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5 Chicago Havens for the Design-Obsessed

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5 Chicago Havens for the Design-Obsessed

Sarah Bernhardt famously said, "I adore Chicago. It is the pulse of America" and we couldn't agree more. After a pretty brief first visit, we left wanting so much more...more of the eye catching skylines, more delectable dining, more rooftop-drinking and more coffee shop sipping. That said, if your heart swells at impeccable design and visual bounty, here are a handful of essential stops whether you are working in or passing through the Windy City. 


1. THE HOLLANDER

The Hollander: 2022 W. North Ave, Chicago, IL 60647 | @thehollandergh

A unique combination of hotel, hostel, and hip coffee shop, The Hollander is the picture-perfect hangout. Serving a limited selection of handpicked teas and coffee, the raw interior invites you to linger and read, work, and/or play any of the board games available for guests (hello Jenga!). With loads of window light pouring in from the street and plenty of stylish yet comfy seating, you won't want to leave but when you do, the surrounding Wicker Park/Bucktown neighborhood is full of chic restaurants and boutiques within walking distance. 

Raw + chic interior

Raw + chic interior

Love that hexagon tile

Love that hexagon tile


2. 3 ARTS CLUB CAFE

3 Arts Club Cafe: 1300 N Dearborn St, Chicago, IL 60610 

Located in the famed 3 Arts Club Building, (formerly a home and club for Chicago women in the "three arts" of music, painting and drama) the 3 Arts Club Cafe spectacularly blends classic Chicago architecture with luxurious modern design. The original building was designed by legendary Chicago architects Holabird and Roche and retains its structure and opulent vibe. Beyond the Brendan Sodikoff-operated cafe, the building also houses a wine tasting room, music venue, and floors of Restoration Hardware eye candy. The food doesn't disappoint either: classic menu items are presented in their best possible form, no exaggeration here. The simple-looking charcuterie platter had the most buttery-tasting prosciutto and warm rustic bread. Cocktails were created with care and the gooey grilled cheese sandwich might be one of the best executions of a simple childhood staple. (Reservations recommended.)  

Stunning surroundings at 3 Arts Cafe

Stunning surroundings at 3 Arts Cafe

Charcuterie platter with champagne and peach bellini

Charcuterie platter with champagne and peach bellini


3. ART INSTITUTE OF CHICAGO

Art Institute of Chicago: 111 S Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60603 | @artinstitutechi

One of the largest and most renowned art museums in the United States, the Art Institute of Chicago sits in the heart of downtown at Grant Park. Founded in 1879, the museum with its new Renzo Piano-designed wing now encompasses a whopping 1 million square feet. With 11 different galleries ranging from Ancient and Byzantine to Architecture and Design, you can either make a day of it, exploring all that this history-rich museum has to offer, or simply focusing on a few galleries and then picnicking outdoors in Millennium Park.

The natural light courtyard here is everything.

The natural light courtyard here is everything.

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4. LINCOLN CONSERVATORY

Lincoln Park Conservatory: 2391 N Stockton Dr, Chicago, IL 60614 

So. Much. Green. If you happen to be in Chicago during a chilly spring or frigid winter, step into this wonderland of stunning flora and fauna. Although its free to visitors every day, a weekday visit is recommended if possible. Take your time and weave through one of the largest publicly owned conservatories under one roof. The main glass-enclosed greenhouse with its 65-foot ceilings is a stunning sight in itself. There are a few detours, such as the orchid room, succulent room, and a children's garden. Our absolute favorite was the Fern Room, a oasis of vines that simulates the lush environment dinosaurs thrived in during prehistoric Chicago.

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5. THE ROBEY CHICAGO

The Robey: 2018 West North Ave, Chicago, IL 60647

When the day is winding down and you are ready to kick your feet up on some 400-thread count sheets and sip some artisanal gin in delightful brass-rimmed cocktail glasses, check into The Robey Chicago. As recent member of the Design Hotels family, you can be sure that every visual and textural detail at The Robey was carefully considered and executed. Despite the cozy size of our room, we were impressed by the layout and shrewd use of limited space. After check-in, head to the rooftop bar Up & Up, a hopping hangout popular with locals where you can take in a 180 degree view of Chicago's famous skyline.

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Hope you get a chance to stop by any of these spots while in town - would love to hear any thoughts and additional recommendations for our next visit!

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Glamping In Style: A Luxurious Adventure in Big Sky, Montana

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Glamping In Style: A Luxurious Adventure in Big Sky, Montana

Path to the communal area at Collective Retreats in Big Sky

Path to the communal area at Collective Retreats in Big Sky

I’m in love with Montana. For other states I have admiration, respect, recognition, even some affection. But with Montana it is love. And it’s difficult to analyze love when you’re in it.
— John Steinbeck
Stunning views of Lone Peak from Collective Retreats in Big Sky.

