Synthwave San Francisco! Turbo Drive retrowave club, design Hotel Clift by Philippe Starck, Alexander’s Steakhouse.
Fire and brimstone… Talk about a warm welcome back to San Francisco!
I recently took a weekend trip to see some of my favorite ghouls. Since I’m currently all about retrowave music, this was also the perfect excuse to check out SF’s synthwave party scene.
San Francisco has long been a hub for subcultures: from the Beatniks to the hippies and onward. Right now, it’s the site of the longest-running and best synthwave party on the planet, Turbo Drive.
Keep reading for a firsthand report of the outrun fun, featuring a performance by French artist Danger (above!)
First, let me introduce you to my favorite new necklace — this minimal choker from Aurum by Guðbjörg. They’re an Icelandic jewelry designer, handcrafting every piece from silver from their workshop in Reykjavík.
My necklace is from the Aurum Asterias collection, which is inspired by the country’s unique, dark ocean waves. I love this design because it brings back fond memories of when I visited the black sand beaches of Iceland.
As you know, I’m all about supporting independent designers that produce exquisite pieces. Aurum melds traditional craftsmanship with modern design, and prioritizes sustainability with fair-trade materials and environmentally friendly packaging.
For a special piece, I encourage you to view their collections that include rings, bracelets, earrings and other accessories.
See more from Aurum below:
I had fun staying at San Francisco’s Clift Hotel, which was designed by Philippe Starck (one of my favorite modern furniture/interiors designers) and Ian Schrager (co-founder of the legendary NY nightclub Studio 54).
Monkeying around is encouraged, in this hip hotel. Guests can sit on Starck’s Big Arm Chair and take photos… that is, if they can manage to clamor up there! (Images by Lauren Levitt).
Clift Hotel San Francisco has a mind-bending lobby, featuring a collection of avantgarde chairs. There are seats designed by Ray and Charles Eames, a coffee table by Salvador Dali, and a surreal stool by Roberto Matta who was inspired by René Magritte. (Remember when I went to his surrealist museum in Belgium?).
Clift San Francisco is part of Morgans Hotel Group, hence the eclectic, boutique luxury vibe of the space.
We had cocktails in Clift’s historic Redwood Room; legend says it was carved from the wood of a single redwood tree. The bar has been restored by Starck, with an enormous etched glass bar and plasma TV screens that broadcast digital art.
(I’ll show you more from the hotel further down… but now, it’s time to party.)
Many of my friends and I are currently loving the neo-80s sounds of synthwave: think Stranger Things and John Carpenter. I’ve long wanted to attend Turbo Drive, the first and only San Francisco dance club dedicated to retrowave / outrun.
As the party describes it: “This is the soundtrack for carefree drives along the beach, Day-Glo legwarmer aerobics, sunsets over laser grids, outrunning the cops in a cyberpunk dystopia, falling in love with your first robot crush, and occasionally summoning the unholy forces from the depths with a keytar.”
Turbo Drive takes place regularly in the space about DNA Lounge. I’m hanging with Meikee Magnetic in the DJ booth; he runs the party with Danny Delorean and Devon Dossett. (They also do other events around the city, including Bootie SF and Neon Black).
The club’s playlist is space-synth perfection. The DJs spin Carpenter Brut, Perturbator, Dance with the Dead, Com Truise, Gost, Robert Parker… the soundtrack of night-driving in space.
Then, Danger took the stage! The French musician electrified the crowd with his glowing eyes, behind a mask reminiscent of Daft Punk or Aural Vampire’s Raveman.
Danger had tremendous energy throughout his set, never letting up on the pounding hyperdrive. He drew in a packed room, and by the end, everyone was headbanging hard to the retro-futuristic sounds of the 80s.
Thanks to Meikee for inviting me to Turbo Drive. It was great to catch up with friends, and experience this intergalactic club scene. If you come to San Fran, hopefully you too can check one of their synthwave events.
