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January 28, 2019

My Missouri Bucket List

Missouri is a state I feel like I’ve only just started to explore – though I’ve spent a great deal of time in Kansas City and St. Louis. I’ve started thinking about a road trip through the state – where I’d stop if I had no time limit, no money limit, and let’s be real, no day job. That’s how I’ve come up with this Missouri bucket list. You may think I’ve left off some key things, and that’s cool. Let me know what shouldn’t be overlooked!

You won’t find much St. Louis and KC items on this bucket list, because, well, I’ve made those lists already. Same with Excelsior Springs (if it’s not on your Missouri bucket list, add The Elms right this minute).

Missouri Bucket List - All the things I want to do, see, eat and explore in #Missouri #USA. Includes caves, ruins, wild horses, and some throwed rolls. #familytravel #bucketlist

Dive through a mine

For this bucket list item, I’m going to have to learn to dive first! The Bonne Terre Mines look like a surreal experience – you’re pretty much scuba diving through an old mine. National Geographic Adventure named the diving experience one of the top 10 adventures in America. If I never learn to dive, there’s always an option of a boat tour.

Feed big cats

The National Tiger Sanctuary, just north of Branson, is home to rescued large cats. There are different types of tours to help the public learn more about the animals, but the one that sounds like a bucket list item is the chance to feed one of the cats. There’s also a behind-the-scenes tour that I could see my daughter loving.

Go into a cave (or 5,000)

Inside Meramec Caverns, Missouri's largest commercial cave.
Meramec Caverns is the largest commercial cave in the state of Missouri. It’s located in the heart of the Ozarks. Photo courtesy Missouri Division of Tourism

Missouri has more than 5,000 caves, with the most “show caves” in the country. Some that I think merit a visit: Onondaga Cave (claims to have the largest cave living room in the world); Fantastic Caverns in Springfield (home to the only ride-through cave in the U.S.); Marvel Cave (located inside Silver Dollar City and is said to have been discovered by Osage Indians in the 1500s); and two caves in Ha Ha Tonka State Park, Robber’s Cave and the Counterfeiter’s Cave (rumored to have been hideouts for outlaws). The largest of the commercial caves is Meramec Caverns.

Step back into time

My son is fascinated by historic sites, so a trip through Missouri wouldn’t be complete without stopping at a few historic homes. In Diamond, we can set George Washington Carver’s birthplace and see where nature first inspired him as a boy. Independence might be another stop for us in order to visit the Truman Home, a small home of Bess and Harry S. Truman. I’m on the fence about that one since you can only see it by guided tour, and my kids have a 50-50 track record of dealing well with guided tours.

Chase some waterfalls

I’m obsessed with waterfalls (probably because we have so few in Nebraska). Some of the Missouri waterfalls I’d love to see include Rocky Falls near Eminence, Mo., and Crooked Creek Falls in the Ouachita National Forest. Both of these are in the Ozarks. Missouri Life has some of the most picturesque waterfalls here.

Try a natural waterslide

And while I’m on the topic of waterfalls, let’s talk about a natural waterslide. Water flows over smooth boulders at Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park, making it a perfect place to cool off. Because of it, it’s one of the most popular state parks in the Ozarks.

Canoe the Current

Two kayakers floating down the Current River, part of the Ozark National Scenic Riverway
The Current River is part of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. Photo courtesy Missouri Division of Tourism

My husband planted the idea in my mind that we should canoe the Current River long ago, and I still think about it. Its crystal clear water and gorgeous scenery sound great. The Current River is just one of a couple rivers that are part of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. The other rivers are the Eleven Point and the Jacks Fork (so I guess I have some options). Together they are Missouri’s largest national park. There’s a hidden swimming hole that I’d love to see called Bluff Hole, located where the Jacks Fork River widens.

Go to the drive-in

They’re a dying breed, aren’t they? 66 Drive-In Theatre in Carthage is seasonal and said to be the last on this famous highway. This isn’t the only drive-in in Missouri, FYI. I could go to Sunset Drive-In Theater in Springfield and feel like I’ve stepped back in time to the 1950s. 

See some ruins

An overhead drone photo of the castle ruins at Ha Ha Tonka State Park in Missouri
The castle-like ruins at Ha Ha Tonka State Park are the remains of a mansion that was destroyed by fire in the 1940s. Photo courtesy Lake of the Ozarks Convention and Visitors Bureau

Near the Current River, there are for-real ruins. Apparently, there isn’t a good address for Welch Spring Hospital Ruins, so I found this post that gives some good directions (just scroll down midway through the post). Ha Ha Tonka State Park, near the Lake of the Ozarks, is home to castle-like ruins, too. Ha Ha Tonka sounds totally amazing. According to “Missouri Off The Beaten Path,” “The complex of caves, underground streams, large springs, sinkholes, and natural bridges at Ha Ha Tonka State Park makes it one of the country’s most important geological sites.”

Stay in a treehouse

The River Of Life Farm is a resort in the Ozarks with treehouse-like cabins. Beauty of the place is it in the heart of Mark Twain National Forest. I personally want to go to hike or canoe, but they are known for having excellent fly fishing.

Catch a throwed roll

I confess to already doing this, but it’s on this list since I feel my kids should experience having a hot roll chucked at their heads, too. Lambert’s Cafe is in two towns in Missouri (the original is in Sikeston, the other is in Ozark). Expect huge portions along with a wait if you go.

Bike the Katy Trail

A biker on the KATY Trail in Missouri
The KATY Trail is a 237-mile trail that runs through Missouri. This photo was taken near
Cooper’s Landing Campground and Marina. Photo courtesy Missouri Division of Tourism

One of these days, I’m going to plan a weekend trip along the KATY Trail with my husband, stopping for a winery or brewery along the way. It’s flat, it’s scenic, and at 237 miles long, it’s the nation’s longest “rails-to-trail” project. So, um, maybe we’ll just bike part of it. This post in Southern Living has inspired me, though, especially about the B&Bs along the route. One that sounds great is the H.S. Clay House (it even has a pool and hot tub). And we’ll need to eat while we’re doing all this biking. Apparently, bikers in-the-know know to stop for some grub at Cooky’s in Golden City.

