the sparkly life

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

The Accidental Mother/Son Photo Shoot--That I Couldn't Love More

Photos by Dorsett Photography

In recent years, I've tried to make it a goal to have professional pictures taken of my kids (and, ideally, of my whole family) once a year. It's an expense, yes, but I'm a firm believer that great photos of your kids is an expense that you're never going to regret.

That said, to cut down on costs, I almost always do "mini sessions" for my family photo shoots. I've talked about mini shoots before, but basically, they are 20-ish-minute blocks of time where you quickly bang out a bunch of shots in a single location. (Photographers make it worth their while by scheduling several minis back to back, and will often reserve a few weekend mornings for this throughout the year.) 

Mini sessions are perfect, because 1) 20 minutes is pretty much the maximum amount of time my kids (and, honestly, my husband) can focus, 2) it's more than enough time to get a great holiday card photo, which is typically the number one thing I'm after, and 3) they tend to be much less expensive than a full, private shoot, so they are a relatively affordable way to have professional portraits taken.

This year, I reserved a mini session with one of my favorite local photographers, Ady Dorsett, so that I could get some cute portraits of my kids and a family shot for holiday cards. I nabbed a Saturday morning spot in September, told my husband when I booked it, and then reminded him a week before the shoot. At that point, he reminded me that my daughter had her first soccer game the morning of the shoot--at the exact same time. He didn't want her to miss it. She didn't want to miss it. I panicked.

The deposit I had paid was non-refundable, but Ady was really understanding. She was going to let me use the money towards a future session, but I quickly realized there were no other fall mini-session spots left that would work for us. I thought about just skipping it and losing the deposit, but then it hit me: Maybe I'd just do the shoot anyway...with just me and my son.

After all, when else would I make the time and expense to get some beautiful mother/son shots? The scheduling snafu had yielded a great opportunity, so I decided to do it. We'd worry about the Christmas cards later. And I'm so glad we did it! My son was a champ that morning--patient, cooperative, and smiley--and I love how the photos turned out. 

And they came at the perfect time, because truth be told, this has been a difficult year for my son and I. He's had some behavioral issues, which has caused a lot of stress, but he has made huge strides and has come such a long way. He's the sweetest kid, and I love him so, so much. 

So I don't have an official holiday-card photo this year, but these are truly even better. I am so happy that my scheduling "mistake" allowed us to have these beautiful photos that document this time in our lives--that show that, as tough a year as 2019 has been, my son and I have an incredible bond.

I couldn't love these photos--or him--more.

Monday, September 30, 2019

All the Books I Read in September

As I've mentioned before, I have stepped up my reading big time this year. As of today, at the end of September, I've read 93 books so far in 2019 (woo!). I read 12 this past month (four audiobooks and seven "regular" books), and I've listed them below with short descriptions. If you're looking for something to read, there's lots to love here. And of course, to keep up with all of book recs, follow my bookstagram, @alyssaisbooked. Happy reading!

Loved/Highly Recommend/Read these immediately:

After the Flood by Kassandra Montag: This was hands-down my favorite book I read this month. It tells the story of an apocalyptic world where, thanks to climate change and epic storms and floods, the United States has been completely submerged under water. The world that remains is dangerous, lawless, and terrifying. The story centers on Myra, a mother whose five-year-old daughter, Row, is taken from her on the very first, gut-wrenching page. She spends the rest of the book searching for her (along with her other daughter, Pearl) and trying to survive. The book is heartbreaking, thrilling, hopeful, fascinating, terrifying, and surprisingly action-packed. The writing is absolutely beautiful as well. It was 400 pages, but I flew through them and honestly wish there were 400 more. I truly loved this book.

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead: This was just nominated for the National Book Award, and for good reason: It's absolutely incredible. It tells the story of Elwood, a young African American boy sent to a reform school for a crime he didn’t commit. We follow Elwood’s time at the Nickel school, which is truly hell on earth. The boys are forced to do hard labor. Schooling is essentially non-existent. The administration is corrupt. Horrendous abuse is rampant. And though no one who went to the school was unscathed, the story takes place in the 1960s, so the school was segregated and the black children got it much, much worse. But perhaps the scariest thing about this book is that it is closely based on a real reform school, the Dozier School for Boys, where real-life atrocities occurred, and around 70 (!) unmarked graves have since been recovered. (Those poor, poor boys.) The fact that this book is based on true events makes it even more powerful. But it’s also just a great story with incredible writing, strong characters, and a real emotional pull. The book feels timeless and destined to become a classic. I was so moved by it, and I know the story of Elwood and the rest of the Nickel boys will stay with me for a long, long time.