Here’s another look at my “Kung Fury” outfit of the day. I’m constantly wearing this 90s-style red beret by Mary Wyatt London.
My Dragon midi skirt is from Print All Over Me, which lets you print custom designs on 200 high-quality templates. You can also order designs by top artists; my skirt is by gentlethrills.
San Francisco’s Hotel Clift is made for photo-shooting. Lauren and I got access to one of the mod suites, with high ceilings and a dining room with furniture designed by Philippe Starck.
Mirrors, mirrors everywhere. (As you can see, PAOM skirt is double-sided!)
The suite at Clift San Francisco is a study in sumptuous textures. Silk, leather, velvet, chrome and Venetian Murano glass.
The relaxed opulence fit with my embroidered high heel shoes by Le Babe. (More of their designs featured below:)
One of my friends rented a Clift suite for a birthday party. This would also be a fabulous spot to ring in the New Year, as it’s centrally located in downtown San Fran.
Lauren’s black latex dress and cat mask matched the playful energy of the hotel. (On each level, you’ll find a big circular mirror and these reflective chairs).
Don’t miss out on the 16th floor, featuring this lavender spiral staircase and glass lights.
At an art hotel like The Clift, adventure awaits… Shout-out to the staff for welcoming us here, and their kind comments on our various outfits!
On our first night, I enjoyed a brilliant meal at Alexander’s Steakhouse with Dr John Skutlin, who was in town to speak at a University of San Francisco conference about tattoo culture in Asia. He says, “Alexander’s elegant and sophisticated interior and warm ambient lighting set the mood for an evening of gastronomic delights guided by their expert staff.”
The restaurant is a traditional steak house, yet they innovate with fusion dishes and creative cocktails. My gin curry cocktail above is a perfect example; decorated with edible flowers, this Indian inspired drink is wonderfully refreshing.
(John and I are wearing rings by Alex Streeter, our favorite jewelry designer. The legendary silversmith created the Angel Heart Ring, which was memorialized in the movie starring Robert De Niro as Lucifer. This pentagram design comes in several variations; John’s ring has two silver devils on the side. I’m wearing Alex Streeter’s Ouroboros and Bone Claw rings.”)
John continues, “Of course, steak is the name of the game, but before our massive cuts of beef we were treated to hon Hamachi “shots” – a line of shotglasses each filled with avocado, serrano, cilantro, and of course raw yellowtail, all topped off with a splash of yuzu soy sauce for a refreshing aperitif.”
The server quipped that we could throw back a dozen of these and still want more… as you can see from my expression, he was correct! Other restaurants have copied this dish, but Alexander’s hamachi shots are the original ones.
“Might I say that I’m Old Fashioned?” Our server brought us an extensive wine and cocktail list to peruse.
John says, “The libations were almost too numerous to choose from, but the double rye Manhattan was perfectly balanced between the vermouth and the heavy dose of rye. Everyone knows about aging wine and whiskey, but cocktails can be mixed and then aged as well, allowing the ingredients to fuse together in subtle and surprising ways, as I found with the aged Rob Roy cocktail Alexander’s served up.”
Alexander’s Steakhouse has a meticulously curated beef program, highlighting small farms from the US, Australia, and Japan. They are also one of the only restaurants in the US certified to serve authentic Kobe beef.
In John’s words, “The star of the show was the steak. Wagyu Japanese beef has become a household name in the US, but here we found a menu with rare and intriguing selections, including Hokkaido privately farmed beef from cattle raised in below freezing temperatures, and extremely limited olive-fed beef from Shodoshima Island in Kagawa, Japan.”
Our server recommended the aged T-bone, which John is cutting into. The meat was tender and juicy, and at a perfect medium rare: total umami. We accompanied it with sides of wild mushrooms and mashed potatoes, all beautifully prepared and not too heavy.
