Thursday, November 20, 2014

Hiking Inspiration Point

Seriously, I did not give it a second thought. In fact, I was beyond excited about it!

At a September, 2014 conference setting in lovely Santa Barbara, California at the Four Seasons Biltmore Resort, I was presented with a variety of options for an afternoon activity. The choices were golf (something I frequently do where I live in South Carolina), kayaking in the ocean (tempting, but I felt that my kayaking debut should be in calmer waters), a facial or massage at the spa (I could do that any place, any time), whale watching (except we were told that it was not whale season), or hiking. Ah, hiking! When I lived in New York, I loved hiking in the Adirondacks and even formed my own hiking group. I recall being at the top of Buck Mountain and looking down on small aircraft. Hiking it would be!

Originally, there were fourteen people signed up, but due to the unusually soaring temperatures for this area, seven cancelled. So, off we went with two affable guides, four younger hikers and three…shall we say… senior citizen hikers, of which I was one.

Completely pumped as we began the trek, Brian led the pack while his co-worker, Jake, stayed at the rear with us old codgers. The younger folks practically ran up the sun-drenched trail, but I sensed that it was in my best interest to pace myself. After about fifteen minutes of climbing straight up, my heart was pounding like a big bass drum, and I was utterly out of breath. How could that happen? Then I remembered--my last hiking event occurred over ten years ago. I quickly discovered that I needed frequent rests and could not dash up the mountain. Stopping occasionally to survey the spectacular view and gulp some chilled bottled water served as a valid excuse to catch my breath.

After climbing the trail for what seemed like an eternity, I finally asked Jake, “Okay. How much longer will it take us to reach the top, and will it be this steep all the way?” Obviously, the last question was silly. Of course, it would be steeper as we reached the top.

Jake humored me and replied, “About another half hour straight up.”

“Fine,” I said. “Remember that shaded area we just passed a minute ago? Well, that’s where you’ll find me when you come back down. This body isn’t going any further uphill.”

He radioed Brian to advise him that I was stopping in my tracks, and the two other senior citizens in our group breathed audible sighs of relief, thrilled to be joining me. I think they were just waiting for someone else to cry “uncle.” No one wanted to be the first to stop, but I did not want to have to be airlifted off the mountain.

The others joined us in about fifteen or twenty minutes, having made it to the top, taken photos and returned to our little social circle in the shade. Brian asked us if we wanted to descend the mountain the same way we came up, or did we want to try the “fun” way down?

Naturally, this adventurous group opted for the “fun” way, which contained no trail at all, but was comprised of huge boulders that we had to navigate in order to progress down the mountain. To say it was challenging would be a gross understatement. I survived it and did not break an ankle or leg, even when I had to sit on gigantic rock formations and slide down to the next level.

It was gratifying to be able to declare that I did it. I had hiked the major portion of the mountain and had the privilege of viewing the picture-perfect scenery that would have been impossible to see from ground level. On the way down, I traversed the rugged terrain with the best of them and finished unscathed. A huge thank you to Brian and Jake for their expertise and patience!

At the end of the day, I felt great for putting my body to the test, stretching my limits, participating in the “fun” way down. The destination was called Inspiration Point, and I actually left there inspired to depart from my comfort zone more often. Now, where do I sign up for that massage?

All the best,

Mary Anne Benedetto

Author of Eyelash, 7 Easy Steps to Memoir Writing: Build a Priceless Legacy One Story at a Time!, Never Say Perfect and From Italy with Love & Limoncello.


Saturday, November 1, 2014

Escape to Santa Barbara

Looking for an escape that fosters privacy and a touch of pampering? Need a break in the action to completely unwind? Consider the Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore - Santa Barbara, California  as a possibility. Bordered by the blue Pacific Ocean and surrounded by bountiful hills, this property offers a spectacular sea view combined with a variety of lush gardens to set the tone for an inspiring getaway.

The resort was originally built in 1927, but has undergone a $305 million restoration. Actually located in Montecito, part of its charm is the Spanish Colonial architectural influence. It qualifies as a lovely, romantic stop along the California coast with its top notch spa and luxurious pool.
With reasonably close proximity to a celebrated wine region, hiking, surfing and challenging golf courses, the visitor can do as much or as little as desired.

Because my visit was affiliated with a conference, our group was offered a choice of private tours and activities. Always easily convinced to shop (even if I don’t actually purchase anything), I experienced a lovely excursion to downtown Santa Barbara. Wandering with a fellow explorer, Ellen Smith, we sought out the pint-sized boutiques rather than the typical national chain stores.  Our knowledgeable, affable guide, Jennifer Miller, alerted us to a great find--Lovebird Boutique and Jewelry Bar (
At this small specialty shop, Cali and Marisa were eager to assist us with our selections, bestowing upon us a successful, delightful shopping experience. Now that I have returned to the coast of South Carolina, any time I wear one of the items purchased at Lovebird, I receive an enthusiastic compliment because these items are attractive and unique. Of course, in downtown Santa Barbara there were many other adorable boutiques, but I felt a genuine affinity with this particular store.

