Where to Eat and Drink in Napa

My friends in the Northeast constantly ask if I miss “experiencing seasons.” My response is always that I enjoy living in the perfect temperature all year and being able to drive from the beach to the vineyard to the mountains all in the same day. San Francisco has its flaws (rent prices, for example), but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Napa is a worldwide wine destination and happens to be one of my favorite day trips. Early spring is the perfect time to visit, especially if you want to see the vineyards filled with bright yellow flowers. So I’m highlighting a few of my favorite places to eat and drink.

Spend the Day in Napa

Food

Oxbow Public Market: I love wandering around the Oxbow Market in the morning. It’s full of life and the perfect spot for people watching. Generally, I’ll go to C CASA for a breakfast taco or Model Bakery for one of their famous English muffins. I mean, I don’t even like English muffins but am obsessed with theirs. There’s a Ritual Coffee as well, which is the perfect area to people watch in. If you miss the market in the morning, be sure to stop by Hog Island for a dozen oysters on the half-shell during happy hour.

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Photo Credit: Oxbow Public Market

Dean and Deluca: This place is foodie heaven. They’ve got everything you need for a picnic or for something to bring home after a long day of wine tasting. Whether you’re in the mood for some fancy cheese or a freshly-made sandwich, they’ve got you covered—with all sorts of cool spirits, wines, rubs, olive oils, and fresh produce.

“I went to Dean & Deluca. Man, they charge, like, five dollars a strawberry there. But I figure since you quit your job… we should celebrate.” ~ Nate in The Devil Wears Prada

Gott’s Roadside (St. Helena): By far my favorite veggie burger in the entire Bay Area. Oh, and the poke tuna tacos are out of this world. The atmosphere is perfect, with lots of green grass and picnic tables to enjoy your lunch. It’s the ideal place to enjoy a sunny afternoon and refuel after a morning of tastings. Also, I’m pretty sure they have the best milkshakes I’ve ever tasted.

Tip: Order online, set a pickup time, and skip the line that wraps around the building.

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Photo Credit: Gotts Roadside

The Bakery Cafe by illy (at the Culinary Institute of America): This place is the best-kept secret in Napa in my humble opinion. The Culinary Institute has a very swanky (and expensive) reservations-only restaurant, but I always go to this quick student-run cafe for approachable prices and quality food. It’s centrally located in the school (which looks more like a castle) and always has a fantastic menu. I’m obsessed with the desserts and have to convince myself not to order 45,678 things on the menu.

Tip: Try not to buy everything in the gift shop. Though I do love my $25 reusable shopping tote; it was definitely an impulse buy. There’s just so many cool cooking gadgets!

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Photo Credit: The Bakery Cafe by illy

Bouchon Bakery: Have you heard of famed French Laundry chef Thomas Keller? He’s the mastermind behind Bouchon Bakery. They’ve got the most incredible sweets in the Napa area, and it’s totally worth a visit to say you’ve eaten something created by Thomas Keller. The upscale cafe is next door and highly recommended as well. Last time we went, I devoured their salted caramel macarons at a little bistro table outside in the sunshine and brought some of the foie-gras dog treats home for the pups.

Drinks

Schramsberg: Hands down my favorite place to taste, but I’m a little biased because I used to work on their PR (and adore the family). When you walk in, you’ll immediately notice pictures of the presidents (even Obama) and royalty (including Princess Diana) that used their bubbles for official events. Next you’ll be guided through caves from the late 1800s with thousands of bottles lining the walls. All while enjoying some of the most incredible sparkling wine in the world. I’m a huge fan of the J. Schram and J. Schram Rosé, which have beat the most prestigious French Champagnes in blind taste tests. If you only visit one winery, this is the one. This tour/tasting is $50 per person, and you’ll need reservations well in advance.

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Photo Credit: Schramsberg

Domaine Chandon: I’m usually a big fan of the smaller wineries but an absolute sucker for a good glass of bubbly and a gorgeous view. This place has both, and it’s perfect if you’re just looking for a relaxing atmosphere to sip bubbly and catch up with friends. Domaine Chandon is the California property of legendary Moët & Chandon, so you can expect quality and class. It was the first French-established winery in the U.S., and they have various tour packages and educational wine flights. I adore their Étoile Rosé and appreciate that you’re able to order by the glass or by the flight without a reservation for a tour/tasting.

