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Visit Chichen Itza With Kids

Visit Chichen Itza With Kids

*This experience was sponsored by the Fairmont Hotel Mayakoba and MariturDMC, and as always, the opinions expressed here are our own.

As global travelers, our family has always dreamed of visiting all 7 Wonders of the World and now we can cross one off the list. On our recent visit to the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, we set out to visit Chichen Itza with kids in tow. These Mayan ruins have withstood the test of time and still remain magnificent in their history and grandeur. It’s an easy and interesting destination with kids.

Chichen Itza was originated on this land in around 600 A.D., and is now designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is also named one of the New 7 Wonders of the World. From our luxurious resort accommodations and family vacation at Fairmont Hotel Mayakoba, we hopped into a tour group organized by our very capable Maritur guide, Sergio. We were so glad to take a guided tour to learn much more about this historic site. I think if we tried to visit it ourselves, we would never have come away with so many amazing stories. Besides, the pressure of trying to parent and play tour guide at the same time is just too much for most of us. We prefer to let the professionals handle the guiding!

Chichen Itza with kids

Chichen Itza with kids is a fun adventure for the whole family.

We wondered if we could visit Chichen Itza with kids and avoid them getting bored or cranky. The resulting experience was quite enjoyable for all, so the short answer is YES.

(Even if the girls did keep calling it Chicken Pizza.)

Tips to Visit Chichen Itza With Kids

The drive from the Riviera Maya to Chichen Itza was a little more than two hours. Traveling in a shiny black SUV with AC and phone chargers, our family was a bunch of happy campers. Sergio told us about what we would be seeing, giving us the backstory and history of the site along the way. (The girls had their headphones on the whole time listening to music). Those of us that listened to Sergio learned a ton!

Here are some highlights and tips from our visit to Chichen Itza with kids:

Go Early

Two reasons: crowds and heat. Like many places around the world, Chichen Itza is a popular tourist destination that draws more than 1.5 million people a year. Getting there early will afford you some spectacular photo opportunities before some silly yahoo gets in the way of your perfect shot. Given the right position, we were actually able to get photos with nearly no one in the photos.

Chichen Itza main temple

If you get to Chichen Itza early enough, you can capture photos like this with no people.

Bring Water/Hat/Sunscreen

There are not a lot of trees on the enormous 1280-acre grounds at Chichen Itza. In fact, during its reign the facilities had absolutely no trees at all – all the trees onsite now have grown after the fall of the Mayan civilization. Because of this sunny disposition, it is usually pretty warm here (as in HOT). Bring shade and water with you. I drank two whole bottles of water while we were there, and never needed to pee. The girls actually poured cold bottled water over their heads.

Chichen Itza iguanas

Chichen Itza is literally crawling with iguanas.

Do Your Business at the Park Entrance

If your kids are anything like ours, they never say they have to visit the bathroom when you ask them. Then, after you’ve already started your excursion, they announce that they have to pee. Take our advice, visit the restrooms at the park entrance – there are none inside the park and you will be in there a long time. There are also snacks and drinks if anyone is feeling a little peckish after the drive.

Go Directly to the Temple

Best to walk directly to the Temple first and get your photos. We managed to get several shots before people walked into the frame, and were happy with the results. Also, listen to you tour guide because he/she will give you a rundown on the significance of what you are seeing.

wall with skeleton heads at Chichen Itza

Yes, those are skeleton heads carved in this wall at Chichen Itza to honor the ancient Mayan tradition of human sacrifice.

For example, when looking at the temple you see steep stairs on all four sides of the pyramid. Except those are not stairs. They were built as part of the human sacrifice rituals that took place at the top of the temple. When the priests would behead the people being sacrificed, they would roll their heads down those “stairs” to the waiting masses below. Fun times!

Allow Time to Wander

The entire campus at Chichen Itza is enormous, with so many interesting buildings and architectural monuments to see. Plan for your visit to last about three hours at least. With so many buildings and places of significance, it may seem easy to become overwhelmed. Actually with a tour guide the layout all made sense, and we knew what we were looking at. Sergio narrated while we walked, and we got a crash course in Mayan history, culture and people.

