After a much-needed rainy winter in Northern California, Mendocino County, located three hours north of San Francisco, has exploded with color and life. Gentler breezes replace winter's stronger winds. Wild flowers dot the dramatic bluffs and roadsides. The sun is out, but the recent rains have given a boost to bubbling streams and powerful rivers and leant an emerald-hue to the verdant fields and rolling hillsides of grapevines. In short – Spring is the perfect time for visitors to enjoy this spectacular paradise of coastal splendor and towering redwoods, before summer ushers in higher rates and larger crowds.
Mendocino’s wines are increasingly being recognized as some of the finest in the world. The Anderson Valley, where many Mendocino appellations are located, has the coolest climate where wine grapes can be grown. At the breezy Western “Deep End” of the valley, you will find Lula Cellars. A small production, premium winery, Lula produces just 2,800 cases year entirely from Mendocino grapes. Their vintages include multiple Gold Medal-winning Pinot Noirs and a celebrated Rosato (a style of Italian rosé). This spring ushers in their latest offering — the 2014 Docker Hill Pinot Noir, made from grapes that ripen in the fog on the valley floor, producing a robust varietal with concentrated flavor. Enjoy a glass in their down-to-earth and welcoming tasting room, situated on 22 bucolic acres. The tasting room reflects the unpretentious esthetic of veteran wine maker Jeff Hansen who named the winery for his late grandmother. Lula sells exclusively and directly to consumers, allowing them to keep their extraordinary wines extremely affordable. Lula Cellars Tasting Room, 2800 Guntly Rd, Philo, CA 95466, (707) 895-3737, www.lulacellars.com.
Lula Cellars is the last tasting room before Hwy 128 meets the Pacific Coast Highway (Hwy 1). As you head west on Hwy 128, visitors will pass through a stretch of forest with centuries-old redwoods before hitting Hwy 1, where waves crash against immaculate beaches and cliffs. Veer right to go north on the PCH and head towards the Northern Mendocino Coast.
The first indication that you have again reached civilization is the Little River Inn. A Gothic white Victorian that presides over the Pacific with stately grandeur, the inn’s gracious gables proclaim its historical significance while its gardens, teaming with daffodils, tulips, and spring flowers in every color imaginable, assure you won’t forget what season it is. There’s nothing stuffy or antique about this family-owned and run establishment, however. The only full service resort on this stretch of coast, Little River Inn has a chef-driven restaurant, a nine-hole Audubon-certified golf course, professional tennis courts, and a day spa and full service salon. This Spring, their “Perfect Gift for Mom” package is on offer, and as it includes champagne, spa treatments and breakfast in bed, it certainly lives up to its name. Accommodations at the inn comprise 66 guest rooms ranging from the modest to the luxurious – and each and every one of them has an ocean-view. Little River Inn, 7901 N. Highway One, Little River, CA 95456, (707) 937-5942, www.littleriverinn.com.
A bit farther north along Hwy 1 – just before you hit charmingly preserved Mendocino Village – you’ll find Brewery Gulch Inn. Situated high above atmospheric Smuggler’s Cove, Travel + Leisure named the 10-room Brewery Gulch Inn as the #53 best hotel in the world, and Condé Nast Traveler named them the best inn in Northern California. Constructed in 2001 from 150-year old redwood reclaimed from the nearby Big River, it's an architectural masterpiece that offers every modern convenience. Guests rave about the warmth and comfort of the inn and compare the ambiance to staying at a good friend’s well-appointed rustic-chic home. Executive Chef Scott Allen, who cooks only for guests of the inn, trained at various 5-star restaurants. Chef Allen’s new breakfast menu for spring includes a slice of grilled brioche served open-faced, topped with brown sugar Millionaire’s bacon and served with sliced fried green tomatoes, fanned avocado and peppery arugula dressed with a toasted shallot vinaigrette. The inn’s property borders the 50,000 acres of virgin redwoods and wildflower studded meadows that make up the Jackson Demonstration State Forest. Brewery Gulch Inn, 9401 N. Highway One, Mendocino, CA 95460, (707) 937-4752, www.brewerygulchinn.com.
To find some of the most unique activities in California, continue north to the former lumber town of Fort Bragg. Before you reach the town proper, stop at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, one of the few public gardens in the US with ocean frontage. While especially known for their Rhododendron collection – they have more than 1,000 of these gorgeous flowers and host California’s largest rhododendron show each April – it’s rewarding to meander through any of their 47-acres of beautiful blooms. The south path leads to the ocean, an ideal spot to watch breaching whales, particularly during the early spring migration. Join one of their docent-led walks and learn about natural history, the mushrooms which grow so plentifully on this part of the coast, or how to best observe birds in the wild, among other subjects. Then grab a snack in their seasonal Rhody’s Café before heading into town. Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens ranks among the best botanical gardens in North America and was just voted the 5th “Best Botanical Garden” in the Nation by USA Today “10Best" Reader’s Choice Travel Awards. Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, 18220 N. Highway One, Fort Bragg, CA, 95437, (707) 964-4352, www.gardenbythesea.org.
