December 3, 2018

Beautiful State Parks To Visit In 2019

State parks sometimes get overshadowed by national parks, but it’s time they got their chance in the spotlight. They’re more affordable, usually less crowded and full of beautiful vistas. State parks are pretty much all we have in Nebraska (OK, there are a couple national forest lands and the Lewis & Clark National Trail headquarters, but still…). However, our visits to state parks when traveling have been highlights of our trips – especially our trip to South Dakota.  

I asked travel bloggers to share their favorites, and my friends, they did not disappoint. Here are some of their favorites you need to visit in 2019, starting with Midwest state parks.

10+ state parks to visit in 2019 + tips on hikes, best views and hidden gems. #tips #parks #hiking

Midwestern State Parks

Matthiessen State Park

Where: Oglesby, Ill.

Why: This park nestled in farmland unexpectedly has beautiful areas with deep canyons cut by streams, plus a few waterfalls, including Lake Falls.

Tip: Jai from Midwest Bliss pointed out that the Upper Dells is, by far, the most scenic and easily accessible trail area where you will be able to view most of the falls and vegetation.

Pere Marquette State Park

The view from McAdams Peak at Pere Marquette State Park in Illinois.
Photo courtesy Melissa Schwartz/A Little Time and a Keyboard

Where: Grafton, Ill.

Why: Pere Marquette State Park is known for bald eagle nesting in the winter. There is horseback riding, fishing, hiking and geocaching the rest of the year. Try the hike to McAdams Peak for beautiful views.

Tip: Melissa from A Little Time and a Keyboard mentioned one thing I haven’t encountered at any other state park: This one has a winery in the lodge. 

Stone State Park

Where: Sioux City, Iowa

Why: Considered an “urban wildlife sanctuary,” Stone State Park is found in the Loess Hills Scenic Byway. Mountain biking, hiking, fishing and camping are popular here. 

Tip: The trails at this park have a lot of hills, some quite steep, so Lindsay at Siouxland Families recommends sturdy hiking boots for good traction, and keeping toddlers in a carrier. “For a flatter walk, try parking at the Pammel Valley shelter and walking along the lake a bit. It’s not a very long hike, but it’s beautiful and the terrain is easy enough for most kids and many people with limited mobility.”

Falls of the Ohio State Park

The fossil beds at Falls of the Ohio State Park in Indiana. Photo courtesy Melissa Schwartz/A Little Time and a Keyboard

Where: Clarksville, Ind.

Why: The park is situated along the Ohio River where you can view the exposed Devonian fossil bed. While you can’t collect fossils there, it’s pretty  neat to see. See close-up photos of some of the fossil beds on Melissa’s post at A Little Time and a Keyboard.

Tip: If you really want a fossil, the gift shop has some you can purchase.

Turkey Run State Park

A bridge at Turkey Run State Park in Indiana. Photo courtesy Lindsay Williams/Let Me Give You Some Advice 

Where: Marshall, Ind.

Why: Turkey Run State Park is one of Indiana’s most popular state parks for good reason. Families can hike to a waterfall, canoe, horseback ride, and swim.

Tip: Lindsay from Let Me Give You Some Advice said the staff at the nature center can clue you in to which trails are best for your ability, as some can be rugged. “We hiked Trail 3 which is moderate in places and very rugged in others including three wooden ladders and some rocky walls to navigate. Good shoes (that are OK to get muddy) are a must. Plus, you’ll need to see if there’s been high water recently since much of the trail follows a creek bed.”

Mackinac Island State Park

View of Mackinac Island marina from Fort Mackinac
Soaking up the view of Mackinac Island while at Fort Mackinac located in Mackinac Island State Part.

Where: Mackinac Island, Mich.

Why: Mackinac Island State Park is a mix of trails and the historic Fort Mackinac. Once a military outpost and a national park, Fort Mackinac now is a park to tour, watch demonstrations and take in gorgeous views of Mackinac Island. One of its draws is that its located on a car-free island.

Tip: Each day, there is a ceremonial cannon shot that one guest can fire. It’s an additional fee to do it, and you must be older than 12, but it’s quite the experience! I tried it, and my kids helped prep the cannon. Read about our experience in this post about Fort Mackinac at Mackinac Island State Park.

Silver Lake State Park

Where: Mears, Mich.