Find Charley’s Buffet

Hidden somewhere in a Mennonite community in Lake of the Ozarks is Charley’s Buffet, home to Mennonite-cooked and -served food that has people lining up every Friday and Saturday night.

Explore Route 66

Route 66 passes through Missouri including through the entire Ozarks. I read about a few places to visit just off the historic highway. There’s the scenic Devil’s Elbow, with nearby barbecue joint Elbow Inn and 40-foot-high wooden railroad trestle bridge. Then, there’s Lebanon, where the Route 66 Museum and Research Center is located.

Wine & dine in Missouri’s Wine Country

People having a picnic at Stone Hill Winery in Hermann, Mo.
Stone Hill Winery was built in 1847 in Hermann, Mo. Photo courtesy Missouri Division of Tourism

Missouri has a lot going on, in terms of wine, in the southeastern part of the state. This includes towns of Defiance, Marthasville, New Haven, and Hermann. Hermann has 10 wineries in the area as well as a couple microbreweries and distilleries. The town has several popular festivals like and Wurstfest and Maifest in the spring and Octoberfest in the fall. It is home to Stone Hills Winery which was built in 1847 and, up until prohibition, it was the second largest winery in the U.S. My friends in St. Louis tell me Hermann is the place to go but I wonder if the smaller down they might have overlooked are with visiting too.

Stay in a caboose

Staying in a caboose is going to keep popping up on my bucket lists for states until I stay at one. I’ve come across a couple in Missouri. Cozy Caboose is located at the St. Louis West KOA campground on Route 66. And this one isn’t your ordinary caboose. It’s decked out with a kitchen, queen bed and bunk bed, and more importantly heating and Wi-Fi. There’s also a place off the KATY Trail called Cruces’ Cabooses B&B with two cabooses for lodging. They come fully-equipped and are nestled in the woods.

Randy’s Roadkill BBQ and Grill

Randy’s Roadkill BBQ and Grill in Rolla intrigues me. Even though I’ve heard there is no actual roadkill on the menu at the restaurant, I feel like I have to go and see for myself. And then by the T-shirt.

See mastodon skeletons

Mastodon State Historic Site has a pretty interesting story behind it: The first evidence of mastodons were discovered there. And it almost didn’t become a public park – it took a group of persistent housewives to stop the archeological site from being sold to developers. According to the book “Missouri Off-The-Beaten-Path, ” four women fundraised and pestered state officials until it became a state park. 

Walk on a swinging bridge (or two)

Southwest Missouri is home to two swinging bridges that are just about 1,000 feet apart from each other. Grand Auglaize Swinging Bridge and Mill Creek Swinging Bridge are near Brummell. There are two near Osage Beach as well, though I read they were rather rickety. Like my fascination with caves, I’ve got an inexplicable interest for swinging bridges.

Have a phosphate at the soda fountain where Truman used to work

Clinton’s, located in Independence Missouri, is a legit old-timey soda fountain complete with the marble counter the uniformed soda jerks. This is where Harry S Truman got his first job. I think I’ll order a malt when we’re there.

Have a 19th-century meal by candlelight

Fort Osage National Historic Landmark is known for historical re-enactments. I could see visiting the fort during the day with the kids and then at night, return for an authentic 19th century dinner and entertainment hearthside in the factory’s dining room.

See the wild horses

Wild horses at Echo Bluff State Park in Missouri
Missouri is home to herds of wild horses who roam Shannon County. These horses were at Echo Bluff State Park. Photo courtesy Missouri Division of Tourism

I’d heard about wild horses of North Carolina, but I’m surprised to know that there are herds in the Midwest, too. Missouri is home to herds of wild horses in Shannon County. They been roaming for more than 100 years and include the Broadfoot herd, Grassy herds , and Shawnee Creek herd.

Experience Ozarks circa mid-1800s

The Ozarks are is home to several festivals throughout the year, including the Hillbilly Fair in Laurie. The one that intrigues me the most is the Osage River Rendezvous and Mountain Man Festival held the third weekend in September. Here people dressed in period clothes re-create what it was like when fur traders and other early pioneers would gather to socialize, barter, trade and, perhaps, throw a knife or two. 

Buy the monks’ fruitcake

There is a group of Trappist monks in an abbey deep in the Ozarks near Ava. The Assumption Abbey has a bakery where they make more than 30,000 fruitcakes annually. I’m not a fruitcake fan but I hear they’re delicious (and also 2 pounds each). 

Hike by the Elephant Rocks

Hikers pass by the large boulders at Elephant Rocks State Park in Missouri.
The granite boulders at Elephant Rocks State Park were formed more than a billion years ago. Photo courtesy Missouri Division of Tourism

Just look at that picture of the boulders at Elephant Rocks State Park in Belleview! Don’t you also want to see them in real life? These huge granite boulders that were formed more than a billion years ago. The largest rock in the park is 25 feet high.

Be a cowgirl

One of these days I’m going to stay at a dude ranch. Blame it on “City Slickers.” Missouri has an option – Bucks and Spurs Guest Ranch. Families to stay here and do hands-on work at the horse and cattle ranch.

See Dogwood

I’ve read about Dogwood Canyon Nature Park near Lampe. This nature preserve in the Ozarks is the work of the founder of Bass Pro Shops. I’ve seen pictures and it’s quite picturesque. I’d love to take a bike tour around it, though there are also options of taking a guided horseback or tram tour.