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin: This book launched earlier this year, but I finally just got around to reading it once Laura Tremaine--who I recently recorded a podcast with--named it as one of her top reads of the summer. It was so good! It tells the tale of four siblings who visit a fortune teller as children. The fortune teller's power is that she can predict the date of your death, so each child learns the exact day he or she is supposedly going to die. We then follow each child as they grow up and live their lives, burdened with this incredible knowledge. We see how it affects every choice that they make--and we do see when and how they die. Fascinating, gripping, and very well-written.

Really liked/Recommend:

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman: Nina is an introverted bookstore employee living a very solitary, simple life in Los Angeles, when she suddenly gets the news that her father (who she has never met) has died and left her with a huge extended family (and a potential fortune). We then follow as she navigates this new family--and life. This book was such a pleasant surprise! I think I was expecting something super light and chick-lit-y, but it was so much more than that. It's smart and funny, and a true love letter to the joy of reading.

Wild Game: My Mother, Her Lover, and Me by Adrienne Brodeur: In the beginning of this memoir, the then 14-year-old author is woken by her mother who confides that she has just kissed a male family friend (who, uh, is not her father). And thus begins a disturbing and decades-long affair between her mother and the man, and an even more inappropriate mother-daughter relationship. The mom basically makes her daughter an accomplice in the affair, using her to help keep her secrets from everyone else. It's crazy, you won't be able to put it down, and you'll never be so thankful for your normal mother!

Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson: This book was unlike anything I've ever read before. Woodson's writing style is beautiful--and so different! It almost reads like poetry. It also reads like a long short story, rather than a traditional book, if that makes sense. (This is not a long book--I read it in a few hours in a single afternoon.) It covers race, teenage pregnancy, family, poverty, mistakes, and coming of age. It's really a beautiful story and I absolutely loved the ending.

Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen: Though I really love so much of Bruce Springsteen's music, I wouldn't call myself a hardcore fan. But I still really enjoyed this book! Some of it is very detailed (and might be better suited to that hardcore fan), but most of it was fascinating to me. Loved learning how he grew up, how he got started in music, how he was discovered, and the stories behind his biggest songs. (I found myself constantly stopping the book to look up and listen to the various songs after his stories!) Note: I listened to the audiobook version of this and I definitely can't imagine doing it any other way. Bruce reads it himself!

Liked/Worth reading:

Howard Stern Comes Again by Howard Stern: I used to be a huge Howard Stern fan back in high school, and though I haven't listened to his radio show in years, I still love his interview style. (And I have a new appreciation for him now because of the work he does fostering cats with his wife Beth. We got our two cats from them!) This book is a collection of transcripts of his best celebrity interviews throughout the years, interspersed with thoughts and writings from Stern about his relationships, his struggles, his insecurities, his regrets, and more. His honestly and insight is remarkable, and the book is probably nothing like what you'd expect. Howard Stern is definitely all grown up now. 

The Path Made Clear: Discovering Your Life's Direction and Purpose by Oprah Winfrey: I listened to the audiobook version of this; it's supershort. It's mostly interviews that Oprah has done with various people throughout the years, all focused on self-discovery and finding your calling. (These are all interspersed with Oprah's own thoughts, which were my favorite parts.) Some interviews/chapters were better than others, but some were incredibly powerful. (One line in one chapter even stopped me in my tracks on the street and brought me to tears.) If you love Oprah, you'll love this.

Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win by Jo Piazza: This book tells the story of Charlotte Walsh, an accomplished wife, mother, and businesswoman who decides to leave the private sector to run for an open Senate seat in Pennsylvania. We follow her as she navigates balancing campaigning and family life, and dealing with sexist political attacks. It's a really fun read. Note: When I posted on my bookstagram that I was reading it, I had been told by a few people that the ending ruined the whole thing for them. (One person told me she threw the book across the room when she got to the last page!) I have to say, that I didn't love the ending, but when I read the author's explanation for it (which she does explain in the back of the book), I could see where she was coming from and I "got it." Fun, smart book, especially if you're at all into politics.


One More Thing by B.J. Novak: I did the audiobook version of this, which was fun because a lot of celebs like Mindy Kaling and Lena Dunham guest on it, but at the end of the day, the book was just okay for me. It's a collection of short stories that are all super random and weird. Some of them are random and weird in a good way--and some of them are just weird. I found a handful of them great and really funny, but I wasn't that into most of them. Sorry, B.J.--I still love you!

