Casco Viejo has an Old Havana type vibe
When my plans for a trip to Havana recently fell through, I took the opportunity to instead visit Panama, making the Central nation my 77th country visited. I’ve spent the past few days using the American Trade Hotel (an Ace Hotel Property) as my home base. It’s been 90 degrees with humidity to match, but I’m made an effort to get out with my cameras and shoot some photos.
The colorful Casco Viejo barrio in Panama City
The American Trade Hotel is located in the historic Casco Viejo neighborhood, which is in the middle of being gentrified, the vibe has some definite similarities to the crumbling beauty of Old Havana. There are restaurants and hotels popping up in the barrio which feels a world away from the “Dubai of Latin America” vibe you get other skyscrapers in other parts of the city.
Left: An abandoned building near Casco Antiguo Right: A nun walking the street
Unlike Havana, there are no cool old classic pre-embargo cars on the streets, and the traffic is some of the worst I’ve seen. But the Latin American love of life is clear here, and the coffee is some of the best I’ve ever tasted.
Panama hats poolside at the American Trade Hotel
My American Ex-Pat friend who lives here swears by Gesha. If you’re not heading to Central America any time soon, worry not. You can buy Gesha for $69 for a 1lb bag of whole beans from Stumptown.Drinks and taxis and food are very reasonably priced. $20 will buy you a killer Panama hat (a misnomer, by the way, so-called Panama hats originated in Ecuador).
Cool street murals in Casco Viejo (mobile photography)
Panama’s mix of cultures has caught me a bit off guard, but the cultural mashup and diverse ethnic makes sense when you think of Panama’s strategic location as the bridge between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and sitting between North and South America.
Texting on the job
It’s been fun exploring the barrio. After being here a few days I’ve observed that Panamanians seem to like their colors bright and their music loud. They party into the wee hours.
Scene from a Hot Saturday Night in Casco Viejo, Panama City
To be honest, I couldn’t figure out if the people I saw on the street at 7 am thought it was late at night or early morning. I’m not sure it even matters because everyone seemed to be having a good time. I know I did.
The cozy outdoor patio at the Lark is kept toasty with heaters
During my recent trip to Santa Barbara, I wanted to have dinner at The Lark, which had come highly recommended to me by a friend. The Lark is located in a building which used to be a fish market in the middle of the Santa Barbara Funk Zone. I’ve always been a fan of re-purposed spaces and was very excited to check it out for myself.
The Lark’s funky space is a renovated former fish market
Since I had my dog, Scarlet, with me on this trip, I decided to keep her in the car rather than leave her unattended at the Santa Barbara Auto Camp. Santa Barbara is a very dog friendly town and the valet made sure my car was parked in the restaurant’s lot so he could keep an eye on Scarlet. Did I mention the valet parking was free? I love that about Santa Barbara. The valet got a big tip for watching Scarlet.
The Lark’s casual chic vibe is so perfect for Southern California
The Lark is very on trend. Their menu focuses on locally sourced tapas and small shareable plates, and they have a wine menu that features a lot of Santa Barbara area wine producers. There is also an impressive cocktail menu (I give a thumbs up to the $12 Maduro Margarita made with green chartreuse, agave, and egg white) and a lot of mircobrews on their menu.
Staying on point, The Lark has an “of the moment” 24 seat communal dining table. I invited my photographer friend who lives in Goleta to join me for dinner. He was impressed that The Lark was doing so well since it opened last year because “there are A LOT of restaurants in this town.”
The Skuna Bay Salmon $14 was a bit tricky to share
Our server was very helpful in suggesting the right amount of food to order and offering suggestions. Instead of bread, flavored popcorn was offered on arrival. Flavored popcorn is like a thing in Santa Barbara.
For our first course, we had the Roast Beet salad ($12) and it was winner. It was earthy and easy to share with dandelion greens, blood oranges, and feta.
Next we tried the Citrus Cured Skuna Bay Salmon ($14). It was served with black pepper creme fraiche, yuzu, dill, pickled shallot, and brioche. This was my least favorite item of the evening, because it was a bit tricky/messy to share (and salmon isn’t my favorite fish).
We followed that with a trio of sliders which were a special that evening. They were yum but I can’t remember the price. Next we had the Hanger Steak ($15) served marinated and grilled, with charred broccoli crispy shallots, chile and mint. For me, the Hanger Steak was the standout dish of the evening and the portion perfect to share.
The Lark’s dinner menu
Our meal was so good we decided to try the Passionfruit Pavlova (price forgotten) made with braised pineapple, white chocolate ganache and kiwi. I was underwhelmed by the ganache, but the braised pineapple was unique and tasty and paired nicely with my herbal tea (suggested by our waitress).
The entire experience at The Lark– from valet to dessert– was fantastic, and it’s no shocker the restaurant has been embraced by locals and visitors alike.
TIP: The Lark is hot, I’d advise making reservations well in advance (I made mine via OpenTable). The Lark also is social media savvy. Check out some of their killer food porn on their Instagram and Twitter accounts.
Address: 131 Anacapa St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101, United States
Tuesday through Sunday
Dinner: 5pm – 10pm
Bar Only: 10pm – 12am
Much thanks to Linda Clark at Glamping.com for giving me this fantastic recommendation. I’m passing it on.
Mom’s PLT made with crispy pastrami & chipotle mayo at Norton’s
I ate well during last week’s trip to Santa Barbara, and one of the most memorable meals came in at under $20 and was from Norton’s Pastrami and Deli. A friend of mine who had learned about Norton’s when he saw it on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives on the Food Network and had tried it. When he started waxing nostalgic while describing Norton’s Mom’s PLT Sandwich– made with the crispy parts of the pastrami, lettuce, tomato and chipotle mayo on toasted sourdough bread, I knew I had to try it.
