Insiders Guide to Oaxaca

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I am often asked about my favorite places in the world, and often a conversation occurs where it doesn't cross my mind to mention my beloved Mexico; the motherland, my parents home country.

Although my parents home state is vastly different, the culture and food, the people and varied landscapes remain the same and make it a favored destination of mine year after year. Yet of all the spots I claim to conocer oh so well, Oaxaca. However, a place I have only made a small dent of all the thrills and frills of this amazingly vibrant, colonial city with rich indigenous roots.

There is no doubt that Oaxaca will always hold a near and dear place to my heart. It's the significance of a closing chapter in my life, yet welcoming a new horizon, a new chapter if you will. This charming town with Mexican hospitality and endless corazon is also the heart of Mexican cuisine.

After falling in love with its storied and cobbled streets, the vibrant culture, colors, sounds, tastes, and the amazingly hospitable climate. It’s a place with bustling marketplaces, lively fiestas, and beautiful folk art traditions and fascinating history.

It is time to teeter into the unknown, this way by way of Oaxaca. Ready to discover some of the hidden (and not so hidden) gems?

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DORMIR [to sleep]

Casa Oaxaca is the charming little hotel with a quirky heart-shaped pool, stands on its own two feet, with its mixture of colonial architecture with modern touches. Be sure to eat at the restaurant here, it’s been touted as one of the best. Taking up residence in this architecturally stunning and historically fascinating 19th century Oaxacan mansion is Casa de Sierra Azul. This is also a place my group stayed, and enjoyed the 17 high-ceilinged rooms to choose from, each one decorated in a classy yet simple style, with colorful accents. Casa de las Bugambilias is just one of three guest houses that they run in Oaxaca and is well located only one block from the famed Santa Domingo temple. It's personal touches and traditional Mexican artesanías within each of the 8 rooms.

COMER [to eat]

When it comes to food and drink, Oaxaca will not disappoint because this is one of Mexico's best foodie destinations, and many of the regional dishes date back to pre-Hispanic times. Its culinary offerings include a wide variety of corn-based dishes, and the local gastronomy also makes good use of the vast array of chiles grown in the state. Mole sauces are a specialty; you'll hear about seven different moles, but there are in fact more. Oaxaca is a significant mezcal producing center, and tasting the endless varieties is a favorite pastime.

Don’t miss out on the street food in Oaxaca. You’ll find many street foods stands throughout the city. Forget about gourmet restaurants: these stands are where some of the city’s best food is served, and the friendly banter of your dining companions will be hard to beat. From Elotes y Esquites (Mexican Street Corn) to Chapulines to fresh mango with chili, there’s plenty to pick from.

Origen Oaxacan herbs and chiles, ceviches and risottos converge on the menu of Origen, the restaurant of Top Chef Mexico winner, Castellanos Reyes. The creation of their dishes is based on tradition; it is enough to try the unforgettable language in Mole Chichilo to realize the office of the cradle of chef Castellanos.

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Come for the fantastic breakfast 
in the leafy garden, stay for a conversation with Alejandro Ruiz, the amiable chef. of Casa Oaxaca Café. The sprawling food market of Central de Abastos Mercado is an excellent place for lunch, with dozens of vendors preparing meals on the spot. Between Juárez Maza and Calle de Victoria. Enrique Olvera’s new restaurant, 
Criollo, serves creative spin on classic Oaxacan dishes in a modern space with an outdoor dining room.
 Run by the talented Chef Pilar Cabrera, Restaurant la Olla is an unpretentious restaurant offering Oaxacan specialties. Head to the upper-level dining room, which is more spacious than the ground floor, with artwork by local artists. The moles are delicious, but to start, order the squash blossom soup.

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Los Danzantes has three restaurants scattered across Southern Mexico, but the one in Oaxaca is locally considered to be outstanding with equally impressive cocktails. Get out of the city and pay a visit to the distillery as well. For 
 education in Oaxaca’s signature spirit, book 
a tasting at this bar/classroom in the city center for Mezcaloteca. There 
are nearly 100 varieties on 
offer.. 
Graciela Ángeles Carreño’s distillery is a farm-to-glass operation at Mezcal Real Minero. Tour the agave crops before settling into the tasting room.

Mexico is perhaps not the most well-known coffee producing country, but in Veracruz, Chiapas and Guerrero in particular, there are quality beans being produced. However, what about colonial Oaxaca? Your coffee options are not limited in this historic, quaint and vibrant city. El Volador, Cofetarika, and Alma de Café are worth checking out.