Are You There Vodka, It's Me Chelsea by Chelsea Handler: I got this audiobook because I had just listened to Chelsea's most recent book (Life Will Be the Death of Me) back in August and I loved it. (So funny and really personal and moving, too!). I was hoping for something similar with this one, but oh my god--not the case. This book is from 2008, but it felt like it was written in the Stone Age. It was very uncomfortable to listen to because it's weirdly racist a lot, and honestly, just not funny. Handler has clearly matured a lot in the last 11 years. Thank god.

Have you guys read any of these books? (If so, what did you think?) And did you read anything else in September that you loved? Tell me! I'm always looking for recommendations.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Listen Now: I Share My Top 5 Books of the Summer--On A Podcast!

You guys! As I mentioned last week, I was interviewed for a podcast! And it just dropped today!

The podcast is 10 Things To Tell You by the brilliant Laura Tremaine, who I have followed for years now--ever since I discovered her original blog (which she no longer updates), Hollywood Housewife. I've always been a big fan of her smart writing, her great taste, and her amazing recommendations, particularly for books. So I was thrilled when she asked me to come on her podcast to discuss what's pretty much become my favorite thing lately: books!

It was a cool experience for multiple reasons, but perhaps mainly, because it was the first time Laura and I have ever spoken! See, for the past few years, we've become that weird kind of Internet/social media friend, where we follow each other, chat over DM and in the comments, but never actually MEET each other. Well, we still haven't met in person, but we did have this awesome Skype video chat. And you can listen in to it now!

In our convo, we each give our top five reads of the summer, and then we discuss a few other popular books that everyone is talking about in order to give our take. (Some we liked, some--including a hugely popular one--we didn't.)

Below, I've listed the books that I name as my top five picks on the pod (plus two more that I almost picked, didn't mention on the podcast, and totally love as well). I'll give a quick summary of those below, but if you'd like to hear much more about them--and find out Laura's picks (three of which were also ones I loved)--well, you're going to have to listen to the podcast. :)

My top five books of the summer:

-Recursion By Blake Crouch: A mind-twisting, heart-stopping, sci-fi-but-don't-let-that-scare-you thriller that it truly unputdownable. You'll follow a New York City detective investigating a mysterious illness where people suddenly remember an entire life that haven't lived. I don't want to say anything else or I'll give it away, and you do not want this one spoiled.

-City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert: This delightful, incredibly well-written book tells the story of a young woman named Vivien who is sent to live with her Aunt Peg in 1940s New York City. Aunt Peg runs (and lives in) a struggling theater, and Vivien makes friends with showgirls and actors, and has these amazing, crazy experiences. It's a coming-of-age story, but like none you've ever read before. It's unexpectedly feminine and just a joyful, fun ride throughout. I especially loved the dialogue (smart and often really funny!) and the characters were incredible. This is one of those books that you hate to finish because it feels like you're saying goodbye to friends. I'll miss Vivien and her crew so much!

-Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keene: The story of two neighboring families torn apart by a sudden, tragic event. We then follow the characters throughout their lives as their stories twist and turn and intersect. It's beautiful literary fiction with some of the best character development I've ever read. I truly felt like I knew these characters and really became invested in their stories. And when you learn what the title means, your heart will soar!

-Save Me the Plums by Ruth Reichl: A funny, poignant page turner about Ruth Reich's time as editor in chief of Gourmet magazine--from reinventing it to going down with the ship when it closed years later. Like all of Reichl's work, the writing is amazing--beautifully descriptive but not so much that it gets in the way of her skillful storytelling. I'm admittedly a little partial to this one since I come from the magazine world, but you certainly don't have to have worked for magazines to love it. I also mention and recommend Tender At The Bone, which is a memoir of her childhood and early days writing about food. It's so funny and so good. (And no, you don't need to read her memoirs in order.)

-American Predator by Maureen Callahan: A non-fiction book that truly reads like a really, really good crime novel. It tells the story of Israel Keyes, one of the scariest serial killers of all time--and someone very few people have ever heard of. (And there's a reason for that.) The author uses interviews with Keyes and other key players, court transcripts, and her own research to reconstruct some of his crimes and everything that came after. You will not be able to put this one down.

My honorable mentions:

I didn't get a chance to mention these two on the podcast, but they were very close runners-up!

-Time After Time: I love anything to do with time travel (I'm obsessed with the concept!), and this includes it in a really interesting way. But it's so much more than that! It's also a beautiful love story with an unexpected ending. I really, really enjoyed this book, and think about it often!