At the bottom, you can see the Hidagyu from Gifu Prefecture that we sampled. John raves, “It was richly marbled, a hallmark of Wagyu beef, and practically melted in our mouths. The beef was served with what can only be described as a “flight” of twelve different salts from around the world, some smoky, some almost sweet. Each brought out a new dimension of flavor from the meat.”
The staff impressed us with their knowledge, and treated us with little extras such as a splash of red wine to pair with the steaks. They also created special cocktails for us based on our favorite tastes — mine had yuzu in it, and was spot on!
We ended with a warm, gooey souffle and lemon poppy cake. Fresh out of the oven and not overly sweet; exactly how I like my desserts.
Alexander’s Steakhouse was a five-star experience, all around. The dishes, drinks, atmosphere and especially the service deserve the highest rating. For a special night out or celebration in San Francisco, I’d book a table at Alexander’s without hesitation.
More to come from San Francisco — including shopping at occult shops, and the Death Guild Goth party!
It was such a treat to reunite with friends that I met in Tokyo, over 10 years ago! I’m sure you recognize them from this blog over the years. Have you ever had a reunion like ours?
Casa de Campo Villas: Caribbean luxury vacation rentals! Catalina Island, Minitas beach, spa & resort activities.
Coming at you… from my rock star villa in the Dominican Republic! I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to move in.
In my first post, I introduced you to the elegant Casa de Campo resort. We’ll kick things up yet another level: with a look at their tropical villas for rent, and activities including skeet shooting and horseback riding!
We’ll also bask in the white sand and waves of Minitas Beach and Catalina Island, aka paradise on Earth.
Casa de Campo is in located in La Romana, which is considered the most exclusive and beautiful area in the country. Quite a few celebrities own mansions or vacation here regularly; perhaps you might recognize the names Drake, Beyonce, J-Lo, A-Rod, Jay-Z.
When you step into this backyard of dreams, overlooking the Caribbean Sea, it’s obvious why this is an A-list destination.
Casa de Campo has multiple Oceanfront Villas available for rent. They each have bright bedrooms filled with modern decor, and a state-of-the-art kitchen.
The star of the show, however, is the long outdoor pool flanked by a luxurious gazebo.
I could laze in this open-air lounge all day, reading a sci-fi novel. The space is airy thanks to the peaked roof and ceiling fans.
CDC’s villas are decorated in muted Caribbean colors, which match the elegant natural surroundings. The wicker furniture is accentuated by local crafts and glasswork.
Photographer Molly Weingart and I daydreamed about living here in style.
As villa guests, we’d have access to maid and butler services, and a culinary staff that prepares daily breakfast in the kitchen.
The most difficult decision you’d have to make is whether to dip into the swimming pool, the Caribbean sea…
Or the pod-like hot tub next to the bedroom patio.
We’d never get bored indoors, with these pop-modern rooms. The villas are equipped with a sauna, full gym, and private cinema with theater seating.
“Scarface” vibes, in the central living room that is set up to entertain guests.
Molly and I loved the artistic details that make each villa unique. This handcrafted mahogany bench and rainbow canvas formed the perfect photo backdrop.
Casa de Campo makes the most of the Dominican Republic’s tropical beauty. They also offer Garden Villas for rent, with lush natural surroundings as well as a swimming pool.
Although you’ll feel like a millionaire, the villa rentals are actually quite affordable compared to others in the area (especially when split among a group of friends). Many guests rent a villa for Christmas and New Year’s, hen getaways, or other occasions.
(If these photos make you keen to move in, there’s more info on Casa de Campo’s site.)
As guests of the resort, we had full access to “fun in the sun” activities — ranging from water sports to outdoor massages. Since Casa de Campo is a huge resort (at 7000 acres), we never ran out of options for activities, many of which are included in the package experience.
The Dominican Republic is known for its pristine beaches. One of the best is Playa Minitas, Casa de Campo’s private beach. We drove here in our personal golf cart, and found ourselves on a quiet stretch of soft white sand.