Why: This park has stunning sand dunes sandwiched between Silver Lake and Lake Michigan. One fun way to explore the park is by dune buggy, which you can rent there.

Tip: Kylie from Between England and Iowa rented a dune buggy while in Silver Lake State Park and offered several tips for safe driving. One the best pieces of advice she had was “Don’t drive through water in a rental. It may look like a shallow puddle from a distance but I saw a buggy that was almost up to the ‘windows’ in the middle of the water, having to be towed out by another vehicle…engines and sand don’t mix.”

Nerstrand-Big Woods State Park

Hidden Falls in Nerstrand-Big Woods State Park in Minnesota. Photo courtesy Kristie Probst/World is Wide

Where: Nerstrand, Minn.

Why: Visit Nerstrand-Big Woods State Park in the spring to find a unique species of lily found in only three Minnesota counties, the Minnesota Dwarf Trout Lily.  The park is also home to Hidden Falls, a waterfall along on Prairie Creek.

Tip: There are some hills, but according to Kristie at World is Wide, most trails are low-key hikes. To feel like you have the park to yourself arrive early. Her family started their hike at around 9 a.m., and by the time they returned to their vehicle, the parking lot was full.

Niobrara State Park

The view of the river from a cabin at Niobrara State Park. Photo courtesy LeAnna Brown/Well Traveled Nebrakan

Where: Niobrara, Neb.

Why: Niobrara State Park cabins offer some of the best views ever of the winding Niobrara River, and according to LeAnna at The Well-Traveled Nebraskan, the camping sites were some of the best she’d ever seen.

Tip: The park offers horseback riding and has a swimming pool, but most unique is its seasonal Buffalo Cookouts. Eat a buffalo burger dinner and enjoy entertainment from ranging from poets to storytellers to singers. Reservations are required.

Hocking Hills State Park

Where: Logan, Ohio

Why: Hocking Hills State Park is a popular destination for traveling families because of its natural rock formations and numerous waterfalls. Plus, Conkles Hollow is a sight to see in the winter, according to Leah at Yoder Toter Blog. She described how dramatic it gets, with walls of the gorge being filled with ice formations. “On one winter visit, my little ones thought we had taken off to Elsa’s land in Frozen.”

Tip: According to Leah, the easiest trail for kids to hike is the paved Gorge Trail at Ash Cave. The trail ends at the large cave recess, in an area that’s full of sand and rocks. Basically, it’s a giant sandbox, so you may want to bring digging supplies and trucks for small kids to play.

Mohican State Park

Where: Loudonville, Ohio

Why: Many people visit Mohican State Park for the views from the Clear Fork Gorge Overlook. The park is popular for fishing, hiking, and when the weather’s right, tubing down Clear Fork River.

Tip: Two trails recommended by Tonya at Travel Inspired Living are the Big Lyons Falls Trail and Pleasant Hill Trail. The Pleasant Hill Trail is an easy one-miler.

Custer State Park

Where: Custer, S.D.

Why: This is one of the nation’s largest state parks, with 71,000 acres of lakes, including my favorite, Sylvan Lake, as well as pastures, pine forests, historic sites, and granite rock formations. Plus, this park has the picturesque Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway, voted as one of the 10 Most Outstanding Byways in America. The Dang Travelers have a great list of reasons why Custer State Park should be on your radar.

Tip: You want to take one of those photos of Mount Rushmore through one of the tunnels in Custer State Park? You’ll want to drive Iron Mountain, the 18-mile road between SD 36 and SD 244. You have three chances (ie. three tunnels that frame the monument).

State Parks Beyond The Midwest

I have travel friends around the U.S. who’ve visited some memorable state park. Here are a few of their recommendations for parks outside the Midwest, including New York, New Mexico and North Carolina.

Wekiwa Springs State Park

There were quite a few people swimming in the spring water at Wekiwa Springs State Park. Entrance is $2 per canoe.

Where: Longwood, Fla.

Why: This beautiful state park is near Orlando, making it a great day trip for those visiting theme parks. There is a swimming area, if you dare (we paddled by a small alligator). 

Tip: You can rent, canoes kayaks or standup paddleboards. Read about our experience canoeing with Wekiva Island.