Downtown Fort Bragg is home to the Skunk Train’s coastal depot. A heritage railroad that has been operating on the Mendocino Coast since 1885, the Skunk Train was originally designed to move logs. Today the trains allow riders to traverse virgin forests and chug along pristine streams, following routes that are sometimes inaccessible by any other means. Running from Fort Bragg to the frontier town of Willits, the scenic 40-mile railroad has been named one of the “10 Best Rail Tours in the Country” by USA Today and one of the “Top 10 family Activities in California” by National Geographic Traveler. The views from the rail cars provide an incomparable intimate encounter with nature as she wakes from winter. Watch families of deer sipping from the Noyo River, spot blue heron, osprey and even an occasional otter. The Skunk Train is available to host events, groups and parties, and intrepid brides can even host their dream Spring wedding aboard the Skunk! Skunk Train (California Western Railroad), 100 W. Laurel St, Fort Bragg, CA 95437, (707) 964-6371, www.skunktrain.com.
Mosey up the increasingly dramatic coastline until you reach the 2,000 private acres that encompass the spectacular Inn at Newport Ranch. The term “luxury lodge” could have been coined for the inn, purpose-built in one of the most striking spots in Northern California. Open since early 2016, the property boasts 50-mile views across the Pacific and over 20 miles of hiking and horseback riding trails. Designed by Vermont architects Dave Sellers and Jim Sanford, the inn has grand touches, such as a walk-in stone fireplace and recycled redwood trunks soaring to cathedral ceilings, but also echoes and honors the surrounding wilderness. Each room housed in the multiple structures that make up the inn is carefully appointed, incorporating handcrafted touches, such as headboards from single burls and antique building materials found onsite. Vegetables from the inn’s organic gardens (Sugar Ann Snap Peas, Golden Wax beans, Rainbow Chard and Watermelon Radishes in the Spring) grace the plates of guests, and their head gardener ensures everything – from produce to herbs to flowers – is grown sustainably. Also in the springtime, botanical arrangements are created to decorate the inn using sweet peas, forget-me-nots, snap dragons, white bishop’s lace, Bells of Ireland and lilies. At the end of a day spent exploring secluded redwoods and rocky beaches, guests can relax in the Great Room with nibbles and Mendocino wines and beers, then wind things down further in the 7-person hot tub atop, which sits atop a water tower and boasts stunning views of the sunset. The Inn at Newport Ranch, 31502 N. Highway One, Fort Bragg, CA 95437, (707) 962-4818, www.theinnatnewportranch.com.
Before you get back to San Francisco, stop once more in the Anderson Valley and experience Camp Navarro. Founded as a logging camp in the early 1900s, the camp was once a turnaround for the railroad that rebuilt post-earthquake San Francisco with precious Mendocino redwood. Since then the pastoral compound has been reborn as a nature retreat and unique event destination, welcoming groups to experience the great outdoors in an unspoiled setting that is not too far removed from civilization. Available for corporate retreats, weddings, festivals, concerts, and other creative events, Camp Navarro has capacity for over 400 people in a variety of cabins, Adirondacks and Teepee tents. The camp features miles of nature trails, an archery and shooting range, a 10,000-square-foot main lodge with a dining and meeting hall, swimming holes, a meditation platform, an amphitheater and much more. Wifi, artisanal coffee, and delicious cuisine – including pizzas from their new Mugnaini wood-fired oven and savories from their hand-built smokehouse – allow you to immerse yourself in nature without being deprived of creature comforts. Camp Navarro, 901 Masonite Industrial Rd, Navarro, CA 95466, www.campnavarro.com.
A scant three hours’ drive from San Francisco, the sweeping beauty and rustic charm of Mendocino awaits. The variety of lodging options to suit every budget and unforgettable attractions amidst the oldest living things on earth make Mendocino a can’t-miss destination. Spring is the perfect time to renew your connection with the earth in one of the most peaceful places on the planet.
Looking for a great resort to spend time with your family? We had the immense pleasure of spending a weekend at the Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa in Ponte Vedra, and we all had an amazing time! The resort is located in Ponte Vedra Beach, between St. Augustine and Jacksonville, Florida. Its location off of A1A made it convenient to the beach, local shopping (Publix is just off the property), and of course the famous TPC Sawgrass Golf Course.
ACCOMMODATIONSThis Marriott has recently undergone renovations, and the rooms were fresh, bright, and new! There are not only standard hotel rooms, but the villas on the property provide more space and even kitchenettes. If you are staying for a longer amount of time or want to splurge, the villas are a great option. Traveling as a family of 5, we loved the ability to add an adjoining room. My husband and I shared a king-sized bed, we had a comfortable living area with a couch and chairs, and our boys were able to have their own beds (and bathroom!) in the adjoining room.
My favorite area of the entire villa was our balcony! We had a view of the main hotel and could even see the TPC Sawgrass course!
FUN FOR THE KIDSMy initial thought was that my three boys, ages 6, 4, and 10 months, wouldn’t have much to do at a golf and spa resort. I was so wrong! It only took about 3 hours into our stay for our 6 year old to proclaim that he “loves this place!” He and his brothers enjoyed the restaurants, pools, cornhole game, ping pong, putt-putt golf, Surfstream (more on that later!), and the beach. The Marriott even provided a pack n play for our baby to sleep in, complete with fresh sheets.
Marriott has really thought of everything for the children of guests here. They recently added the Mighty Oaks play area where parents can accompany their children for some quiet play time with a great selection of toys and even foosball! There was never a dull moment during our stay!