At Minitas Beach, guests can try activities like snorkeling, kayaking, paddleboarding or windsurfing in these gentle waves.
Molly and I couldn’t wait to wade into these clean, warm waters. This, right here, is my happy place.
I’ve visited beautiful beaches worldwide (Maldives, Bali, Maui), and Minitas Beach ranks among the best I’ve ever experienced. Unlike other places in the Dominican Republic, this is an uncrowded and meticulously maintained spot.
Casa de Campo offers free towel service at the entrance, and plenty of amenities including change rooms, several bars, and Minitas Beach Club restaurant (which we reviewed in this post).
(I’m wearing a skeleton swimsuit; similar one here).
We alternated between dips in the crystal-clear waters, and lounging on the comfortable chaises under the shade of palm trees.
There weren’t many tourists around, which let us feel as if were in our own Blue Lagoon.
If you stay until the sun sets, you’ll get this spectacular light show over the horizon.
We watched the sunset, while sipping their famous piña coladas served in a fresh, local pineapple…
I have to admit, I love being a “beach Goth” every so often!
Quite a few people recommended that we visit Catalina Island, and we were glad we took their advice. To get here, ask the Casa de Campo staff to help you make an advance booking for the catamaran ride. The boat departs from Minitas Beach and takes 25 minutes — and it’s a fast and furious ride that made us smile.
We disembarked onto six square miles of beach paradise. No photo filters needed: the turquoise hues and perfectly clear waters are exactly what you get in real life.
Catalina Island is part of the Parque Nacional del Este, which preserves the diverse ecosystem that includes sand-dunes, mangroves, and reefs.
If you’re a snorkeler, take a short swim from the pier, and you’ll find calm waters teeming with sea life.
Relaxing on Catalina Island turned out to be one of the best moments of our trip to the DR.
You may recall that we ate like queens at Casa de Campo, from sushi fusion to rustic Italian. To balance it out, we spent time in the fitness center, which has a large selection of weights and machines.
Guests can also book a private training session, or visit the physiotherapy center. Molly did a functional class with David, and says: “I went to the workout tired, but left feeling energized. David did a great job of assessing my strength. When he realized that I could do more than he had originally intended to give me in the workout, he adjusted it workout accordingly — all with a smile. I even got to learn how to say some of the exercises in Spanish!”
The resort also has regularly scheduled group fitness classes like Pilates, Zumba, Saco Box, Spinning, and aerobics. We woke up for the 8:30am Pilates class, and it was absolutely worth it.
Molly’s reaction: “Liliam was such a magical teacher. I felt like she saw my heart, and then just made my abs work hard! One of the things that I really enjoyed about her (and David, and fitness at Casa de Campo in general) was that there was a focus on wellness, so progressing an injury to advanced athletic performance could be done in one class. She exemplified this completely, as she took the extra time to show us those stretching machines that released the back.”
The Spa was another place to rejuvenate both body and mind. Casa de Campo’s spa uses traditional techniques and local, organic ingredients in their menu of treatments.
Molly booked the Signature Ayurvedic massage. She says, “Alexandra, the woman who took care of me, touched me with such kindness and knowledge that the 90 minutes drifted by. I’ve been suffering from a pretty serious injury and she did a great job of handling the tension around the muscles to release some of the pain.”
I agree with her words that “The staff at Casa de Campo was spectacular. That’s an understatement. They made you feel like you were at home with friends you just hadn’t met yet. From checking in with Victor, to the bartenders who recommended we go to Catalina Island, and servers who pushed me to speak more Spanish… everyone just wanted to make us more comfortable and help us explore.”
The all-inclusive package includes horseback riding. I was excited to get on a horse for the first time in over a decade.
The horses are extremely well-trained, and will never dart off or disobey commands. We explored the ranch’s lush pathways, by walk and trot.