Stunning views of Lone Peak from Collective Retreats in Big Sky.

Stacked firewood for those nightly campfires and s'mores. 

Stacked firewood for those nightly campfires and s'mores. 

Every inch of Montana radiates undeniable allure; from the breathtaking landscapes in every direction, the brisk mountain air, and the all-around warmth shared by people who call this magnificent state home. From the moment we arrived in Bozeman, I was taken by the log cabin decor of the airport (fireplace included!) welcoming us into the "The Treasure State". 

In our four days there, we meandered from Bozeman to Pray, south to Yellowstone, and then on to Big Sky to end our trip with a glamping experience with Collective Retreats that we were super excited about. Following the detailed directions we were sent upon booking, we started to wonder what we were getting ourselves into. As we got further away from the main road into Big Sky, we twisted and turned onto bumpy dirt roads and wondered if we were on the right track. We were. When we reached at the landmark described in the email, there they were- our guides from the retreat waiting for our arrival with a golf cart to transport our bags to the campsite as we walked to check in. (We realized later on it wasn't that far of a distance, but it was a nice bit of separation between our car and the campsite.) 

We felt immediately transported into a Wes Anderson film at the lodge, a gigantic tent decked out with string lights, plaid blankets, and eclectic tchotchkes. Then, we were led along the marked path to our tent, passing the spectacular mirrored lake with the clearest views of Lone Peak cutting across the boundless sky. 

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To say we adored our boho-meets-shelter-mag tent would be an understatement. No detail was too small here, from the Moonrise Kingdom-inspired decor to the mix of textured bedding and rugs that made it so cozy and warm. There were so many moments when we were torn between hunkering down in the tent or going outside to bask in the outdoor air.  

First things first, we settled in. We unpacked our snacks and stored them in the bear box provided behind the tent. (Apparently there had been a few bear sightings so we weren't taking any chances). We cracked open a couple cans of our favorite craft brews we discovered during the trip and lounged on the sheepskin rugs, alternating between admiring the decor inside and views outside over a casual game of Gin Rummy. 

Obsessed with the eclectic (and functional) decor on the side tables.

Obsessed with the eclectic (and functional) decor on the side tables.

Pure coziness.

Pure coziness.

Our favorite craft beer of the trip from  Upslope Brewing Company  in Boulder, CO.

Our favorite craft beer of the trip from Upslope Brewing Company in Boulder, CO.

Cards for the night ahead by the wood burning fireplace in the tent. 

Cards for the night ahead by the wood burning fireplace in the tent. 

Inevitably, there are questions about the bathroom setup at the site. We had own bathroom, directly behind the main tent that might be the most picturesque "outdoor" bathroom ever. Again, all about the details. 

Yes - this is the bathroom, housed in its own tent. 

Yes - this is the bathroom, housed in its own tent. 

Details, details, details. No "roughing it" here. 

Details, details, details. No "roughing it" here. 

A few essentials for our stay.

A few essentials for our stay.

Being completely surrounded by trees, mountains, lake and sky felt extremely therapeutic. Simply sitting on the deck of our tent and gazing at Lone Peak was more than enough for us. There is something about being so captivated by mother nature that makes it easy to disconnect from our digital devices and be present in each other's company. It was almost as if time had stopped and it was solely our little family out in the world.

Whether you're camping or glamping or anything in between, we found that its best not to have much of an agenda after doing all the hard work of planning and making the actual journey. Just letting yourself be guided by intuition, not wearing a watch or phone, challenging yourself to guess time by the position of the sun in the sky, and being aware of how your body is responding to the slower pace- the experience can be one big mind-clearing meditation, your very own mental detox. 

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As the sun started to go down and the Montana sky began its nightly show, we made our way to the main campsite for dinner. Upon check-in, we had ordered the BBQ in a box for two, basically a steak dinner without any of the work. Our box came with a potato salad, pre-seasoned steak, and veggie sides. While we normally enjoy doing all of our bbq prep at home, here we simply threw the steak on the preheated grill and went to watch the sun set over the lake. When we came back to check on the steak, we realized we overcooked it slightly after getting carried away with pictures, but the small trade-off was more than okay. 

We took our time chowing down on steaks while the campfire got prepped. For dessert, our guide brought out s'mores for roasting- not just traditional smores (my personal favorite) but scores of s'more options with peanut butter cups (Aaron's new favorite), Kit Kat and other childhood candies.

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We lingered at the roaring campfire, set against the dramatic backdrop of Big Sky, for as long as Calder let us. After our faces were toasty and our bellies full, we made our way back to the warmth of our tent (the wood burning fireplace was lit and prepped while we were at dinner) and snuggled into the electric blanket tucked underneath the duvet, talking into the night like teenagers.  