FOODIESSawgrass Marriott has an amazing selection of restaurants with a variety of fare for every desire. We were lucky to sample delicious food ranging from beach casual, brunch buffet, Mediterranean themed dinner, and the fine dining selection at Vernon’s. I loved that our kids felt welcome and had great choices at each of the restaurants, and my husband and I were able to enjoy delicious food as well! Just a few of our favorites include: the swordfish and desserts at Vernon’s, the burrata at 619 Oceanside, the crabcakes at the Sea Porch Bar & Grill, and the chili glazed gator nugget tacos at the American Gator Club!
RELAXATIONWe all can use some time away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. The Sawgrass Marriott has a secluded, quiet location that provided comfort and beautiful views! If that’s not enough, you can enjoy time at their spa for a variety of services including facials, massages and body treatments for men, women and couples, and manicures/pedicures.
If you prefer to relax by exercising, the workout studio has a great selection of cardio and strength-training equipment.
FUN IN THE SUNI am a beach girl at heart. I hadn’t visited the Atlantic Ocean in about three years, so it was a delightful treat that the resort offered a free shuttle to their Cabana Beach Club for our enjoyment! Our kids played in the sand, enjoyed the surf, and then transitioned right over to the pool at the beach club. The resort had toys on hand, towels by the pool, and clean bathrooms. The Sea Porch Bar & Grill and 619 Oceanside Restaurant are both located at the beach, so you can spend the day here without any problem at all!
The first Surfstream American Wave Machine in the continental US just opened at Sawgrass Marriott, and it was the highlight of my trip! The instructors gave us the safety equipment and training we needed, and were so supportive while we tried out this fun activity! My husband, my 6 year old (height requirement of 42 inches), and I had a blast taking turns riding the waves right at the resort! They had boogie boards and surf boards available so everyone was able to ride a wave without trouble. I was a nervous wreck, but it was such an amazing experience!
You can’t stay near TPC Sawgrass without feeling the influence of the game of golf. Adjacent to Alice and Pete’s Pub is a floating hole challenge. For a small fee, guests can try their luck at hitting a golf ball into the “floating” hole 65 yards away.
A WONDERFUL FAMILY GETAWAYThe Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa was a perfect destination for our family. We were able to sample delicious food, have fun, and relax on the property and at the beach club. The Marriott staff all went above and beyond to make our weekend memorable, and we would gladly return! You can find many more details and book accommodations on their website.
Can you believe it's May already!?!? I used to hear people say how fast the year was flying by and think to myself "it's no faster than any other year...." but as I get older I think time REALLY DOES speed up somehow!
I was presented with a challenge for the month April to determine, and blog about, the top 5 places in our city. You may have seen me post on facebook or Instagram asking for your input, but I decided there's just no way to narrow it down to even the top 5! Instead, I've decided to start a new series right here on the blog with my top favorites....I don't know how many it will end up being, we'll just continue until I run out of places I love! :) As the days, and months, and years pass by faster and faster this is my way of making sure I take time to slow down and enjoy the little moments, the "mundane" places, and the wide variety that our city has to offer! join me as I "wander" through our city and find new, and old, places to add to this list of "must-do's!"
WHERE DO I EVEN START THIS SERIES?As a mom of 3 boys, much of my life revolves around them, so let's start there....
For Christmas this past year my husband and I tried to help our family gift "experiences" to our children rather than more "things." One suggestion we passed along was a family membership to the Children's museum (now called Kaleideum). This has been one of the BEST gifts! My boys ask almost daily if we can go and there is SO much to explore there! With various programs and changing exhibits throughout the year, it never gets old!
"The Amazing Airways" exhibit is just as much fun for the adults as it is for the kiddos! by changing the airflow you can change the path that the scarves take through the tubes as they make their way to the ends and come shooting out overhead!
Camel City BBQ Factory
Another family favorite is Camel City BBQ Factory! With 3 children 5 and under it's often hard to get out for a family dinner that doesn't involve someone in tears or upset at SOME point during the meal. Camel City BBQ Factory is our answer to this! This place is delicious (the BBQ pulled pork cheese fries are a must every time we go!) there's something for everyone (counter service down stairs, full service upstairs, and an arcade with picnic table seating on the top tier!) and in the heart of downtown it's the perfect place for a family stroll post dinner!
Winston Salem Dash Baseball
Another must-see is the Dash baseball team when they are in town! The beautiful new stadium makes for a fun night out for the whole family! We love to go on their Chick-fil-a nights where we can get 4 seats, 4 dash baseball caps, and 4 chick-fil-a sandwich vouchers for $32! For our family, that's a great deal! With views of the downtown skyline from every seat, fireworks following many home games, free parking with the shuttle, a kids zone full of bounce houses and games for the kids, you can't beat the experience (even when the Dash lose....which does happen from time to time ;) )
Those are just a few of my family favorites here in Winston! What would make it on YOUR family favorites list? Stay tuned for the next post and my next few favorites!
This past weekend, Daniel and I had the opportunity to visit Kent County, Delaware to kick off our Summer and we had such a wonderful time. I'm so excited to share all of our adventures in Delaware's Quaint Villages with all of you!
8:30 am | Morning Coffee Run at Dolce Bakery
Dan and I arrived to Milford, DE on Friday night and stayed at their local Hampton Inn Milford (100 Lighthouse Estates Drive, Milford) so that we could wake up early to kick start our day without needing to worry about travel. In the morning, we needed a local favorite to grab a coffee and a light breakfast - Dolce Bakery was recommended.