I also got to try skeet shooting for the first time. The all-inclusive package includes 25 shots; it’s nice how CDC encourages guests to experience new sports and activities that they wouldn’t otherwise do on their own.
Our instructor was a kind, detail-oriented teacher who made us feel we were in safe hands. He patiently showed us how to use the two-barrel gun, which could hold two shots before requiring a re-load.
Skeet shooting means hitting clay targets that fly in the air. By pressing a button, he launched these disks from fixed stations, at a variety of angles and speeds.
I discovered that I’m surprisingly good at hitting clay pigeons. I credit this to my many hours of playing “Duck Hunt” on the original Nintendo console… the 1980s video game is remarkably good at mimicking the actual experience of skeet shooting!
Don’t mess with travel bloggers. They learn skills on the job.
I’ve shot rifles in indoor gun ranges before, and didn’t enjoy the experience much. However, an outdoor shooting center is a different story. Molly and I appreciated getting to know the history and skill of the sport, at one of the biggest centers in the Caribbean.
If you’re a golf fan, then you might already know of Casa de Campo. The resort has three of the best golf courses in the Caribbean, if not the world: Teeth of the Dog, Dye Four, and The Links. We saw groups of golf buddies renting a villa together, and swinging their clubs in this postcard-perfect setting.
A big heart for Casa de Campo — Molly and I couldn’t have had a better time in the Dominican Republic! Everything about the resort was as pristine as these waters, and the staff deserves a special mention for their kindness.
If these photos are convincing you to fly off to this beach, check out more info on CDC’s website.
Takashi Murakami: Japanese kawaii exhibit at Vancouver Art Gallery! Hello Kitty Taipei airport lounge & gift shop.
When one of your favorite Japanese artists is in town… It’s time to get trippy!
If you love manga, anime and “kawaii” Japanese pop culture, then head down the rabbit hole to Takashi Murakami’s exhibit at Vancouver Art Gallery.
For the first time, Murakami’s major works have come to Canada. Over 50 pieces spanning three decades are currently on display at VAG (from Feb 2 to May 6, 2018).
The retrospective is titled “The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg,” so get ready to dive into a world of tentacles.
Read on to the end of this story, where I’ll also share photos of the Hello Kitty airport lounge in Taipei (since we’re on the topic of Japanese pop-cute). It’s definitely the world’s weirdest airline lounge, featuring Sanrio characters!
Murakami Takashi (村上 隆) is one of Japan’s most intriguing contemporary artists. You might recognize his smiling flowers and cartoon bears, which were on the cover of a Kanye West album and Louis Vuitton purses.
However, as I found out from this exhibit, Murakami’s artistic tentacles reach far deeper than pop commentary on consumer culture. The exhibition’s title, “The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg,” refers to a Japanese parable where the creature survives by sacrificing parts of himself. In this way, “Takashipom” consumes his native history and spirituality, transforming them into colorful new visions.
The Vancouver Art Gallery went all-out to welcome Murakami. Each window is plastered with happy flower decals, and the rotunda looks like it’s been attacked by a pink and blue cephalopod, Godzilla-style. The artist himself came here for the opening, dressed in a tentacles-hat for the occasion.
The Murakami exhibition is already an immense success, drawing in queues of visitors. Instead of spending time in line, I recommend that you purchase a ticket in advance from the Vancouver Art Gallery website (it lets you choose the specific date of your visit.) You may also want to aim for a weekday visit, since the space was packed over the weekend.
The Japanese artist is known for his eccentric outfits. I was pleased to see that a few visitors dressed up for the occasion; I loved this girl’s Harajuku decora candy style.
During the grey winter months, it’s a joy to wander among giant neon paintings with friends.
Murakami’s best-known works are influenced by Japanese “kawaii’ (big-eyed, round cuteness), with nods to anime, manga and otaku culture. However, these critters always have a deadly or bizarre twist
The exhibition spans several huge rooms, and includes wall-sized works and ceiling-high sculptures. Many feature Mr. Dob, his cute character who is a bit like Hello Kitty meets Mickey Mouse.