-Park Avenue Summer: This is the fictional story of a real-life person (legendary editor Helen Gurley Brown) after she is hired to reinvent Cosmopolitan in the 1960s. The story is told through Alice, a young woman who moves to New York City and is hired as Brown's secretary. It's very Mad Men meets Devil Wears Prada, and there is lots of workplace drama and a great love story. I was totally immersed in this world while reading it, and it was the perfect light-but-smart summer read.


For more amazing books (plus lots of good bookish chat!), please listen to the podcast here. Then, definitely come back here and let me know what you think! And if you have a favorite summer read, can you mention it here in the comments? I'm always looking for more great reads! (For more of mine, follow my #bookstagram here.) Happy reading--and listening!

Friday, August 30, 2019

13 Cool Things You Need to Click On Today

Long-sleeved swimsuit, J.Crew. Hat, Anthropologie. Sunglasses, Electric. Book: The Whisper Man

We're in Fenwick Island, Delaware, right now for my annual veg-out-at-my-parents'-house trip. We've done a lot of pool time, a lot of playground time, a beach day, and a lot of relaxing, which means ipad time for them and READING for me. (They start school in a few days, and mom needs a vacation, too. I refuse to feel guilty about the gross amounts of screen time they've had over the last few days.)

I hope you all are enjoying the last few days of summer (wahh!), and that you have something fun (or nothing at all--I love that even more) planned for this weekend. Here's a few fun links to check out in the meantime.

• I'm going to be on a podcast! I taped an episode of Laura Tremaine's awesome and super smart podcast 10 Things to Tell You earlier this week. It was so fun and I can't wait for you all to hear it! It's going to air next week, and I'll be sure to share a link. We talk all about our favorite books of the summer!

• September Book of the Month picks are out! I thought this was a really, really good month. I had a really tough time choosing! In the end, I went with Wild Game for my pick (I've heard it's incredible) and If Only I Could Tell You as my add-on. (Tender Land would have been another add-on for me, but I happen to have an advance copy of it.) Quick reminder: If you're not yet a Book of the Month member, you can use my link to sign up and you'll get a free book! (PS: You should be a BOTM member. I'm obsessed! More on why I love it here.)

• Speaking of reading, I've done a ton of it since I've been on vacay. Here's what I've read and loved in the past month: The Gifted School (cray cray parents battle to get their kids into a new school for gifted children), Park Avenue Summer (Mad Men meets magazines in this fictional take on Helen Gurley Brown's reinvention of Cosmopolitan magazine in the 60s), American Predator (a heart-stopping non-fiction book--that reads like a really good crime novel--about the terrifying serial killer you've never heard of), The Beekeeper of Aleppo (the harrowing tale of a couple who must flee Syria during the war. Beautifully written with a twist. Reminded me of The Kite Runner!), We Came Here to Forget (a smart, engrossing romance/family drama with some definite twists/reveals), The Need (part sci-fi novel with some INSANE twists/part societal commentary on motherhood. This is definitely the craziest book you'll read this year), I'd Rather Be Reading (a non-fiction love letter to reading that any reader will relate to! Also, just noticed it's free on kindle unlimited or only $7 for the hardcover right now!), and the audiobook of The Rainbow Comes and Goes (Anderson Cooper and his mom Gloria Vanderbilt write letters to each other about their lives, so that they will have no unanswered questions between them. Fascinating and so beautiful--and I really think the audiobook is a must with this one!). 

• I ordered this under-$100 lacy going-out top from Anthropologie last week and I love it! I got the berry color, which is very unlike me. (I really like the black version, too, but I already have something very similar...)

• Cool new beauty line alert: Floral Street is a brand-new-to-the-U.S. line from the U.K. that was created by the legendary beauty exec behind lines like La Mer and St. Tropez. The bottles are insanely gorgeous, the company is big on sustainability, and the fragrances themselves are beautiful and unlike anything you've smelled before. My favorites: Neon Rose, a zingy fruity floral (with no actual rose in it!) and London Poppy, a light, fresh blend of orange blossom, lemon, and neroli.

• The fuzzy plaid packaging for the Tarte Fall Feels palette is so cute, and the shadows inside are really pretty.

• Wait. I'm dying. The new, studded matte black cup from Starbucks is now being resold for $100 online?!?! I actually bought one here in Delaware a few days ago, but haven't used it yet, so if anyone would like to pay $100 for it, it's YOURS! Lol. (I do love the cup though. But not that much...!)

• Your battery will thank me: Seven iPhone settings to turn off right now.

• Carly influenced me! I really, really want to start a little free library now...

• The Shawshank Redemption is one of my all-time favorite movies, so I adored this look back at why it's so beloved.