Cuvaison: Lover of Pinot Noir? This is by far my favorite producer. Their wines are balanced and complex, and they are sustainable and organic. I cannot think of a better expression of Napa. Not to mention they have a gorgeous glass tasting room with sweeping vineyard views and down-to-earth staff. Their tastings run around $25, which is well worth it.

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Photo Credit: Cuvaison

ZD: This gem is a small family-owned winery hidden on the Silverado Trail. The deLeuze family is known for producing exquisite Cabernet Sauvignon. ZD has recently opened an upstairs tasting room with a deck, and the views are incredible.

VGS Chateau Potelle: VGS stands for very good shit. It’s a tiny tasting room, but the wines are incredible. Plus, there’s hot-air balloons all over and the food pairings are divine. Be sure to book a reservation ahead of time though! $60/person.

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Photo Credit: VGS Chateau Potelle

Goose and Gander: Yes, it’s wine country. But if you’re in the mood for a creative cocktail, look no further! I order the Coastal Pimm’s Cup (but with Sipsmith Gin, because it’s the best). They’ve also got an extensive wine list as well as yummy bites.

Hope these suggestions were helpful to you. Would love to hear about your favorite ways to spend the day in Napa, so leave a comment.

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New York City during the Holidays

My new job (and parents relocating to New Jersey) had me going to New York quite a bit this past year. I make a point to stay in a new neighborhood each visit and get to know a new area a little better. This Christmas visit we stayed in festive Midtown, near all of the beautiful shops and Rockefeller Center. We loved walking around 5th Avenue and looking at all the holiday window displays.

Here’s some highlights:

Bar BouludWe had lunch here with my mom before the Nutcracker. It’s almost directly across the street from the Lincoln Center, and the perfect pre-ballet venue. Lovely ambiance, with the inside being like a wine cellar. Cozy booths with abstract (wine themed) art, giant bottles of Burgundy scattered around, and French jazz music playing in the background. I loved their salmon club, and especially enjoyed sharing petit fours and coffee before the performance.

The Nutcracker (New York City Ballet): I danced in the Nutcracker growing up, and have seen it just about every year. It’s my absolute favorite ballet, and the New York City Ballet version is without a doubt the most beautiful version I’ve ever seen. Tickets are a bit pricey, but worth every penny. We sat in the orchestra, but the there wasn’t a bad seat in the David Koch theatre (at the Lincoln Center). We went to a matinee, and my only complaint is the that there’s a lot of children, and several of the ones seated in our area were being disruptive and misbehaving. So keep that in mind when choosing a time!

The Peninsula Hotel: Hands down, my new favorite hotel in Midtown. Classically elegant in every way, their rooms are large with every convenience you can imagine. There’s buttons for the lighting options, television, radio, and telephone. A stand up giant shower next to a cozy soaking tub (with television), and Oscar de la Renta bath products! Plus, if you stay in a suite, a complimentary Mini Cooper and driver (for up to 3 hours a day).

Tips: visit the spa! We went twice. There’s complimentary espresso, water, tea, and apples at the pool. I am obsessed with their steam room, which they infuse with eucalyptus. There’s an indoor pool, group fitness classes, and a fantastic gym.

La Bonne Soupe: While living in Paris (as a Pescetarian), I ate lots and lots of Moules frites and Soupe à l’oignon. Sadly, it’s extremely difficult to find a good bowl in the states and I always crave it! After we checked into our hotel on the first day, I decided to search Yelp! and ended up finding this gem. While we didn’t try anything else on the menu, I’m quite certain everything on the menu is delicious. The salads looked huge, and they even sell their own authentic French dressing (which is not anything close to the orange “French dressing” you see at the grocery store).

Magnolia Bakery: We can here for coffee two days in a row because it was THAT good. Personally, I loved their mocha. Brian was a big fan of their cappuccino. Don’t leave without grabbing a medium (perfect sharing size) banana pudding.

