Hilton Head Island

By Liz Petoniak | Photographs from the Hilton Head Island Chamber of Commerce, The Westin Hilton Head Island Resort & Spa, Sea Pines Beach Club, Hudson’s Seafood House on the Docks


Most travelers come to Hilton Head Island, S.C., a popular destination for Pittsburghers, for a relaxing beach retreat or a golf getaway. Yet, this idyllic island presents much more to be discovered for first-timers and frequent visitors alike. Fortunately, Allegiant Air just began offering seasonal nonstop flights from Pittsburgh to the Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport, making it easier and more affordable than ever to visit the island. We hopped on our first flight ever with the airline and jetted down to the island for a long weekend in paradise.

The Westin Hilton Head Island Resort & Spa

The Westin Hilton Head Island Resort & Spa

Where To Stay

Although many seek out vacation rentals, the island’s hotel and resort options have received major makeovers in the past few years, bringing forth a number of conveniences and amenities that make for an uncomplicated stay in a beautiful space. One such resort to note, The Westin Hilton Head Island Resort & Spa, recently underwent a $30 million renovation. Upon immediate entry into the lobby, decked out in chic furnishings in a beachy color scheme, a live plant wall, and large windows looking out to the resort, we felt at ease. The rooms exude a relaxing, spa-like feel with sleek surfaces and a spacious bathroom highlighted by a large, set-in shower. Ours featured an ocean view and an adorable little patio space, where we enjoyed the in-room Starbucks Coffee every morning. Outside, three pools surrounded by palm trees beckon to be enjoyed, as does the beach. The Westin offers direct beach access to a calm (read: not over-crowded) stretch on the northern end of the island, an ideal spot to watch the waves roll in, swim, go for a sunrise run, or ride bikes, which are available for rental onsite.

View 32 at The Westin

View 32 at The Westin

Where To Eat & Drink

When it comes to dining on Hilton Head Island, proximity to the water and availability of fresh, local seafood are its crowning qualities. However, its restaurant scene prides itself not only on fish and hushpuppies — though we’ll admit to ordering the Lowcountry staple at every opportunity. One of the oldest restaurants on the island, Hudson’s Seafood House on the Docks, overlooks Skull Creek for a scenic spot to catch a bite as the sun sets. We recommend the many preparations of shrimp, fresh off the boat docked just a stone’s throw away, and when in season, oysters cultivated by General Manager Andrew Carmines. For eats right on the beach, the newly revamped Sea Pines Beach Club inside The Sea Pines Resort is the most breezy, beautiful spot to cool off from sunbathing with a frozen cocktail on the deck. And, its two stylish restaurants, Coast and Ocean Lounge, boast breathtaking ocean views paired with fresh, trendy coastal cuisine. The island comes alive during the nighttime at the “Barmuda Triangle,” a grouping of bars with a shared courtyard. There’s something to suit every vibe — craft beer, Irish pubs, dance floors — and many of the bars feature live music. And finally, for when you need a break from all of the delicious, in-your-face seafood, we recommend Vine, a cozy candlelit restaurant with major foodie appeal and an impressive wine selection, and Ombra Cucina Rustica, a standout, white tablecloth Italian spot where traditional and contemporary fare intersect. We were also impressed by the offerings at The Westin Resort, including the small plates and cocktails at View 32 amidst panoramic views of the pools, palm trees, and ocean, as well as the resort’s healthful breakfast options. Dining out constantly on vacation can prompt the feeling of being weighed down, so the selection of smoothies and fresh juices felt like a blessing.

Coast at Sea Pines Beach Club

Coast at Sea Pines Beach Club

Hudson’s Seafood House on the Docks

Hudson’s Seafood House on the Docks

What To Do

Living on island time, vacationers can spend their days as active as they desire — hitting up one of the 24 golf courses, horseback riding, discovering the bike trails — or laid-back and low key at the beaches, spas, and shopping areas. Our preference intertwines both. We explored the island via paddleboard following a lesson from our very patient instructor named Wayne at Outside Hilton Head, a company that makes a number of other adventures, like kayaking, fishing, and boating, safe, easy, and fun. Also getting in touch with the wildlife, during our dolphin watching tour with H2O Sports, we spotted Bottlenose dolphins almost the entire time we were out on the water and many swam right up next to the boat. Following all of these exciting activities, we headed to FACES DaySpa for some serious relaxation. The award-winning spa features a wide range of services; its own popular line of skincare, body, and makeup products; and Eminence Organics facials, a favorite amongst the WHIRL staff. Then of course, there’s the classic treasures worth revisiting like Harbour Town and its iconic lighthouse, with plenty of activities for all ages, restaurants, and shops. During our stay, people flocked to the area for the annual Yacht Hop, which looked just as fabulous as it sounds. Our final must-see? Hilton Head’s newest development, Shelter Cove Towne Centre, bustling with trendy boutiques and restaurants alongside a brand new marshfront- view park that hosts movie nights, a community market, and live music that often concludes with fireworks.

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Hilton Head Island, S.C., hiltonheadisland.org.