The Philly Steak sandwich at Norton’s goes for $8.79
A full Mom’s PLT will set you back $8.99. You can also order a half sandwich for $6.99. Norton’s has two locations, and I ate at the Norton’s on South Milpas Street. You order from a snack bar type shack at the East Beach Batting Cages and eat on simple picnic tables on the patio. The menu goes beyond pastrami, and the Philly Steak sandwich ($8.79) was also good but not as memorable as the PLT.
Norton’s Pastrami has two locations in Santa Barbara
The Mom’s PLT from Norton’s was so hella delicious, I thought about returning for another one during my visit. I’ll definitely be heading to Norton’s again the next time I’m in the Santa Barbara area. Norton’s Pastrami is a budget friendly find. Don’t expect much atmosphere– at Norton’s it’s all about the pastrami!
Norton’s Pastrami & Deli
Norton’s Pastrami and Deli
18 W Figueroa St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101
Hours: Mon-Fri 10am-7pm, Sat 10:30am-3:30pm
Norton’s Pastrami and Deli East Beach Batting Cages
226 S. Milpas Santa Barbara, CA 93103
Hours: Mon-Sat 10:30am-4pm
CLOSED ON SUNDAYS
A pomegranate margarita at the bar at Sierra Mar in Big Sur
If your budget doesn’t allow for you to spend a night at the amazing Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur, be sure to dine at the hotel’s Sierra Mar Restaurant. With unobstructed views of the Pacific and a prixe fix lunch menu for $50 (with optional trio of wine pairings for $29), a memorable meal in these special surroundings is a fine dining bargain.
People who live in glass houses should enjoy the view at Sierra Mar Restaurant
Chef Jon Cox’s dinner menu changes frequently based on the best of locally sourced ingredients. There is a four course option prixe fix for $120 and a nine course Taste of Big Sur for $160 (with optional wine pairings offered for $110). I wasn’t up for a four course dinner, and fortunately you can also order a la carte.
Part of the the breakfast buffet at Sierra Mar Restaurant
The Morro Bay oysters came highly recommended, but due to my shellfish allergy I had to pass. Instead I went for the mixed green and chicory salad with cucumber and buttermilk dill emulsion. The salad was beautiful with bright flavors and perfectly dressed.
House made guacamole & salsas are offered on the bar snack menu
Service is top notch– when I found my beef tenderloin a little underdone for my liking, my server quickly got it back on the grill and delivered to me perfect.
The firepit on the patio at Sierra Mar takes the nip out of of cool California air
Sierra Mar has an extensive wine list with over 2,600 selections. There is also wine by the glass and cocktail menu. The pomegranate margarita had just enough kick and was very refreshing at lunch.
John Steinbeck memorabilia on display at Sierra Mar
Guests at the Post Ranch Inn have breakfast included in the room rate, and the buffet spread is impressive with house cured lox, an omelette station, fresh fruit, yogurt, and pastries.
Sierra Mar is sexy at night
Reservations are essential at Sierra Mar (as you have to pass by the security gate to get to the restaurant).
The mixed green salad with fennel and a light buttermilk dill dressing
Beef tenderloin and brussel sprouts
With sexy surroundings, killer views, delicious cuisine and great service, Sierra Mar is worth the splurge for a memorable meal.
Sierra Mar Restaurant at The Post Ranch Inn
47900 California 1, Big Sur, CA 93920, United States
Reservations: (831) 667-2800
Breakfast: 8:00 a.m. – 10:30 a.m.
Lunch: 12:15 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. (three-course prix-fixe $50)
Dinner: 5:30 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. (four-course, prix fixe $120)
My lab, Scarlet, chilling out at the Santa Barbara Auto Camp
I’ve spent the last few days in Santa Barbara staying in a renovated vintage 1973 31′ Airstream Sovereign at the Santa Barbara Auto Camp on assignment for the Glamping.com blog. Since my Airstream suite is pet friendly, my dog, Scarlet joined me for this Southern California road trip.
All of the five Airstreams at the Santa Barbara Auto Camp have been renovated with sustainable materials. Each suite also has satellite tv and a DVD player as well as a kitchenette with a microwave and all the basics. There are BBQs outside and deck chairs.
You can check out the posts about my experience the first afternoon here and the first night here.
Stay tuned to the Glamping.com blog for more detailed trip report posts.
Each Airstream Suite comes with two beach cruisers for exploring the area
Each Airstream suite comes with two beach cruisers so you can explore the surrounding area by bike. The beach is about 3 miles away and the Old Santa Barbara Mission about a mile away.
The Dining Area and interior of Airstream Suite 1
All the Airstreams in the park have been renovated and are super cute and user friendly.
The claw foot tub and renovated bathroom of my Airstream suite at the Santa Barbara Auto Camp
My suite featured a claw foot bathtub and a 30 gallon hot water heater so there was no problem filling it.
Scarlet approves of the 1,000 thread count sheets on the bed in my Airstream at the Auto Camp
The Santa Barbara Auto Camp is located in an actual trailer park that has been around since 1922. The residents I encountered were friendly.
Why not stay in a pimped out Airstream in Santa Barbara?
Rates for the Airstream suites start at $139 dollars a night, it’s no shocker that the camp fills up well in advance on weekends.
A pair of rabbits hopping about the property add additional charm
Enjoying a glass of local Hitching Post Pinot Noir with my dog outside the Airstream
Much thanks to Glamping.com and The Santa Barbara Auto Camp for hosting my pet friendly trip.