Chichen Itza serpents

The serpent was worshipped as an important cultural symbol at Chichen Itza.

Avoid Sunday Visits

On Sundays the residents of Mexico are allowed to visit Chichen Itza for free, and many do. This is a great way to experience this Wonder with families and many kids running around. If you prefer your visit to be a little less busy, you may choose to go on another day of the week. (Hint Hint!)

Chichen Itza columns

This columns are what remains of Chichen Itza’s version of a shopping mall. The kids were automatically drawn to it.

Visit a Cenote Afterwards for a Swim

After our tour, Sergio took us to the nearby Sa’amal Cenote near the town of Valladolid. This is an ancient cave now filled with fresh water, complete with fern covered walls and tropical fish. We were so happy to cool down in the clear, fresh water and splash under the waterfall. I even got brave and jumped off a platform some 25+ feet into the water – it was a blast. There was something very special about this swimming hole, knowing it has been here for thousands of years.

Sa'amal Cenote near Chichen Itza

After our tour of Chichen Itza with kids, we swam in the incredible Sa’amal Cenote nearby.

Our family highly recommends this excursion while you are visiting the Riviera Maya. If you are staying at the Fairmont Hotel Mayakoba, they can arrange the tour for you so you can visit Chichen Itza with kids and enjoy the entire experience!

floating in Sa'amal Cenote near Chichen Itza

The fresh, cool water of Sa’amal Cenote was so delicious that Triton had to float under the waterfall sprinkles.

 

 

 


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Family Vacation at Fairmont Hotel Mayakoba

Family Vacation at Fairmont Hotel Mayakoba

*This experience was sponsored by the Fairmont Hotel Mayakoba, and as always, the opinions expressed here are our own.

When we told the kids we were going back to Playa del Carmen in Mexico, they nearly jumped up and down with excitement. We were there a couple of years ago with two other families, and had so much fun exploring the Caribbean side of Mexico near Cancún. However, this recent visit promised to be even more spectacular. After all, we would be enjoying our family vacation at the 5-Star Fairmont Hotel Mayakoba on Mexico’s Riviera Maya.

beach club at Fairmont Hotel Mayakoba

Beach palapas with comfy lounge chairs await guests at the Fairmont Hotel Mayakoba.

We’ve loved our stays at other Fairmont Hotels in the past, including the Fairmont Hotel Claremont in Berkeley, and the Fairmont Olympic Hotel in Seattle. But I gotta tell you folks, the luxurious Fairmont Hotel Mayakoba topped them all. It was absolute paradise on the Caribbean oceanfront, and an ideal place for a family vacation to unwind, relax, play and explore. Good bits of all those things were accomplished, and more – read on for details!

Family Vacation at Fairmont Hotel Mayakoba

First, let’s get something out of the way. Mexico and Playa del Carmen are absolutely safe places to visit for Americans. There is no more reason to worry about traveling to the tourist areas of Mexico as there is traveling to any major city in the US. Besides, most of the resorts like the Fairmont Hotel Mayakoba are all-inclusive so you could spend your entire stay at the resort.

Our family has traveled many times to Mexico over the past several years, and have always felt 100% safe and secure. There are so many amazing things to see and do here!

El Puerto Restaurant at Fairmont Hotel Mayakoba

From the walkway leading to the Fairmont Hotel Mayakoba lobby and El Puerto Restaurant, the evening lights were so beautiful.

Activities for Kids

Of the luxury hotels on the grounds of the Mayakoba Resort, the Fairmont Hotel Mayakoba is the one most suitable for families. In fact, they go out of their way to welcome kids of all ages – even surly teens! (Oops, did we say that out loud?)  There is a great Kids Discovery Club next to the main pool, where they will watch your kids while you lounge or play golf. Some other things here that make it perfect for kids:

  • waterslide at the main pool
  • another pool at the beach if you want to do a combo sand/pool day
  • Boat rides along the surrounding canals – so amazing
  • So many cool animals and birds to spy on and chase
  • Iguanas for DAYS (we must have counted two dozen in one outing)
  • Menu items conceived specifically for kids, with poolside service
  • Lots of interesting day trips to the neighboring sites are easily arranged with the concierge. (We visited the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza).
Fairmont Hotel Mayakoba main pool

The main pool at the Fairmont Hotel Mayakoba is so well designed, with nooks and crannies for families to tuck into.

