Hilton Hotel San Jose Review, Excellent Downtown Location

Friday April 19, 2013 at 5:05 AM | 1 Comment

Hilton Hotel San Jose

A review of the Hilton Hotel San Jose in California

Having lived in the San Francisco Bay Area the majority of my life, I feel that I know the area fairly well. However, I recently had the opportunity to explore San Jose, California for several days and was pleasantly impressed at what this Silicon Valley city had to offer. My home base for city exploration was the Hilton Hotel San Jose.

Hilton Hotel downtown location

Within walking distance to the Center for the Performing Arts, The Tech Center, The California Theater, restaurants and sporting venues, the Hilton Hotel offers and excellent and convenient downtown San Jose location.

Pet-friendly Hilton Hotel

For those who like to travel on vacation with their dogs, The Hilton Hotel San Jose is pet-friendly, offering a $50, one-time, non-refundable pet fee. Large dog owners rejoice; while there is a 75 weight limit on pets, the front desk staff said this is not an issue.

"Hilton Hotel Standard Double Room"

The Hilton Hotel Standard Double room in San Jose, California

Clean rooms at Hilton Hotel

What can business and leisure travelers expect in a room at the Hilton Hotel San Jose? My room, #814, was a standard double with two Hilton-branded Serenity Beds, down pillows and 250 thread-count sheets. In addition, it offered an in-room refrigerator and coffee-maker. It rented for $229, plus tax, during a week day. Check the website for further details.

My standard hotel room offered a view of the freeway, and I did hear planes fly overhead,(the San Jose International Airports is nearby) but the rooms are well insulated and the hills of San Jose, California may be seen in the distance. I liked the fact that the large window in my room could actually be opened, yet it was child-safe.

Bathroom cleansing amenities were from PeterThomasRoth clinical skin care and a hair dryer was supplied. While water is a precious resource in California, I confess that I am not a fan of the reduced water flow shower heads in some hotels. I’m pleased to report that the water pressure on the combination shower bathtub in my hotel room was excellent.

Palm trees lined the street below and there are parks nearby (one offering the largest Monopoly board in the world) but keep in mind that we are in Silicon Valley – this part of San Jose, California is not about open space.

Hilton Hotel San Jose lobby

Hilton Hotel San Jose lobby

Extras at Hilton Hotel

For those who like to stay in shape while they travel, the Hilton Hotel San Jose offers a gym, jacuzzi and small outdoor, heated swimming pool on the third floor.

There is a full restaurant and bar on the lobby level, in addition to a business center that is open 24 hours. If you don’t want to pay $9.95 each day for internet access, there is complimentary WiFi in the lobby and on the second floor.

Parking will cost you at the Hilton Hotel – $21 daily with unlimited in and out privileges.


Hilton Hotel San Jose view

View of San Jose, California from the Hilton Hotel

Hilton Honors

Hilton Honors has its privileges and is certainly worth signing up. In addition to a complimentary bottle of water upon check in, Gold and Diamond level Hilton Honors members receive complimentary hotel room upgrades when available. Members have access to the Executive Lounge on the 18th floor (with key code) for complimentary hot breakfast, honor bar and evening hors d’oeuvres and desserts.

Check in: 3:00 p.m.

Check out: 12:00 p.m.

If You Go:

Hilton Hotel San Jose (408) 287-2100

300 Almaden Blvd.

San Jose, CA 95110

Article written by and photos courtesy of  Travel Writer Nancy D. Brown of What a Trip, Travels from Northern California. I was a guest of Hilton Hotel San Jose.

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Ohioan Family Takes a California Road Trip- Top 10 List plus 2

Wednesday April 17, 2013 at 8:08 AM | 2 Comments

San Francisco bay view

My husband, 11-year-old son and I started our California road trip in San Francisco. With an ambitious itinerary, we headed off from San Francisco International airport in our Dodge Avenger rental car (GPS equipped)  to visit friends and see what we could see in 10 days. National Parks, beaches, prehistoric history, small town charm, wildlife,  oddities and great food were favorites.

Here are the high points, several unexpected, as we traveled from San Francisco through Monterey, Santa Barbara, Santa Monica,  Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, Joshua Tree, Yosemite and back to San Francisco. These highlights are listed in order.