The smell of fresh baked pastries hit us as soon as we stepped into Dolce Bakery (36 N. Walnut Street). I ordered a Chai Latte and a Strawberry Danish while Dan got an OJ and Blueberry Muffin - we were both super impressed. Not joking, the Chai Latte was one of the best I'd ever ordered. To top it off, the staff was friendly and made us feel welcome, not like the tourists that we were. Right away, we recognized that the folks here make all of their guests feel this special, and it was fun to see locals walking in and the team behind the counter greeting them by name. There's a friendliness in Milford and sense of community that I've never seen anywhere else, and I loved being a part of it, even for a weekend.
9:00 am | Bug & Bud Festival
One of the primary reasons that we were in Milford was to experience their annual Bug & Bud Festival, held in celebration of Arbor Day. Today, the festival serves as one of Central Delaware's premiere events.
Strolling the streets of Milford, we encountered local artisans, shop owners and community outreach initiative representatives and it was wonderful to connect with all of them and to get a taste of what the town is all about.
One of the artisans that we connected with was Brian, who is a local photographer who prints his artwork (and custom logos, brands, etc.) onto kiln-fired ceramics. I loved his images, and thought that the idea of customizing ceramic backsplash, coasters, etc. was so fun for gift ideas or to personalize your home!
As we continued strolling, we found the sweet members of the Milford Garden Club who told us a bit of the local history and goings on, and who also informed us about all of the projects that they work on in the community. We were impressed with their work outside of the Riverfront Theatre and Memorial Bridge.
After popping into the Mispillion Art League (5 Walnut Street, Milford) to check out some of the local pieces, we ventured towards the paddle boats, games and food. We were just in time to catch the local school band lead the parade followed by an adorable cub scout troop and the Grand Marshal (who we were later able to get a photo with). On our way out, we made sure to stop at the Milford Museum's booth and purchased a couple of vintage-print postcards (we're big on collecting post cards from our travels and saving them ... we got one at most of the stops on our trip this weekend!).
12:00 pm | Lunch at JP's Wharf
Post-festival, we were definitely hungry so we ventured towards Bowers' Beach (a fishing industry hot spot) for lunch. We arrived a few minutes before they opened, and so we walked up the street to the beach itself to sit on the dock, soak up some sun and watch the boats go by. What a peaceful spot!
JP's Wharf (201 Hubbard Ave, Frederica) is the embodiment of a summer eatery for me, and I loved every second of our time there. It's the sort of establishment where the food hits the spot, and so does the setting. Waterfront, JP's is the kind of place where you order a beer (or one of their tasty looking cocktails), take a deep breath and relax with good company.
Being from out of town, we were excited to hear that JP's takes advantage of their waterfront position along the Delaware Bay... they catch their own Rockfish and oysters (no really, the boat is tied up on the dock). The seafood doesn't get more fresh than that!
I don't like seafood much and even I really enjoyed their oysters (that cheese on top was magic). Dan ordered the Fish & Chips and was really impressed with the portion size and how much meat was actually inside of the breading, and I got the Cheese Burger. Can't go wrong with a classic!
When a local makes a recommendation, you order it and we did just that with the Strawberry Pie. It's not at all what we expected, but it was better than we could have imagined.
2:00 pm | John Dickinson Plantation
After lunch, we ventured over to the John Dickinson Mansion and Plantation (340 Kitts Hummock Rd., Dover). I was especially excited to see a bit of local history because my background is historical archaeology and anthropology and this colonial plantation was right up my alley. This plantation served as the home for John Dickinson, a lawyer and landowner who served as President of both Delaware and Pennsylvania and was a delegate to the Federal Constitutional Convention of 1787.
We started in the Visitor's Center where we connected with Chris, one of the tour guides. He allowed us to watch a quick film to gauge a bit of background on the grounds and the former property owner and then we headed over to the Mansion.
It was a lot of fun walking through the home with Chris, who was able to point out things throughout the home such as the carvings of initials on the wooden beams leading down to the basement, the green color of the dining room representing a sign of wealth and the relation of the home and it's owner to the agricultural world.
7:00 pm | Dinner at Roma
After a much needed nap back at our hotel, we spiffed up a bit and hit the town for dinner at a local Italian Restaurant, Roma (3 President Drive, Dover). We're big fans of Italian food, so we were excited to give this local spot a try. They did not disappoint! After sharing a bruschetta appetizer, we tried the Italian Wedding Soup and then our entrees - Dan got the Lobster Ravioli and I ordered the evening's chicken special which was a combination of Chicken/Eggplant Parmesan. I also ordered a side of pasta, which was about the size of my entree (I couldn't fit anything else in, so this went back to the hotel with us!).
The friendliness we'd spotted in Milford earlier didn't stop there... the staff at this Dover restaurant were just as wonderful. Their staff varied in age, but all were sweet and professional.
9:00 pm | Tasting & Tour at Mispillion River Brewing
By this point in the day, Dan and I were hitting a wall but we'd heard that Mispillion River Brewing(255 Mullet Run St., Milford) wasn't to be missed and we were curious about the local nightlife. As I opened the front door, I was hit with the sound of a live musician singing and playing the guitar, neon signs flashing over the bar and an audience with folks of all ages and backgrounds.
Strolling over to the bar, a kind stranger (a pattern in Milford) pointed out two empty seats beside him and the bartender immediately asked us what we wanted to drink. Shortly after, the owner Eric and his wife, Megan found us and brought us to the back for a tour and a tasting. Not usually a fan of IPA's, I actually really enjoyed both that I tasted here because they weren't overwhelmingly hoppy or bitter. You guys have converted me!