There were so many families with kids staying here during our visit. Families were American, British, Dutch, German and Mexican, along with a smattering of other nationalities. Never did our kids feel out of place or unwelcome, even in the fanciest restaurants onsite.

Beach Activities for Kids

The beaches in front of the Fairmont Hotel Mayakoba are pretty epic. Crystal blue water is comfortably warm but still refreshing. There are no waves, so even the smallest kids can run into the sea safely (with parental supervision of course). We must have bobbed around in the water for more than an hour, just floating and chatting and looking for the small fish that darted away from our grasps.

Fairmont Hotel Mayakoba beach pool

The beach side pool at the Fairmont Hotel Mayakoba has a disappearing edge overlooking the beach palapas and crystal blue ocean.

At the beach, the hotel makes toys available for guests’ use, as well as ocean kayaks, boards and other watercraft. We were feeling too lazy to take any of these toys out for a test drive, but many others did with huge smiles and laughter. Here are some watersports included in your stay:

  • Guided catamaran tour
  • Use of sea kayaks, Stand-Up paddle boards, traditional snorkeling, masks, boogie boards, beach balls and sand toys
  • Beach volleyball
  • Beach games and competitions
The beach pool at Fairmont Mayakoba

Playing in the beachfront pool at the Fairmont Hotel Mayakoba – could have stayed here for weeks.

Boat Rides on the Canals

The Fairmont Hotel Mayakoba is set on some 240 acres of beachfront tropical property, crisscrossed by a series of canals. Much of the Yucatan Peninsula is dotted with cenotes (seh-no-tays) – round, fresh water tunnels or caves that are so fun to explore and swim in. These cenotes are fed by an underground aquifer that overflows to create canals which flow to the ocean. The Fairmont is built at the edge of a series of canals, and you can even take one of the resort’s boats from the lobby to your casita.

Most of the casitas at the Fairmont Hotel Mayakoba sit along beautiful waterways. Ours even had a private rooftop pool!

From a least two different locations, guests can take a complimentary boat tour of the canals. This was a highlight of our trip, and the entire family still talks about that hour+ boat excursion. As we left the dock near the main pool and restaurants, our captain narrated the vistas. Our boat traversed though waterways both wide and narrow, and our favorites were deep crevices with fern-covered rock walls on either side.

Fairmont Hotel Mayakoba boat tour

Our boat tour of the waterways that wind through the Fairmont Hotel Mayakoba was a fun way to see the natural flora and fauna of the area.

Along the way, we saw plenty of iguanas. But we also saw a young alligator, dozing in the jungle grasses at the water’s edge. We ventured close enough for photos, but not too close! There was also a wide range of tropical birds, colorful fish and plenty of turtles to entertain us along the way.

baby alligator in Mayakoba, Riviera Maya

Far from the hotel along the waterways, we spied this little guy from the boat.

Hotel Layout

The Fairmont Hotel Mayakoba is laid out across it’s many acres, woven into the natural environment. All the rooms are either private or semi-private casitas. Our room was enormous, with a living room large enough for the pull out bed and a cot for the kids. (For some dang reason, these girls refuse to sleep in the same bed – something about Ava being a kicker). The master bedroom and two bathrooms were equally spacious – I mean really large.

Casita living room at Fairmont Hotel Mayakoba

The spacious living room in our casita at the Fairmont Hotel Mayakoba – plenty of room for the girls to avoid each other!

On our private deck, there were stairs up to the roof level. When we explored this space, we found a giant area for sunbathing or shade and OUR OWN DIPPING POOL! On the roof! Overlooking the beach and ocean!

Fairmont Hotel Mayakoba master bedroom

Bigger than our bedroom at home, this gigantic master bedroom in our casita at the Fairmont Hotel Mayakoba opened on to a wrap-around deck overlooking the waterways.

There was another guest room underneath ours as part of our semi-private casita, with views to the canal. I don’t think there were guests staying there during our visit, since we never saw other people coming or going.

