A Walk On Water: Surf Therapy for the Soul

Surf’s definitely up.

I headed out to Santa Monica to the Annenberg Community Beach House for an early evening event on Thursday, a refreshing change of pace from the hustle and bustle of the countless Hollywood red carpets that I’m used to.

I had an idea of what A Walk On Water was about just from quickly glancing at the invite as I rushed out the door but once I arrived and was able to soak it all in — pun intended — I was truly moved by what this organization does and they certainly stood out among the rest.

A Walk On Water provides surf therapy for special needs children and families. Surfing, of course, is therapy in general for most (from what I hear I sadly never have, gotta get on that!) but this group has the patience, love and skills to teach kids who may not have ever gotten the chance or had the courage to get in the water and try.

Matteo with surf therapist Tyler Morris. Photo courtesy of A Walk On Water‘s Instagram by Rachael Etter.
Ava with surf therapist Soleil Errico. Photo courtesy of A Walk On Water‘s Instagram by Erik Eiser.

The Paul Mitchell-sponsored event started inside with a VIP reception with some pretty cool items up for auction like a signed surfboard from Liam Hemsworth, or a personalized Gibson guitar from Slash.

Liam Hemsworth signing the surfboard donated from Modern Surfboards/Courtesy of A Walk On Water‘s Instagram.

The A Walk On Water members were easy to identify thanks to their hip motorcycle vests designed with their logo on the back. Because giving back is cool!

The genuine conversation and smiles exchanged within this group was a more relaxed vibe than I am used to. They actually care. It’s not just for the night or for the event or because the cameras are on them. Some of the kids were present of course, holding hands, high-fiving, warmly hugged and attended to by their surf mentors.

I was sincerely thanked multiple times for coming and enthusiastically educated about what they do.

Seeing life through a different perspective.

Outside, down by the pool overlooking the ocean, a small stage and projection screen was set up, along with tables on either side with food from Bruce’s Catering. A bar served some local 805 beer and wine from Malibu Family Wines.

Scott Caan hosted and spoke of the organization. A beautifully shot video was played showing a montage of the kids out in the water learning to surf, smiles of freedom plastered across their faces. One boy rode on his mentor’s shoulders as he navigated his surfboard along the waves. Guests cheered as each kid appeared on the screen.

It was obvious that this crew is quite a family. The interactions between the mentors and kids just melted my heart this evening, on screen and in person. And reminded me how rewarding it can be to spread joy to others, just with patience and kindness.

For more info on A Walk On Water, including ways to volunteer or donate, please check out their website at https://awalkonwater.org

Publicist Christine Peake, me, actress Erin Gavin.
My boyfriend Jimmy Moran and I.

Destination Wedding: Spotlight on Xcaret Park in Playa Del Carmen

Guadalupe Chapel at Xcaret Park. By Gonzalo Nunez Photography.

There’s nothing wrong with doing the standard destination wedding — a beach ceremony and reception. We’ve all been to one or have seen several all lined up along the water while on vacation. But if you are looking to throw something a little more authentic with a flair of some local Mayan culture — like my cousin Kelly Meegan did with her now-hubby Kevin O’Connor — Xcaret Park in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico should be on your map!

This exotic resort and eco-theme park on the Mayan Riviera features one of the best kept secrets along the Caribbean as far as weddings go. The Guadalupe Chapel. This breathtaking venue is the perfect mix of new and old, with it’s 20th century neoclassical architecture and a cavernous altar surrounded by water lit up with floating candles. Once seated on wooden benches inside the spacious yet intimate venue, guests look up behind them as the wedding party and beautiful bride descend down the stone steps to the underground cenote, the surroundings giving off a calming and awe-inspiring vibe to its visitors.

Father of the bride Paul walking his daughter down to the altar. By Gonzalo Nunez Photography.

By the time the bride and groom said their “I do’s” it was dark and we walked through the jungle-like exotic paths lit by paper lanterns leading us to a reception area set up on the sand, overlooking the waves crashing over the rocks below. Strings of lights between palm trees made the remote party paradise glow as top 40’s hits played on a sound system. I felt like I was on The Bachelor. It was made-for-TV-magical.

The Guadalupe Chapel altar.
Presenting Mr. and Mrs. Kevin O’Connor! By Gonzalo Nunez Photography
The bride and groom at their romantic Xcaret Park reception

Guests dined on Mayan cuisine and tequila, dancing all night under the stars to hit songs by Bruno Mars and The Weeknd, along with some throwbacks jams by artists like 50 Cent and Ludacris. The bride and groom chose Ed Sheeran’s “Perfect” for their sweet first dance, the “we were just kids when we fell in love” lyrics reminiscent of their story, the couple having known each other since grammar school. It was very touching and an excellent song choice. See the video of their first dance below!