Letchworth State Park 

The view of two waterfalls at Letchworth State Park in New York. Photo courtesy Ann Smith/Ann’s Entitled Life

Where: Castile, N.Y.

Why: Letchworth State Park is along the Genesee River, and features scenic cliffs and three waterfalls (one is 107 feet high). Fall is a particularly stunning time to visit this 14,427-acre park.

Tip: to the upper Falls can be a bit dicey, but worth it, according to Ann at Ann’s Entitled Life.

Pilot Mountain State Park

Unique rock formation at Pilot Mountain State Park in Pinnacle, North Carolina. Photo courtesy Katie Daughtrey/Living The Katie Way.

Where: Pinnacle, N.C.

Why: The views and challenging hikes

Tip: Mountain Trail is a serious climb, according to Katie at Living The Katie Way. It’s good to hike if you want the challenge, but she shared this good tip: Pilot Mountain State Park actually has the best access for non-hikers to a summit. “If you want, you can drive practically the whole way to the top and just walk around the Big Pinnacle and hit the overlooks from the top of Little Pinnacle.” 

Oliver Lee State Park

The view from the Dog Canyon Trail at Oliver Lee State Park in Alamogordo, New Mexico. Photo courtesy Hillary Midgley/RVing With Midgley

Where: Alamogordo, N.M.

Why: Gorgeous dessert views and challenging hikes, plus Oliver Lee State Park puts you near White Sands National Monument, Three Rivers Petroglyph Recreation Site, International Space Hall of Fame, and Pistachioland. 

Tip: Hillary at RV Like Midgley stayed six days at Oliver Lee State Park and wrote about her experience hiking the challenging 6-mile Dog Canyon Trail. “It was definitely one of the more challenging trails I’ve been on – with all the rock climbing and elevation gain. It took us about 3 hours to make it to the end, which was the remains of a small cabin at the end of the canyon. You could feel the temperature drop as we ascended into the canyon and we even found ice by the small spring. Then it took us another hour and 45 minutes to climb back down. It was challenging, but the views were spectacular!”

Travel bloggers share their favorite state parks to visit in the U.S., and include tips on hikes, best views and hidden gems. #tips #parks #hiking

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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?

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Stunning views, great restaurants and more things on this wish list of things to do in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California #wishlist #bucketlist #California
August 2, 2018

Favorite Historic Hotels For Families In The U.S.

Historic hotels are unique places to stay on vacations, especially when traveling with kids. I’ve been lucky enough to stay at some Midwestern historic hotels that were very accommodating to families – some with a pool, one with a great kid’s program, and all with enough interesting details to encourage kids to explore more. Other travel bloggers have had similar experiences. So, I reached out to my friends and asked them to share their favorite historic hotels for families in the U.S.

Happy travels!

Top Recommended Historic Hotels for Families

The view of the Grand Hotel from the lawn. The Grand Hotel opened on Mackinac Island in 1887.

Grand Hotel

Where: Mackinac Island, Mich.

Why go there: Built in 1887, the Grand Hotel is a National Historic Landmark on an island that’s completely car-free. It’s a throw-back to another time, with dress codes for dinner, tea time, and an expansive porch that encourages you to slow down.

What kids will like there: This hotel has been ranked among the top all-inclusive hotels for families for a reason. There’s a large outdoor pool, daily kids programming, and kid’s menus at restaurants.

What’s nearby: Mackinac Island is small, so technically everything is nearby. You’ll want to rent a bike from the hotel to explore the island or take a horse-drawn carriage tour. Fort Mackinac is within walking distance, too.

Read more about Grand Hotel here.

The historic lobby of the Amway Grand Plaza had a fountain my daughter liked to watch. The hotel was built in 1913.

Amway Grand Plaza

Where: Grand Rapids, Mich.

Why go there: Construction of the original hotel, Pantlind Hotel began in 1913. In 1925, it was called “One of the 10 Finest Hotels in America.” Decades later, the hotel underwent serious renovations. The rebirth of the hotel as Amway Grand Plaza is credited for revitalizing downtown Grand Rapids.

What kids will like there: The grand lobby of the original hotel is stately and has a fountain that draws kids in. However, it’s what in the newer tower that is the biggest hit: The pool area. There are two hot tubs, and access to a rooftop area to play tennis, corn hole, and ladders.