• For the last week, I've been absolutely captivated by a story on Instagram. Eva, the young daughter of had a freak fall off a golf cart two weeks ago and has been fighting for life in the hospital ever since. The prognosis has not been good so far. She's around the age of my own daughter, so it really hits home. Thinking of her often and really hoping they get some much-needed good news soon. 

Friday, July 26, 2019

14 Cool Things You Need to Click On Today

hanging out in the hamptons

I can't believe it's almost August. I mean, how?? The summer is over half over! It's going by way too fast. My kids are finishing their fifth week of camp today, which is just bizarre. (And it's hitting me how I had hoped to accomplish way more during those camp hours that I actually have. Eek!)

And, now, we're finally doing a little bit of (local-ish) traveling. We visited friends in the Hamptons last weekend, which was great, and are heading to Asbury Park on the Jersey Shore next week. (Believe it or not, I haven't been to the Jersey Shore since I was a kid!). This weekend, we'll be laying low at the lake, which I am definitely excited for. A lazy weekend of reading sounds good to me. 

Whatever you're up to this weekend, I hope you make it a great one. Here's a few fun links to check out in the meantime.

• If you've seen me in person in the past two weeks, there's a decent chance I was wearing this Vici dress, because I have been living in it. It's kind of the perfect dress: It's basically a big, soft t-shirt, so it's super comfy, but the cut is just right, so it's not shapeless or overly baggy. And I love the dusty black color; it looks vintage-y and just a little worn in. I've dressed it up with gold sandals and a long necklace, and worn it running around town with flip flops and a hat. And it's under $50! I'm obsessed.

• I've always been an Anthropologie fan (fun fact: I worked there years ago!), but lately I've been rediscovering it in a big way. They have so much great stuff right now! I recently bought this hat, which I love, and two of these $18 knotted headbands, which are perfect (and much less expensive) dupes of those Lele Sadoughi headbands everyone is wearing. And this lacy top is next on my list. How pretty is it?!?

• Got these blush-pink sandals from Target (!) the other day, and they are even cuter in person.

• As I mentioned a few weeks back in this post about how to increase your reading, I've been reading a ton this year. I'm now up to 64 books in 2019! And in case you're looking for a beach read, here are a few of the very best ones I've read since that post: Recursion (this one actually ranks as an all-time fave. SO GOOD), A Nearly Normal Family, Lock Every Door, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, The Beekeeper of Aleppo (out in late August, but you can pre-order), and You Were There Too (this doesn't launch until January, but it's worth preordering. I loved it!).

• Speaking of books, I'm super excited about a new podcast coming soon from one of my Instagram buddies, @bookishkatenyc. It's called The Shelf-Care Podcast, and it combines two of my favorite things: books and beauty. (Uh, why didn't I think of that!??!) Kate already told me who the first guest is, too, and it's a good one!

• I went to an Amazon holiday preview earlier this week, and there was so much good stuff. A lot of it is already available, so here's a peek at my three very favorite things I saw there: this amazing gold flatware set (four five-piece place settings for under $95), this stunning serving piece (so good for entertaining!), and this jewelry storage cabinet hidden inside a mirror (I need this).

• I never knew I wanted a "snuggle nook" until I saw this one. Now, I need a snuggle nook. (I mean, how cozy and gorgeous and snuggle-worthy does it seem?!?)

• I hadn't even heard of Electric sunglasses a year ago--and suddenly they are by far my favorite brand. I own three pairs now! My latest is this Honey Bee style in Nude Crystal, which is a big departure for me (I almost always wear black sunnies), but it's so fun. And my absolute favorite pair is the Crasher in Matte Black. So cool! They're definitely not cheap, but they are extremely durable, and just so damn good-looking.

• Besides being a blogger and a beauty-PR wizard, my friend Meghan is a true Paris expert (she has so many dreamy posts of her many trips there on her blog!). She recently launched a new service where she'll help you plan your trip there by creating a personalized, curated list of cool things to do and see including lots of hidden gems you won't find in the guidebooks. If you're heading to Paris soon, 1) I'm jealous, and 2) check out her service, Paris, Perfected. It's only $25!

• Watermelon Mint Frose?! Uh, yes, please!

• After hearing rave after rave from people I admire, I had to check out this much talked about essay. You should, too. It's worth it.

• A photographer asked elderly couples to pose for engagement-style photos--and the results are adorable.

And in case you missed it, I...

• Told you why you must visit Nosara, Costa Rica immediately.

• Shared exactly what I bought at the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale.

Have a great weekend!