In his 3D work “DOB in The Strange Forest,” Murakami surrounds the innocent mouse-bear with seeing-eyed mushrooms. In the back, he’s become an unhinged monster spewing vomit (the painting is called “Tan Tan Bo Puking.”)
The mutant Mr. Dob reflects on how icons can run amok, hiding sharp fang beneath inviting surfaces. Despite this commentary on consumerism, Mr. Dob has (ironically? purposefully?) become a popular design on Louis Vuitton bags and other branded designer goods.
(Click the images below to see Murakami’s art x commerce collaborations):
Anyone can take photos inside the exhibition, which makes it highly Instagrammable. One of the most popular selfie-spots is in front of this happy floral wall. Murakami once described these flowers as making him “feel almost physically sick, and at the same time I found them very cute.”
We’re mesmerized by “Flower Ball.” As Ben mused, “Where does art end, and wallpaper begin?”
Murakami is best known for his “Superflat” high-meets-low, 2D pop imagery. However, he explores many other facets of Japanese culture in other works, often with a darker vibe.
One of the most powerful rooms held towering red and blue demon totems (Embodiment of “A” and Embodiment of “Um”). These statues imagine a present-day belief system, built on ancient myths and folklore.
Murakami was devastated by the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami. The tragedy inspired a new direction in his art: he drew upon Japan’s cultural heritage to create spiritual narratives.
One of these masterpieces from this era is on display: a 10-panel painting called “The 100 Arhats.” It was painstakingly made by layering hundreds of silk screens, and depicts Buddhist monks who roamed Japan and helped enlighten people.
Many of Murakami’s works are inspired by “Nihonga,” the late 19th century fusion of Western and Japanese artistic techniques. In the above work, “Of Chinese Lions, Peonies, Skulls and Fountains”, he illustrates the legend of the lion who guards Buddhist temples. The cute baby cub and rainbow stream of skulls made it one of my favorites.
Murakami’s works are big, in terms of both size and concept. This is “Dragon in Clouds – Indigo Blue”, a re-imagining of a 1763 Japanese fantasy painting by Soga Shohaku.
Takashi Murakami is often compared to Andy Warhol. The Japanese artist is better received outside of his homeland, where some deride him for being too commercial/marketing oriented. Personally, I think these detractors are only skimming the surface; both artists made provocative works that went far deeper than soup cans and smiley flowers.
Intrigued? I encourage you to come out to Vancouver Art Gallery to see Murakami’s works in person. There’s no other way to get a full sense of his scale and impact.
Exit through the gift store... There’s a selection of pins, toys, prints and more. This demented octopus plush caught our eye. Looks like something that Charles Manson might embrace.
Have you heard of Takashi Murakami? Are you also a fan of his work? (You can browse his fashion designs below:)
A final close-up of Murakami’s flowers (note the tiny faces), and my outfit of the day. My red 90s beret and Domination top are by Mary Wyatt London. My round minimalist sunglasses are Edwardson Eyewear.
Since we’re on the subject of “kawaii” culture… I thought I’d end with photos I took during a stopover, at Taipei’s Taoyuan Airport. If you go to Terminal 2, gate C3… you’ll discover a Hello Kitty airport lounge!
Although Hello Kitty is from Japan, the mouth-less cat is popular all over Asia. Taiwan loves her so much that they have an airport lounge in her name. The large waiting area has plenty of seats, a kid’s play area, and a nursing station featuring images of baby Kitty and Daniel.
Taiwan’s Eva Air even launched a Hello Kitty jet, which mainly flies routes to Japan. Everything about the flight is in her likeness: the tickets, staff outfits, food, and art on the side of the airplane. (The Hello Kitty plane was so popular that EVA Airlines now also has Pokemon and Gudetama themed flights.)