Bloomingdales (59th Street and Lexington Avenue): First of all, this location is ICONIC! Even though there’s hundreds of Bloomingdales locations all over the country, this one is historic and I highly recommend visiting. We wandered around for a good hour, and I could have spent even longer. The window displays were more abstract than holiday, but stunning nonetheless. Though I didn’t end up buying anything (despite how much I loved the Burberry coat that was a whopping 40% off), their after Christmas sales were on point!

Nougatine at Jean-Georges: Nougatine is the more casual sister of Jean-Georges, with a lively bar scene in the evening. We went for lunch and though the three course tasting menu was incredible. I had the tuna tartare, sesame crusted salmon, and finished with a citrus pavlova. The meal was around $100, which is quite reasonable for fine dining in New York City.

Shake Shack: On the West Coast a lot of folks rave about In-N-Out, some even comparing it to Shake Shack. After trying Shack Shack for the first time, I have no idea how you could ever compare the two. Shake Shack is like the epitome of an amazing burger place. I am obsessed with their ‘Shroom Burger (yay for a yummy vegetarian option) and the cheese fries put the famous In-N-Out animal fries to shame. Don’t even get me started on those custard shakes! If they could open a San Francisco location ASAP, that would be GREAT.

Note: didn’t bring my real camera (because our suitcase was already 3 pounds overweight and we had both dogs, so iPhone pictures will have to suffice. 

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7 Favorite San Francisco Restaurants

San Francisco is 7 miles by 7 miles, so I’ve put together my favorite 7 restaurants in the city. Each restaurant is in a different neighborhood, and I highly recommend exploring them all.

Mission Beach Cafe (Mission – 198 Guerrero Street)

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Brunch is my favorite meal, and these folks do not disappoint. It’s one of the most underrated restaurants in San Francisco, yet there’s generally an hour or two wait on weekends. Words cannot even describe how amazing their Dungeness Crab and Bay Shrimp Benedict tastes. Also, they serve mimosas in giant goblets and you can order bacon by the plate!

Insider tip: We usually order a coffee while we wait and explore the Mission a bit. If you get a drip coffee, keep the cup and they’ll keep refilling it for you when you sit down.

Café de la Presse (Union Square – 352 Grant Avenue)

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Brian and I had our first date here, so I’m a little biased. I told him that it’s hard to find authentic soupe l’oignon in the United States, and he set out to prove me wrong. He was of course right, and it’s still the only restaurant I’ll get it at (will have to share my recipe with you all soon). They have the best lattes in the city (in my humble opinion), and a plethora of French magazines and newspapers flown in daily for sale. I generally avoid Union Square restaurants, but this one is my exception to the rule.

Burma Superstar (Inner Richmond – 309 Clement Street)

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Two words for you… COCONUT RICE. Last time we went, I ordered three servings for two people and I think I got judged a bit. They have an authentic tea leaf salad that they actually go to Burma to get ingredients for. The garlic noodles and the mango shrimp are my favorite entrees (aside from eating ALL of the coconut rice), but you cannot go wrong with anything on their menu. Bonus points for having a creative cocktail menu as well. They generally have a long wait time, but I promise it’s well worth your time.

Jane on Fillmore (Pacific Heights – 2123 Fillmore Street)

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Borrowed image from Jane’s website to do it justice

My favorite early morning breakfast spot. I don’t know what it is about this area of Pac Heights, but the whole street is just more beautiful in the morning light. I love to wake up early on a Sunday morning and read The New York Times from one of the tables near the window. They make delicious spicy baked eggs (among many other things), which are baked to perfection in a chunky tomato and black bean sauce with cheese and served with a slice of house made bread. When I’m feeling extra decadent, I’ll add a mocha to that mix. Sometimes they have bread pudding on the menu, which is seriously the best I’ve ever had. There’s always a line out the door though, even on a random Monday morning.

Insider tip: It’s a fantastic shopping area, so be sure to schedule a little time to browse.

Sotto Mare (North Beach – 552 Green Street)

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Photo borrowed from Saveur

North Beach is the Italian neighborhood of San Francisco, with the Italian flag painted on all the street posts and light poles. Back in the day, the Italian fisherman would combine their leftover catch with wine and tomatoes to make a seafood stew called cioppino. Today, it’s known as a San Francisco classic, and Sotto Mare makes the best. They sell lesser quality (and more expensive) versions in Fisherman Wharf, but I’d actually recommend avoiding that area altogether.