DAY TWO10:30 am | Brunch at Governor's Cafe
After sleeping in a bit (much needed after our busy day on Saturday), we made our way to Dover for brunch at the Governor's Cafe (144 Kings Hwy SW #1, Dover) in the historic district. The morning was a bit windy, but the sun was peeking out and it was warm so we found ourselves a seat on the porch after ordering inside at the counter. Sticking to our favorites (a danish for me, a muffin for Dan), we also ordered a Bacon, Egg and Cheese Sandwich which was the perfect way to kick off our morning.
It seemed that the Governor's Cafe was a local favorite, and quite a few folks from couples to families were gathering for their own meals. The cafe is actually registered on the National Historic Register as the "Leason House" and it sits across from the Governor's Mansion in Dover.
12:00 pm Air Mobility Museum
Post-brunch, we headed down the road to the Air Mobility Command Museum (1301 Heritage Rd., Dover) which is actually housed on a public section of the Dover Air Force Base. Mike, our tour guide, is about a month away from his Air Force retirement and was a wealth of information.
We started in the Dover AFB Control Tower, where we were able to learn a bit about traffic control on the base and the sorts of planes that are most frequently flown in and out (Dover is primarily works with cargo).
Outside, we had the chance to go inside quite a few of the planes, including the VC-9C which served as Air Force Two for Vice President's from 1975-2011, as well as First Ladies such as Rosalynn Carter, Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush, Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush, and Michelle Obama. Another highlight was going inside of the C-5A Galaxy which honestly blew my mind... I had no idea it was this big... it can fit full-sized trucks inside of it!
Inside of the museum, there were hands-on exhibits and simulators to enlighten visitors on the war efforts that aided the U.S. military and how it was done.
2:00 pm | First State Heritage Park Tour
One of our final stops of the weekend was the First State Heritage Park (121 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd, N. Dover) which also houses the Old State House and The Green within its historic blueprint. The Park itself is actually an urban "park without boundaries" that links historic and cultural sites together.
We started in the Welcome Center where we connected with Sarah, who showed us one of the in-house exhibits on local political history and pointed out the archives. Next, we headed outdoors where we walked over to the Old State House. Completed in 1791, the Old State House is the focal point of the historic Green and represents a landmark of history for the city of Dover, Delaware. Walking in, you're in the 18th-century style courtroom where historic interpreters lead you through the various rooms explaining their history and connection to American History overall. It was incredible to hear new information (to us) about the slave trade, and links that the town had to the Underground Railroad and even connections in history to Philadelphia and the backstory of how Delaware became the First State. Another fun tidbit was that one of the iron fireplaces in the building is actually from our own local Hopewell Furnace- they found the receipt from the 1700's in their archives and were able to have the iron forge recreate it for them.
Continuing on our tour, we were led to the John Bell House, the oldest surviving frame building in Dover. In this house, we were able to connect with a historic interpreter who represented the owner of The Golden Fleece Tavern across the street, Elizabeth Battel. The Golden Fleece, as it turns out, was an awfully hot location for important decision-making in Delaware; it was where Delaware legislators at the time voted to ratify the Constitution and Bill of Rights, which led to Delaware becoming the First State. The Green itself was a stunning square of historic homes and incredible stories come from this space (ask your guide to share with you the story of the mysterious chocolate candies!).
Our final stop of the tour was inside of the Delaware Store (325 State Street, Dover), which is actually the site of the original Golden Fleece Tavern. Here, we met local artist Taylor Collins, who is known for her folk art and beautiful depictions of the "First Flag". We also met Thomas Smith, who runs the Delaware Store and who was able to show us some of the more popular items that folks from the area enjoy. We even got a beautiful souvenir to take home with us!
Moving here a few years back I would have never thought of all the fun and exciting things there are to do in and around Hampton Roads. Living on the Peninsula has taught me there is more than enough to see, eat and shop while not having to travel over to the Southside to do it. But, hey that is the benefit of living in this area, you can enjoy just about everything on either side of the water. So if you are local, this guide is just icing on the cake, or if you just came here to visit or just moved here, these are the following places I would start to visit.
Best Attractions- You have come to the right place to have fun in this historic tourist area. We have two major amusement parks Busch Gardens and Water Country in Williamsburg. Season permitting of course, can you have the ability to enjoy thrill rides, musical entertainment and all year seasonal fun. Depending on the time of year you can take advantage of many of Busch Gardens Favorites such as The Food and Wine Festival, Oktoberfest, Hollow Scream and the famous Christmas Town. Or if the thrill rides are not your thing and you want to cool off from that hot Virginia sun Water Country USA is the place to have an entirely fun experience and cool down at the same time. If you are not looking to be in the great outdoors, there are other area attractions that take place inside like Great Wolf Lodge. It's one of the best places around to get the water park feeling indoors.
Love to Learn History? If you are a history buff coming to this area will not disappoint. From learning about Colonial History all the way down to putting a man in space will this city rank high among other sectors. If you are into learning about the American Revolution, you will want to check out the areas of Colonial Williamsburg and Yorktown. You will learn about the many famous battles that took place here right in your backyard. They offer tours of many of the history sites such as the battlefields by Yorktown Beach, where they often conduct reenactments certain times of the year. You may even get lucky to see a filming of a famous show or two. Hampton offers just as much history if you are looking to learn more about ship buildings and space. You do not need to travel far to see many different types of museums on the Peninsula.
