The city more tourists need to see

I KNEW this was going to be a fun trip as soon as we landed off our QF bird at Los Angeles airport when the longest stretch disco Hummer I’d ever seen was our next mode of transport.

It was that kind of OTT, rock-star, kooky kind of stuff you always look at other people doing, but hey, who was complaining? The Hummer was about to take us to one of the more understated, yet simply gorgeous American if not small cities I’d ever seen.

I had never really heard that much about Santa Barbara (with a population of around 220,000) except that there’d once been a 80s/90s TV soap based on the Californian coastal town all about goings-on of the lives of the wealthy Capwell and Lockridge families. (Fun fact: Santa Barbara aired in over 40 countries and became the longest-running television series in Russia.)

Anyway, back to why I’m here. Santa Barbara is referred to as the Amercian Rivieraand faces south on the longest section of the West Coast of the US and has a climate referred to as Mediterranean. Although, it was pretty chilly when we were there in May (Note to self: pack another sweater next time).

Santa Barbara is popular for its tourism, bay, and its resorts, but it’s not often a place peeps add to their must-see list.

So, here are some of the reasons you should do exactly that:

• As soon as we hit Santa Barbara — a two-hour drive north of Los Angeles — it was bags down and straight to the (downtown) Salt Caves. Yup. Santa Barbara is renowned for Salt Caves which are designed to provide “a unique natural environment to relax, recharge, and rejuvenate the body and mind, especially after a long flight”. So, we sat in the cave rooms for half an hour and soaked in the atmosphere of Himalayan salt rock and its health-enhancing qualities. And yes, it felt good.

• The Urban Wine Trail had us tasting some of the finest wines produced in Santa Barbara County, all within blocks of downtown and the beach. The Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trail gave novices (like some of our gang) and aficionados (like others in our gang) the opportunity to learn about and taste wines Santa Barbara County’s best vineyards. Informative, not up themselves and just great fun.

• We also had a “pedicab” — a man-wheeling bike that basically took us for a spin around the town as the driver pointed out some of the best zones in SB.

• Speaking of zones, you do so need to visit The Funk Zone? OK, OK, it’s a shocking name, but it’s a tourist and hot neighbourhood precinct where the best muncheries, restaurants and wine-tasting rooms can be found, surrounded by industrial and manufacturing plants and even crisscross train and car routes.

Visitors and celebs alike hit the F Zone to check out galleries and real SB life. It has become so cool-school, some businesses well outside will even say are Funk Zone-adjacent, just so they can use the spoils of popularity of the zone.

• You can’t help but take in the exquisite Spanish architecture of Santa Barbara and its plethora of deco-style theatres dotted throughout the town. A Monterey-style adobe in California was built on State Street (the main drag of Santa Barbara) by merchant Alpheus Thompson while the dominant architectural themes — Spanish Colonial Revival and the related Mission Revival style are still encouraged through guidelines created after a 1925 earthquake destroyed the downtown district..

• You need to do a Sunset Cruise or the Santa Barbara Sailing Center. Basically, you sit back and enjoy a twirl around a small but dynamic little harbour admiring, either on a kayak — with the chance of spotting a whale to two — or on a boat with views back to shore and out to the Channel Islands. But don’t forget your wind jacket!

• And what about the digs? Wow. yes, wow. We tested out Belmond El Encanto and it is a seriously god-smackingly beautiful hotel. The view was great and the villa/bungalow suites were absolute perfection. As for the service? after arriving home from dinner one night, I had left my key in my room and the staff went totally out of their way to get me back in as soon as possible. That may sound trivial, but it wasn’t a chore or a pain – it seemed just like normal quality service for the staff to be actually wanting to do something for a guest at midnight!

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Melissa Hoyer was a guest on flights from Australia to Los Angeles on Qantas and of Tourism Santa Barbara.

Qantas summon sommeliers & mixologists

MORE surprising than the fact Qantas has taken sommeliers and mixologist on board is the fact that our national carrier is the third biggest purchaser of Australian wine. Yes, THIRD.

The airline has announced a new team of wine experts and ‘mixologists’ from the Rockpool Group, who’ll be responsible for choosing the wine, champagne, spirits and other liquid refreshments for the airline’s domestic and international flights and lounges.

The new team, named The Qantas Rockpool Sommeliers, will feature 16 experienced sommeliers and mixologists (aka, mighty fine cocktail gurus.)

Qantas Chef and restaurateur Neil Perry said his team’s expertise in wine and mixology will offer the very best restaurant experience in the sky to Qantas passengers.

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“Rockpool has worked with Qantas for over 18 years to design menus and we are thrilled to be working more closely to select beverages for the airline,’’ said Mr Perry.

“We are committed to continue providing the finest Champagnes and the boldest wines from across Australia and deliver a restaurant experience on the ground and in the air.”

Gareth Evans, CEO Qantas International, said the group is providing an exciting new direction for the airline’s wine and beverage program.


“Qantas’ new holistic approach to food and beverage will mean not only matching our menus with the perfect wine, but with the perfect cocktail or champagne,” said Mr Evans.