Fairmont Hotel Mayakoba casita master bathroom

Even our master bathroom at the Fairmont Hotel Mayakoba was enormous, complete with soaking tub and huge shower.

Relaxation for Adults

Since our girls are now teens, we are afforded a small amount of time without them. They are old enough to get themselves to the pool and back, or stay in the room unattended for longer periods of time. Because of this, we headed to Willow Stream Spa on property, and are so glad we did.

Willow Stream Spa at the Fairmont Hotel Mayakoba

The front entrance of the Willow Stream Spa at the Fairmont Hotel Mayakoba beckons us to relax and enjoy.

We both tried the signature “Chocolate – Food of the Gods” Massage, where a special blend of Mexican chocolate beans are ground into a paste. Spread onto your body, the chocolate makes you smell like a giant Kit Kat bar. Evidently, the spa’s special blend helps your skin sluff off the old and bring forth the new. After rinsing off my candy bar coating in the in-suite shower, I must say my skin did feel great. This was followed with a more traditional massage treatment that included the scalp, which I love.

Fairmont Hotel Mayakoba chocolate massage

We loved our Chocolate – Food of the Gods massage at Willow Stream Spa at the Fairmont Hotel Mayakoba.

In addition to treatments, the spa has a fantastic workout facility including daily yoga and other group exercise options. There are wet and dry saunas as well as separate whirlpools for men and women. On the spa building’s roof, there is another giant pool for relaxing or swimming laps. Very impressive and well-designed complex.

If golf is your thing, the 18-hole/par 72 course is postcard perfect, and was designed by Greg Norman. El Camaleón Golf Club winds through the forest canopy, over to the oceanfront and then back

Convinced Yet?

The Fairmont Hotel Mayakoba gets five giant stars from our family. ‘Nuff said. Go!


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Packing List Essentials for a Family Vacation

Packing List Essentials for a Family Vacation

Whether you think the best part of a family vacation is a journey or the destination, I think we’re all in agreement that packing is the worst part! Getting ready to take your whole family on a trip can be frustrating, but when you plan ahead, your vacation can start out without a hitch by using these packing list essentials for a family vacation.

If your family is anything like ours, it’s a mad scramble at the last minute. Things get packed and then unpacked, outfits are assembled and ultimately missing one important item when we get there. Often when packing, the girls forget important beauty products like a hair brush or deodorant. It’s crazy making!

suitcases in trunk of car

Even at the last minute, things can get shoved into an already overpacked suitcase.

That’s why we now have lists for our lists. We share these few tips here to help you avoid some of our previous travails!

Packing List Essentials for a Family Vacation

Don’t Forget the Electronics

I know we are contradicting ourselves here, and moderation is key to the kids’ use of electronics. As much as we want to have our kids “unplug”, having our devices (and chargers) can be an asset on vacation. We nearly ALWAYS forget the chargers, or a specific cord, or a cube to plug into.

Keep these electronic components on your list for what goes in your luggage.

One nice things about taking a road trip in a Kia Cadenza is the readily equipped Apple Carplay or Android Auto. There are fewer gadgets to pack as your devices easily connect to your Kia!

Bring Layers

Even if your destination has a fairly predictable climate, the places you visit while there may not. Indoor restaurants, hotel rooms, and museums can get downright chilly when they are being liberal with the AC! Make sure each member of the family packs at least a sweater or hoodie to layer on top of clothing. We usually make the kids bring them on the plane if we are flying somewhere. It’s almost always too cold or too hot inside a plane, especially when that lady sitting in 11C has her air blasting right in your face.

organized man's suitcase

Yeah, our suitcases never look like this inside.

If the weather is expected to be cold, don’t forget the winter gear. Here are the minimum packing essentials for clothing regardless of the weather.

  • undergarments
  • shirts
  • pants and/or shorts
  • sneakers
  • flip flops and/or dress shoes
  • socks
  • pajamas
  • sweater/cardigan/light jacket/hoodie
  • gym clothes/shoes (yeah maybe)

Packing clothes can be challenging at any age. You may not know what types of outfits to bring for your trip, and with family photos at every turn, you want to look your best.