1. San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, San Francisco- After watching the seals at Pier 39 and eating clam chowder out of bread bowls at Boudin, the tourist hotspot for sourdough bread, we stumbled upon the San Francisco Maritime Historical Park, two blocks past Fishmerman’s Wharf. The park consists of a fine collection of historic ocean vessels including the 1886 square-rigger Balclutha and the 1890 steam ferryboat Eureka. Visitors can explore each vessel of the park. Also stop in the park’s visitor center across the street from the pier to learn more about San Francisco’s maritime history. We ran out of time before we made it to the museum.

The 1886 square-rigger Balclutha

2. Ripley’s Believe it or Not! Odditorium, San Francisco- Another unexpected highlight was going to Ripley’s Believe it or Not! Odditorium, also near Fisherman’s Wharf. I went to please my son, but discovered  LeRoy Ripley, who later changed his first name to Robert, was a genius when it comes to cultural anthropology. Instead of a tourist trap, I found myself engaged by the displays of items that Ripley collected himself or inspired in others. The exhibits evoked images of my own world travels and my interest in other people’s passions. My son was enthralled and now wants to become a modern day Robert Ripley. If you go, and if you’re a member of AAA, ask for a discount.

3. Whale Watching, Monterey – With a plan to drive down Highway 1, the Pacific Coast Highway, we headed from San Francisco to Monterey. I booked our whale watching trip online with Princess Monterey Whale Watching a couple days earlier. The trip was splendid. Along with learning about whales and ocean facts from the narration by the whale expert on board, heading out into Monterey Bay was a treat.  We did see two grey whales which did not disappoint. They spouted water and showed us their tails, once in unison. Getting a picture of them was a bit tricky. The sea lions who hang out near the wharf in Monterey were much easier subjects.

The Old Mission in Santa Barbara

4. Old Mission, Santa Barbara – Looking for a place of interest to stop between Monterey and Santa Monica, a search using my cell phone turned up the Old Mission in Santa Barbara. The stop was a terrific way to learn about Spanish and Catholic (Franciscan) influence in California, important details about Chumesh Indian history, and religious art. The biggest surprise was discovering that Juana Maria, the inspiration of Scott O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins, is buried here. Because my son read the book in 4th grade, seeing her grave had added significance.

5. Santa Monica Pier and the beach, Santa Monica – Visiting Santa Monica’s iconic pier is a must with every California visit. The last time we were there, our son was 1 1/2 years old and was enamored with a performance artist who blew enormous soap bubbles. At age 11, he was all about riding on the roller coaster. He also roller bladed with a friend of mine while I rode along on a rented bike ($7 per hour). A highlight for our son was swimming in the ocean. Undaunted by the chilly water, he took off his shirt, shoes and socks and headed into the waves.

Project 23 at La Brea Tar Pits

6. La Brea Tar Pits, Las Angeles- The La Brea Tar Pits fits beautifully into anyone’s hankering to be like Robert Ripley. The park chronicles the Ice Age where mastodons, dire wolfs and saber cats roamed. If you don’t want to pay the admission price for the Page Museum where skeletons of animals excavated from the pits are on display along with excellent explanations, you can still get a feel for the tar pits impact thousands of years ago when they trapped unsuspecting animals in their black stickiness. We went to the museum which is definitely worthwhile, but we were most interested in Pit 91 and Project 23. These excavation sites provide a look-see into the excavation process. Project 23 is a current excavation project where you can watch folks uncover bone treasures.

7. Byblos Cafe, Orange – The city of Orange, not far from Disneyland, has a lovely town center situated around a square complete with a gorgeous tiled fountain and orange trees. The highpoint here was eating at Byblos Cafe, (129 W Chapman Ave.) a Mediteranean  restaurant specializing in Greek and Lebanese food that’s worth driving for. The city of Orange is celebrating its 125th year and has the largest historic district in California.

Tidepools at Cabrillo National Monument

8. Cabrillo National Monument, San Diego- Upon the recommendation of our nephew who just became a Navy Seal and lives in the area, we headed here to wander along the rocks of  the tide pools.  This is among the most beautiful scenery on earth. Seriously. And, I’ve seen a lot of scenery. A highlight was finding two sea anemones in one of the tide pools. We did have to look and look. If you go, stop in the monument’s visitor center for a well done exhibit on 16th century explorers. In 1542, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, was the first European explorer to land on the shores of California’s coast.

9. Niederfrank’s, San Diego- First opened in the 1940s , Niederfrank’s (726 A Ave, National City), serves up ice-cream that has been featured on The Today Show and is a menu item in several of southern California’s best restaurants. With any flavor, you can’t go wrong. Tasting to help in decision-making is allowed.