Breakast area in the main tent. 

Breakast area in the main tent. 

Our toasty campfire. 

Our toasty campfire. 

Good night and sweet dreams, Montana.

Good night and sweet dreams, Montana.

While glamping can sometimes be the equivalent of a hotel room that happens to be outdoors, there are still a few things I found handy to pack and have on hand...somewhere in between having a few key items to enhance your experience but not going overboard with too much unneeded gear. 

  • Journal + Pen 
  • Your own tea/coffee (if you're picky like me- my morning ritual always involves some some sort of green or jasmine tea) 
  • Camera (Whether you bring an old school point-and-shoot, or full on DSLR, we found it refreshing to put our phones away, but still having something at hand to document our trip)
  • Scented candle (Definitely be aware of where you light the candle but a small scented tealight is always a nice touch to personalizing the space)
  • Wellies / Sneakers / Moccasins (Footwear for inside and outside)
  • Poncho blanket/shawl
  • Thick knit beanie hat
  • Dry Shampoo (When washing your hair just isn't in the cards)
  • Face Wipes 
  • Bug Repellent 
  • Lip Balm (Dry mountain air. Enough said)
  • Layers of clothing
  • Thick Socks
  • Old School Games Twister, Monopoly etc. Nothing better than sitting by the furnace in your tent while the wind is whisking around outside, getting lost in a game of with your loved one(s).

And that's a wrap for this post; would love to hear about your glamping experiences below- off the beaten path sites you've discovered and/or tips you realized along the way!

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Enchanted By Phu Quoc Island

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Enchanted By Phu Quoc Island

Maybe it’s because I was born on an island (Penang), that I find myself constantly drawn to them when traveling. After hearing about Phu Quoc, a idyllic Vietnamese island in the Gulf of Thailand, I knew it was not only a must-stop on my limited timeline, it was the destination I wanted to end the trip with. That arrangement turned out to be exactly what I needed and continues to be one of my fondest memories of Vietnam

Unlike the charming yet commercialized village of Hoi An (which happened to be pouring rain during my stay) or the overwhelming bustle of motorcycles in Saigon, Phu Quoc is a low key fishing island surrounded by shimmering turquoise water. Most of the north portion remains a dense tropical jungle, much of it having been designated as a national park just recently in 2001. Making my home at Mango Bay Eco Resort, which was a bit of a distance from the cluster of hotels and resorts on Long Beach, was also what made the time there so enjoyable. 

While pepper and fish sauce are the island's main exports, many of the locals make their living off the sea and the activities available in Phu Quoc reflect that. On the first night, I joined Phu Quoc Sunny on a squid fishing excursion. They sent a moped to pick me up and I was instantly transported to my time in Bali, riding through the countryside with the wind blowing through as I gazed at fields, sparse buildings, and street side vendors.

We arrived at Duong Dong harbor and climbed onto the barge just before sunset with about 15 other eager squid fishers. Once night fell, we fished alongside other vessels, for as long or as short as our patience would allow. Afterwards, the crew cooked a simple meal of veggies and (what else?) squid and we all ate together illuminated by the boat lamps, washing the savory meal down with Vietnamese beer. 

The following morning, I went snorkeling at An Thoi, a group of 15 islands just off the southern coast of Phu Quoc. It was the type of day you reminisce about months later; the kind of day spent in a sun-baked haze revolving between sunning, diving off boats, swimming in pristine water, and drying off, punctuated by sips of cold beer and sunscreen reapplication. The boat, also operated by Phu Quoc Sunny, stopped at 3 different snorkeling spots around An Thoi and famed Sao Beach, once a lot more secluded than it has been recently. 

On the way back to Mango Bay, my driver was kind enough to stop at Dinh Cao Night Market at my request, since I was leaving the following afternoon. I walked through the lively seafood stalls, ordering freshly grilled shrimp and scallops simply seasoned by the smoky grill and a sprinkle of lime and salt and enjoyed observing locals taking in the sunset. It was the perfect way to wind down a whirlwind trip. 

Stay:

Mango Bay Eco Resort 

Ong Lang Beach, Phu Quoc Island; Kien Giang Province, Vietnam. 92000

Feast:

Dinh Cau Night Market

Play:

  • Snorkeling at An Thoi Islands
  • Night squid fishing
  • Swimming + sunning at Sao Beach

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Eco Luxe At Mango Bay

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Eco Luxe At Mango Bay

A long time ago, I realized that as much as I love the energy of living and working in a city, I long for casual and remote places when I'm away. There is something about a destination that requires time and effort to reach that feels all the more rewarding when you arrive, especially when the staff greets you with fresh cold towels and an icy fresh ginger lemonade during the informal check-in process.