Curious about its origin, I contacted store owner, Jennifer Scarbrough, and discovered that she is actually a jewelry designer and has owned a jewelry company for several years. Her first Lovebird location at 7 East De Le Guerra was opened six years ago and the second store at 535 State Street one year later. Jennifer said that she wanted to provide an affordable, “feel good” shopping experience. Recently sharing her thoughts with me, she said, “I wanted it to be an inclusive boutique in the sense that it would be very warm and welcoming. We have a wonderful customer base, and I look for small, affordable lines that are very Santa Barbara. Most of the jewelry is designed by me, but I carry as much merchandise by local artists as I am able to. I enjoy business and people and LOVE downtown Santa Barbara.”

You can visit Lovebird on Facebook at and on Instagram, and I can only tell you that I can barely wait for their website to offer online shopping. I am hopelessly hooked!

Moving along to investigating additional Santa Barbara treasures, we once again followed the advice of tour guide, Jennifer Miller. She had indicated that a “must” was a stop at the top of the Santa Barbara Courthouse. While that might seem an odd choice, it provided a view that we could not have otherwise seen.  The Spanish style rooftops and architecture were plentiful, presenting a canvas of scenery that was characteristic of a charming Santa Barbara post card.

The strangest aspects of a location seem to reach out and grab my attention, and I was completely impressed with the extensive display of tile work that one encounters in Santa Barbara. A seating area in the Courthouse was entirely decorated in vibrant tiles. Additionally, the signs designating the particular courtrooms and names of judges are colorfully hand painted--no institutional look here! This was a fascinating stop, and I was delighted that we took the time to locate the elevator and ascend to the building’s rooftop, as well as roam around indoors.

We were operating on a tight deadline, so we ordered California Chipped Cobb Salads from California Pasta on State Street and were transported back to the Four Seasons for a relaxing afternoon. I wandered into the gardens to find a quiet location for writing and was not disappointed.  The Landscape Manager, Zeke, has groomed the property for over thirty years. He and his team of thirteen full-time gardeners keep the grounds as close to perfect as possible.

As I settled into a quiet section of the grounds to work on my novel, I contemplated what a perfect writer’s retreat this is. Unfortunately, my stay was far too short to devote a large block of time to writing, but I’ll keep the Four Seasons on my Bucket List as a dream location to hide away and concentrate on my projects.

In my next post, I will take you along on our hike up a nearby Santa Barbara mountain trail--definitely not your average climb!
See you again soon...

Mary Anne Benedetto

Author of Eyelash, 7 Easy Steps to Memoir Writing: Build a Priceless Legacy One Story at a Time!, Never Say Perfect, From Italy with Love & Limoncello and Write Your Pet's Life Story in 7 Easy Steps!


Monday, October 13, 2014

Visit Broadway at the Beach!

For Myrtle beach family vacationers, a “must” is Broadway at the Beach. This venue offers a wide variety of restaurants to suit any craving, shopping that includes reminders of Myrtle Beach to basic footwear, clothing, nick knacks and so much more. There is never a moment of boredom or complaints about nothing to do when you are at Broadway at the Beach. Thoughts range from scanning all of the available choices to trying to decide what to do first. With movies, attractions, miniature golf, a fabulous aquarium, ducks and fish to feed, a zip line, boat rides and an old fashioned carousel  located beside gentle rides for the pint-sized folks, there is something to delight everyone--from toddlers to grandparents.

My own grandchildren have always loved visiting the upside down building known as Wonderworks, an intriguing experience that is educational and entertaining. Plan to spend a good chunk of time touring this attraction, as the variety of displays are worth seeing. Many exhibits are hands-on, interactive, informative and fun. For details, visit

When my nieces and nephew were young children, they thoroughly enjoyed the Magiquest experience. It’s rather hard to describe and can be somewhat daunting for the elderly, who may view it as many children running around half-crazed with fake swords. They aren’t really swords, but more like magic wands. Kids love it, and you can see more at
As the sun goes down, there is active nightlife that gears up at this location--time for the adults to kick up their heels at Celebrity Square, where you will even find a Hard Rock Cafe.

With so much to see, just walking around this venue is a treat. During a recent stroll, I encountered some unique planters that surround the front of Rooster's Bar & Grill. You must admit that this is an eye-catching sight!

The hungry fish and ducks eagerly await the visitors who place quarters in the fish food vending machines. I've never seen fish with such gigantic mouths. They climb all over each other when a generous tourist drops a handful of fish food. Don't believe me? Check this out! Are those ducks or geese? I'm not sure, but you get the idea.

Now this clever guy decided to avoid battle with everyone else in the water. He (or she) is waiting directly in front of the vending machine to catch any stray food that falls from the dispenser! This one is pro-active and definitely not a crowd follower.

During the peak summer months, be prepared that Broadway at the Beach is a popular destination for families. Arriving early can save you some waiting time if your youngsters tend to become antsy. A visit in the early fall, when our weather is still summer-like and the family tourist season has subsided, can lead to an invigorating, yet relaxing experience.For complete information about all things Broadway at the Beach, visit Come to Myrtle Beach for tons of family fun!