Ohana adventures in Lanai

About one year into Covid, we learned we had the opportunity to relocate to the tiny remote island of Lanai, Hawaii for my husband Marcus’ work (he leads technology for SenseiAg). Given I was able to work from anywhere (I had been fully remote in my innovation lead role even before COVID), and our toddlers were still not in preschool, we figured it was the perfect timing and jumped on the opportunity. While it wasn’t easy to move two toddlers, make all kinds of childcare arrangements, prep our home for renters, etc., there is no question it was well worth it. When I was young, my adventurous mom took my siblings and I traveling as much as she could, and we all got her wanderlust genes; I’m thrilled I could pass on some of this passion for travel, adventure and nature to my impressionable 3 year old Luca and 1 year old Ellie.

Reflecting on the treasures of Lanai

Lanai – a tiny island of 3000 people where deer outnumber people by a wide ratio- was a place I had not even heard of before the opportunity to move there surfaced. We had been to almost all the other Hawaiian islands, but Lanai is an oft overlooked hidden treasure, in part potentially b/c affordable accommodations are sparse (there are 3 hotels on island, of which 2 are Four Seasons starting at $800/ night). It harbors a unique combination of forest – dotted with Cook Island pines all along the main highway and town – and some of the world’s most stunning beaches, especially the main beach of Hulopoe. For nature and beach lovers, it is simply paradise with beautiful hikes, reliably incredible sunsets, and warm crystal clear turquoise waters, which on calm days make for incredible swimming. Our favorite spots included:

  • Hulopoe beach – We went there way more times than we can count, always parked on the locals side, and it’s a great family friendly spot – rarely crowded w/ plentiful picnic tables and bbqs. You can take a short hike over to Sweetheart rock that opens up to incredible views. During low tide, there is also a tidepool where you can go down the stairs and swim around and see plenty of colorful fish without even needing snorkel gear. My son Luca loved this spot and could spend hours soaking and watching the fish and ocean. My husband surfs and while there wasn’t surfing all days, he did catch some good sessions while we were out there, and snorkeled quite a bit too
View of Hulopoe from the Four Seasons Manele Bay
My little surfers to be – Ellie and Luca
Handsome Luca building clock towers in the sand
Fire sunset at Hulopoe
  • Club Lanai beach – W/ a four wheel drive and for those who can tolerate some bumpy off-roading, you can map to Club Lanai beach, where if you go in the morning before the wind picks up, you can reap the rewards of a warm ocean that is as calm as a swimming pool AND often have an entire long strip of incredible beach all to yourself. If you do go, bring everything you need as there are no services (gas, food, etc.) w/in 30 minute drive
Club Lanai beach with views of Molokai and Maui – the drive there is incredible too!
  • Traditional Hawaiian sunrise ocean kayaking – There is a group of locals that regularly goes out on traditional Hawaiian outriggers. I only made it out once (and was definitely fearful of ocean kayaking), and it was among the highlights – felt a bit like Moana kayaking and learning the traditional commands, and even built up the courage to jump out and swim around and managed to do a pull up (not gracefully but it worked) to get back in.
  • The Breaks -We loved our Sunday tradition of going to what my 1 year old dubs “the fancy hotel” where they knew our family by name, and knew we would always get mama a fancy latte and the kids purple poi donuts. The views are absolutely spectacular, and we loved walking the grounds of the property too where the kids would feed the colorful fish in the koi pond, enjoy the parrots and generally take in the incredible fauna (my 1 year old seven recognize and say “red ginger flower”).
Our regular sunday brunch spot – The Breaks – with quite a view
My kids’ beloved purple poi donut at The Breaks
Admiring the red gingers at The Four Seasons Manele
  • Horse Ranch Sunsets – Always multilayered and stunning in color and texture, w/ a bonus that the kids could engage with the beautiful animals from the strong big horses to the adorable ponies to the goats who would go nuts when the kids would feed them pine cones. We could walk there from our house and it was a frequent feast for the eyes.
One of our fave sunset spots – the Lanai Horse Ranch
  • Walking the gardens and soaking in the Onsen tubs of the Sensei Four Seasons – a sensorial feast, these incredibly lush and curated gardens and sculpture collection = as well as the beautiful Banyan forest trees- have incredible energy. When some friends and family stayed on property, we also got to enjoy the Onsen tubs, private hot springs tucked away in lush tropics – simply heaven and will go back there one day!
Zen gardens at The Sensei Four Seasons
  • Koloiki Ridge Trail – This forest and moss shrouded trail opens up to ocean views at the end. There is a bit of a scramble at the beginning and then it is a pretty mellow walk most of the way.
Koloiki Ridge
  • Lanai adventure center ropes course – an amazing place for all ages and we loved this for our toddler!
Confidence building adventure for Luca!
  • Garden of the Gods – despite being one of the top tourist attractions, we didn’t make it here until our very last week, but glad we did! Both our kids love rocks and climbing, and it was beautiful and reminded me a bit of Joshua Tree, but right on the island of Lanai!
Playing with rocks at Island of the Gods
  • Running: On a tip from a local runner, she mentioned to run along one of the main highways to the airport. While running along a highway doesn’t sound scenic, it truly was a great run. Also loved running the loop from my house to the horse ranch and back.
  • Lap / family swimming: The public pool in town is the nicest public pool I’ve ever experienced. Rarely crowded, it’s a great spot for both lap swimming and family swim w/ the kids.
  • Coffee Works: A coffee hut that roasts its own beans and is owned by the lovely Rochelle, this is pretty much the only place in town to get a latte / coffee, and luckily it’s quite good. We would also get their beans weekly and my favorite was the Haleilani blend.
  • The Blue Ginger: This iconic diner style eatery was a regular spot my kids went to for over-sized pancakes and hash browns. Not the healthy vegan fare I love, but appreciate its spot in Lanai history and how happy it made my family.
  • Mimis Place: Tucked into an unassuming traditional home in town, Mimi set up a wonderful self care haven with heavenly pedicures, manicures, haircuts, massage and more. Mimi is lovely and it was always a treat!
  • Lanai Art Center– Lots of cool art from local artists and Friday night they put on Art after Dark event for kids where lots of families in the community come out and engage in various art mediums.
  • Never locking our doors – for the entire 6 months we stayed there in our beautiful big blue craftsman set against a forest backdrop (well known among the locals as ‘The Captains Retreat’), we never locked our doors once. Now back in urban SoCal, we miss that deep feeling of safety.
Our oversized craftsman with a hike right outside the back in the Koele area of town
Koele area trees – right behind our home there
Moon rise and bird song from our balcony