Huge list of things to do in Missouri including obscure festivals, adventures and outdoor pursuits to add to any bucket list. #bucketlist #Missouri #USA

Get more Missouri Bucket List Inspiration

I’ve been pinning ideas I’ve found for months, more than could fit on this list. Check out my Missouri Road Trip Board for additional travel inspiration for the Show Me State:

https://www.pinterest.com/ohmyomaha/missouri-road-trips/
November 29, 2018

My Carmel-By-The-Sea Bucket List

Carmel-by-the-Sea might have been a town pulled straight out of a storybook. I’m planning a family trip to Carmel, and while doing so I’ve been obsessing over images from the region for weeks.

The store front to Tuck Box in Carmel-by-the-Sea, Calif. Photo courtesy Visit Carmel

Carmel has been described in the New York Times as having “42 hidden courtyards and alleys shelter a plethora of stylish new galleries and boutiques,” and its precisely those courtyards, along with the unique architecture that make it a fairy tale setting in my mind. And I can’t wait to go there! 

Disclosure: I am working with a hotel, Hofsas House Hotel, which is located in Carmel-by-the-Sea, Calif. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own.

My Carmel Bucket List: Things to do, places to hike, and restaurants to visit in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California #wishlist #bucketlist #California

I’ve got plans to explore Carmel (and eat all the food), and that’s what this list is all about. My bucket list for Carmel is the ultimate list of things I wish I could do there if time and money were not a factor.

Brunch at “Clint Eastwood’s Restaurant”

Mission Ranch in Carmel-by-the-Sea California
Mission Ranch is known for its beautiful views, live jazz during Sunday brunch, and being owned by Clint Eastwood. Photo courtesy Visit Carmel

Clint Eastwood’s restaurant is more commonly known by its real name: Mission Ranch. I’ve heard the pastoral views are amazing. On Sundays, there’s live jazz music during brunch. It’s also one of the few restaurants I’ve come across in my research that had a kid’s menu!

San Carlos Borroméo del Rio Carmelo Mission

San Carlos Borromeo del Rio Carmelo Mission in Carmel-by-the-Sea California
The exterior of the Mission in Carmel-by-the-Sea. Photo courtesy Visit Carmel

San Carlos Borroméo del Rio Carmelo Mission, commonly known as the Mission, is an important historical and religious site in Carmel-by-the-Sea. Founded in 1771 by St. Junípero Serra, the Mission was the headquarters of the Alta California missions and is where St. Junípero Serra is buried. I have a history-loving son, and I’m pretty sure we’re going to spend a lot of time at the Mission.

Point Lobos State Reserve

Point Lobos State Park Reserve in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California
China Cove has lovely jewel-colored water, doesn’t it? This cove is located in Point Lobos State Reserve in California. Photo courtesy Visit Carmel

Every travel writer and every photographer who writes about Carmel writes about and shares gorgeous photos of Point Lobos. I love the idea of hiking through the Monterey cypress grove and seeing the waves crashing on the rocks. Supposedly, author Robert Louis Stevenson was inspired with the idea of “Treasure Island” while strolling the beach near Point Lobos. Head to Sea Lion Point, with binoculars, to see the sea lions sunbathing or perhaps further in the distance, whales. If I had the skill, I’d try scuba diving there. The water is protected within the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

Garland Ranch Regional Park

Garland Ranch Regional Park in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California
A trail at Garland Ranch Regional Park. Photo courtesy Visit Carmel

A guide to Carmel printed in Conde Nast’s blog described Garland Ranch Regional Park as the local’s trail: “Takes about an hour, requires you to break a sweat but not kill yourself, and rewards you with 180 degree views of wooded, unspoiled California landscape.”

Drive the drives

There are two drives that pass through apparently stunning scenery. I’d love to do both. 17-Mile Drive winds from Pebble Beach Resort to Pacific Grove along the picturesque coastline. Things to see include the most iconic tree on the California coast (an old Cypress), sea lions on the beach, and Spanish Bay. This drive requires a $10.25 entry fee.

The other scenic drive is Highway 1, or the famous Pacific Coast Highway.  I’d love to make this drive for a day trip to Big Sur.

Beach Time

Carmel Beach sunset in Carmel-by-the-Sea California
Sunset on Carmel Beach. Photo courtesy Visit Carmel

I heard there are pretty beaches found along 17-Mile Drive. I’m well aware how cold the water can be, so I’m all for just admiring the view. But you know what sounds good? A bonfire on the beach. It’s allowed at Carmel beaches, and the hotel I plan on staying at has a bonfire package to purchase, complete with blankets and s’mores ingredients.

See a show

Part of my trip planning for any vacation is to see what concerts and shows are occurring while I’m there. One place that caught my eye is the Golden Bough Playhouse in Carmel-by-the-Sea. It’s home to a year-round theatre, and as luck would have it, there’s a show the weekend we’re there (“Billy Elliott”). 

Sunset Center in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California
The state-of-the-art interior of Sunset Center in Carmel-by-the-Sea, Calif. Photo courtesy Visit Carmel

Another indoor option is the Sunset Center, which offers a variety of performances in a state-of-the-art setting. I’m missing out on a Willie Nelson performance and, in the spring, a “Friends” parody.

There’s also Forest Theater, Carmel’s outdoor venue for plays, films and special events. It looks to be a pretty seasonal entertainment option, though, and my winter visits isn’t going to line up with any performances.

Dog watching

Dogs in front of dog-friendly hotel in Carmel-by-the-Sea California
Dogs in front of Cypress Inn in Carmel-by-the-Sea, Calif. Photo courtesy Visit Carmel

There’s people watching, and then in Carmel, there’s dog watching. Carmel is super dog-friendly, with many restaurants welcoming four-legged friends and some beaches allowing them to run leash-free. There’s even a hotel with a yappy hour and a dog-friendly brunch. The New York Times once described it this way: “In addition to scones and crustless cucumber sandwiches, the afternoon service draws a head-spinning parade of Shih Tzus, toy poodles and other impeccably groomed pups taking tea with their equally coiffed owners.” 