Monday, July 22, 2019

How I Fell In Love With Nosara, Costa Rica

nosara costa rica with kids
nosara costa rica with kids
nosara costa rica with kids
nosara costa rica with kids
al chile nosara costa rica
So this trip happened in the tail end of March, and I'm just writing about it now, but let's ignore that procrastination. I'm obsessed with Nosara, Costa Rica, you guys, and I really want to tell you about it.

Now, truth be told, awful and privileged as this sounds, I didn't want to go to Costa Rica. We always do our "big" vacation over spring break, and I was looking forward to a pool and a beach chair and not much more than that. I had never been anywhere in Costa Rica before, so I mistakenly imagined that it was just for people who were after an active, rugged vacation of zip lining, surfing, and rainforests, and that's just not my vibe. 

Well, my husband talked me into it by showing me that our hotel did in fact have a pool. Fine. I'd go. But turns out, I was so wrong. So wrong. I absolutely fell in love with Nosara. We all did. (So much so that, before we even left, we booked a hotel stay for a return trip next year!) 

Nosara is amazing. It's a tiny surf town tucked on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. It's relatively remote: a good two-plus hour drive (half of which is on bumpy dirt roads!) from the small-ish Liberia airport. But as far away as it may be, it's surprisingly hip! They have the coolest little restaurants that serve amazing food including countless vegan and gluten-free options. It's also super eco and nearly impossible to find a plastic water bottle or straw around. (Bamboo straws abound!) And there's yoga and a general spirit of wellness everywhere. In many ways, it felt very much like a piece of Venice, CA, or Brooklyn had been plopped down in this Costa Rican village.

Yet, Nosara is really the best of both worlds. Despite the chia bowls and cool taco spots, it also still manages to feel very undiscovered in many ways. For example, you won't find a single cabana, chaise, or bar on the beach. By law, it's completely undisturbed by development. (You'll just find surfers--tons of them!) 

And there's monkeys! This area of Costa Rica is famous for their howler monkeys and you'll learn why they're called that pretty quickly. (Throughout the day you'll hear their call--which sounds like a cross between a lion roaring and a scary ghost howling--as a soundtrack in the nearby jungle). There are also dirt roads and no street signs or addresses anywhere in Nosara! To get around, rent a golf cart (if I give you one tip about traveling to Nosara, it would be that), and then just ask the locals how to get where you need to go!

Everyone speaks English there; we didn't have any trouble communicating. That said, while there, I found myself jealous of the fellow Americans who could speak Spanish to get around. So, a few weeks after I got back, I signed up for a local Intro to Spanish class, and downloaded the DuoLingo app. My goal is to be able to speak at least some broken Spanish when we go back next year. :)

And yes, we are going back next year! Staying in a different hotel and renting that golf cart the second we get there. Here's a little bit of what made our trip so special--and what I'd recommend--if you're considering checking out Nosara for yourself...

nosara costa rica hotels

nosara costa rica hotels

nosara costa rica with kids

howler monkeys

Where to Stay

A great thing about Nosara is that it's not overdeveloped (yet!). There are no giant hotels or tall buildings of any kind. Just tons of little boutique hotel options as well as Air BnBs.

(*Admittedly this is very limited list--there are tons of other places--but I'm only including hotels that we have personal experience with...)

Olas Verdes: This was where we stayed! It's a LEED platinum eco hotel that's very cool because it's located literally in the jungle, so it feels very Costa Rica. And we would see monkeys in the trees above us when we were lying by the pool or walking to breakfast! It's also very close to the beach (not always the case in Nosara)--about a five minute walk through the jungle from the hotel to the shore. The rooms are all suites, but keep in mind that only the bedrooms have air conditioning. (The living rooms/kitchenettes do not, which is not a big deal during the day, but you would not want to sleep in them at night, and some have pull-out couches that are meant for sleeping if you have a larger group, so keep that in mind.) We had a mini fridge and a toaster oven in our group--both came in super handy. The staff was very nice and helpful in setting up outside excursions for us, and every guest gets a cute metal water bottle when you arrive! Note: The trade-off for the cool jungle location is that you are kind of far from a lot of stuff. (It was a good 15-minute walk to get to Beach Dog Cafe; 20-plus minutes to "town." And a taxi is really required to explore further than that.) Translation: You will definitely want a golf cart if you are staying here. 