Special thanks to Weber Shandwick and the Hilton Head Chamber of Commerce for organizing this trip.

San Francisco

By Andrea Bosco Stehle | Photographs by J.W. Stehle

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A breathtaking view of the Golden Gate Bridge.

San Francisco — “that’s fun to say!” And even more fun to experience. Still reeling from a glorious spring getaway with my husband, who surprised me with flights to “SF” last Christmas, we left only to find ourselves talking about when we would return. From sleek, steep hills and clicking, climbing cable cars, to a rumbling restaurant scene, San Francisco is an all-American city of energy and charm, not to mention crisp, amiable temps; picturesque homes; and beautiful Bay views. With a packed schedule (albeit generally spontaneous), we embarked on four days of adventure, crossing off and adding to our bucket list.

Where To Stay

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Once designed by interior visionary Dorothy Draper, pristine marble floors and Corinthian columns trimmed in gold stun in The Fairmont San Francisco’s main lobby.

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The gorgeous Bay view from our room on the second floor of The Fairmont San Francisco hotel.

Atop Nob Hill lies a luxurious landmark — The Fairmont San Francisco. The historic hotel served as the site of Tony Bennett’s first public performance of his signature song, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” over 50 years ago. Request a Bay view and your heart will nest itself in the sweeping scape of Alcatraz, Coit Tower, and Saints Peter and Paul Church in the distance. As part of The Fairmont’s Bee Sustainable program, the hotel was the first in the city to install a bee sanctuary, housing rooftop hives that produce 1,000 pounds of honey each year. For the ultimate breakfast-in-bed experience, indulge in the fresh yogurt parfait, made with layers of said house nectar, while taking in the panoramic sights, and sounds of morning bustle and church bells. A downhill walk to Union Square is not far, nor is a brisk jaunt to Mr. Holmes Bakehouse, known for its pastries (strawberry curd donut for the win!) and perfectly Instagrammable neon pink sign that reads, “I got baked in San Francisco.” On your way back up, pop into Grace Cathedral and people-watch in Huntington Park, lush with greenery and active with group fitness. Get a taste of the swanky tropics in the hotel’s storied Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar, which Anthony Bourdain has dubbed “the greatest place in the history of the world.”

Where To Eat & Drink

Last August, Bon Appétit Magazine named San Francisco “the best food city in the country,” a title that its region of renowned chefs, farmers, and restaurateurs has upheld. An unbelievably delicious concentration of restaurants operates along SF’s 47-square-mile peninsula with more cropping up quicker than you can say Uber. Start with Mamacita in the Marina/Pacific Heights neighborhood. While paying homage to original Mexican dishes made from scratch daily, it buzzes with handcrafted cocktails that utilize over 90 in-house tequilas and mezcals. Go for the Pollo Taqueria, crispy Mary’s chicken tacos with guajillo mole, queso oaxaca, shredded little gems, and refried black beans. Complement its crunch with a house margarita — La Mamacita is made with blanco tequila, lime, and agave. Head to Marlowe in SoMa for its stylish California vibe and the burger, served with caramelized onions, cheddar, bacon, and horseradish aioli. Begin with the warm deviled egg, made with aged provolone, pickled jalapeño, and bacon, as well as the Di Stefano burrata with fava bean toast, pea tendrils, sugar snap peas, lemon, and olive oil. For weekend brunch, venture to El Techo in the Mission. Stare at the sun-drenched skyline from its rooftop terrace while savoring the Benedictos, two poached eggs, jalapeño cornbread, chorizo, spinach, and chile hollandaise. Before, after, or during, sip on perhaps the best-ever Paloma, made with Pueblo Viejo tequila, grapefruit, agave, lime, and soda. (Shoutout to our server, Raymond!) Another hot spot is Chef Tyler Florence’s Wayfare Tavern in the Financial District. Dinner begins with freshly baked popovers, served with butter and Maldon sea salt. To start, dig in to the potato tot poutine, comprised of oxtail gravy, spring onion salsa verde, and burrata. Order the organic fried chicken, on Food & Wine’s Best Fried Chicken in America list, which features a buttermilk brine, roasted garlic, crisp herbs, and lemon.

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Pollo Taqueria at Mamacita in Pacific Heights.