Visit the farm

I’m familiar with the organic brand, Earthbound Farm Organic, and have purchased so much spinach over the years from that brand. It all started in Carmel Valley. Down the road from the original farm, visitors can go to the Farm Stand. I’ve read that lunch at the Farm Stand is tasty and affordable, and you can’t beat the setting. I’ll have to look for the K ids’ Alphabet Garden.

Wine tasting

Wine at Caraccioli Cellars in Carmel-by-the-Sea California
Wine in California is a must. One of the wineries in Carmel-by-the-Sea is Caraccioli Cellars. Photo courtesy Visit Carmel

It’s California, after all, so I’ve got to try the local wine. I’m making it my goal to find one winery that caters to families (which is to say, let’s parents sample wine and still welcomes kids in tow). They’re out there, I know. While I’m dreaming on things, if I were to travel without the kids, I’d totally be trying out the Carmel Wine Walk-by-the-Sea.

Date night dinners

Casanova restaurant in Carmel-by-the-Sea California
The patio of Casanova, called one of the most romantic restaurants in Carmel. Photo courtesy Visit Carmel

The choices for world-class dining are a little dazzling. I’d imagine dinner at any restaurant at Pebble Beach would include unforgettable views and probably a celebrating sighting or two (I heard The Bench had a good view of the 18th Hole). There’s also the Aubergine, where a wine pairing dinner sounds absolutely divine. Or maybe I’d dine at Casanova, called “one of Carmel’s most romantic restaurants” by Zagat. Word is, that restaurant has a table from France that was one Vincent Van Gogh dined at.

Pepple Beach Bagpipes

Yeah, I’m not a golfer, so golfing at Pebble Beach is not going to be on this list. But hearing the Scottish bagpipes played on the green? Sure, let’s do that! This is a daily occurrence in the evenings throughout the summer.

What should I add to this bucket list? Where would should I eat? Where should I go?

Stunning views, great restaurants and more things on this wish list of things to do in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California #wishlist #bucketlist #California

Plan your Carmel trip!

Want to plan a Carmel-by-the-Sea getaway? We used this bucket list to plan an awesome, kid-friendly getaway. Read any of these posts for additional details:

Guide to Carmel-by-the-Sea With Kids

Hofsas House Hotel: A Family-Friendly Hotel in Carmel

Dining with kids in Carmel – Feb. 26

Rainy day activities in Carmel – March 8

Taking kids on the 17-Mile Drive – March 12

5 Amazing Things To See At Point Lobos State Park – March 25

Great stops on the drive from San Jose to Monterey – March 28

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October 2, 2018

My Chicago Christmas Bucket List

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. At no extra cost to you, writers like me earn a small referral fee if you click a link and make a purchase. 

After many years of saying, “We should take the kids to Chicago,” we’re doing it. We’re timing the kids’ first visit to Chicago to be during the holiday season, so in this particular Chicago bucket list, I’ve included holiday shows, lights displays, and special events, as well as a few dining wishes. So, here’s my Chicago Christmas bucket list,  all the things I’d do in the Windy City if time and money weren’t a factor:

The Chicago Christmas Bucket List of shows to see, annual traditions, restaurants that get decked for the holidays, and winter activities. Use this wish list of things to do to plan a visit to Chicago in November or December.

Catch a holiday show

There are an overwhelming assortment of live shows in Chicago between November and December. Narrowing down holiday show choices, you can find anything from traditional options like Joffrey Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” to more contemporary shows like “How The Grinch Stole Christmas” at the Chicago Theater and for a unique take on “A Christmas Carol,” there’s “Q Brothers Christmas Carol.” It’s a hip hop take on the Charles Dickens’ tale at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Here’s a sampling of holiday shows on Chicago stages, just in November 2018.  And I’m just throwing it out there, because it’s on my all-time big bucket list – “Hamilton” is at the CIBC Theater for an open run. Just sayin’. I’d go in a heartbeat.

Shop the most famous Midwestern holiday market

Christkindlmarket is an open air holiday market in the heart of downtown Chicago. It’s modeled after German Christmas markets and looks completely charming. While browsing vendors, I envision myself warming up with some Gluhwein.  I’ve heard the Snow Balls (donuts) at Christkindlmarket are tasty and pair well with the Gluhwein, too.

Christkindlemarket in Chicago
The Christkindlmarket is an open air holiday market in Chicago modeled after European markets. Photo courtesy Ranvestel Photographic/Choose Chicago

Attend the biggest holiday celebration

I’m missing this parade this year, but since the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival is said to be to be the largest holiday celebration in the country, I’ve got to add it to my bucket list. This annual event is held the weekend before Thanksgiving, and includes a popular parade.

Enjoy winter outdoor fun…indoors

Here’s another annual event that sounds like fun, especially for my little ones, but just isn’t timing out to coincide with my visit. Winter Wonderfest is an annual event at Navy Pier is held in December and features bounces houses, slide, carousel and all the typical outdoor things brought indoors. I bet we’ll still go to Navy Pier this November to ride the ferris wheel and maybe take a walking food tour. 

Navy Pier ferris wheel in Chicago
The ferris wheel at Navy Pier in downtown Chicago. Navy Pier is home to Winter Wonderfest in December. Photo courtesy Ranvestel Photographic/Choose Chicago

See trees in a different light

OK, technically this is outside of the city, but I hear “Illumination: Tree Lights at The Morton Arboretum” is worth the drive. This annual holiday event at Morton Arboretum features an illuminated path of trees programmed with lights, video and audio.

See the city from way up high

Chicago will be my kids’ first encounter with legit skyscrapers. I can’t wait to take them to one of the tourist spots to get a bird’s-eye view of the city. If we’re feeling daring, there’s the TILT experience and viewing the city from Hancock Tower’s Observation Deck or The Ledge experience at the Skydeck at Willis Tower.