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HACER [to do]

Wander through the Historic Center of Zócalo. Oaxaca City was built for the wanderer; winding streets take you high up above the center with views over the Oaxacan skyline, and cobbled paths lead you to cafés you wouldn’t ordinarily have found in a million years. The multi-colored façades of many of Oaxaca City’s houses and edifices only add to this charming town. You’d be hard-pressed to visit Oaxaca and not stop by the Museo de las Culturas at least once, given that it’s located next to the famed Templo de Santo Domingo in the 17th century converted monastery. Even if you’re not big on museums, this one does have some cool exhibits you should check it out for the location alone. The large open windows frame the surrounding Ethnobotanical Garden, creating some literally picture perfect views.

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Explore the art galleries throughout Oaxaca is a must. While Mexico City takes the title for the most museums, Oaxaca is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to art galleries. From smaller independent ones that you can dip in and out of as you wander the cobbled, winding streets of the city to the larger more famous ones that display pieces from renowned artists, the art scene in Oaxaca is absolutely one of the things you must see. Visit the mezcal distilleries. The spiky agave plants whose piñas (hearts) harvested to roast, mash and ferment, it became clear why this is one of the most excellent mezcal you’ll taste.
 Chef Pilar Cabrera of Restaurant la Olla, also offers cooking classes through Casa de los Sabores. For more fun experiences, check out Airbnb Experiences, where you’ll find unique cooking classes, tours, gallery walks and so much more.


Updated May 2019



Insiders Guide To Coachella Food and Staying Hydrated

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Ahhh Coachella, April, and Spring.

This means Summer will be here before we know it, but also it means that is the start of Festival season. If you're heading to the desert for Coachella Music and Art Festival, I'm sure you've started to prep... outfits, sunnies, and getting crop-top ready.

With the festival about four weeks out, I've decided to put together a relatively comprehensive guide to preparing yourself for Coachella in Indio, California. After getting yourself there and organizing a sweet place to stay, you'll also need to know what you're allowed to bring in and what to expect when you're there. Most of all, be prepared to have three days of excitement and fun!

The entire Food Lineup at Coachella is equally as impressive as the music itself. From many many years of heading to the festival, here’s my Insiders Guide To Coachella Food and Staying Hydrated.

Cassell’s cheeseburger with fries Cassell’s Burgers [Official photo]

Cassell’s cheeseburger with fries Cassell’s Burgers [Official photo]

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coachella food

coachella food

Eureka! Fresno Fig burger

Eureka! Fresno Fig burger

Nourish yourself prior to entry

First thing first, you have to make sure you nourish yourself, especially if you plan on staying for the entire day. Have a big, delicious breakfast to sustain you through a fair way of the day. Coachella has food but it has food at high prices, often accompanied by ridiculously long queues.

No Outside Food Permitted

While food is not permitted into the grounds, you might be able to hide small energy or granola bars, fruit leather chews or protein powder pouches in your bag but note that these items may be taken from you if found during a bag search.

Need Special Foods?

If you have a medical condition that requires special food or food at certain times, such as diabetes or anything else a doctor would recognize as acceptable, get a letter from your doctor to cover this and show it to security when waiting to enter the venue. They will help store any medication and food in a secure area for diabetics. The names on any medication must match your ID.

V, VG, GF

Yes! Coachella has food vendors that sell gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan food. More available options has been growing in recent years. In 2008 when I first attended, there wasn’t many options. But this has changed. The annual music and arts festival that takes place in Indio has increasing improved its food and drink selections as an ideal complement to the top tier music acts. And thanks to its proximity to Los Angeles and Southern California, it’s mainly local restaurants and chefs that get to show off to the 250,000 some people who attend the festival over two weeks in April.

Stay hydrated

No one plans on going to an event and leaving with heat stroke, but it’s easier to do than you’d think. One minute you’re partying, and then the next you start to feel sick due to dehydration. Although you might be able to argue for a refund, due to having wound up in the hospital, why risk having to try when it’s so easy to avoid the problem in the first place. Remember to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids, even if you do not feel thirsty. Coachella allows you to bring in empty water bottles to fill up. Bring one and keep it filled!

Are you heading to the desert?

Originally published 3/2016 - Updated 4/2019

Staycation 101

Sometimes jumping on a plane, train or automobile isn’t in the cards, and your only opportunity to vacate is at home sweet home. Truth be told, there’s nothing mundane about planning a staycation and, if done right, it can be more restful than the rigamarole of planning a trip that takes you far and wide. Here are our tidbits of advice to help you feel like you’ve spoiled yourself properly in your very own casa.

staycation 101 unplug and turn off

Turn Off

A simple vacation from your devices is enough to sometimes feel like you’ve taken a relaxing hiatus from life. Without the distractions of texting, Snapping, and reading endless emails, your brain will get the mental detox it so deeply deserves. Turn those phones and laptops off and truly vacate.

staycation 101 turn up

Turn Up

Make yourself a chill playlist to get you in the mood to veg out or get playful. My recent playlist can get you started with your vacay vibes, but to make this feel even more like a treat, pick a theme and put together a playlist to match. A few ukulele tunes may be all you need to transport you to the beaches of Maui.