What’s nearby: This hotel is nicely situated in the downtown area, within a short drive (or if you’re ambitious), within walking distance to several museums including Grand Rapids Public Museum, Grand Rapids Children’s Museum and Grand Rapids Art Museum. There are also a few great (family-friendly) breweries nearby.

Read more about taking kids to Amway Grand Plaza here.

The Millennium Knickbocker in Chicago is recommended as a unique and family-friendly historic hotel in the U.S.

The entrance to the Millennium Knickbocker Hotel in downtown Chicago. Photo courtesy Melissa Scwartz

Millennium Knickerbocker

Where: Chicago, Ill.

What makes it special: Originally opened in 1927, the Millennium Knickerbocker has maintained quite a bit of its 1920s elegance. During Prohibition, Al Capone’s brother Frank ran a speakeasy in the Knickerbocker and the stairwell the patrons scurried down during a raid still exists which is a fun element.

What kids will like there: Kids will love discovering the historic elements of the hotel making it pretty unique compared to more modern hotels. Kids have quite an eye for finding things like mail chutes that are not in modern hotels. If you have the opportunity, take a peek inside of the Crystal Ballroom. The crystal chandeliers, gold gilding and light up dance floor are awe-inspiring to all ages! Melissa, who recommended this hotel, said her daughter was totally in awe during our visit and felt like a princess.

What’s nearby: While staying at the Millennium Knickerbocker, you will be a block away from the excitement of Michigan Avenue! Nearby Water Tower Place is home to American Girl, the Lego Store, the Chicago Sports Museum and more. For older children, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago includes a rotating range of uniquely engaging exhibits some even with participatory elements. Of course, fun Navy Pier with its amusements and incredible view is nearby as is the Chicago Children’s Museum!

Read more about Millennium Knickerbocker in this post by Melissa from A Little Time and A Keyboard.

Beyond the hauntings, there are many reasons to visit the historic Stanley Hotel. Photo courtesy Megan Bannister

Stanley Hotel

Where: Estes Park, Colo.

What makes it special: While the Stanley Hotel is arguably most famous for its haunted happenings, its rich backstory and role in Estes Park’s development are equally fascinating. The hotel welcomed its first visitors in 1909 and helped spur much of the development of the town of Estes Park—it was even the first hotel west of the Mississippi River to have electricity.

What kids will like there: The Stanley Hotel has lots of nooks and crannies to explore! The original elevator and the hotel’s movie memorabilia are especially fun.

What’s nearby: There’s lots to see in the town of Estes Park. From shopping to restaurants, there’s something everyone is sure to enjoy. The hotel is also close to Rocky Mountain National Park, which is the perfect place to opt outdoors and explore all of the natural beauty Colorado has to offer.

Read more about Stanley Hotel in this post by Megan from Olio In Iowa.

The Hotel Boulderado opened in 1908 in Boulder, Colo. Photo courtesy Erin Klema

Hotel Boulderado

Where: Boulder, Colo.

What makes it special: Opening with an elegant New Year’s Eve gala in 1908, the hotel continues to celebrate New Year’s in style with an annual celebration. The first luxury hotel in Boulder, it is now on the National Register of Historic Places. Over the years, well-known politicians, entertainers, and other public figures—including Louis Armstrong, Robert Frost, and Helen Keller—have stayed at the hotel.

What kids will like there: Kids will enjoy riding in the original Otis elevator, sipping fresh water from the Arapahoe Glacier at the lobby drinking fountain, seeing the beautiful and colorful stained glass ceiling in the lobby, and seeing relics from years gone by on the self-guided history tour around the hotel.

What’s nearby: The Hotel Boulderado sits in the heart of downtown Boulder, only a short walk from the pedestrian-friendly Pearl Street Mall full of shopping and dining. Tea-drinking families can go on Celestial Seasonings’ free factory tour or sip afternoon tea at the Boulder Dushanbe Tea House. Boulder is also a very bike-friendly city, so families can rent bikes and peddle the Boulder Creek Path. Sitting at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, Boulder also offers visitors plenty of opportunities to get outdoors.

Read more about Hotel Boulderado in this post by Erin at The Epicurean Traveler.

The Millennium Knickbocker in Chicago is recommended as a unique and family-friendly historic hotel in the U.S.