“We invest over $15 million dollars in the Australian wine industry every year, so we take the selection process very seriously. We are really proud to showcase Australian wine to the world, and we’ll keep supporting boutique Australian wineries as well as the iconic drops that have defined Australia’s global winemaking reputation.

“Qantas is the third largest purchaser of wine in Australia and we also invest significantly in training our own teams to ensure they are equipped with the knowledge to recommend wines to our customers,’’ added Mr Evans.

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Among the group is Head of Sommeliers Australia, David Lawler and one of only two Master Sommeliers in Australia, Sebastian Crowther, as well as head bartenders of Rockpool restaurants around the country.

The sommeliers will blind taste, review and select from 1,200 Australian wines and Champagnes over four days each year and provide tasting notes for the International First and Domestic Business cabins.

They also provide recommendations while the Rockpool mixologists will create monthly cocktails.

More than 150 cabin crew are currently trained as on-board sommeliers and more will be joining this group this year while over 2000 Qantas Cabin Crew have completed an introductory, intermediate or advanced level of wine training. Cheers!

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A waterproof beach towel? Absolutely!

The Sandusa is the world’s first sand-resistant beach towel, created on the Gold Coast, Australia by Baz Brown, an avid surfer and keen beach-goer. Tired of wet, sandy towels, he set about developing the concept of the Sandusa, which is now sold all over the world.

The Statue of Liberty, Central Park, 5th Avenue? Sure. But try these Big Apple bucket-list hot spots

THE must-see list for a visitor to New York is ridiculously huge. I mean a day in NYC hardly has you walking a few blocks without you becoming mesmerised.

So, while the Statue of Liberty, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Central Park and the Guggenheim are always on New York travel hit lists, here are 10 spots that are other must-dos.

Some old, some new, but if you are lucky enough to visit New York, there is alwayssomething to discover or rediscover, again and again.


The High Line (also known as the High Line Park) is a 2.33km linear park that was built on an elevated part of a disused railroad, once called the West Side Line. Inspired by the 4.8km Promenade Plantée (tree-lined walkway) in Paris, the High Line has been designed as an aerial greenway and a rails-to-trails park. New Yorkers and a zillion visitors love to walk it as it stretches from the once rough, but now cool Meatpacking District through to Chelsea. The line has a brilliant garden with 300 species, water features and paths. And, it’s perfect people-watching territory.


The (new) Whitney Museum of American Art is THE must-do highlight and is located downtown on the High Line and next to the Hudson River.

With the building designed by architect Renzo Piano, the gallery has a huge range (try 22,000 works from 3000 artists) of 20th century and contemporary American art with a special focus on works by living artists. Dedicated to collecting, preserving, interpreting and exhibiting American art, the Whitney has always supported innovation and this new ode to art is breathtaking.

Even if you are not an art aficionado, you are honestly mesmerised by the cheeky, at-times poignant pieces that fills walls and floors. I LOVED it. This new building increases the museum’s exhibition and programming space and was worth every one of the $22 paid for entry.


A roof garden cafe and martini bar at the exquisite Metropolitan Museum of Art? Sign me up!

After you’ve spent few hours meandering around the simply gigantic gallery (also home to the annual Anna Wintour hosted MET gala), soak up the views over a glass of wine.

Entered via an elevator in the European sculpture and decorative arts galleries department at the MET, the self-service, cocktails and drinks are presented in a very informal, walk-around outdoor setting with THE most panoramic views of Manhattan. Bliss.


It may have been around for as long as, well, God, but this still one of New York’s best cultural moments. The Russian Tea Room, on West 57th St, was founded by members of the Russian Imperial Ballet in 1927 and been a hot bed of social activity for 80-something years. Whether pollies, creatives, actors, writers or execs, the revolving doors that take you into a modernist Russian decor space (hello red!) make this a real experience.

Did you know Madonna was the coat-check girl here before she became REALLY famous? And that this was where Woody Allen found inspiration for his movieManhattan?

Arriving in NYC from Sydney at 10.30pm and staying for a night across the road, at the simply sensational and incredibly chic Park Hyatt Hotel, I walked over, dined alone (as you happily do in NYC) and loved every second of my Tea Room time. Umm, but it did involve a martini! Love it.


The design spans — and expands on — a century of modern architecture: “A very sharp place to stay”, an “unbeatable view of downtown Manhattan and the Hudson River”, an “affordable urban cool”. And so the reviews for The Standard Hotel go.

If you are thinking of having a one-night stand(ard), downtown in NYC, then this is possibly the way to do it. The 18-storey tower looks over the High Line, in the heart of Manhattan’s meatpacking district and has views over the Hudson that will melt you heart.

With a retro decor feel to its rooms, the bars and Standard Grill are as cool as they come. That said, it’s not in an intimidating way, but with a very relaxed vibe.

Just avoid sharing your floor with a whole lot of Irish guests who decided to singNew York, New York in the hallway at 3am! (Well, at least it kept my jet lag amused.)

Aside from that, the hotel features the The Standard Ice Rink with its own rink-side Kaffeeklatsch, serving après skate drinks and snacks, a private dining room and event spaces as well as 24-hour room and gym service and the Le Bain Discothèque Seasonal Rooftop Bar. Oh, and free Wi-Fi everywhere.