Shop til you drop- Shopping is lots of fun in Hampton Roads. One of our top shopping attractions is, of course, the Williamsburg Premium Outlets. Newport News has Patrick Henry Mall and Marketplace at Tech Center, Hampton has shopping, dining, and attractions at Peninsula Town Center. You may even get a great deal coming at the right time at any one of these locations. Located in the heart of all the major attractions of Hampton Roads these shopping areas are is in a class by themselves for you shopping enthusiasts.
Top notice dining and drinking experiences- If you are planning a night on the town or family dinner there is so much to chose from as far as a great dining experience. Many of our ladies nights are in many of these venues such as Fin Seafood, 2nd Street American Bistro, Bar Louie, The Cozy Patio. Looking to add great drinks to your dining experience you may get to go to Williamsburg Winery or try a beer or two at The Virginia Beer Company. You might get a chance to catch one of Hampton Roads famous Food Trucks while you are there.
Take on Nature! When all else fails, stop and smell the fresh air. Hampton Roads is surrounded by Historical Parks, Beaches, and Trails. If you like hiking, fishing, boating and sunning this is the place for you. I love the beaches; you will want to go to Yorktown Beach and Buckroe in Hampton. Love to take pictures? Many of these spots located right in Hampton Roads will have you in awe ready to hang your photo right in your living room.
I’d love to hear from you if I missed anything? What places on the Peninsula would you recommend?
Disclaimer: This post is not sponsored. All opinions are my own.
Tampa is full of so many amazing places! I asked the locals and used my own experiences from visiting our city as a tourist and as a new resident to narrow it down to 5 awesome attractions here in the area. These spots are all great with or without families, as a local or a tourist, and include low priced and more expensive options! Did I miss your favorite? Let me know in the comments!
The Florida Aquarium is the best aquarium I have ever visited. The variety of sea life is amazing, and the exhibits are engaging. We even had the pleasure of attending a wedding here a few years ago with the shark tank as the backdrop. It was breathtaking!
If you have little ones, don't miss the splash area outside. It's a perfect way to cool off and entertain the little ones!
For more info, visit their website.
HILLSBOROUGH RIVER STATE PARK
If you love nature and would love a relaxing time viewing Florida's natural wildlife, check out Hillsborough River State Park in the northern part of the county. You can find many areas with rentals such as kayaks or canoes, or you can enjoy an easy walk through the park. They also have camping facilities available.
For more info, visit their website.
SHOPPING AT INTERNATIONAL PLAZANeed something to do on a hot afternoon? Let's face it, if you visit during the summer, you will need to cool off somewhere! Or you may need a place to explore during afternoon thunderstorms. International Plaza is a high-end mall with over 200 specialty shops and Bay Street at the Plaza, an open-air village of fine restaurants and small boutiques. It is conveniently located near Tampa International Airport.
For more info, visit their website.
LOWRY PARK ZOOFor the animal lovers, time in Tampa is not complete without a trip to the Lowry Park Zoo! It is featured among the “Top 25 Zoos in the U.S” by TripAdvisor (2015) and “10 Best Zoos in the U.S.” by Trekaroo (2015). They care for over 1,300 animals and offers entertainment for the whole family. My boys love feeding the giraffes, visiting the petting zoo, and riding some rides! Insider tip: pack swimsuits for some time in the children's splash zone!
For more info, visit their website.
LOCAL RESTAURANTSTampa is home to some great food! For a fancy celebration, try out the well-known Bern's Steakhouse. Its delicious steaks, expansive wine list, and amazing desserts have earned Bern's numerous awards. It is worth a visit!
Another favorite is Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City, known for its authentic Spanish fare. The paella is amazing!
Finally, for a little fun, ask a Tampa native where to find the best Cuban sandwich. Everyone has their own favorites, and I'm still looking for mine. Every one of these pressed sandwiches (usually with roast pork, pickles, ham, salami, swiss cheese, and mustard) I have tried has been delicious!
There is nothing better than escaping the monotony of life to find a quiet place to slow down and enjoy moments with the ones you love. In America this doesn’t happen as often. We opt for quick escapes through entertainment or hobbies. But truly getting away and with the intention to make the most of the moments at hand is hard to come by.
Well, maybe it’s not for you. Maybe you schedule your getaways a year in advance and save and plan and organize. That’s not me. I decided I need some R&R at 4 o'clock on a Friday morning before one of my Girls Night Outs. Coordinating events, running a blog and all the social media marketing that goes along with that is a bit intense.
So I hopped on the web and searched “suites in Corpus Christi, Tx”. I was pleased to find this sweet little condo vacation place called Multi-Resorts Puerta Vista on the North Padre Island. It had everything I wanted from a water view, multiple bedrooms, a kitchen, and a pool. I picked 3 nights between 2 events I had to attend and went back to bed.
Slept like a baby.
Just knowing that I could sit back and relax for a few days with my kids and mom was enough to lullaby me back to sleep.
Our stay there was exactly what I wanted. I was still going to have to work a bit but my goal was to do that only in the morning and late night and hang with the family in between.
We were welcomed at check-in easily and our room even had flowers in it ( I am a suck for fresh flowers, swoon!!) After my kids took a quick dip into the pool we headed over to a local steakhouse favorite that was recommended by some friends- Texas Flame Steakhouse (see my review here).