The Gilded Iguana: Truth be told, this is the hotel I really wanted to stay in, but we booked too late and they were all full. But...we actually booked it for next year while we were there! Can't wait to stay there in 2020. Located in North Playa Guinones, it's a super chic boutique surfer hotel (very reminiscent of something like the Surf Lodge in Montauk) with a gorgeous pool, a fabulous restaurant (see review below), a great little gift shop (worth visiting even if you don't stay here), and a separate surf club down by the beach. 

nosara costa rica restaurants

nosara costa rica restaurants
where to eat in nosara

where to eat in nosara costa rica
where to eat nosara costa rica

nosara restaurants
where to get coffee in nosara costa rica

Where To Eat

Beach Dog Cafe: This place is a Nosara institution and a must-visit! We ate there several times. They have an extensive menu with tons of vegan options, and a very cool beach-bar vibe. Despite the big menu, I got the fried avocado tacos every time I went though. They were incredible! Located in Playa Guiones. 

La Luna: Another must-visit! I actually heard about this from an expat, and I'm so glad she told me about it as it's one of my favorite places we visited in Nosara. It's located in Playa Pelada (take a taxi there), right on the beach, so your kids can play in the sand while you're waiting for your food. Reservations are a must, especially if you want a table outside (and you do want a table outside, so you can watch the sunset!). This was also by far the "fanciest" restaurant we went to in Nosara. Most Nosara restaurants are super casual (think flip flops and shorts), but this is a step above. It's definitely the place to pull out a nice sundress or khaki pants for the guys, but it's still casual--just fancy for Nosara. And while the location is gorgeous, the food is incredible, too. It's Mediterranean with fish, steak, salads, and brick-fired pizzas. We way overordered, because we thought the pizzas were personal pizzas judging by the reasonable-by-NYC-standards prices, but nope! They were large pizzas. So for two adults and two kids, we had three giant pizzas (goat cheese, salami, and pepperoni), a steak, and a huge antipasto platter. It was all amazing, but a lot. (I also had a watermelon margarita, which was out of this world.) And the best part: Since we had a mini fridge in our hotel room, we ended up getting all of the excess pizza to go, and we ate leftover slices for lunch and snacks over the next few days.

Al Chile: This was one of our favorite spots! It's a delicious open-air bar/restaurant in downtown Guiones with super yummy drinks and tacos. This also happens to be the pick-up/drop-off spot for Nosara Day Camp (see below), so my husband and I would often grab lunch or a margarita here and then wait for our kids to come back from camp. I loved the guac and chips, tacos, yuca fries, and pineapple salad. 

The Gilded Iguana Restaurant & Bar: Loved this place. It's a good stop when you're craving food that feels a bit more familiar, and the large, open-air restaurant has a cool, upscale-beachy vibe. I got the gnocchi pomodoro for dinner (yum), a panini for lunch (also yum), and frozen rose to drink both times (double yum). They also had a good kids menu. My kids tried the buttered noodles and waffles, and they approved.

Harmony Hotel Juice Bar: The same expat who had suggested La Luna recommended this to me, and I made the mistake of waiting until the end of our trip to visit it. It's awesome! It's a crunchy-chic little juice bar hidden in the jungle behind the Harmony Hotel. (Ask the guard how to get there. You take a little meandering path through the trees.) They have coffee, smoothies, baked goods, and other light bites like sandwiches. Lots of vegan and gluten-free options. Very cool! (There is also a healthy and yummy-sounding restaurant located in the hotel, but we never had a chance to eat there.)

Robin's Cafe & Ice Cream: This little spot in Playa Guiones serves breakfast, lunch, and ice cream. We only went here for ice cream, so haven't tried the sandwiches, salads, etc, but the ice cream was super yummy!

La Brasa: This tiny Argentinian food truck is located just outside of Gabi's Place (see below). The steaks were delicious and our kids hung out on the adjacent play equipment while we waited for the food, which was nice.

El Manglar: This was the restaurant in our hotel, so we ate there a lot. And if I'm being totally honest, it did get old. (But what hotel restaurant wouldn't?) But I would definitely recommend checking it out. The ambiance itself is great: It's an outdoor restaurant located under a canopy of jungle trees, and they have some great authentic dishes. My favorites for lunch/dinner: cold cucumber soup, fettucine a la granja, Surfer Chicken, and their dip trio which included fresh guacamole, pico de gallo, and black bean spread. And for breakfast: The Surfer Sandwich (fresh bread, scrambled eggs, and avocado) and huevos rancheros (topped with fresh avocado!) were really good.

nosara costa rica with kids

nosara costa rica with kids

nosara costa rica with kids

Kids' Camps

Having a good kids' club option pretty much made the trip for us--and for our kids! Since Nosara's hotels are tiny, they don't offer kid's clubs, which is a luxury we've really gotten used to. Instead, they have two local day camps that take kids from any hotel and provide awesome activities for them. Our kids did Nosara Day Camp for the full week and loved it. It was perfect because we'd eat breakfast together as a family, drop them off at camp, and then while they did their thing, my husband and I would basically have our vacation time! (This usually meant he would surf and I would sit by the pool and read.) Then, he and I would grab lunch and pick up the kids right after that. Then, we'd spend the afternoon as a family. It was perfect.