What To Do

Go to AT&T Park for a Giants game! Our beloved Pirates will understand. The views are undoubtedly some of the best in baseball — second to PNC Park, of course. Experience North Beach, San Francisco’s Little Italy. Book lovers unite at City Lights, one of the nation’s literary landmarks, founded in 1953. The bookstore-publisher combo has retained its intimacy, while expanding its impressive selection to three floors. Dine along Columbus Avenue and for dessert, treat yourself to canoli and pignoli cookies at Victoria Pastry Co. While nearby, visit the National Shrine of St. Francis of Assisi. If you plan to check out the famously crooked Lombard Street, do it first. The walk to North Beach descends from Russian Hill. If you haven’t before, do the routine touristy stops, such as Fisherman’s Wharf, Ghirardelli, Painted Ladies in Alamo Square, and Golden Gate Park in Haight-Ashbury. Pick a day to experience Wine Country, which will start with a trek across the gorgeous Golden Gate Bridge (Stop for photo ops during the day and at dusk). We visited Francis Ford Coppola Winery for a taste of our favorite Cabernet Sauvignon firsthand. Fragrant roses (for pest control) and a sea of grapevines welcome guests along with a stellar estate, finished with tasting areas, a formal restaurant, and a pool. On display are Coppola’s Academy Awards and much of The Godfather memorabilia, including Don Vito Corleone’s original desk and the Pavilion from The Godfather: Part II, now parked poolside as a platform for all kinds of entertainment. Return to SF by way of Calistoga in Napa Valley for an exclusive flight at Castello di Amorosa. Savor every moment in the 13th-century, Tuscan castle and winery under the golden sun.

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Catching a Giants game at AT&T Park.

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Roses and grapevines are aplenty at Francis Ford Coppola Winery in California Wine Country.


Islamorada, Florida Keys

By Christine Tumpson | Photographs from Cheeca Lodge & Spa, by Christine Tumpson

Each year, we pick a new activity to master, and this year, we chose fishing. Not wanting to wait until the weather warmed in Pittsburgh, my son and I boarded a flight to Miami International Airport and headed straight south in search of deep sea fishing holes. A 90-minute, stunningly beautiful drive through the Florida Keys led us to the Cheeca Lodge & Spa in the middle of the island of Islamorada. Cheeca Lodge is famous around the world for its deep-sea fishing and annual Sail Fish competition. Celebrating its 70th anniversary this year, it has a tradition of hosting elite sportsmen and even former presidents. Recently lauded by Vogue.com as one of 2016’s Five Top Hottest Winter Escapes, the resort is garnering interest from chic travelers with a new building and state-of-the-art facilities. For our mother-son weekend getaway, it was the ultimate place to strengthen our bond with long walks on the white sandy beaches, long talks while enjoying the huge soaking tub on our suite’s balcony, and mainly, above everything else, long rides far out into the Gulf of Mexico to fish. To say that we got hooked is an understatement! Three weeks after our return, that same son took his father back to Cheeca Lodge for a fishing trip — this time, far out into the Atlantic Ocean.

One of the resort’s gems is its restaurant, Atlantic’s Edge (cheeca.com/dining/atlanticsedge). Trained by chef extraordinaire Thomas Keller, Executive Chef Daniel Dalton leads with the freshest of ingredients, including cooking up the fish we caught that day! Grouper, mackerel, and snapper were all prepared three ways — blackened, grilled, and roasted — and presented to us in three overflowing plates. Within minutes, we had shared our scrumptious feast with every other diner in the restaurant, creating a spontaneous event that now makes for a meaningful memory. Lesson? The best way to eat fish is straight from the sea!

One of the resort’s gems is its restaurant, Atlantic’s Edge. Trained by chef extraordinaire Thomas Keller, Executive Chef Daniel Dalton leads with the freshest of ingredients, including cooking up the fish we caught that day! Grouper, mackerel, and snapper were all prepared three ways — blackened, grilled, and roasted — and presented to us in three overflowing plates. Within minutes, we had shared our scrumptious feast with every other diner in the restaurant, creating a spontaneous event that now makes for a meaningful memory. Lesson? The best way to eat fish is straight from the sea!

This is the first catch we made — a grouper! Capt. Brett Hagood, owner of True Island Adventures (trueislandadventures.com), came highly recommended from the Cheeca Lodge staff. Besides being informative and helpful, Capt. Hagood made certain that we dropped anchor right at the convergence of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic, a perfect spot for casting and reeling in fish of every variety, from mackerel to grouper, to needle nose fish and red snapper. We saw them all and caught them, too!

This is the first catch we made — a grouper! Capt. Brett Hagood, owner of True Island Adventures, came highly recommended from the Cheeca Lodge staff. Besides being informative and helpful, Capt. Hagood made certain that we dropped anchor right at the convergence of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic, a perfect spot for casting and reeling in fish of every variety, from mackerel to grouper, to needle nose fish and red snapper. We saw them all and caught them, too!

Feeding the tarpons at Robbie’s (robbies.com) marina is a must-do on this trip. A short drive south and to the right of the bridge is one of the most amazing spots in the world. With 100-pound tarpons just waiting to be fed and powerful pelicans poised to take the snatch, a bucket filled with tiny bait is all you need. But if you want to eat authentic island snacks, snorkel, or hit the open seas in search of adventure, start here.

Feeding the tarpons at Robbie’s marina is a must-do on this trip. A short drive south and to the right of the bridge is one of the most amazing spots in the world. With 100-pound tarpons just waiting to be fed and powerful pelicans poised to take the snatch, a bucket filled with tiny bait is all you need. But if you want to eat authentic island snacks, snorkel, or hit the open seas in search of adventure, start here.

No need to tell a “fish story” with this catch!

No need to tell a “fish story” with this catch!

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