Willis Tower The Ledge view
Looking down at Chicago from The Ledge at the Skydeck on the 103rd floor of the Willis Tower. Photo courtesy Ranvestel Photographic/Choose Chicago

Holiday fun at Art Institute of Chicago

Wish we were in Chicago in December so we could attend the annual Holiday Treasure Hunt and Tea Party at Art Institute of Chicago.  This year, it’s on Sunday, Dec. 9. We’re also missing the annual Hanging the Wreaths on the Lions there (it’s earlier in November). I’m OK going to the museum without the additional holiday event crowds, though. I’ve never been there, and it’s been named the No. 1 museum in the world so I’d better fix that.

Art Institute of Chicago lion statue with Christmas wreath
The lion statues in front of the Art Institute of Chicago get a holiday makeover each year. Photo courtesy Adam Alexander Photography Photo/Choose Chicago

Holiday dining to remember

While researching dinging options, some restaurants in Chicago stood out for making dining between Thanksgiving and Christmas a special occasion, if only for unique decorations. First on the list is The Walnut Room at Macy’s, which was the first restaurant in a department store ever opening in 1905. Word is, at Christmas time, there is a 45-foot-tall tree, which sparkles with 3,000 ornaments and 6,000 LED lights, in the dining room. A bit more casual is Butch McGuire’s, a bar that goes all out for Christmas with thousands of lights and a double-decker model train. The Local Tourist says children are welcome for lunch and brunch.

Dine like a spy

OK, this is not holiday related, but my kids are at an age when a visit to SafeHouse Chicago sounds so perfect, it has to happen when we’re there. SafeHouse is often described as a spy-themed bar and club, but if you go during the day, you can dine at a restaurant that sounds surprisingly family-friendly (at least, that’s what it sounded like to me on this post on The Beckham Project). My kids’ imaginations will have a field day at this place.

Window shop

How could I not when the stores will be decorated for Christmas shoppers? I hear Macy’s has a good display each year.

Ice skate outdoors

One of my friends who lived in Chicago for years recommended two different places to ice skate: McCormick Tribune Ice Rink in Millennium Park, with its iconic skyline views, and Skating Ribbon at Maggie Daly Park, which breaks the mold of the typical oval ice rink. Rumor has it there may be a special Skate With Santa event. I’m crossing my fingers for an unusually warm winter day so we can visit.  

McCormick Tribune Ice Rink at Millennium Park in Chicago
Nighttime at the ice rink at Millennium Park in Chicago. Photo courtesy City of Chicago/Choose Chicago

Be in Chocolate Heaven

What’s the best drink for the holidays? Hot chocolate. Xoco has a churros and a spicy hot chocolate that are calling to me, but there are so many places to try, from Mindy’s HotChocolate to the over-the-top “hotter chocolate” creations at BomboBar.

Why stop with hot chocolate? Chocolate at the Pen is a chocolate bar at the Peninsula Hotel held every Friday and Saturday night and it is the stuff I’ve been dreaming about. Also, word is there’s a Nutella bar at Eataly (in addition to a ton of Italian food that’s rumored to be stunningly good).

Lights, Santa & animals

Winter isn’t typically the most popular time to visit a zoo, but I bet things get a little busy at ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo. It’s been running for 24 years. This evening event is FREE (just like the zoo itself), and I hear Santa waits for kids at the Kovler Lion House. My question – how many animals do we actually see at ZooLights? 

ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago
ZooLights runs from mid-November to early January each year at Lincoln Park Zoo. Photo courtesy Adam Alexander Photography Photo/Choose Chicago

Stroll the indoor gardens

Conservatories and indoor gardens are my favorite in the winter – they’re like a little oasis in the cold. Two places in Chicago have holiday displays to visit. Wonderland Express at Chicago Botanic Gardens features miniature trains, indoor snow and beautiful gardens from mid-November to early January. Garfield Conservatory has its annual Holiday Show from mid-November to early January, too, and this one has a bonus of being FREE.

Wonderland Express at Chicago Botanical Garden
Christmas celebrity sighting: Mrs. Claus at Wonderland Express at Chicago Botanic Garden. Photo courtesy Chicago Botanic Garden/Choose Chicago

Golden ticket to ride

How special is this? There’s The Polar Express Train Ride in Chicago. I’m visiting Chicago a little too early to do this one, though. It’s an Amtrack event from Chicago Union Station Nov. 30 through Jan. 1. Best part? You can wear PJs.

Making use of reciprocal membership perks

I’ve written about reciprocal membership perks, which you’ll want to read here. My Omaha Children’s Museum membership gets us FREE admission into quite a few Chicago museums. Two are on my list to visit: The Field Museum and the Museum of Science + Technology. One reason I want to go to Museum of Science + Technology this particular time of year is that there’s the annual display called “Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light.” This year, it runs Nov. 15 through Jan. 6, 2019.

Decorated trees at Museum of Science and Industry. The museum has an annual display called “Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light.” Photo courtesy J.B. Spector/Museum of Science and Industry/Museum of Science and Industry

See the gaudy Chicago Christmas lights

Time Out called the Christmas lights in Lincolnwood Towers as “straight-up Griswald sh**.”

I’m intrigued.

Getting “Snowed Inn”

I’ve been looking into Chicago hotels that cater to families and Loews Chicago might win for my favorite holiday/winter package: Each year, they have a “Snowed Inn” themed package that includes hot cocoa & cookies, an in-room movie, and a tent set up with a little kids campfire – PLUS, for the parents, valet parking. This year, they’re also adding passes to ride the Centennial Ferris Wheel for those who book on select weekends. The location can be beat, either, when it comes to seeing the most popular Christmas sights in the city. I’ll be staying there during our stay!

Read reviews and book a stay through TripAdviser!

Loews Chicago hotel at night
Loews Chicago is a hotel near Navy Pier, Michigan Avenue shops, and a ton of restaurants. Photo courtesy Loews Chicago

Santa goes high-tech

Santa HQ, presented by HGTV, at Fashion Outlets of Chicago sounds like a high tech experience that elevates a simple visit to see Santa. It involves iPads and apps and some nifty machines that calculates how naughty or nice you’ve been.