The Hotel Julien

Where: Dubuque, Iowa

Why go there: The Hotel Julien is a historic landmark hotel that is not only decorated in the highest quality of finishes, but the small high-end touches will make any guest feel extra special.

What kids will like there: Kids will love the views of the Port of Dubuque from their room along with the impressive swimming pool in the basement. Ice cream across the street will make any kid happy too!

What’s nearby: Nearby, you’ll find the Fenlon Place Elevator, the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium, and Eagle Point Park!

Read more about The Hotel Julien in this post by Katy from Katy Flint & Co.

The Black Hawk Hotel is a historic hotel in Cedar Falls, Iowa

The Black Hawk Hotel in Cedar Falls, Iowa dates back to 1870s. Photo courtesy Travel Iowa

Black Hawk Hotel

Where: Cedar Falls, Iowa

Why go there: Built in the 1870s, it retains its old world charm with new world amenities.

What kids will like there: Kids will like the old fashioned lobby and look of the hotel.

What’s nearby: Kids and adults alike will love the John Deere tractor museum in the nearby sister city of Waterloo.  

Read more about Black Hawk Hotel in this post by Cindy from Traveling Adventures of a Farm Girl.

 

The Peabody Memphis has a twice-daily duck march through the lobby. Photo courtesy Peabody Memphis

The Peabody Memphis

Where: Memphis, Tenn.

What makes it special: In 2019, Peabody Memphis celebrates 150 years in business. It is THE place to stay in Memphis, and has hosted celebrities, royalty and American presidents. The rooms are luxurious, and the location can’t be beat. Thursday night rooftop parties offer the best view in town, plus live music, good food and cool drinks.

What kids will like there: Kids are the VIP guests of the twice-daily duck march at the Peabody Memphis. Adults will have a hard time battling the crowds, but kids get to sit right along the red carpet as the ducks make their way to the lobby each morning, and each evening as they return to the penthouse duck apartment. Kids will also love the consistent duck theme throughout the hotel – from cookies to soaps, there are ducks everywhere!

What’s nearby: Beale Street is just blocks away, with live music and the best barbecue in Tennessee. You can walk to the Mississippi River for a paddleboat or kayak cruise. The Civil Rights Museum is also nearby. Downtown Memphis is very walkable, and the Peabody Memphis is centrally located. 

Read more about the Peabody Hotel and things to do in Memphis in this post by Leigh from Campfires & Concierges.

Wentworth by the Sea

Where: New Castle, N.H.

What makes it special: This Victorian wedding cake hotel was built in 1874 and once hosted the likes of Gloria Swanson, Annie Oakley, Harry Truman and Prince Charles, as well as being the spot where the terms were hashed out to end the Russo-Japanese War. But by the late 20th century, it had been long abandoned and looked more like a ghostly set in a horror film (it was: 1999’s “In Dreams”). Thanks to the joint efforts of a nonprofit and local hotel group, the Wentworth was restored to its former glory in the early 2000s and now boasts a 8,500-foot spa wing, indoor and outdoor pools, standalone suites overlooking the marina, a private country club and “Scottish links” style golfing, and chef-driven, sea-to-table dining.

What kids will like there: The hotel has both indoor and outdoor pools.

What’s nearby: It’s an easy walk, bike ride or drive to downtown Portsmouth, a vibrant coastal town filled with family attractions, including the Strawberry Banke Museum, a 10-acre outdoor history museum that immerses children in four centuries of American history; live performances all summer long at the Prescott Park Arts Festival; G. Willikers, a beloved local toy store that’s been family-owned for 40 years, and the (ahem) udderly delightful Annabelle’s ice cream.

 

Arrow Hotel was built in 1928 in Broken Bow, Neb. Photo courtesy Gretchen Garrison

Arrow Hotel

Where: Broken Bow, Neb.

What makes it special: Arrow Hotel in Broken Bow has been primarily been a hotel since the building was constructed by the townspeople in 1928. Due to being apartments for a short time, the rooms are larger and all have kitchens. Parents will like the small town atmosphere and the small town prices for all of that space. Everyone will like the delicious home style breakfasts.

What kids will like there: Many are suites which means multiple televisions. This worked well for a family with two tweens and two teens who could all watch their own type of show.