Magic moment.
The father of the bride, Paul, dancing with daughter Kelly.
The groom and his mother Debbie. By Gonzalo Nunez Photography.

It was one of the most beautiful weddings I’ve been to, and I’ve been to quite a few!

After a flawless wedding day and night, we shuttled back to the all-inclusive Riu Palace Riviera Maya where most of the guests stayed and enjoyed a couple more days in the sand, celebrating with the new Mr. and Mrs. and our even more extended family.

Huge thanks to Kevin and Kelly O’ConnorPaul and Pegi Meegan (bride’s parents) and Pat and Debbie O’Connor (groom’s parents) for throwing such a gorgeous party and to their dear friends Sarah and Kip Kelley (and adorable daughter Ferrill) for the classy welcome reception at the Riu Palace the night before the wedding, a lovely touch to get acquainted with everyone! Thank you Ryan Meegan for the fancy tequila and your overall generosity with family.

Viva Mexico! Sí.

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By Gonzalo Nunez Photography
By Gonzalo Nunez Photography
By Gonzalo Nunez Photography
By Gonzalo Nunez Photography
By Gonzalo Nunez Photography

 

 

Mt. Baldy Lodge: Cozy Mountain Escape Just Outside of L.A.

Cabin #7.

If you want an easy weekend getaway from Los Angeles without having to spend much time in the car, then Mt. Baldy Lodge should be on your map!

For Angelenos and those visiting who want to soak in some different scenery from the typical stargazing in Hollywood or cruising the coastline, this comfy, cozy mountain retreat makes you feel hundreds of miles away.

The front of Mt. Baldy Lodge.

Just about an hour outside of L.A. and a short 4-mile drive up Mt. Baldy (part of the San Gabriel Mountains) the Lodge is situated at 4,000 ft elevation, tucked into a beautifully tree-lined road that is quite easy to get to.

The quaint mountain mini-resort, built in 1914, offers six cabins scattered around the main Lodge — a comfy and spacious bar and restaurant decked out with dark wood, stone fireplaces, a pool table and loads of charm.

The bar area of the Mt. Baldy Lodge.

A day trip up to the restaurant is worth the drive alone for lunch or dinner, and if you’re staying overnight, the outdoor patio closes early so as not to disturb the guests. They do a pretty good job of keeping the noise inside the restaurant, which I was unsure about at first. So if you feel like some privacy, head on back to your cabin. Feeling social? You can bop in and out of the Lodge for a drink and a bite and get a Mt. Baldy history lesson from the locals. It’s a family-owned business and they treat their regulars and guests as such — like they’re part of the family.

One of the main rules however…NO COOLERS! All food and drink must be purchased from the restaurant, which didn’t bother me because they were cool with bringing drinks back to the cabin and they give you buckets of ice for bottles of beer that you purchase, etc. There are no kitchens in the cabins but their sprawling menu is sure to satisfy, from your choice of comfort foods like grilled cheese and chili cheese fries, to burgers, steaks and salads, even a Chicken Cordon Bleu. The Lodge opens for lunch at 11am during the week, so plan accordingly if you’re there Monday-Friday! Weekends, they do breakfast from 9-11:30am and then open for lunch at noon.

The six stand-alone cabins all boast their very own fireplace, so make sure to BYOF (Bring your own firewood!) The cabins all have a front porch or deck, with benches to sit and relax on outside for some fresh air and taking in some Baldy beauty. The rates are $127-$175 for one night, cheaper if you book multiple nights. 2-person to 4-person cabins.

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Other activities to do outside? Walk a few yards from the outdoor patio and you have your choice between Ping Pong, Corn Hole, Basketball, an area for Horseshoes, a sand Volleyball court and even an outdoor pool and diving board for warm-weathered months!

After a couple days of relaxing in and out of the Lodge, it was time to explore the rest of Mt. Baldy! Drive up the winding Mt. Baldy Rd another few miles and you’ll reach a parking lot for the ski lift. Sugarpine Chair Lift is open even when there’s no snow and for $25/person, you can take a 15-minute scenic ride up to Top of the Notch restaurant, and FYI it’s the only way to get up there!

Inside is a huge hall/lodge lined with cafeteria tables beneath high ceilings decorated with ski décor, not to mention a bar famously titled “The Mt. Baldy Yacht Club” by locals. They serve beer, wine and Soju-based cocktails. Be sure to try the Hot Spiced Wine, YUM! Outside on the wrap-around deck, there are picnic tables to enjoy panoramic views of Baldy while you’re scarfing down your burger and dranks.