Little loves holding hands at golden hour

Living there was not without challenges. My in laws were incredible, generous adventurers and joined us as our childcare as we both worked full time (and i got a promotion while there and my work load picked up). Despite their high energy, watching 2 toddlers full time wasn’t easy (watching them full time even for 1 day makes me tired and I’m not in my 70s :)), and I struggled to find any kind of reliable and experienced supplemental childcare despite trying all the means (every Hawaii Facebook mom/ nanny group, messaging all Care.com people on proximate Maui, even putting flyers around town – some of which may still be up :), and even considered flying out someone from the mainland); this was definitely one of the most challenging aspects of living on Lanai. And truth is even against the backdrop of paradise, working w/ 2 toddlers and scant time for self care reinforced for me the importance of ‘drink as you pour and fill your own cup’ as the expression goes. – have some catching up to do on this rejuvenation front as we’re settling back into our SoCal groove, and I (like many working parents or frankly people right now) am feeling the weight of steady COVID anxiety taking a toll as we experience yet another surge as we wrap 2021, and my kids are too young to be vaccine eligible.

Additionally, while we loved the simplicity of life – there is essentially 1 market and a handful of restaurants + 1 boutique store so not a whole lot of choice – being vegetarian there requires pretty much home cooking all the time as there wasn’t a single spot to eat out good healthy vegan fare (other than the very pricey and inaccessible Four Seasons spots). We made due with a combination of the wonderful CSA farm box from Island Fresh delivered every Friday from Maui right to our doorstep (a luxury in Lanai where you have to wait in line at the post office for pretty much everything including Amazon), and Vitcasost, which also shipped to our door. But coming back we are definitely indulging in all the amazing variety of food options in SoCal, which we have a newfound appreciation for.

All in all, it was absolutely a blessing and a foundation of rich and formative memories for my little ones who now have some Hawaiian aloha embedded in their spirits and memories.

Mahalo to the wonderful people and beautiful Aina of Lanai – we will be sure to be back some time soon!