What’s nearby: Across the street, there is a wonderful playground and the Custer County Museum where there is a display on one of America’s most prominent pioneer photographers. The hotel is right on the town square which has numerous local shops. The hotel also has its own restaurant which has a separate pub area.

Read more about Arrow Hotel in this post by Gretchen from Odyssey Through Nebraska.

Recommended historic hotels for families in the U.S. #familytravel

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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:

 

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December 17, 2017

5 Things To Do On Isla Mujeres

Friends, let me tell you about Isla Mujeres. You need it in your life. I went earlier this year with Mr. Wonderful and was, in one word, relaxing. Sound good? I’ve got an Isla Mujeres guide for you.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. I receive a small commission for purchases made by making a purchase a things I recommend.

This tiny island is a 20-minute ferry ride from Cancun, Mexico. It’s a breezy ride, and if you’re lucky, you might have some on-board live music (and if you’re really lucky, it might be good).

I’m not a huge fan of Cancun, but airfare can be cheap and that ferry ride to Isla Mujeres is quick. Seriously, look how cheap the airfare to Mexico is on CheapoAir!

Isla Mujeres is the place to go when you need to slow down. Sure, you could find some adventure there. But Mr. Wonderful and I planned a kid-free vacation to Isla Mujeres so that we could rejuvenate. I started with an Isla Mujeres Bucket List, and here’s what I learned from the trip:

  1. Research hotels and book based on your vacation goals.

Isla Mujeres is pretty small, but it has a ton of hotel, AirBnB, and resort options. Most will be the center of town on the north side of the island where the most of the restaurants, shops and tour pick-ups are. It’s close to the ferry port and the best beach (Playa Norte).

TripAdvisor is a good place to start your search for Isla Mujeres hotels.

The view from our Isla Mujeres hotel. There was a tiny pool and a private beach.

We wanted to be away from the hustle, and while it’s a stretch to call anything activity on the island “hustle” – things pretty much shut down after 8 p.m. – we opted to stay on the quieter south end of the island.

The downside? Nothing was within true walking distance, except for the private beach at the hotel. Which was totally what we wanted, so not a downside for us.

It also meant we had to…

  1. Rent a golf cart.

It is cheaper to use taxis on Isla Mujeres, yes, but you don’t get that ocean breeze going through your hair inside a taxi. I recommend renting a golf cart for a day.

A popular way to get around the small Mexican island, Isla Mujeres, is golf cart.

We did it for two days, and that was pretty unnecessary in the end. We got most of our sight-seeing done in one day. Still, I loved cruising around in our little cart. If you have a portable speaker, pack it for your trip so you can enjoy music on the drive.

Research where you rent your cart, though. We got ours at the place billed as haing the fastest golf carts, but that came with the “expense” of going through two duds before we got one that didn’t die on us.

  1. Eat at these restaurants

For such a tiny island, Isla Mujeres has an abundance of great dining options, especially if you love seafood. The restaurants right on the beach, where you’re literally sitting there with your flip-flopped feet in the sand, are adequate, but the real good stuff is away from the beach.

Our most memorable dining experience was at El Veradero, a Cuban restaurant on the island. It had the best food, best atmosphere, and best live music.

There are three that were the highlight of our trips. The most memorable, by far, was El Varadero. This Cuban restaurant is on a port that attracts an international yachting crowd, but we arrived via taxi along a nondescript residential street. Everything about this place is the stuff of vacation legends: Off-the-beaten path restaurant with great food, great setting, great live music, and great people watching. 

My other two favorites were definitely designed to appeal to Americans looking for something a little familiar but not too touristy: Mango Cafe and Green Verde. Mango Cafe was a cute restaurant in the middle of the island, away from the super touristy area. The coconut french toast is a must-order, as is the fresh fruit. While you’re in the neighborhood, cross the street to an open-air church and charming lookout.

Green Verde had the best tacos on the island.

Green Verde was the only restaurant we visited twice…because the tacos were that good. I never order the same thing twice on vacation, but I had to get the chicken tacos twice in two days. So good. And, it’s a lovely place to relax.

Cheap Roundtrip Flights to Mexico!
  1. Get a massage…on the beach.

You can get a massage, on the beach, for about $30 an hour. It’s a steal.

The open air massage tents at one of the beaches on Isla Mujeres.