In Taipei’s airport lounge, Hello Kitty is depicted as a world traveller. We see her wearing pilot goggles, and toting a suitcase behind her with a wink. The murals show the cat flying on her pink airplane to Sydney, India, New York, Rome and Paris.
These pictures are pretty accurate if you think of it… Since Sanrio launched her in 1974, Hello Kitty has taken over the world. I see merchandise with her face on it everywhere I travel.
I filmed an Instagram video here that shows you more of the pink, ridiculous terminal. Is this Hello Kitty heaven… or hell? That’s all up to you.
Right next door is the ultimate gift store, aptly named Hello Kitty Dream World. Taiwan Taoyuan airport has a few Sanrio shops, and they’re open from early morning to late evening.
“I like to stop at the duty free shop!” Especially when it’s filled with rare Hello Kitty and Sanrio character goods. I was tempted to get stationery, stuffed toys, jewelry, backpacks, kitchen items…
Over the years, Sanrio has added more adorable animals to the family. Above is Bad Badtz Maru, Pompompurin, Cinnamon Roll and My Melody.
Some of the character items are on the weird side. I need a Hello Kitty robot cleaner in my life…
If you’re planning a trip to Taipei or doing a layover, look out for the Hello Kitty lounge in Taoyuan Airport (Terminal 2, section C3).
I grew up with Hello Kitty, so I’ll always have a soft spot for her. How about you?
And what do you think of Takashi Murakami’s mind-bending exhibit?
How to spend a 24 hour stopover in Panama City! Sortis Hotel & Manabi restaurant, Casco Viejo historic district.
Say yes to travel. Always!
When I realized I could do a free 24-hour stopover in Panama City, I immediately chose that flight. Even though I only had a brief time in Panama’s capital, I got a nice taste of the culture, food, architecture… and it’s something I’ll never regret.
I had to fly through Panama, on my route between Dominican Republic and Cuba. I realized I could book a flight with a long connection time / stop-over, which allowed at least 24 hours to get out and explore. It didn’t cost extra, and it was a better option than hanging around the airport for over 6 hours… so why not?
If you can choose to do a 24 hour layover in Panama City, you should go for it. The timing was enough for me to get the lay of the land, see some sights (like Casco Viejo and the waterfront), and enjoy Panamanian food. Read on to see how I spent a day in the city of the Canal…
But first, a quick announcement. I’m back in San Francisco in early March with friends! We’ll be hitting up the synthwave party Turbo Drive (with a performance by retrowave artist Danger), as well as the infamous Goth night Death Guild. If you’re in SF, come out and dance with us.
(Above, wearing jewelry by my favorite Alex Streeter: Mars Star stud earrings, and Ouroboros creatures ring.)
And now, back to my Central American stopover story.
Some cities are better for layovers than others. Panama City turned out to be a great one — because Tocumen International Airport is only a 30 minute drive from downtown Panama City.
If you have limited time in a destination, I recommend booking a hotel that is centrally located. I stayed at Sortis Hotel, Casino and Spa since it was right in the bank district, and near the waterfront and famous sites. The staff arranged private car to pick me up from airport Arrivals, which helped me to save time and keep my trip as seamless as possible.
Sortis Hotel address: Calle 56 y 57 Este, Panamá, Panama
Sortis Hotel’s hip decor matched my pastel-Gothic vibe. They’re part of the boutique design hotels collective, Autograph Collection, meaning you can expect luxurious, modern accommodations and service.
I arrived in the evening, so I was glad to spend time under the waterfall shower and then curl up for bed. Sortis’ rooms are large and decorated in urban chic, with giant windows that let you wake up to the famous skyscrapers of Panama.
The next day, I woke up early for the included breakfast buffet, and so that I could have as much time as possible to see Panama City before my flight in the early evening.