A boat ride on the Hudson

After 80 years, the Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises gang seem to have taken the mantle as THE preferred way to see New York … on water. Having hosted, gulp, 60 million passengers since 1945, the company is purely dedicated to sightseeing. The big boats are designed to let you see as much as possible in any weather as their oversized glass windows give great views of Manhattan. And seeing it from the water is really quite mesmerising.


Seriously, what is a trip to NYC without a wander around the always bustling and light-fuelled Times Square and its surrounding Broadway theatre district. New Yorkers and visitors treat going to the theatre like some Aussies do going to a footy match: It’s just a part of everyday life. Whether Kinky Boots, Aladdin, The Lion King, An American in Paris or The Book of Mormon, there is always a show to see. Making a trip to Broadway is always a must-do.


It may be a megabucks bar and restaurant, but what a serious treat to book dinner or lunch at Ralph Lauren’s first bar in NYC: the new Polo Bar, at 1 East 55th St, just around the corner from the new Ralph Lauren Polo Fifth Ave store.

Contrary to what you may think, there isn’t a trace of attitude or smarty pants waiters. And the food? Delicious and delectable in every way. The dining room, which is a flight of stairs down from a bar/lounge area has 132 seats, some as comfy banquettes, others as grander, celebratory tables. And the decor? Style plus. The night after we dined there, Victoria Beckham was there. It’s just that kind of place.


As soon as you walk the One World Observatory — a poignant, reverent and dramatic homage to the events of September 11 — we are greeted in the Global Welcome Center, where a large video board features salutations in an array of languages, and a dynamically generated world map, which highlights the home towns of the observatory’s visitors.

What you see is a program called Voices, which tells the personal stories of the men and women who built One World Trade Center, followed by Foundations, which gives a close-up view of the bedrock on which the building stands.

To get to the top, we boarded one of five dedicated elevators, which ascend to the 102nd floor in under 60 seconds. In the lift, there was some extraordinary floor-to-ceiling LED technology where we could see a virtual, time-lapse that recreated the evolution if the NYC skyline from the 1500s to now. Beautifully done.


Manhattan’s skyline and the lives of families who lost loved ones on September 11, 2001, will never be the same. But 12 years later, the World Trade Center’s twin towers have been transformed into the 9/11 Memorial. Cascading reflecting pools etched with the names of those who died stand where the 110-storey buildings once did and the reverence the whole place is respectful and sincere. It also shows the resilience NYC has. A very special and must-do experience.

The writer travelled to New York City as a guest of Qantas and

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Style set kicks off Aussie ski season with snow chic and champagne

AUSTRALIA’S leadings snow resorts officially kicked off their 2015 winter seasons over the long weekend, with some impressive early season conditions.

Partygoers in NSW’s Thredbo included Kate Waterhouse and Luke Ricketson, Sally Bowrey, fashion blogger Nadia Fairfax and Isabella Manfredi, who all revelled in the weekend’s wintry conditions by hitting the slopes and having “workations” from their music and TV projects.

While large parts of Australia’s southeast shivered through the first day of winter, heavy snow falls and subzero temperatures enticed residents in parts of Tasmania, Victoria and NSW to the ski fields.

While the Queen’s birthday long weekend doesn’t often deliver the icy goods — with “après” (after-skiing) fun often more prevalent than snow frolics — the vibe was positive with reports of 30cm of snow hitting some parts of Australia’s ski fields.

Boasting plenty of music, parties and celebrations, more than 2000 guests visitedThredbo, including a flock of fashion bloggers and snow style-meisters who saw The Preatures play a free gig to a huge crowd on Saturday night.

The Cruiser and Gunbarrel chairlifts in Thredbo kicked into operation on Saturday, the earliest they have operated on opening weekend since 2011. Those not skiing were kept warm in après style at the Rekorderlig “Sounds in the Snow” poolside party with Crooked Colours, Red Wine Roses and The Preatures pumping it out.

Families with children played in Thredbo’s free Snow Play Park and joined the Thredboland animals at the kids opening party where children enjoyed dance classes, face painting, Snowy the Clown and a fire show. Oh, and obligatory fireworks.

Early reports had predicted that a cold front was on the horizon, with temperatures well into the subzeros during the nights before the long weekend as snow-making teams were kept hard at work, turning Thredbo into a new season of skiing.

Diners included fashion bloggers Kate Waterhouse, Sara Donaldson and Nadia Fairfax, who where shooting a snow episode of their Fashion Bloggers TV series. Meanwhile, those needing to unwind after a weekend of skiing, snowboarding and partying were looked after at the pub bistro recovery party in the Thredbo Alpine Hotel.

Thredbo was awarded best ski resort in the 2014 Australian Traveller’s People’s Choice awards while it also holds the mantle as the best Australian and New Zealand Family Ski Resort in the Out & About With Kids 2014 awards and Best Australian Ski Resort in the prestigious Luxury Travel Magazine 2014 Gold List Awards. The place must be doing something right…

Melissa Hoyer attempted to resurrect her ski legs as a guest of Thredbo.

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