Triton and I recently rid ourselves of this stress with Stitch Fix. This worked so beautifully on our recent trip to Santa Barbara! Their ready-made vacation wardrobes are perfect for men and women, and you can even have the Stitch Fix box delivered directly to your hotel. No fuss, no muss!

car trunk packed full of suitcases

Boy did we pack that cargo area, but we brought everything and the kitchen sink!

Safety First

Always pack a first aid kit! You can get a ready-made kit or shop for individual items essential for a safe trip.

If you’ll be outdoors, make sure to pack the sunscreen and bug spray. Keep burns and bites away with high-level SPF lotions and Deet-free bug repellant. When we are traveling to an exotic destination like Playa Del Carmen or Costa Rica, we head to REI to grab some heavy duty bug juice. We even tried the treatment where you spray your clothes before packing them, and it works!

Keep the Kids (And Yourself) Entertained

You’ll definitely want some stuff for everyone to do during the journey or even on vacation downtime. (Remember, we’re discouraging the use of electronics all the time!) Bring some books that your teens will love to read. You may want to pack a few easy, fun reads for yourself or your spouse as well!

reading at the beach

Our girls love a good book at the beach, and sitting under a tropical palapa is the perfect place to read.

If you want to laugh, try David Sedaris’ latest release, Calypso, stories of his Carolina vacation home.

If you’re ready to laugh, cry, and think, try A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, a story of an old curmudgeon who strives to find meaning in life.

Not an in-the-car or on-the-plane reader? Play some family-friendly car games (if you’re not behind the wheel) or listen as your family has some hilarious fun! Exploding Kittens is a family favorite. Players draw cards until they find the “exploding kitten” with lots of hilarity in between.

Another favorite of our family is UNO, which we just played while visiting family in Seattle. The competition can get pretty fierce – it’s so much fun!

Starting with these packing list essentials for a family vacation will help your journey and destination be smooth for all members of your travel crew. Keep safety, comfort, and fun in mind, and you’ll be ready to travel anywhere!

Check out some of these favorite packing essentials that help us fit everything perfectly with our family of four!

OEE 7 pcsOEE 7 pcsSpaceSaver Premium ReusableSpaceSaver Premium ReusableThe Chestnut 12The Chestnut 12Autoark Standard CarAutoark Standard CarArxus Travel LightweightArxus Travel Lightweight

*2DadsWithBaggage participates in affiliate marketing programs, and even though those terms are outlined on our blog we like to say so here anyway.


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Sleep Away Surf Camp is a Huge Hit

Sleep Away Surf Camp is a Huge Hit

For the sixth summer in a row, we dropped Ava at YMCA Camp Surf to spend time in the waves, sand and California sun. She and Sophia both attended for several years together, and Ava fell in love with the experience big time. Since she was 8 years old, Ava has thought that sleep away surf is a huge hit and we can see why.

beach and waves at Imperial Beach

The waves at YMCA Camp Surf in Imperial Beach, CA are perfect for learning the basics.

Not only does she get the freedom of being away from home and family for an extended period of time. She also is immersed in a sport she loves. Triton and I definitely miss her while she is at camp. Yet, we know she’s having a good time, and guess what? We sent Sophia off to her cousins for the week and we got the whole house to ourselves.

Did you catch that?!?!?  WE GOT THE WHOLE HOUSE TO OURSELVES!

Checking in for cabin assignment at Camp Surf

This is Ava’s “please-go-away-now-and-leave-me-alone” Camp Surf face.

Sleep Away Surf Camp is a Huge Hit

Ava has reached the age to be considered part of the Beachcombers group at YMCA Camp Surf, and her stay was extended to two weeks. For the kids under 14, the experience is for one week – kids are dropped off on Sunday and picked up on Friday. In Ava’s case, she and her new Beachcomber friends spent an entire extra week at camp. More laughing, bonding, surfing and doing all sorts of cool camp activities.

checking into YMCA Camp Surf

Check in day at YMCA Camp Surf in Imperial Beach is always exciting.

Kids From All Over

For the first time this year, we realized that kids are coming from all over the country to attend this camp. All over the world actually. There were kids from Germany, Australia, the UK, and of course from many parts of the US. It’s certainly a popular program. In Ava’s cabin, the girls were mostly from up and down California. They all traveled to Imperial Beach for the famous surfing and epic fun.