staycation 101 treat yourself

Treat Yo’ Self

Order in the most delicious dinner delivery, get an in-home spa service like a manicure or massage, or run yourself an indulgently long and warm bath to soak in. Whatever your pleasure, give yourself all the creature comforts you would indulge in while on vacation.

staycation 101 simple pleasures

Indulge in Simple Pleasures

We often forget the little gestures that hotels make when you are away. Be it spa water (with sliced cucumbers in it), extra cozy slippers, plush bathrobes, perfectly crisp and ironed sheets; all of these elements can make your humble abode feel like a boutique hotel.

staycation 101 song and sea

Wanderlust Delivered

From vacation to staycation, Song & Sea Wanderlust Box has all the things you need for the perfect escape. Each box makes you feel like a mini vaycay. (Psss.. LR readers get 40% off their first order!)

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Netflix & Chill

All those films you’ve been dying to watch? Give yourself the luxury of tucking in to your very own film festival. Pop some popcorn and make it feel like an event… in your cozies, of course.

April: Live With Intention

Ah, April! I'm excited for a brand new month with new intentions. With each new month, the purpose of setting intentions is to live with intention. It’s a phrase I’ve internalized over, but I rarely go into detail about what it actually means to me.

live with intention

My life went through a whole lot of significant changes last year. Divorce is practically a death -- a death of your love, your little family unit, your former life... I could sit around mourning this, feeling pity for myself and the life I once knew, crying the days away asking myself "Why?" While this stage in any traumatic life experience is important, and to feel all the feels, there does come a time when you just have to pick yourself up and tell yourself life is going to be alright.

Life is so fleeting and precious, and we should make the most out of it. That’s not to say I have turned into a narcissistic jerk who only cares about making myself happy. It’s quite the opposite, really. I thrive on helping people, whether it’s volunteering my time, acting as a sounding board for ideas and advice, or just being a shoulder to cry on. I feel truly connected to the important people in my life.

My April intentions, to sum it all up, are to be mindful and live; say no to things that don't bring value; more yoga since it's the thing that brings peace in moments of chaos; to travel and enjoy every moment of it. I'm excited to head off to Europe tomorrow with my cousin and start creating more memories with those that I love.

Do you set monthly intentions? What are some of yours this month? Share with me here - @valeriefidan! 💕

Valerie Fidan

Valerie is a San Francisco native who gave up the comforts of home to travel the world continuously. Now based in Portland, OR, Valerie is a Social Media Marketing Consultant, helping solo entrepreneurs and small business owners DIY their social media by teaching them the in’s and out’s of SMM. She enjoys health hacking recipes, a good cocktail, yoga, hikes, live shows, puns & dad jokes.

My Effortless Trick To Live The Life You Deserve

"...I would rather drink the ocean, again and again—celebrate being madly alive..."
Janne Robinson 
how to live a better life

I don’t know all the secrets on how to have a better life, but I definitely would love to offer some advice. I see a lot of people who are down and out. They’re strung out, disappointed, feel helpless and stagnant in life. But instead of feeling sorry for yourself, ask yourself... What makes you feel alive?

For me, it's travel. There is something so exciting and exhilarating about travel, being in a new place, in a new environment, and feeling ALIVE. Because of that, I fill my life with plenty of it, near or far places.

It’s no secret that travel is a guaranteed way to discover yourself and make you happier. However, traveling is costly and not financially possible for everyone. Even if you can’t jet off to Europe or bask under the sun on the British Virgin Islands, there is still hope for you. Taking the family to the nearest large city is a great idea for a vacation. And vice versa, if you live in or near a major city drive a few hours outside of the city to a secluded little town. Even taking a day to staycation helps to recharge. Getting away for a few days lets your mind and body recuperate and take a break from life. 

But, maybe travel isn't what makes you feel alive... 

One guaranteed way to answer the question how to have a better life is to smile! It's seriously that simple.

Have you ever heard of the theory of what you put into the world is what you get back? In other words, if you put out negative vibes, you’ll be greeted with negativity at every turn. Create the change you want in your life by being positive, cheery, and happy -- if it’s not what you’re feeling on the inside.

I am naturally a happy person that is always smiling. I can't tell you how many times, people have told me that my smile is contagious... and guess what, yours is as well! Soon enough, you’ll see the people around you change for the better and what you’re projecting on the outside will translate to lighter emotions on the inside.

Now that you know my effortless trick to living a better life, I want to know... what makes you feel alive? Share it with me on Instagram - @valereifidan!

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Valerie Fidan

Valerie is a San Francisco native who gave up the comforts of home to travel the world continuously. Now based in Portland, OR, Valerie is a Social Media Marketing Consultant, helping solo entrepreneurs and small business owners DIY their social media by teaching them the in’s and out’s of SMM. She enjoys health hacking recipes, a good cocktail, yoga, hikes, live shows, puns & dad jokes.