One caveat? It’s totally not private, at least at the massage tables at Playa Centro… and there’s a good chance music will be blaring since it is a beach and all. The tent probably has a couple tables, and if you’re not there in a two-piece, you’re going to pull some outstanding contortionist tricks trying to undress without flashing the world. It can be done, I promise.

It’s not my ideal setting, and I half-worried about closing my eyes for too long and having my purse walk off. But still. $30 an hour for a professional massage? Yes, please.

  1. Be smart about Avenida Hidalgo.

The main drag on Isla Mujeres is Avenida Hidalgo, a pedestrian-only street filled with souvenir shops and restaurants that appeal to tourists. If you’ve been to one like this, you’ve been to them all – the restaurants look inviting but the food is mediocre, the drinks are watered down, and the souvenirs shop employees will call out to you. It can be overwhelming for the uninitiated.

Avenida Hidalgo appeals to tourists because of abundance souvenir shops and restaurants.

Still, I wouldn’t necessarily say “Skip it.”

My recommendation is to grab a table on the sidewalk and order a cerveza, then enjoy the people watching. Don’t fall for the BOGO offers on drinks, though. In my limited experience, the mixed drinks were disappointing, and I won’t fall for it again.

Another good idea is to go to Avenida Hidalgo early in the day. We had a wonderful, low-key breakfast at Rooster (another one of those restaurants that appeal to Americans for the food, decor and music). We got there early and then walked a few blocks to Playa Norte afterward.

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Need more ideas for Isla Mujeres vacation? Check out my Isla Mujeres Bucket List!

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October 12, 2017

Direct Flights From Omaha

Updated: April 18, 2018

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links.

In early 2018, Air Canada announced it would have direct flights from Omaha to Toronto starting in May 2018.

In the fall of 2017, Frontier Airlines announced it will be adding more direct flights from Omaha, with new destinations being Las Vegas, San Francisco, and Fort Myers (Florida). The flights won’t start until spring/early summer 2018.

An even more recent news came from American Airlines last week, who announced it would add a direct flight next year to Philadelphia. The airline already has nonstop service to Chicago; Charlotte, N.C.; Dallas; Los Angeles; Miami; and Phoenix.

I love this news of more non-stop flights from Omaha. I try to avoid layovers when traveling with the kids. I’ll gladly pay more for a direct flight.

You don’t have to pay more, though. Allegiant Airlines is a budget airline with direct flights from Omaha to sunny destinations, too. I’ve tried that airline a couple times, with a mixed result. Here are my tips on what to expect when flying Allegiant AirKim’s note: Since our travels, troubling reports questioning the airline’s safety have surfaced. See the April 2018 story by “60 Minutes” here. The CEO of Allegiant responded to story here.

Cocoa Beach is about an hour drive from Seminole County, Florida, where the Orlando Sanford International Airport is located. There is a direct flight to Sandord/Orlando via Allegiant Airlines.

But it can be done, and flying on one of these low-cost airlines makes for memorable trips! Read about my quick trips to Tampa Bay and Orlando flying with Allegiant. If you’re schedule is flexible, you just can’t beat the price.

Direct Flight Options From Omaha

Thinking back to those Florida trips makes me all wistful for winter vacation to a warmer city. Nothing is planned. Yet. But a travel blogger can dream. It doesn’t have to cost much. CheapOair has roundtrip fares for under $199. You can search flights here.

Here are a few of the warmer destinations with direct flights from Omaha that, I think, would be a great escape this winter:

Fort Myers, Fla.

Las Vegas

Miami

Orlando

Phoenix

Punta Gorda, Fla.

San Diego

San Francisco

Tampa

Here’s the complete list of direct flights from Omaha:

Atlanta

Charlotte

Chicago

Dallas

Denver

Detroit

Fort Myers, Fla.

Houston

Los Angeles

Las Vegas

Miami

Milwaukee

Minneapolis/St. Paul

New York City

Orlando

Phoenix

Portland, Ore.

Punta Gorda, Fla.

Salt Lake City

San Diego

San Francisco

Seattle

St. Louis

Tampa

Toronto, Canada

Washington, D.C.

This list only involves flights out of Eppley Airfield in Omaha. To see updates to the direct flight travel map, be sure to check here.

 

Where would you fly directly to if given the chance this winter?

 

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