Our 5 year wedding anniversary – we caught a stunning full rainbow en route to a magical oceanview dinner
Family photoshoot w/ Gigi and Papa by the lovely Mika Badillo

Vegan travel – Big Island, Hawaii

Sunset with the ohana at beautiful Manini beach in Captain Cook

Last we week, Marcus, Luca and I traveled to the Big Island for the first time, and we spent a few days on the Kona side of the island. We both had been to Hawaii, but it was our first time on the Big Island and our first time traveling to Hawaii with baby Luca (and my incredibly generous mother-in-law who helped babysit). Since the Big Island is huge, we didn’t get to go to all the vegan hot spots that I had scoped out on Yelp, but sharing a few of our favorites from the Kona side:

1.Pure Green Kona International Farmer’s Market – a MUST! Sundays 9-2 with amazing local fare — fruits, veggies, meals, sweets, kona coffee, artisanal gifts and more! My favorite were these amazing sweets made with carob and macadamia nuts; we also tried some delicious spring rolls, and stocked up on affordable macadamia nuts and kona coffee to bring home. There was live music too. Overall great vibes and delicious food!

Pure Kona farmers market – get the carob clusters!!!

2.Herbivore – This quirky, tiny vegan restaurant isn’t in the most picturesque location. In fact, it’s right in the middle of a parking lot. BUT they do have a creative vegan menu, a fun step stool up to the extra tall counter where you order, and we tried a good taro burger (which we took to go to eat on the beach — not just any beach – Kua Bay which is stunningly beautiful!).

Taro burger from Herbivore hole-in-the-wall (or parking lot) vegan shack

3.Kaya’s cafe – A sweet, hippie-esque artsy cafe with delicious kona lattes and every kind of alternative milk you might want. Lots of vegan options too w/ sandwiches, sweets and more.

Kaya’s kona almond latte with Big Island Bees’ raw organic honey

4.The Coffee Shack – a heads up that their menu is decidedly NOT vegan friendly, but they do have amazing views so you can just go get a coffee and some fruit and enjoy the sweeping views of the island from their incredible location.

The Coffee Shack’s prized location!

5.Island Naturals Market & Deli – I was told this was THE health food market on the island, and it did not dissapoint. While a bit pricey (like all supermarkets in Hawaii) and I thought the salad bar was only okay, overall this is a great stock up spot for all your vegan staples and treats alike. We got some great lillikoi (passionfruit) cake too, one of the many vegan desserts they had.

Island Naturals – THE health food store

And it goes without saying that tropical fruits should be a mainstay for any vegan (or anyone!) traveling to Hawaii. Whether at farmers markets, side of the road stands or regular supermarkets, the bananas, papayas, avocados, lychee and other tropical fruit are all delicious!

Lastly, a few places I wanted to try (per Yelp) but didn’t make it to on this trip (too far from where I was staying in Captain Cook) are here.

Other tips: Organic farmstay: We stayed on this organic mango farm in Captain Cook w/ a cedar hot tub surrounded by lush plants, and a great layout for a family (plus they have a pack ‘n play and it’s pretty baby-proofed for anyone traveling with little ones).

Outdoor lounging at our organic mango farm Airbnb
On our organic mango farmstay

Kua Bay also called Manini’owali- Simply stunning beach – favorite on the island that we saw (and one of the few we went to that actually has sand as many are more rocky). It’s not too far from the Kona airport so if you are flying into or out of Kona, you can (and should!) easily swing by.

The stunning Kua Bay beach – picture does not do justice!

Hope to do some more travel soon – next up San Miguel de Allende, Mexico in March for a dear friend’s wedding. Any vegan tips for San Miguel? Would love to hear them! Mahalo :).

SoCal Organic farmstay at Morning Song Farms

My husband and I have always loved staying on farms, meeting farmers, enjoying a slower pace and savoring farm fresh food.  We’ve camped at the amazing Full Belly Farm annual Hoes Down, stayed on an incredible family owned Alpaca farm / Airbnb in Paso Robles and most recently had the pleasure of staying at the beautiful and secluded Morning Song Farms near Temecula wine country.  This was our first mini roadtrip since the birth of our son Luca so we were looking for something not too far from LA, baby friendly and very relaxing.  Morning Song turned out to far surpass all our expectations.  It is such a special tucked away gem with a few very private cottages scattered about a stunning organic farm replete with the most abundant avocado, mulberry, orange, macadamia nut, kumquat trees, the cutest alpacas as well as mini goats and chickens.  We stayed in the Romantic Mountain House which was such a charming cottage with expansive nature views and a magical private hot tub and beautiful outdoor mosaic table (the mosaic art is all done by the farmer Donna) enveloped under an olive tree — the perfect spot to enjoy a peaceful morning coffee, family meal, read a book or relish in the sunset views.  The stay also includes a generous breakfast basket with farm fresh eggs from their chickens (being vegan I didn’t eat these but my husband very much enjoyed them), delicious coffee, juicy oranges and tangerines from their trees and more.  They also do a CSA program and leave a menu if you want to order additional items – we ordered some avocados and macadmia nuts and I’m glad we did because they were both delicious.