The best part of dinner was the cheesecake. If you know me you know I don’t do dairy (other than cheese) and I am not a dessert person (unless it's wedding cake or a piece of dark chocolate.) So that is saying a lot.
The next day the beach beckoned us even though the winds were high it was quite warm. Sun burns, sandy hair and seashells made the day memorable. All the boys tried to boogie board on the waves and enjoyed themselves greatly. My daughter dove straight into the water. Unconcerned about the waves crashing or the temperature or the wind.
She came up crying and fighting and wanting to dive in for more.
She is fearless.
That evening we hit a Padre Island local favorite, Skuttlebutts. There menu was enormous with sushi, burgers, oysters, steak and peanut butter and banana sandwiches with honey dipping sauce.
I bet you can guess what my kids choose :)
What a fun restaurant to take the kids to enjoy live music and a shark hanging from the ceiling. Happy hour had the best prices on sushi and my mom choose a Lemon Drop Martini that was superb. (read my review here)
The next day was windy again and with our sun burns we decided just a walk around Port Aranas would do with a game board and popcorn movie night to close out our stay.
Spending time with my kids and enjoying them playing card games and shooting popcorn in each others mouths is my kind of vacation. Some people like to hit all the hot spots and be super busy. But that's me at home. That’s my line of work. So sitting and doing nothing, watching the waves and thinking about life or nothing or shoes is my perfect getaway.
What do you like to do when you get away?
Disclaimer: I was compensated in some manner for my reviews but all opinions are my own.
Travelers know that romance is best celebrated all year long, not just one day in February. In fact, in 2016, “Couples & Romance” ranked among the top 10 travel interest searches on TravelLeaders.com:
Given the popularity of interests focused on couples-related vacations, here are Travel Leaders’ top recommended beach and island destinations for planning a romantic getaway.
Hawaii. “Hawaii is a beautiful destination with so many opportunities to experience romance, no matter what that means to you,” said Debbie Isom, a Travel Leaders travel agent in Bloomington, Indiana. “This tropical location, accessible without the need of a passport, is a wonderful getaway for those who appreciate ecotourism and natural beauty. A particular romantic spot is the Na Pali coast – one of the most spectacular coastlines in the world.
Mexico. From Cabo San Lucas to the Riviera Maya, add some romance with a trip to Mexico. “Visit one of 10 Secrets Resorts throughout Mexico for the ultimate spicy getaway with authentic award-winning Mexican foods and the ultimate in romantic vibes throughout the all-inclusive, adult-only properties,” advised Alex Trettin of Travel Leaders in Tacoma, Washington. “Secrets Cabo is a romantic weekend getaway accessible within just a few hours from any southern or western state. For something a little off the beaten path, visit Huatulco or Secrets Aura Cozumel.
St. Lucia. “Everything from the dramatic Piton Mountains in the west to the quintessentially Caribbean white sand beaches by luxury resorts makes the island of St. Lucia scream romance,” said Fort Worth, Texas-based Travel Leaders travel agent Sandy Duvall. “If you’d like a more secluded getaway, there are fabulous resorts all over St. Lucia’s eastern coast. Nothing beats a tropical getaway.”
Costa Rica. “If you want an intimate setting for just you and your sweetheart, a sparkling champagne toast and a candlelight dinner for two under the stars on a white, soft sandy beach in Costa Rica, with a gentle breeze will create a wonderful memory,” said Jaime Buss, Travel Leaders, Woodbury, Minnesota.
New Zealand. “Head to New Zealand and drive across the famous Ninety Mile Beach, or go yachting along any one of New Zealand’s picturesque coastlines,” advised Debbie Sebastian, a Kiwi Specialist from Travel Leaders in Danville, Kentucky. “The scenery is picture perfect no matter where you are and what you do on the island, because in New Zealand, from sunrise to sunset, you create your own love story.”
French Polynesia. “You will fall in love all over again as you fall in love with Tahiti and these other awe-inspiring little islands, atolls and motus,” exclaimed Teresa Scannell, a Travel Leaders agent in Mesa, Arizona. “Bora Bora is breathtaking, but if you want to disconnect from the world and focus on each other, then try a hidden gem like Le Tahaa or Vahine Island.”
As the snow continues to fall in record amounts outside, Hotel Becket, a Joie de Vivre hotel, is keeping guests comfortable inside with a special buy two, get one night free offer. 304 inches of fresh powder blanketed South Tahoe in January alone making Hotel Becket the perfect retreat to experience the winter wonderland.
This “sweater weather” offer starts at $238 for the three-night stay and is available through the end of ski season (mid-April). Plus, with snow totaling more than 25 feet so far this winter, the ski conditions are guaranteed to be great through season’s end. To take advantage of this special package, please use promo code “SWEATER” when booking online at hotelbecket.com.
Hotel Becket recently reinvented and combined two hotels – the Park Tahoe Inn and 968 Park Tahoe – to form Hotel Becket. The name of the hotel is inspired by the becket knot, a nautical term for tying two ropes into one, and it also symbolizes the bringing together of people in the property’s newly joined spaces. The combined property offers an authentic sense of place and reflects the mountain lifestyle of the Lake Tahoe basin with modern, rustic details and artful touches.
The hotel is conveniently located across the street from Heavenly Village for access to more than 4,800 acres of world-class skiing and snowboarding. The crystal clear water of Lake Tahoe is a short walk from the hotel where guests have entry to a private beach. The vibrant casino nightlife of Nevada is two blocks away for gaming and live entertainment by national and international performers.