Insider Tip: Sotto Mare’s cioppino is so good, it was actually featured in Saveur. Here’s their recipe if you’d like to try making it at home!

Hog Island Oyster Company (Embarcadero – 1 Ferry Building, 11A)

I adore visiting the Ferry Building on a Saturday morning, exploring the farmers market and all of the specialty vendors selling jewelry, clothing, and souvenirs throughout the Embarcadero. The whole area comes alive, and is fantastic people watching (and great water views).

Brian and I buy a bouquet of fresh flowers, maybe a couple of jams or spreads, and then head over to Hog Island for fresh oysters on the half-shell and the most delicious spicy Bloody Mary I’ve ever tasted. We love their seafood stew, sandwiches, and pretty much anything on their menu day or night, but is it socially acceptable to order a Bloody Mary past brunch if you’re not at the airport?

Tenroku Sushi (Japantown – 1825 Post Street, Suite 215)

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There are delicious sushi places all over San Francisco, but my personal favorite is this little gem located in the heart of Japantown. It’s a tiny space (maybe 15 or so seats) with a rotating conveyer belt of sushi. In the middle you’ll see chefs breaking down fresh fish and consistently creating unique rolls. Each plate is a different color, and there’s a diagram showing the cost. It’s very affordable at $3-8 for each plate with 2-4 pieces. They also have a menu if you prefer to sit at a table away from the bar.

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One of the many Italian Flags of North Beach
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Saturday morning at the Ferry Building
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Bijoux and me on a bike ride along the Embarcadero

 

Hope you enjoyed reading about my 7 favorite San Francisco restaurants! Leave me a comment with your favorites.

New York City in July

We had a blast playing tourist, heading to some fantastic restaurants, catching a broadway musical, and falling in love with NYC street fashion!

Here’s some highlights:

An American in Paris: At first, I was searching for tickets online. Thankfully though, my cousin (a former Broadway director) gave me a few tips. She recommended going to the box office on the day-of for discounted tickets (unless it’s a weekend/holiday, which can be tricky). We got front row of the Mezzanine for $89/per ticket (on a Wednesday) as opposed to the $300/per ticket price tag online. We brought my mom for her birthday, and she loved it. The show was beautiful, and I highly recommend checking it out.

Ladurée: I was obsessed with Ladurée macarons when I lived in Paris, and super excited to enjoy not only my beloved rose macarons, but the brunch menu as well. Brian made a reservation on OpenTable, and we were welcomed graciously. The outdoor garden (at the Soho location) is drop dead gorgeous, and our meal was perfection. I had avocado toast with a poached egg, Brian had their club sandwich, and my mom enjoyed an egg white omelet. We were a little short on time, so we didn’t have dessert (just some macarons to go). Looking forward to visiting again and trying their unique ice cream and cake!

Balthazar: They have a restaurant and a little boulangerie to grab pastries/coffee to go next door. We enjoyed breakfast in their beautiful dining room (which was converted from a leather wholesaler’s warehouse to an airy space reminiscent to a Parisian cafe). I enjoyed a Croissant aux Amandes and a giant mocha, while Brian had the Ham and Cheese Croissant with a bone dry cappuccino. Next time we will definitely check out their bar a huîtres.

La Pecora Bianca: This would probably be my go-to cafe if I lived in New York. They’re located in the St. James building at the corner of 26th and Broadway, in the heart of the NoMad district. Their branding is almost as incredible as their cappuccino (Brian ordered it, and offered to switch with me because he’s such a gentleman). They make their own private label rosé, which I will definitely try next time we visit. Cannot say enough good things about this place!

Rizzoli Bookstore: This place is like heaven for a book lover. Aside from the ambiance and beautiful architecture, they also have an entire section dedicated to fashion. In love with like 20 coffee table books, but my suitcase was already overweight, so I couldn’t buy them all, sadly.

Eataly (Flatiron): As soon as you enter through the doors you’re transported to Italy. Lots of hustle and bustle, with counters for coffee, cheese, sandwiches, meat, pastries,  and gelato. So many authentic products and gifts, my late Italian grandmother would have swooned. Definitely recommend stopping in, or even attending one of their culinary events!