Once-in-a-lifetime experiences

Maybe seeing a beluga isn’t exactly holiday related but no Chicago bucket list is complete without mentioning Shedd Aquarium. When I read about some of their animal encounters, like one with a beluga, I knew I needed to add it to my bucket list. Alas, the age requirement is 12 and older, so it would just be me and the beluga, my kids would just have to watch. 🙂 They can, however, join me for a penguin encounter. Fun!

Santa and a beluga whale at Shedd Aquarium
Santa and a beluga whale at Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. Photo courtesy of Shedd/Choose Chicago

Check back later this year for a details on our trip and see how many of these items we checked off!

My Chicago Christmas Bucket List - A big wish list of sights to see around the holidays, restaurants to visit, and not-to-miss holiday and winter traditions.

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June 11, 2018

My Little Traverse Bay Bucket List

There’s a big Michigan road trip in the works and one of our stops will be in the Little Traverse Bay Region. There are so many things to do and places to see, I’ve started a Little Traverse Bay bucket list. Given the itinerary of the road trip this summer, I get about 24 hours in the bay area – so this is a big wish list that will have to be checked off over additional trips. Here’s my Little Traverse Bucket List, featuring things to do in Petoskey, Charlevoix and other nearby cities.

Find a Petoskey stone – I’ll fess up, these stones were the reason I looked into visiting Little Traverse in the first place. They’re so intriguing! The stones are actually fossilized coral that have a pretty distinct pattern on them. We can head to the beach of Petoskey State Park to hunt for them.

Petoskey stones are actually fossils. Photo courtesy Petoskey Area Visitors Bureau

Taste local brews – I can’t resist a good microbrewery, and in Petoskey, there’s Petoskey Brewing Co. You know what sounds good on the menu (besides beer)? The Ultimate Fries: beer-batter fries topped with a melted three-cheese blend, chopped bacon and served with ranch dressing. The building has an interesting history. The building was opened in 1898 and was once known as the Old Brewery, serving Petoskey Sparkle beer until 1915.

Petoskey Brewing Co. is home to the Ultimate Fries, beer-battered fires topped with three cheeses, bacon and served with ranch dressing. Photo courtesy Petoskey Area Visitors Bureau

Do as Hemingway did – Petoskey has some legit Ernest Hemingway haunts. The historic City Park Grill dates back to the 1800s. Sit at the bar (second seat from the front) and you can have a drink where Papa Bear once sat. You can order the Hemingway Martini to complete the experience. Here’s a full tour of Hemingway’s Michigan.

Pond Hill Farm – This sounds like a place that caters to everyone in my family: There’s a farm to feed animals, a hayrack ride to a trout pond, and a winery and brewery.

Pond Hill Farm is guaranteed animal encounters. Photo courtesy Petoskey Area Visitors Bureau

Shop the Gaslight District – Petoskey’s six-block Historic Gaslight District looks like a charming area to spend an afternoon shopping. American Spoon is located in the Gaslight District, where they sell artisan jams. A visit to Mclean and Eakin will be great too. It’s one of the top independently-owned bookstores in the U.S.

The historic Gaslight District in Petoskey, Mich., features quaint shops and trendy restaurants, as well as one of the top independently-owned bookstores in the U.S. Photo courtesy Petoskey Area Visitors Bureau

Look for the Mushroom Homes – In Charlevoix, there are 26 homes that look like they’re straight out of a fairytale. Designed by Earl Young, these Mushroom Homes are privately-owned, but you can get a self-guided driving tour brochure from the chamber of commerce.

There’s a self-guided tour of the “Mushroom Houses” of Charlevoix. Photo courtesy Visit Charlevoix

See a show – If my road trip started a little later in the summer, I could catch a performance at Great Lakes Center for the Arts. The first show of the summer season is July 7, 2018. Since it’s a bucket list, I can wish for the impossible (my rules), so I’d have tickets to the already sold-out performance of Pink Martini. Love that band!

Drive the Tunnel of Trees – M-119 got the nickname for obvious reasons, this well-known 20-mile route ends at a state park said to have beautifully-colored stones to discover.

One of the most scenic drives in Michigan is along M-119, also known as the Tunnel of Trees. Photo courtesy Petoskey Area Visitors Bureau

Stargaze – Skies don’t get all-too-dark in a city, so rare is the chance to find something like stargazing like I could at Headlands International Dark Sky Park (the ninth in the world!). Located in nearby Mackinaw City, it’s free to visit, day or night.

Northern Michigan nights are meant for stargazing. Photo courtesy Petoskey Area Visitors Bureau

Maple syrup tour – The Little Traverse Conservancy offers a variety of events year-round, including a chance to visit Parsons Farm and taste the Hardwood Gold Maple Syrup. The Parson family opens the taps during the event, and just maybe, those on the tour get to taste the maple.

Tapping a maple tree at Maple Moon Sugarbush & Winery in Petoskey. Photo courtesy Petoskey Area Visitors Bureau

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Need more ideas? Start with Petoskey Area Visitors Bureau and then check out head over to Pinterest and see all the great stuff I’ve pinned:

https://www.pinterest.com/ohmyomaha/michigan-family-road-trip/

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June 8, 2018

My Colorado Springs Bucket List

I’ve been daydreaming about taking the family to Colorado Springs lately. I’m thinking of an unforgettable summer vacation with a little adventure mixed in with breath-taking scenery. Lucky for me, Colorado Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau has asked me to share my Colorado Springs bucket list with you all. Think your family would like hiking, zip lines, waterfalls, and animal encounters in Colorado? Keep reading!

Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Colorado Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own. 

My Colorado Springs Bucket List

Gorgeous hikes – There are a ton of trails to choose from when visiting Colorado Springs. I’m eyeing ones that take me to a waterfall. Seven Falls looks astounding (entrance fee required). 

How could I go to Colorado Springs and not trekking around Garden of the Gods? I heard the visitor and nature center is fun to stop in first before going into the park. There are interactive exhibits and Geo-Trekker movie.