Adorable Alpacas – Dusty and Silverado

Delicious avocados, oranges and macadamia nuts from the farm

Sunset on the farm

Under the mulberry tree

We went for two days and while there are so many day trip options (Encinitas, Escondido, etc.), we decided to go to the unassuming nearby town of Fallbrook, a short 20 minute drive from the farm and the avocado capital of the world (!!!!!).  We had a delicious brunch at the very charming and yummy Fallbrook coffee co., and then ventured on two beautiful garden walks– one at the very manicured and stately gardens of the Garden Estates and one in the very funky artsy botanical gardens of Myrtle Farm Creek.  If you only have time for one, I would recommend the latter if you are looking for a more unique experience, but both were very beautiful.   The next day we only did a very quick stop in Temecula and thanks to Yelp found the fabulous Press Espresso cafe, which is hands down one of the most beautifully designed cafes I’ve ever seen and the macadamia nut latte was simply perfect. On this trip we didn’t go wine tasting (I’m breastfeeding so not drinking at the moment), but on a future trip we’ll be sure to check out some of the nearby vineyards.  There is even a low key winery called Roadrunner on a farm that is walking distance from Morning Song that we’ll be sure to check out next time.


Checking out the goats at Myrtle Creek Botanical Gardens

Fallbrook Coffee Co and Garden Estates

Macadamia Latte at Press Espresso in Temecula




Vegetarian Tips for Portugal Travel

A week ago, my husband and I were blessed to spend a week and half traveling in Portugal.  We stayed in Lisbon, Sintra, Porto and Algarve (about 2 days in each), and along the way we tried a few vegetarian restaurants.  At most Portuguese restaurants that aren’t specifically vegetarian/ vegan, there aren’t that many veggie options, but usually options will include soups (they surprisingly have vegan soups almost everywhere), bread and olive oil / olives, and for vegetarians, there will also be batatas bravas and cheeses. On this trip, I flexed to vegetarian as I sometimes do, but will specify options that are vegan friendly.  

Vegan Soups and Fresh OJ everywhere

Most places will have a ‘sopa do dia’ and amazingly they are almost all vegan  – generally vegetable based purees – and they are pretty filling and delicious.  My favorite soups were the pumpkin soup from The Garden in Lagos – a pretty, outdoor garden setting in the charming town of Lagos in the South (though my husband who eats meat thought the food was mediocre)- and the squash soup at Esencia in Porto – a beautiful, very highly ranked vegetarian restaurant (more on this restaurant below).

I also quickly learned that Portugal grows incredibly juicy oranges and there is fresh squeezed OJ at most cafes, bakeries and restaurants. Or you can also grab some oranges (from the fruit market next to the Time Out market in Lisbon, from stands on the side of the road in the South, or at any market) and squeeze your own.

Lisbon: Natural Terra, Time Out Market and Batata heaven at Alto do Bairro

My friend Kerry, who spent a few months in Lisbon, said that a vegetarian must was Natural Terra, and we weren’t let down.  We went for lunch where there is an all-you-can-eat vegetarian buffet (w/ vegan options, although vegan options were mostly salads and fruit).  The food was plentiful and the quaint, tucked away garden setting was lovely, and it was very reasonable for ~10 Euros each.  I especially enjoyed the salads, soup, fruit, iced herbal drinks and the garden setting.  They had a delicious sounding vegan berry crumble dessert, but alas I was too full to try it this time.  Only a few blocks away, there was another similar concept with a veggie buffet and garden called Jardim Dos Sentidos.  While we didn’t get to try it, it has even better reviews on TripAdvisor so could be worth checking out.

In Lisbon, we also had amazing batatas at Alto do Bairro, a very little hole-in-the-wall that made this magical dipping sauce (pretty sure it’s vegetarian and not vegan b/c it had an aioli-like taste). Everything else was just okay, but it’s worth stopping by for the yummy potatoes and magic sauce.