Working at becoming a Junior Ranger at Joshua Tree

10. Farmers Market, Joshua Tree- On our way to Joshua Tree National Park, we stopped by the Saturday farmers market held in the town of Joshua Tree. Our original intention was to meet up with a friend of my brother’s who lives there. The surprise was discovering a small artsy town we would like to come back to. If you go, the Greek food sold at the farmers market  is splendid and perfect for road trip eating.

11. Ranger Talk with Shelton Johnson at Yosemite National Park – I am a huge fan of park ranger talks and the National Park’s Junior Ranger program. I’m never disappointed. At Yosemite, my son and I were enthralled by Shelton Johnson, the ranger who, on that day, conducted the talk and walk about bears. “Come in closer,” is one of Johnson’s methods of pulling participants into audience participation and bear facts that one won’t forget. Johnson is a master storyteller which is one of the reasons why he is featured in Ken Burns’ PBS series on the National Parks and has appeared on Oprah. One day I hope see Johnson’s one man performance as a Buffalo Soldier held at the park in the summer. Oh, yeah, Yosemite in April was perfect. Although all the park was not open, the amount of tourists made visiting park highlights easy. Finding a parking spot was never a problem.

On a special tour of the hospital at Alcatraz

12. Alcatraz Prison, San Francisco – Alcatraz was at the top of our son’s To Do list.  We reserved tickets a week in advance for our visit, something I recommend. Our tour was the 3:30 trip, the last one of the day. At first, I was annoyed with myself for not picking an earlier schedule since we missed the ranger talks held earlier in the day, but once I found out we had plenty of time for the tour,  my disappointment abated. The lighting was perfect.

Plus, while we were in the dining room, one of the guides announced he could give a tour of the prison’s hospital to 8 people. We scampered over to him lickety split and headed upstairs to see where the famed Bird Man of Alcatraz lived, as well as, learn about the filming of the movie The Rock and how the prison hospital worked.

Related Posts:

Things to See and Do in Monterey

Things to See and Do in Santa Barbara

Post and photos courtesy of Jamie Rhein, member of Midwest Travel Writers Association


How To Be a VIP in Las Vegas – M Life

Monday April 15, 2013 at 5:05 AM | 1 Comment

Las Vegas VIP

How to be a VIP in Las Vegas, Nevada

Do you ever wonder who is sitting behind the tinted windows in that stretch limousine cruising the Las Vegas strip? Who are those people who skip the long nightclub lines and are ushered to the front; seamlessly moving behind the velvet rope? How does James Bond know how to create the perfect cocktail?

The secret to being a VIP in Las Vegas is not who you know, but what you know.

Follow my suggestions and you, too, will be living the M life as a VIP in Las Vegas!


Javier's Tequila Tree

This Tequila Tree at Javier’s in ARIA Resort holds $30,000 worth of Tequila

Las Vegas not just for poker players

It used to be that casino loyalty programs targeted the gambler; slot machine, video poker or table game players. The folks at MGM Resorts have concluded that 60% of their customer base falls into the non-gaming category. As a luxury traveler, I fall into the non-gaming category. But that doesn’t mean I don’t spend money in Las Vegas. I like to think of myself as a VIP, and you can be one, too!

I go to Las Vegas, Nevada for the amazing shows (KA and Zarkana on my recent trip) the fabulous restaurants (Sensi at Bellagio is my new favorite) the spa (try the Reflexology Massage at The Spa at ARIA) and lounging at the pool.

While there is nothing wrong with spending time in Las Vegas casinos, I like spending the day experiencing moments, dining well and then crashing in a luxurious hotel room.


M life Moments

If you join the M life program (it’s free), you’ll be rewarded with points for every dollar you spend on hotels, dining, entertainment, spa experiences, slots and table games. All M life members start at the Sapphire level and work their way up to the ultra-exclusive Noir level with tier credits. While I’m a Sapphire M life member, I was fortunate to experience some memorable M life Moments in Las Vegas. Here’s what’s possible with M life moments:


Hit Bar & Lounge Mixology Training

Mixology Training at Hit Bar & Lounge, an M life Moment at Monte Carlo

Mixology Tasting at Hit Bar & Lounge at Monte Carlo

James Bond makes drinking cocktails look sexy. I had a chance to learn how to make super premium cocktails with Master Mixologist Michael MacDonnel. When I sat down at the Hit Bar, I didn’t know a Mai Tai from a Sidecar. After my Mixology training I know to “never muddle the mint.” I used my mint to garnish the Mai Tai. When I really want to impress someone, I now know how to burn the orange in a Blood and Sand cocktail.