And of course, seeing Pikes Peak is a must, too.

The Garden of the Gods has to be on every Colorado Springs bucket list. Photo courtesy VisitCOS.com

Eat Good Eats – Every bucket list of mine includes restaurants I’d love to visit. I checked tons of posts about must-visit restaurants (I’m drooling over every suggestion in this Denver Zagat post) and, of course, scouted out the best ice cream (I’m thinking Josh & John’s Ice Cream). I’m also pretty sure I need to take the kids to The Airplane Restaurant – it’s in a real 1953 Boeing KC-97 tanker.

Royal Gorge Ride – I thought Royal Gorge was only a bridge you walked across, but now I see you can practically fly across the gorge. I think my family will stick to the calm aerial gondola ride instead of trying America’s highest zipline. Either way, we’re in for spectacular views. (There’s also a skycoaster ride if you really want to feel like you’re flying)

Colorado Springs bridge

Crossing the bridge at Royal Gorge offers families quite a view. Photo courtesy VisitCOS.com

Animals up-close – Zoos have become so much more than passive viewing attractions. I’d love to feed an elephant at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo (see all the animal feeding times here). And since this is a bucket list, I think it would be the ultimate experience signing up for one of their Animal Encounters, which is a private enrichment opportunity for a small group with an animal of their choosing.

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo has up-close animal encounters. Photo courtesy VisitCOS.com

Thrill ride on the river – There are quite a few white water rafting outfitters in the Colorado Springs area. My goal is to find one that operates on a river that’s pretty kid-friendly while still offering a bit of a thrill ride. You know, something scenic with a low difficulty level.

Explore cliff dwellings – My son is big on history and architecture, so visiting Manitou Cliff Dwellings is a must for us. Summer is a great time to visit since there are American Indian dances and wolf encounters.

Colorado Springs cliff dwellings

Time a visit to the Manitou Cliff Dwellings to be in the summer where families can watch American Indian dances and view wolf encounters. Photo courtesy VisitCOS.com

Find the springs – To find the springs of Colorado Springs, we actually need to head to Manitou Springs. There are eight mineral springs to find there, and they’re free to explore. Bring a cup to sample the water.

Play old-school games I’ve introduced my kids to “Frogger,” this winter, so why not go to a place like the family-owned Penny Arcade in Manitou Springs, where they have games like “PacMan.”

Manitou Springs. Photo courtesy VisitCOS.com

Dream of sports greatness – Colorado Springs is home to one of the country’s Olympic training centers. I’d love to take a tour and see some of my heroes have trained.

Do everything at Cave of the Winds Mountain Park – When I say “Do everything at Cave of the Winds,” I mean I want take a cave tour (Cave 101 sounds incredible … and muddy) AND do the adventurous rides there. Check out what they have going on outdoors: The Bat-A-Pult, The Terror-Dactyl, and the Wind Walker Challenge Course. These are definitely rides for older kids.

The ropes course at Cave of the Winds has quite the view. Photo courtesy VisitCOS.com

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Want more ideas? I have an entire Pinterest board dedicated to family adventures in Colorado Springs. Follow along for travel inspiration:

https://www.pinterest.com/ohmyomaha/colorado-springs-adventure/

 

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June 5, 2018

My Detroit Bucket List

The more I read about Detroit, the more I realize a weekend isn’t long enough to see everything I’d like to see. Metro Detroit is huge! It spans 1,967.1 square miles. I’ve got a big Detroit bucket list of things to do, places to see, and a lot of food to eat. Why? My family will be there for three days this summer at the end of a long Michigan road trip (I’ve got a BIG bucket list for Michigan, too).

Got tips? Please share your recommendations of what to do and see in Detroit in a comment!

List of things to do in Detroit

Eat all the food – There are so many restaurants I want to go to in Detroit! I’m guessing we ought to try the city’s famous square pizza. Samantha Brown shared two of the original places to find it, so I guess I should go with the oldest, Buddy’s. And then there’s the Coney Dogs, which turns out to be a Detroit thing. There’s simply unique Traffic Jam & Snug, where everything is made in-house, and it happens to be Michigan’s first brew pub. For burgers, I feel like I should go to Motz’s Hamburgers, one of the country’s oldest continuously-operated family-owned burger joints. It’s been around since 1929, so they must be doing something right. I am wondering where we should eat in Greektown – should we get the saganaki at Pegasus Taverna or Santorini Estiatorio. And while in Greektown, I want to get a treat from Astoria Pastry Shop.

There are a few Greektown restaurants in Detroit to add to any list: Pegasus Taverna, Santorini Estiatorio and Astroria Pastry Shop are on this bucket list. Photo courtesy Vito Palmisano

Eastern Market – Keeping with the food theme, there’s Eastern Market. It’s a year-round market for food and Michigan-made products. I’ve read recommendations for Germack Coffee Roasting Coffee, and it is in Eastern Market. I also want to try a Lemon Buttah Pie sold by Lush Yummies Pie Co., also sold at Eastern Market.

The Eastern Market in Detroit is a foodie’s paradise. Photo courtesy Bill Bowen

See a game – My family is a soccer family, so I wish I could say our visit times out to see Detroit FC play. However, the timing doesn’t work. There are plenty of other pro teams, though, to add to the list: Detroit Lions, Tigers and Red Wings come to mind.

Walk under polar bears – The Detroit Zoo has a 70-foot-long Polar Passage, where you can walk through a clear tunnel that gives you a wide view of the zoo’s polar bear exhibit. The zoo has a special exhibit with 4 acres of animatronic prehistoric creatures called “Dinosauria,” which will be open from May 25 through Sept. 3.

The view of the polar bear at the Detroit Zoo is one of a kind. Photo courtesy Bill Bowen

Go to a festival – There are a ton of festivals in Detroit that I’d love to go to none more than Detroit Jazz Festival, the world’s largest free jazz festival. It’s held Labor Day weekend. Another one that sounds like fun is the Stars and Stripes Festival from June 28-July 1. It has music and monster truck rides.