I got a wonderful introduction to Panama City on the rooftop of Sortis Hotel. They have a panoramic terrace, and a swimming pool with a cute white duck in it!
I looked out at the iconic cityscape, marked with tall silver towers. Instantly loved the vibrant and energetic environment of Ciudad de Panamá.
Perhaps you might be surprised to see so many skyscrapers here. Beginning in the early 2000s, Panama City had a construction boom that resulted in dozens of futuristic high-rises.
Panama City has become a major financial, tech and business center –– but it still has that laid-back, warm Central American vibe. Sortis’ inviting swimming pool, with towers and palm trees in the background, captures this mix perfectly.
Unlike other parts of Central America, there’s also a high-end element to Panama City. I’m hanging in the lobby’s Veuve Cliquot champagne lounge. Sortis Hotel also adjoins a shopping center, and is near the new Soho Mall for luxury designer brands.
If you only have a twenty-four hour stopover, be sure to take the time to try the local cuisine. On my first night, I ate dinner at Manabi Restaurant and Rum Lounge, which specializes in Panamanian dishes.
(My New Retro Wave shirt is Akade Wear, designers of synthwave / outrun / retrowave fashion.)
The cozy Manabi Restaurant was decorated with local crafts, and warm wooden furniture. They have an impressive selection of Panamanian rum… but alcohol wasn’t being served because it was Martyr’s Day! (Every year, the city commemorates the 1964 riots over sovereignty of the Panama Canal Zone.)
Nonetheless, I got to enjoy a tropical fruit smoothie with fresh fish ceviche, and Manabi’s hearty seafood dish. I tend to order local fish wherever I go; this time, I got to taste “corvina” (a saltwater fish from the coastal waters of Central and South America) for the first time. I ended with the house-made creme brulee with blueberries — brilliant.
The next day, I was ready to see Panama City. Uber is quite cheap here, so I booked an UberX ride to Casco Viejo (Old Town).
Casco Viejo is located on the waterfront, and has spectacular viewpoints and walkways. Across the water, I spotted the rainbow colored Biomuseo (Museum of Bio-Diversity) designed by Frank Gehry. (If I had an extra day in Panama City, I’d certainly go there.)
30 minutes away, you can visit Miraflores Locks, one of the transit points of the Panama Canal. There’s a history museum about the 77 km (48 mile) waterway, which connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Visitors can also go to an observation deck to see vessels pass through the Panama Canal.
Panama is also known for its long seawalls, which are made for strolling. I looked out at Amador Causeway, the second longest boardwalk in the city and site of museums and restaurants.
I had a limited amount of time so I stuck to Casco Viejo, the historic district of Panama City. This settlement was founded in 1673 after the previous one had been destroyed. Since then, it has survived many natural disasters and attacks by pirates, including the scurvy Captain Henry Morgan.
I passed by the yellow facades of Plaza Bolivar (with a statue of Simon Bolivar in front), and cute sidewalk cafes.
It’s easy to see why Casco Viejo is a UNESCO world heritage site. The old town has beautiful parks, and the classic buildings carries traces of its past (a mix of Spanish, French and American colonial architecture.)
This Panama City neighborhood is also home to the archaeological ruins of the church and convent of Santo Domingo. The structures were built by Dominican Friars shortly after the founding of Casco Viejo, but burnt down in 1756 and were never restored.
I enjoyed seeing the contrast between these historic sites and glitzy, modern Panama (such as this light installation at Sortis Hotel.)
My favorite futuristic building was the F&F Tower, an office building not far from the hotel. I did my best to imitate the twisting green glass and reinforced concrete.
The corkscrew spiral building stands out in the skyline of Panama City.
Whenever the opportunity presents itself for you to experience something new, I say “do it.” You’ll never regret seeing a new destination, and who knows when you might get the chance again.
Gracias Sortis Hotel for taking care of me during my layover. My Panama stopover was short but sweet, and makes me keen to come back to do more.