View from the Sugarpine Chair Lift.
Coming up on Top of the Notch restaurant from the chair lift.
Manmade bunny hill.

Even when there’s no snow, you can still take your kids tubing or up for a ski lesson in fall and winter months, as they have a decent patch of manmade snow on their version of a bunny hill.

I missed out on hitting the hiking trails this trip unfortunately, but a moderate hike (1.2 miles and a little steep) I wanted to do was up to San Antonio Falls, a 75-foot multi-tiered waterfall. This trail begins about 3/4 of a mile down the mountain from the Sugarpine Chair Lift lot, on your right hand side. There are several others, but they seemed a bit steep in the descriptions, so I didn’t think my Converse were going to cut it!

Mt. Baldy is one of L.A.‘s best kept secrets and a top notch alternative to trendy and sometimes overcrowded Big Bear. I’m anxious to get back ASAP and enjoy another round of this magical mountain escape, only this time freshly dumped with snow!

Hard Rockin’ in the Dominican

The pristine white sand beaches and turquoise waters at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana.

Getting my Hard Rocks off! It’s tough to choose my favorite Hard Rock resort that I have stayed at thus far — Puerto Vallarta, Riviera Maya or Punta Cana — but I will say that the all-inclusive in the Dominican Republic takes the cake as far as beaches go.

The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana‘s sprawling grounds grace the southeastern shore of the Dominican, where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Caribbean Sea. The white sand and turquoise waters don’t get any better than this! Zero rocks in the water and purely soft sand at your feet.

Each morning, after a scrumptious international buffet breakfast at The Market restaurant, I eased into the day’s festivities by starting off with a swim at the private beach. The hotel has chairs set up for guests on the sand, with or without little huts to shade you from the sun. After some tranquil sea time, the wind whipping my beach hair into shape, and about 100 photos or so (hard to resist!), it’s time for a drink.

Yours truly on the beach at the Hard Rock.

The pool scene is more fun for people-watching once you break the bar seal (I try to limit my Miami Vices to two a day. Sugar bombs!) and the tunes are blarin’ of course, as it is the Hard Rock. I hit up three pools out of the thirteen but my pool of choice is generally always the one with the swim-up bar. Shots of rum, mainly the country’s alcoholic crown jewel Mamajuana — a Dominican concoction of rum, wine and spices soaked in bottles filled with bits of tree bark — were the most popular shooters offered by the locals to keep tourists sauced in between Presidente beers.

One of the main activities pools.
One of four pools at the resort with a swim-up bar.

My Caribbean King Suite was quite spacious to relax in after a long day of drinks and activities, and all of the rooms at the Hard Rock resorts have large hydro spas (that can fit about six!) and private balconies. The walk-in shower with dual shower heads was also a highlight, it was like having my own private spa.

Two reasons why the Punta Cana resort is more dangerous than the others I have visited? Shopping. And the Casino. Drinks are already flowing (it’s an all-inclusive, remember!), so there really isn’t an excuse to give yourself for losing your money at the tables like one does in Vegas with the ol’ “Well, at least I drank for free all night” self-assurance.

The numerous shops (with enticing window displays) feature many luxury brands in resort wear, sunglasses and footwear. Everything is high end and beautifully designed, it really does have a bit of a Vegas hotel vibe in certain areas of this grand resort. And there are nine restaurants to choose from! Not to mention a golf course.

After a few days of exploring the hotel grounds, it was time to venture out for an excursion. I chose the Scuba/Snorkel trip from a vendor in the hotel lobby but actually wound up doing neither. Hey, I wanted a boat ride with options! The cruise sailed off from La Romana about an hour southwest from the hotel and included a stop at the tropical island, Isla de Catalina, which was one of the highlights of my trip. This uninhabited Caribbean island defines paradise and the weather couldn’t have been more perfect to show off it’s natural beauty that day.

View from the boat in La Romana.
One of the dive guides giving me a lil pose on the boat.
Juggling some pineapples on Isla Catalina.

Day four and five I finally made it to Body Rock, the massive modern gym, to work off all the daiquiris. Normally, that’s one of my favorite things to do at the Hard Rock hotels. Vacation to me is working out every day because I finally have ample time. And I feel less guilty splurging for the rest of the day. They offer a variety of daily classes as well for the ultra motivated.

Picture perfect photo opp on the beach!

I highly recommend December travel, the weather was consistently perfect and the hotel’s holiday decor made it extra festive. Overall it was a beautiful first trip to the Dominican, a five-star resort suitable for couples or families with endless things to do for all different personalities.

Can’t wait for the opening of Hard Rock Cabo!