Cirque du Soleil KA cast

M life Moment – having your picture taken with the cast of KA by Cirque du Soleil at MGM Grand

KA by Cirque du Soleil

If you have been to Las Vegas, you know that Cirque du Soleil has numerous shows featured throughout the strip.  I was fortunate to see KA at the MGM Grand and Zarkana at ARIA Resort & Casino.

Nothing shouts VIP more than meeting members of the cast, pre-show, having pictures taken with Cirque cast members and being ushered to VIP seats at one of Las Vegas premier shows!


Aria Spa Suite

Aria private spa retreat – an M life Moment in Las Vegas

Private Spa Retreat

For me, nothing says luxury vacation like a spa treatment. As this was my first time to visit Aria Resort & Casino, I didn’t know they had private Spa Suites.  Now I know why bachelorette parties and girlfriend getaways are so popular in Las Vegas. The spa suite is the place to gather for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres before your spa treatment!

I had the 50 minute reflexology massage – is there anything more important than hands, shoulders, feet and a scalp massage? I think not. As I say at most every luxury spa experience, “I could have stayed at the spa all day.”


Vincent Pouessel

Aureole Executive Chef Vincent Pouessel in the kitchen at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Private Cooking Lesson at Aureole at Mandalay Bay

If I were a VIP,  I’d have a private chef cook for me. The chef doesn’t have to be a celebrity chef, but he or she does have to know how to prepare fabulous meals and desserts. Perhaps I need my own pastry chef, too?

For this next M life Moment, I learned to cook like chef Charlie Palmer at Aureole in his Las Vegas, Nevada restaurant.  In the spirit of full disclosure, I watched Auerole Executive Chef Vincent Pouessel make his famous French onion soup, topped with puff pastry and I watched pastry chef, Megan Bringas, make her delicious macaroons.

Do I have any aspirations to become a gourmet cook? To the great disappointment of my husband and children, the answer is no. Will I come back to Auerole to dine and watch the girls nimbly climb the 42 foot, 10,000 bottle wine tower in the restaurant to retrieve a bottle of California Cabernet Sauvignon to accompany my meal? Yes, indeed.


Minus5 Ice Bar

How to be a VIP in Las Vegas at Minus5 Ice Bar

Minus5 Ice Bar

Want to party like a rock star in the Minus5 Ice Bar at Monte Carlo? This was one of my favorite M life Moments in Las Vegas, Nevada.

I have been to the Aurora Ice Museum outside of Fairbanks, Alaska, but the Minus5 Ice Bar, complete with faux fur coats and in-house photographer, made me feel live a Las Vegas VIP.

While you are welcome to bring your camera into the Minus5 Ice Bar, the in-house photographer has a professional camera that is better able to capture your VIP moments – the Ice Bar has different lighting due to the ice sculptures and frosty temperature of minus five degrees (twenty-three degrees Fahrenheit.)


Bellagio Fountains

The Fountains of Bellagio as seen from Hyde Bellagio

The Fountains of Bellagio at Hyde Bellagio

While there are plenty of other M life Moments in the mix, my ultimate VIP moment in Las Vegas happened when my song was played while the Fountains of Bellagio danced in front of me – now that was truly a VIP experience!

Located at the best seats in the house at Hyde Bellagio, my friends and I enjoyed VIP treatment while sipping cocktails and sampling hors d’oeuvres from this luxury Las Vegas nightclub.

Insider Tip

For the budget-minded visiting Las Vegas, Nevada, the Bellagio Fountains are free to everyone to enjoy! This complimentary Las Vegas show choreographs water, music and light seven days a week, every fifteen to thirty minutes on their 8-acre lake.

If You Go:

All of this is available to you, my friend, by joining M life here. You’ll be on your way to earning points and living the M life! (I don’t earn any $ from MGM for this program.)

Article written by and photos courtesy of  Travel Writer Nancy D. Brown of What a Trip, Travels from Northern California.  Minus5 Ice Bar supplied me with this photo. I was a guest of MGM Resorts.

Related Post:

Things to See and Do in Las Vegas, Nevada