Nosara Day Camp: The activities change every day, but some things that my kids did during their week: mango farm tour, kayaking, a cove at the beach, fishing on a farm (and then the farmer's wife cooked that fish--and made fresh tortillas!--for their lunch! They still talk about it.), waterfall visit, and more. Lunch was provided every day. Drop-off was around 8:30am and then pick-up was between 1 and 2:30pm (depending on the activities they were doing that day).

Nosara Kids Camp: We didn't do this one because the drop-off wasn't as convenient to our hotel, but it's the other big option in the area. And it looks great! It has more of a surfing focus, but the kids also do activities like art, cooking, and Spanish.

safari surf nosara

love nosara

massage in nosara costa rica

Things to do

Tica Massage: I had heard this was a must-do, and I'm so glad I did it. It's a collection of beautiful huts with skilled masseuses. You can make a reservation, or just walk in. A one-hour full-body massage runs $75, cash only. Mine was amazing.

Refuge For Wildlife: I took my kids here one afternoon, and they really enjoyed it. This is a privately-run place run by an animal-loving expat American. She and her team care for any injured or sick animals brought to them, but they specialize in howler monkeys. We learned that there is a big problem in Costa Rica with howler monkeys being electrocuted by power lines, and it becomes an even bigger issue when the moms are killed and the baby monkeys cannot survive alone. There are grown animals living in Refuge, and also a ton of (adorable!) babies. You get to see the animals, feed howler monkeys, and learn all about the work that they do. Note: They have an age limit, which my son did not reach, but I called and they said it was okay. The concern is that it can be upsetting for some younger kids because it's not just checking out cute animals. You will hear upsetting stories and possibly view some injured animals. My son was okay with it and did fine. (He was hot and complaining by the end though!) Things to know: There is a cost of a $50 donation per person. Also, they only do tours on select days and you must book before you go, so if you're interested in going, check out their schedule when you first get to town. Also, they are changing locations soon, but there current one is very remote. It's not super far, but it's way up in the mountains. You'll definitely need to take a taxi or a tuk tuk (very inexpensive) to get there. FYI, SIBU Wildlife Sanctuary is another wildlife refuge in the area that also does tours, so they are another option!

Canopy Tour: I'm way too much of a wimp to do ziplining of any kind and this is VERY high ziplinging, but my husband took my daughter one afternoon. They loved it. 

Surf lessons: My husband and daughter took lessons through Safari Surf (they happened to be located in our hotel), and were very happy. The instructors were amazing with kids, and in three, one-hour lessons, my daughter went from sitting on a board while the instructor manned it to standing up and actually surfing!

Yoga: This is a huge thing in Nosara, and I didn't take advantage of it nearly enough. My hotel held one to two daily yoga classes at an outdoor pavilion in the jungle, but next time I go, I'm hoping to branch out. I've heard great things about Bodhi Tree Resort, which is a luxe yoga retreat but offers a full roster of classes open to non-hotel guests.

Gabi's Place: This is great little commercial area of small, varied kiosks under a big, covered pavilion. They have ice cream (Jefe's Helados--it's bare bones but delicious), a laundromat, sushi, a taco/cocktail bar, a grass-fed butcher (!), and more. But the best part is that there is an enclosed playground right next door, so mom and dad can have a drink--or wait for their food--while the kids run around and play. (They also have a big satellite TV where they show sports games if that's your thing.)

Love Nosara: Nosara is not a huge shopping town, FYI, but this store is a fun little spot to visit. It's completely open to the elements (they remove the merchandise overnight), and they sell their own line of bodycon wrap dresses, and then t-shirts and baseball caps for men, women, and children. Quality is great and it's not super expensive. My husband and kids all got tees. I'm still regretting that I didn't! Also fun: There are swings and a hammock in the store, so kids can hang out there while you browse. Located in Playa Guiones.

Golf-cart rental: Nosara is small, but spread out and the roads are bumpy and hilly. It's also hot. Walking everywhere gets real old, real fast. Renting a golf cart was a total game changer. There are a couple of different spots to rent one (and your hotel can help), but this is where we got ours.


Nosara offers so much more, but these were a few of our favorites. If you've been to Nosara and have a favorite restaurant, shop, etc, let me know and I'll put it on my list for next year! :)