Guest services and programs at Hotel Becket also reflect the nature of the Sierra Mountain Range. For example, the resort offers ski valet service through a local company in the winter. The pet-friendly hotel also offers a friendly four-legged companion for guests to enjoy during their stay – Remington, the hotel’s resident Bernese Mountain Dog will greet guests upon arrival. Remington also is available for walks in the snow or hikes in the summertime as part of the property’s “Borrow a Bernese” program.
After a day of adventures in the mountains, guests can refuel at Ten Crows Restaurant, which serves southern barbecue and craft beers in a fun, animated setting. An indoor-outdoor bar connects the restaurant to an expansive outdoor terrace complete with games and fire pits for a relaxed, social atmosphere.
About Joie de Vivre Hotels
Since its founding in San Francisco in 1987, Joie de Vivre has made curating authentically local and eclectic experiences its signature. Each one of Joie de Vivre's hotels is an original concept designed to reflect its location and engage the five senses. Today, the brand manages the largest collection of boutique hotels and resorts in California and also has properties in Chicago and Washington, DC. Joie de Vivre Hotels is establishing its foothold on the East Coast with the newly opened The Troubadour in New Orleans, and hotels soon to open in New York City and Baltimore, MD. Follow @JDVHotels on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for news and updates. For more information, please visit www.jdvhotels.com.
7 Reasons to Celebrate Spring at Wilmington’s Island Beaches: Carolina Beach, Kure Beach and Wrightsville Beach
If the thought of six more weeks of winter (thanks, Punxsutawney Phil) has you bummed, we’re here to help: there are plenty of reasons to look forward to spring. Snap yourself out of the winter doldrums by setting your sights on spring at Carolina, Kure and Wrightsville Beaches:
7) New beginnings. Spring is the perfect opportunity to learn a new skill. Take a lesson from the qualified instructors at Tony Silvagni Surf School in Carolina Beach – it offers individual and group surf, paddleboard and kayak lessons. WB Surf Camp offers surf lessons for all experience levels at Wrightsville Beach, which was named one of the best surf towns in the world.
6) Active living. Shake off the winter cobwebs with a Biological Wonderland Hike at Carolina Beach State Park, or by exploring the six miles of beach and trails at Fort Fisher State Recreation Area, near Kure Beach. The Wrightsville Beach Museum of History is offering a new Loop through History Walking Tour that helps visitors discover the island’s history while on foot. Or sign up for the new Island Yoga experience on Masonboro Island, courtesy of Wrightsville Beach Scenic Tours.
5) Al fresco dining. Soak up the sunshine by grabbing an outside table at one of many restaurants, serving up everything from coastal cuisine and Southern staples to international fare. Oceanic Restaurant at Wrightsville Beach offers outdoor dining on the rebuilt historic Crystal Pier. Gibby’s Dock and Dine at Carolina Beach is located right on the scenic Intracoastal Waterway. Another option? Pack a picnic and head to a secluded spot. One favorite place is underneath the canopy of live oak trees at Fort Fisher State Recreation Area.
4) Fresh flowers and produce. Everything is in bloom in the spring, making it the perfect time to explore Airlie Gardens – we’re talking more than 100,000 azaleas, the 467-year-old Airlie Oak, and 67 acres of Gilded Age gardens and lakes. The Veggie Wagon – located in Carolina Beach – works with the best local farms and small batch producers to bring in the freshest and tastiest fruits and vegetables North Carolina has to offer. Motts Channel Seafood at Wrightsville Beach offers a selection of locally sourced vegetables and specialty items to complement some of the freshest fish and seafood around (you can actually see the fish come off the boats and being prepared by Motts’ staff!).
3) Social events. Come out of hibernation and reconnect with those around you! Spring boasts a busy calendar of events at the beaches. Carolina Beach and Kure Beach will host the Pleasure Island Chowder Cook-Off and Pleasure Island Seafood, Blues & Jazz Festival in April. Visitors to the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher, located in Kure Beach, will be delighted by the world famous Weeki Wachee Mermaids for two weekends in March. Kure Beach will also celebrate its 70th Anniversary in late April with a street festival, concert and historical programming.
2) Friendly (or not so friendly) competition. Still feeling the winter blues? Kick it into high gear by competing in one of several events taking place this spring in Wrightsville Beach. Cyclists may want to gear up for the US Fat Bike Championship, while runners and paddlers should sign up for the Wrightsville Beach Biathlon, both in March. There is more standup paddleboarding in store for April with the Wrightsville Beach SUP Surfing Pro-Am and the 2017 Carolina Cup, two of the largest SUP events in the world.
1) Longer days. One of the best things about spring? Longer days. Use the extra hours to soak up the sun and spend time on the beach – the average daily high in March/April is 70. If your four-legged friend could stand to get out of the house almost as much as you, bring him or her along: dogs are allowed on-leash at all three beaches through March 31. Or use the extra daylight to enjoy a drink or two at a locale of your choice. At Carolina Beach, check out The Fat Pelican, voted the No. 1 dive bar in the state; or Ocean Grill & Tiki Bar, named one of “America’s Best Beach Bars.” At Wrightsville Beach, pull your boat right up to the dock at one of several restaurants and bars that offer “dock and dining” – including Bluewater Grill, Dockside and more.
Looking for a new destination for a girls getaway, couples retreat, or family vacation?
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