in a glossy interiors magazine with a fire blazing, huge four poster bed adorned with cosy countryside blankets, freshly baked treats, and a giant bathroom complete with private steam room waiting to be utilised. Dinner and breakfast were both unforgettable in the Farmhouse Inn restaurant, highlights included delicate and delicious Smoked Eggplant ravioli and a robust and flavoursome tenderloin of seasonal Durham Ranch Elk with butternut squash and pancetta. For breakfast the buttermilk waffles with strawberries and basil mascarpone was unforgettable. As I sat in the evening by the open fire pits toasting their homemade marshmallows, I could not think of a more perfect hotel.

Flamingo Hotel – for a lively and reasonably priced accommodation the iconic Flamingo Hotel is a fun option. The 60 guestrooms are relaxed and spacious and guests have access to the popular Montecito Heights health club and spa, complete with 25 metre lap pool. The Sunday champagne brunch here is renowned among locals.

To Eat

Bravas – Healdsburg is a lovely neighbourhood to explore in Sonoma. I enjoyed an al fresco feast of Spanish tapas at this authentic eatery from celebrated restaurateurs, Mark and Terry Stark. Don’t miss: Watermelon and Tomato Escabeche Salad with sherried currants and basil; Brussel Sprouts with Sobrasada sausage, tomato and manchego; and the Goat’s Cheese Toast with golden onions and white truffle honey.

While in Healdsburg pop into Moustache Cakes for baked goods and Noble Folk for award-winning ice-cream and pies. Barndiva is a trendy art gallery and bar, and Lulo Gallery sells whimsical jewellery from talented designers Luana Coonen and Sakura Haru and Julia Turner.

The Girl and the Fig – If you need a place to stop for lunch in Sonoma Plaza The Girl and the Fig is a good bet. This friendly casual restaurant serves seasonal ‘country food with a French passion’. I tried the summery and tasty Fig and Aragula salad.

Wine Tasting

Scribe – This boutique biodynamic winery requires a booking before you are able to go and try the wines. The hipster hang-out produces beautiful artisanal wine, I loved the minimalist bottles.

Paradise Ridge Winery – Romanically set at the top of a hill this beautiful winery has a lovely atmosphere and great wine. Many visit to see the striking sculpture park, including the signature LOVE sculpture by Laura Kimpton and Jeff Schomberg.

Francis Ford Coppola – Owned by the world-famous film director, this winery has been done up in true Hollywood style. Have a complimentary tasting of their Bianco and Rosso wines, and head upstairs to see memorabilia from The Godfather and Apocalypse Now.

To Do

The Barlow in Sebastopol – this recently developed industrial space is home to a host of food, drink, shopping and art businesses. My favourites were Tamarind for clothes and accessories and Spirit Works Distillery for their refined sloe gin. Best to visit Thursday to Sunday when the majority of shops and cafes are open.

Buena Vista Winery – The prestigious Buena Vista holds the title of California’s first winery. The founder, self-proclaimed “count of Buena Vista” is the inspiration behind the unique Be The Count Blending Experience. After a masterclass with Spencer I created my own personalised bottle of red wine, a blend of Syrah, Merlot and Zinfandel. You will be dressed up appropriately and even get the chance to have your own tailor-made label printed for the bottle. After the experience you will be shown round the historic wine tour museum.

Vella Cheese Company – this family owned company has been making award-winning cheese since 1931. All the cheeses are delicious but they are known for their dry Monterey Jack.

To Escape

Napa Valley – in my opinion this famous region pales in comparison to Sonoma. For foodies though it is worth a visit either for a life-changing meal at The French Laundry or to try Bouchon, Thomas Keller’s 1-star French brasserie just down the road. Order their signature Steak Frites or the roasted chicken with mushrooms and leeks.

Many thanks to the Sonoma County Tourist Board for supporting this trip.