And that's the story of my landing at Mango Bay, after having flown from Nha Trang that morning to Ho Chi Minh City to catch a connecting flight to Phu Quoc Island. (An aside: if time is a precious commodity for you when traveling in Vietnam, Vietnam Airlines is the best and quickest way to city hop). Because Mango Bay is on its own stretch of Ong Lang Beach, away from the cluster of hotels and hostels on the island, they offer airport transfers (for a small fee), which was worthwhile in this scenario. After dealing with taxis, check-ins, boarding, and deplaning for half a day, it's a sweet relief to see the hotel sign without having to haggle with the hoards of drivers vying for your attention. Then I arrived at this:   

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This arresting structure is the center of the eco-resort, where check-ins, breakfast, and other activities occur. Sitting here looking out at the sea with a drink in hand made for a pleasant waiting experience while my room, one of the Plantation Bungalows, was readied.

My personal plantation bungalow. I loved having tea out in the front deck before heading down to breakfast.

My personal plantation bungalow. I loved having tea out in the front deck before heading down to breakfast.

Every morning, the flask is filled with warm water for tea.

Every morning, the flask is filled with warm water for tea.

I had the picturesque two-story bungalow above all to myself. All of the doors along the front and side open out, bringing true meaning to the open-air living. The bottom floor was a living area, with space for luggage, a small desk for tea. Upstairs was the bed, where the staff comes around nightly to pull down the mosquito netting, a staple in tropical locales. 

Breakfast is included with the room rate and was a delight. In addition to the tea (or coffee if you're so inclined), heaping plates fresh fruit and breads, there are choices of American or English breakfast. Since I stayed two nights, I enjoyed every bit of both. I could have lingered at the scenic setting all day, eating fresh food, journaling, looking out at the pristine sea just feet away. 

Waking up early for breakfast was well worth this view.

Waking up early for breakfast was well worth this view.

Breakfast menu options.

Breakfast menu options.

The English Breakfast.

The English Breakfast.

Breakfast setting.

Breakfast setting.

The thing that struck me most about Mango Bay was its dedication to preserving the natural setting it occupies. The walkways between bungalows are unpaved; just enough grass is cleared for one person at a time. While the food, drinks, and attentiveness are fantastic, the place isn't built up; it has a symbiotic relationship with its surroundings, including a snail that decided to make a home in my open air bathroom for the first evening. While I found that somewhat charming, not everyone would agree. 

An abundance of flora surrounds the landscape.

An abundance of flora surrounds the landscape.

This way for more relaxation.

This way for more relaxation.

Open-air massage spot with sea views.

Open-air massage spot with sea views.

As a destination for wellness, Mango Bay offers spa treatments and daily yoga classes for their guests. Unfortunately, I had to forgo the yoga class because I had booked excursions around the island during my short stay. 

Morning sun breaking through the lush greenery.

Morning sun breaking through the lush greenery.

My gorgeous split-level bungalow.

My gorgeous split-level bungalow.

Beauty all around.

Beauty all around.

Cooking lessons are one of the activities offered.

Cooking lessons are one of the activities offered.

The lowdown on Vietnamese spices.

The lowdown on Vietnamese spices.

Loved the natural state of Ong Lang Beach the resort sits on.

Loved the natural state of Ong Lang Beach the resort sits on.

Natural unpaved walkways blend perfectly into the landscape. 

Natural unpaved walkways blend perfectly into the landscape. 

Vietnamese Capiroska with a side of spiced peanuts.

Vietnamese Capiroska with a side of spiced peanuts.

Because of time, I was a bit torn about staying and enjoying everything Mango Bay had to offer and exploring the rest of Phu Quoc Island. I spent most of my three days on excursions but found nooks of time to experience the simple and serene pleasures of Mango Bay, like the hammock, or a quick happy hour drink. For families, there is no shortage of activities, from resort-led trips to kayak rentals and cooking classes on site.  

I can't imagine a more perfect place to curl up with a good read.

I can't imagine a more perfect place to curl up with a good read.

I managed to sneak in a morning swim in the ocean on my last day here before catching my afternoon flight back to Ho Chi Minh City. Soaking in the clear, warm water while gazing at the scenic panorama was the perfect end to my Vietnam sojourn. I couldn't have been happier that this was my last stop before going home to Los Angeles. 

Kayaks and more.

Kayaks and more.

Welcome area.

Welcome area.

It was terribly difficult to tear myself away from here. I could have easily stayed another week without leaving the resort...

Stay:

Mango Bay Ong Lang Beach, Phu Quoc Island, Vietnam

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