Lastly, we stayed just a few blocks away from the Time Out Market – a large open market with many different restaurants / food stalls and large communal tables.  While we didn’t try any standout dishes, the vibe is really fun and alive, especially at night.  During the day, there is also the neighboring fruit market, which has really high quality produce at affordable prices.  
Porto: Tapas, Olive Oil Tasting and Essencia 

One of my favorite restaurants in all of Portugal was Wine Quay Bar in Porto.  Perched in a prized location above the beautiful Douro river, this small tapas joint had both amazing food and service. The shitake mushrooms in a beautiful olive oil accompanied by warm crusty bread was simply perfect.  For those who flex vegetarian we also got a delicious spicy sheep’s cheese served with a fun guillotine slicer my husband was obsessed with :).   Would definitely come back here on a future trip!
We also stumbled upon Oliva, an olive oil specialty store where for 2 Euros (or they waive the fee if you purchase anything), you can taste regional olive oils.  It’s a lovely shop and definitely worth stopping in for a tasting.  We also bought some lemon garlic green olives that we loved.
Lastly, there is a very highly ranked vegetarian restaurant (w/ vegan options) called Essencia and we went for lunch where they had a fixed menu of appetizer, entree and optional dessert for 10-12 euros. It’s a couple miles from town so you’ll likely want to drive or take a taxi. The ambiance is lovely (see garden below), and  while I loved the soup and juice, the vegan lentil main dish didn’t settle well with me. Based on the reviews, I’d give it a chance but it wasn’t my personal favorite, and in fact I didn’t feel very well afterwards.
Algarve: Terra in Sagres

While road tripping along the Southern coastline, we stopped at Terra, a beautiful spots w/ vegetarian and vegan (and meat/ fish) options right across from a really nice beach (Praia Beliche). Surprisingly there weren’t that many places that we found that had good salads, and here I enjoyed a delicious salad, soy cappucino and ocean views.  We then sauntered across the street to Praia Beliche, a beautiful beach in a protected cove where there were quite a few surfers out.  

Not food related, but magical Airbnb recommendation in Sintra

Of our four stops, Sintra was by far my favorite.  The history, the magical castles, the incredible nature walks, and our stunning Airbnb made me not want to leave.   Our Airbnb was a beautifully restored villa with fairy-tale-like gardens and views overlooking Sintra.  Our host also left us delicious breakfast and her thoughtful touches and care for the property were simply amazing.  One day I hope to go back and spend at least a week!  
Hope you find these tips helpful, and if Portugal isn’t already on your bucket list, you should add it now!

Scoping out the Veggie scene in Encinitas

This past weekend my hubby and I went on a quick jaunt to Encinitas for the inaugural half marathon and in gearing up for the race, we fueled up with so much delicious vegan food. For those who will be in the Encinitas area looking for vegan meals and treats, here are a few of my favorites:

  • EVE (#1 favorite)!:  Eve is a beautiful, peaceful all vegan spot with comfy couches, goddess artwork, a gorgeous vertical succulent garden, and it even has a large and beautiful yoga studio in the back.  They do lots of healthy options and from reading Yelp reviews it sounded like the Buddha bowls were the way to go, and boy was that an amazing choice. We had the ‘Legendary Hero’, which seems so simple to make w/ rice, brussels sprouts, kale, carrots, and beets but the magic was in the tahini sauce!  The tahini sauce and the way the veggies were perfectly cooked made this bowl incredibly tasty, and next time I’m in Encinitas I definitely plan to return.   They also have an ample library and it is a cozy spot to read, write, or do some work.
  •  PeacePies:  This raw vegan spot (believe the only fully raw vegan spot in Encinitas) has a nice outdoor patio w/ a vibrant mural backdrop.  I’ve been there twice now for desserts and the first time I got doughnuts, which weren’t that great, but this time I returned for the Cosmic Coconut pie, which was creamy coconut deliciousness.  Raw vegan is not for everyone, but if you tend to like raw vegan like me, would recommend you try it.  They also have lots of savory options like nori wrap, ‘farawfel’ and more.
  •  SucculentCafé (Carlsbad): This is a café – not a vegan joint – but it is oh so beautiful and inspiring with creative succulent creations everywhere and the entire large space is surrounded by succulents.  It’s got great little nooks and benches to hang out in the sun and the soy chai latte is the perfect mix of spicy and sweet.  This spot is a gem, especially for succulent lovers!
  • UnionKitchen & Tap: This is more of a classic very lively brewery, and by no means specifically vegan (in fact believe they are known for burgers), but the sweet potato fries are amazing.
  • LePapagayo: Didn’t get to try this one yet but the menu looked great and there was very lively music on Sat. night.  The line was too long w/out a reservation so next time we’re in town we’ll be sure to make a ressie and try out this romantic, hopping spot.
Feel so blessed that this was our third time in the Encinitas are in the past six months and it always feels like such a refreshing, sunny, laid back, coastal vacation.  Look forward to returning soon!