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Sun rising toward the end of our redeye
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Commuter style
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Early morning watching the city wake up
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The Garden at Ladurée
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Hot chocolate
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My avocado toast with a poached egg
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Brian’s club sandwich
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Inside Ladurée
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My mocha in a bowl
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Le Bar a Huîtres

Croissant aux Amandes

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Ham and Cheese Croissant
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exploring Central Park
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These views!
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Rizzoli Bookstore
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A section dedicated to fashion?!
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Latte at La Pecora Bianca
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Inside La Pecora Bianca
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Mint gelato at Eataly

 

Top 10 Summer Travel Essentials

Packing and unpacking has always been my least favorite thing to do, but in the past couple of years I’ve nearly gotten it down to an art. I just got back from a week long trip to New York/New Jersey/Maine/New Hampshire with Brian (lots of planes, trains, and automobiles), and realized I forgot a couple of essentials. I usually take the time to write out a list so I don’t forget anything, but this time I waited until the last minute and just started packing (which is the worst thing you can do, you’ll always over-pack). In any case, I figured I’d take the opportunity to share my top 10 summer travel essentials with you all, and remind myself of them as well.

  1. Travel Ballet Flats by Tory Burch ($225): My rule of thumb is always travel with shoes in a neutral color. Another great brand is Tieks (with their signature blue sole), which retail for around $175. If you’re really fancy, go for Chanel, and buy me a pair in 37.5 while you’re at it?! 🙂
  2. Organic Suncare Kit by COOLA ($40): This Kit has their bestselling suncare products in water-resistant, TSA-approved, carry-on sizes. You should always be wearing sun protection, and this brand is my favorite. I’ve never broken out using it, and it doesn’t sting when I sweat.
  3. Wunder Under Pant (High-rise) by Lululemon ($98): I seriously live in these (I may or may not have them in like five colors), and wouldn’t travel any other way. Need to go through security? As they say, yoga pants, drunk people, and children are always honest. Plus, there’s a hidden pocket in the back (perfect for your iPhone and a credit card when you want to go purse-less.
  4. Le Pliage Travel Bag by Longchamp ($255): This will forever be my favorite travel bag. Personally, the ‘gun metal’ color is my go-to. It matches with everything, and I love the leather details. It’s a bit pricey, but I’ve had mine for years with no problems (always chic and durable).
  5. Scarf by Kate Spade ($118): It’s always lovely to wrap up in a scarf while you’re on a long flight or train ride. I tend to gravitate toward Kate Spade scarves because they’re the perfect size, and you can almost always find a nice print.
  6. Honeysuckle Lotion by Barr-Co ($20): Formulated with aloe, shea butter and colloidal oatmeal, this therapeutic emulsion soothes irritated and itchy skin while helping maintain moisture. Airplanes always dry out my skin, so I’ve made a habit of traveling with this stuff. I don’t usually pack my perfume, so this sort of doubles with its nice honeysuckle scent.
  7. Handheld Garment Steamer by SALAV ($25): I never use hotel irons. I know they’re great for men, but once in New Orleans I literally burned a hole in one of my favorite shirts. Ever since, I’ve always traveled with a little mini steamer. This one isn’t great for everyday use (I’ve got a big industrial one for that), but is small and easy to pack. In a pinch though, you can sometimes hang whatever needs to be steamed in the bathroom while you take a hot shower.
  8. Jewelry Case by Hudson + Bleecker ($60): I used to put all my jewelry in a small pocket of my carry-on. After spending 15+ minutes untangling my jewelry and digging around the bag for a missing earring, I’ve invested in a solution. This cute case keeps all my favorite pieces organized and easily accessible, and I’m obsessed with the tassel (obvi)!
  9. Water bottle by S’well ($35): This stainless steel water bottle keeps things cold for 24 hours and hot for 12. I’ve left my bottle filled with cold water in a hot car for a few hours, and still cannot believe I come back to ice cold water. I have the 17oz bottle in ‘opal,’ but there’s lots of others to choose from as well. Fun fact: the 25oz holds an entire bottle of wine!
  10. GoToob by HumanGear ($7/each): I’m fine using just about any shampoo, but loyal to Pureology hydrate light conditioner. I find the travel sized shampoo/conditioner sets for any brand to be over priced (and hard to get all the product out of), so I’d much rather buy my usual liter and pack a GoToob of it for travel or my gym bag. A friend gave me three of these as a gift about five years ago, and I haven’t needed to replace them yet! They’re made out of durable silicon, and are essentially leak proof.