Camp Surf new cabins

The girls were thrilled to see brand new cabins have been built at the YMCA Camp Surf.

Lifelong Friends

There is so much more to this experience in addition to surfing. The opportunity to bond with other campers and form lifelong friendships is the real bonus. Since Ava has been going to Camp Surf, she has formed strong bonds with her fellow campers. This year, her entire cabin of 10 girls all got along beautifully (!) and formed deep friendships. Maybe because it was two weeks? Whatever the circumstances, these girls have formed a chat group that talks daily. They’ve even all plotted to go back to Camp Surf next year and bunk together again!

settling into cabin at Camp Surf

First come, first serve on the best bunk beds in the cabin!

Activities Beyond Surfing

Truth be told, I don’t think Ava actually stood up on her surfboard for the entire two weeks of camp. Didn’t matter to her at all. She swam, she body surfed, she floated with friends and so much more. Here’s a list of some of the activities they got to do:

  • rock climbing
  • archery
  • kayaking
  • sailing
  • camping on the beach in San Onofre State Park on the weekend between
  • bike rides up to Coronado
  • thrift store shopping
  • skits
  • campfires
  • camp songs
  • years of memories that will last a lifetime

I gotta tell you, I’m more than a little jealous. Camp has evolved since I was a kid going to Camp Blue at Lair of the Bear Family Camp! Do you think they’d still let me in?

Yeah, that’s what I thought.

YMCA Camp Surf sign

The welcome sign at YMCA Camp Surf in Imperial Beach, CA.

 

 

 

 


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How to Barbecue the Perfect Steak

How to Barbecue the Perfect Steak

*This post was created in partnership with Omaha Steaks, and all the views and opinions expressed here are my own.

My pop taught me his barbecue skills when I was a teenager, passing on the age-old tradition like it was some manly ritual dating back to the cave men. Among his many lessons were solid recommendations on how to cook a chicken breast without drying it out, or how to put the perfect char on a hot dog. However, the one thing he did not teach me was how to barbecue the perfect steak.

Honestly, I think he did not know how to barbecue the perfect steak, and used mostly a keen sense of hunger to determine how long the damn steaks stayed on the grill. He passed on absolutely no skills in this area. He also clearly knew nothing about ordering quality meats from Omaha Steaks. I had to learn all this the hard way.

grilling Omaha Steaks bacon wrapped filets

Demonstrating how to barbecue a steak, I’m grilling up some delicious Omaha Steaks bacon-wrapped filets.

 

How to Barbecue the Perfect Steak

Start With Good Meat

 

No joke, the quality of your meat makes a huge difference. If you bought your steaks from the bargain counter at a gas station, you should expect them to be tough and taste lousy. However, when you are willing to spend the proper amount to buy premium cuts of meat from a high-quality source like Omaha Steaks, you can expect the best in flavor and consistency. That’s why we don’t fool around. When we eat steaks, we prefer to order them from Omaha Steaks because we know they will taste amazing. The more marbled the meat, the better. Enough said.

raw Omaha Steaks bacon wrapped filets

Look at the marble on these premium Omaha Steaks bacon wrapped filets!

 

We received our steaks as part of a cool collection from Omaha Steaks called the Guaranteed to Thrill Collection. Look at all this cool stuff:

Guaranteed to Thrill Collection  
4 (5 oz.) Bacon-Wrapped Filet Mignons
4 (4 oz.) Omaha Steaks Burger
4 (4 oz.) Boneless Pork Chops
4   (3 oz.) Gourmet Jumbo Franks
boxes of Omaha Steaks

Whenever we see these distinctive red boxes with the historic photos, we know they contain quality Omaha Steaks products.

 

Avoid Mishaps By Prepping the Grill

One of the biggest pitfalls leading to a burnt crispy steak in not prepping the grill properly. Here’s an easy checklist and a couple of helpful tips I’ve learned along the way:

  • Make sure the barbecue is VERY hot.
  • Clean the grill with a steel bristle brush, careful to get off all the little leftover bits.
  • Turn the heat down to medium-high (if using a gas grill) or wait for the charcoal to burn down a bit.
  • Cut an onion in half, and dip it cut-side down into a bowl filled with a little olive oil. With the tongs or long fork, grab the onion and glide it across the grill to coat and season it.
  • Put the onion off to the side or in the corner – it will add some nice flavor/smell as it cooks.
  • Now you are ready to place your steaks on the grill.