Enjoy the music – I’ve been playing Jackson 5 and Smokey Robinson for my kids in anticipation of this summer. Detroit is home to the Motown Museum, AKA Hitsville USA. It will have a major renovation in 2019, so check to see if any part is closed before visiting. Being a family that loves music, Third Man Records is a store for us, complete with a stage, record booth and a viewing window of its vinyl pressing plant. Plus it’s got a Jack White connection. When it’s just me and Mr. Wonderful traveling, concerts are usually a must for a trip. One venue in Detroit, Cliff Bell’s, sounds great. It’s a restored art-deco jazz club.

You can see where Motown began at the Motown Museum in Detroit. Photo courtesy Visit Detroit

Dive into automobile history – Initially, my plan was to “visit The Henry Ford” because I’d heard a lot about it from other Midwest travel bloggers. Guess what? There’s more than one place. So, if I had unlimited time, I’d visit all three attractions: Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation™, Greenfield Village and the Ford Rouge Factory Tour™. But, top on my list would be to visit Greenfield Village. This 1929 historic landmark is an open-air museum that immerses visitors in 300 years of America life (think living history), and includes extras like riding in a Model T, and on Saturdays and Sundays in the summer, there’s an old-fashioned baseball game.  We could time our visit to Greenfield Village to be during Salute to America, which runs June 30, July 1 and 3-4. It’s music, fireworks and good food.

Step back in time at Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Mich. There’s the chance to ride in a Model T while there. Photo courtesy Gary Malerba

Tea time – On the topic of Greenfield Village, Wading in Big Shoes tipped me off to some great experiences at Greenfield Village and I want to do them all. Of course, I can’t. But, the one that caught my attention out of all of them is Tea at Cotswold Cottage.  I think my daughter and I would love it! . From the sound of things, it’s an American take on the English tradition, which I’m fine with. Second only to tea (and pastries), is the chance to make my own brass candlestick or glass flower at Liberty Craftworks Historic District. My kids are old enough to make a candlestick (must be 6+), but not old enough to do the glass workshop (14+). Both are extras on top of admission.

Tea time is served at Cotswold in Greenfield Village. Photo courtesy The Henry Ford

Fowling – Not a typo, my friends. Somewhere in Detroit, there is a warehouse with fowling courts (pronounced foe-ling). It’s like bowling but with a football. I’d be terrible at it.

Go indoors for the outdoors – I’m planning a big road trip around Michigan to explore the great outdoors extensively, but, in case we don’t get our fill of outdoor adventures, I’ve got the Outdoor Adventure Center on my radar. Kids can walk behind a waterfall, pretend to ride a snowmobile, and try out archery.

Guardian Building – Of all the gorgeous buildings in Detroit, the Guardian Building seems to have more than its fair share of mentions and pictures, and it’s on architectural tours like this one. I need to see this thing in real life. While we’re in the area, we can snap a picture with the Spirit of Detroit.

Guardian Building in Detroit

The Guardian Building’s interesting architectural elements lands it as a stop on many walking tours. Photo courtesy Bill Bowen

Ride the People Mover – It’s not just a way to get from Point A to Point B. My kids live for rides, and riding an elevated train would probably entertain them to no end. The People Mover has been moving people around downtown Detroit for decades.

See the isle – There’s something lovely and inviting about Belle Isle State Park. I’d love to explore it with my family, visiting the nation’s oldest aquarium, stroll the grounds, and just enjoy a little escape in the big city. There’s also the 114-year-old Anna Scripps Whicomb Conservatory and a little zoo (FREE admission) to explore.

The Anna Scripps Conservatory is on Belle Isle in Detroit. Photo courtesy Bill Bowen

Fireworks shows – There are lots of fireworks displays held from June 22 through July 6, including one of the state’s largest fireworks displays, held during Rochester Festival of the Hills. This year, those fireworks are on June 27. Plus, select Detroit Tigers games on Friday nights end with fireworks.

The Ford Fireworks display are well known, occurring around the Fourth of July each year. Photo courtesy Bill Bowen

See a different side of Detroit – There are kayak tours taking beginner and experienced paddlers through canals and to islands. For a more leisurely water experience, there are also sightseeing boat tours.

Kayakers can paddle by Belle Isle in Detroit. Photo courtesy Vito Palmisano

Build a sand castle – Part of Campus Martius Park in downtown Detroit becomes a giant urban sandbox in the summer. About 400,000 pounds of sand is dumped there each summer.

Campus Martius Park has a sand beach built in the middle of Detroit every summer. Photo courtesy Lynn Powell

Visit Detroit Museums – I’m a sucker for science centers, so the Michigan Science Center is on my radar (especially since we get in free with our Omaha Children’s Museum membership). Our timing couldn’t be better for our visit to Detroit, though. Detroit Institute of Art has the exhibit “Star Wars™ and the Power of Costume” from May 20 through Sept. 30, 2018. I’m pretty sure my son won’t forgive me if we skip this. While we’re at DIA, I’d love to catch a glimpse of the famous Diego Rivera Detroit Industry Murals. Other unique-to-Detroit museums include Dabl’s African Bead Museum and Arab American National Museum, which has an interesting performance series on select Fridays called Global Fridays. The series features a variety of traditional performing arts from Latin pop to DJs from Beirut.

The Detroit Institute of Art is home to the Diego Rivera Detroit Industry Murals. Photo courtesy Bill Bowen

Ride the carousel – While I’m a sucker for science centers, the my youngest cannot resist the allure of a carousel. There’s one at Rivard Plaza with a river theme; not surprising, since it’s on the riverfront. Also along the riverfront, you’ll find a splash garden and butterfly gardens at Gabriel Richard Park.

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Need more ideas? Start at the Visit Detroit. Get more Michigan road trip ideas that are great for families on my Pinterest board:

https://www.pinterest.com/ohmyomaha/michigan-family-road-trip/

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