Hope my top 10 summer travel essentials were helpful! Leave me a comment and let me know where you’re traveling next, and what you can’t live without.

10 Tips For Flying With Small Dogs

When I moved to San Francisco by myself almost three years ago, I had no plans of owning pets. Though when I met my Maltipoo Bijoux, all of that quickly changed.

I adopted him right before Thanksgiving, which I was scheduled to spend with my family in New Hampshire. I couldn’t imagine leaving him at a kennel (dogs are family too, right?!), and he’s been flying everywhere with me ever since. Fast forward to summer 2016, and he should have his own frequent flyer account (I wish they allowed those for dogs). It’s height of travel season, so here’s my top 10 tips for flying with small dogs:

  1. Book a direct flight. If you can’t, I’d suggest giving yourself an hour or two between connections. A lot of airports these days have “pet relief areas” that don’t require you to go back through security, but in some cases you might have to and you want to have enough time.
  2. Call your airline immediately to confirm your dog’s reservation. Only a small number of small dogs are allowed on each flight, so you want to give them enough notice. Most airlines charge between $100-150 each way, and there are restrictions on size/breed (so be sure to check the airline policies I’ve linked to below). Certain airlines only allow them in economy (like Virgin), so be aware of that as well.
  3. Schedule an appointment with your veterinarian a week before you’re scheduled to fly. Most airlines require a certificate of health, which is only valid for 10 days before your first flight. (Note: I always get these, and it has yet to be checked by the airline or security). They can also prescribe a sedative for your dog, or recommend a drug store equivalent.
  4. Buy an airline approved dog carrier. I have a Coach carrier for Bijoux that is probably larger than the approved bags, but it’s never been questioned. However, It can be hard to fit under the seat. I recently purchased a Serpa bag, and find it to be a lot easier.
  5. Avoid feeding your dog 8 hours before your flight. I usually bring a Greenie or a Nylabone for Bijoux to enjoy while we’re waiting to board. It’s a nice distraction for him, and a little something to have in his belly. I also recommend bringing a collapsible bowl for water before you take off/when you land.
  6. Bring a book bag and check the rest of your luggage (unless you’re a really light packer). Your pet carrier will count as your carry on, and you can fit most of your personal items in your book bag (i.e.: contact lenses cases, toothbrush, book to read, laptop). It’s much easier to carry than a purse or laptop bag, and you’ll have both hands free.
  7. Arrive to the airport at least an hour and a half early. Chances are your security/check in process will be longer with a dog. With Delta, I got to skip an enormous line and check-in at a “special services area” (from SFO), but with Southwest my checkin process was a nightmare, taking longer with a dog than by myself. Also, you can’t go through the X-ray machine with your dog, and they’ll want to test your hands for explosives and all that jazz.
  8. Don’t walk your dog through the terminals. I’ve gotten in trouble by TSA for this before, and on a layover Bijoux in Washington D.C. Bijoux tried to poop in the middle of the dash to our gate (so remember your poop bags just in case). Your best bet is to find the aforementioned pet relief area to allow them to stretch their legs.
  9. Keep in mind that you won’t be welcome at some restaurants in the terminals with a dog. I recommend bringing your own snacks, and stopping at a Starbucks counter for a water (to share with your pup in the collapsible bowl). You should be able to grab food to-go if you really want to, maybe just not sit at the bar to enjoy a Bloody Mary.
  10. Flight attendants love when you bring them chocolates. And it’s great to make friends with them, especially if it’s your dog’s first time flying and you’re not sure what to expect. A small act of kindness never hurt anyone, and I promise they’ll be incredibly thankful and extra helpful.

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For your convenience, I’ve listed the links to all the major domestic airlines and their pet policies:

I hope you enjoyed my top 10 tips for flying with small dogs. Do you have anything to add? Be sure to leave a comment with your tips or questions!