 

priming the barbecue grill with onion

I always prime the barbecue grill with a fresh-cut onion dipped in olive oil.

Prepping Your Steaks

Hopefully you ordered quality cuts from Omaha Steaks, but even if you didn’t these steps are good  to follow. Getting the steaks ready for grilling will help ensure they cook well and retain their juiciness.

  • Make sure the steaks are at room temperature. Starting with the cold from the frig will cause them to cook unevenly – too much on the outside and not enough in the middle.
  • With your hands, coat each steak lightly with a little olive oil.
  • Salt and pepper both sides.

 

Timing to Barbecue the Perfect Steak

As with any cuts of meat, there are variations depending on the size and thickness of your steaks. If there is a bone in the steak, it will take a little longer to cook.

Our family likes our steaks medium rare, which is also what the majority of Americans prefer as well. My good friend Tim who is an excellent cook taught me this rule, and it is nearly foolproof for medium-rare steaks. Say it with me: Four Minutes, Four Minutes, Four Minutes.

  • Place the steaks in the middle of the oiled grill area, and close the lid for Four Minutes. Do not touch them – just leave them be.
  • After those Four Minutes, turn the steak over and cook the other side for Four Minutes.
  • Whatever you do, DON’T cut into the steak with a knife to see if the inside is cooked enough. All the juices will pour out, leaving you with a dry nasty old piece of meat. If you must, prod the steak with the top of your tongs. When it jiggles a lot, it is more rare. If it moves like a solid piece with no give, it is more well done.

 

butter topped Omaha Steaks filets

Sometimes for a little added decadence, I’ll top these delicious Omaha Steaks with a little butter.

 

  • When both sides are cooked, take the steaks off the grill and place on a serving dish. Cover with foil and seal for Four Minutes. It’s important to let a steak “rest” after grilling so that the juices will stay intact.
  • Sometimes if I am feeling decadent, I’ll put a thin slice of butter on each steak before letting it rest under the foil. So good!
  • Serve immediately.

 

Four Minutes, Four Minutes, Four Minutes – it totally works!  We just enjoyed this method of how to barbecue the perfect steak, using bacon-wrapped filets mignons from Omaha Steaks. They turned out perfectly cooked, and we scarfed them down with a corn-avocado-tomato salad and some crispy baked red potatoes. Deeee-lish.

My pop would be so proud.

 

Omaha Steaks bacon-wrapped filet dinner

Served up with some corn/avocado/tomato salad and some crispy potatoes.

 

 

 


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Eat This! Shoot That! – A Great Food Tour in Santa Barbara

Eat This! Shoot That! – A Great Food Tour in Santa Barbara

*This experience was made possible in part through a partnership with Visit Santa Barbara and Eat This! Shoot That!, and all opinions expressed here are our own.

Our family loves to eat good food. It’s just a truism about us. So on a recent visit to Santa Barbara, our family wanted to try something different. Since we really love both eating and taking pictures, when someone recommended Eat This! Shoot That! as a great food tour in Santa Barbara, we just had to check it out. And you guys, it was the coolest thing.

An interesting combination of walking culinary tour and a photography lesson, Eat This! Shoot That! leads participants through Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone to discover treats for both the taste buds and eyes. We love Santa Barbara like a second home, and yet there is still so much to explore there including their newly famous Urban Wine Trail. What a perfect way to show us the latest and greatest!

Eat This! Shoot That! – A Great Food Tour in Santa Barbara

Reservations made and comfortable walking shoes slipped on, we made our way to the designated meeting place for this great food tour in Santa Barbara. We found our guide Andrew waiting with another couple in front of the Enterprise Fish Company on Lower State Street, and we were off and running. Well, off and walking anyway.

Moreton Bay Fig Tree Santa Barbara

The Moreton Bay Fig Tree is a landmark in Santa Barbara, and is estimated to be the largest and oldest in the US.

The Funk Zone in Santa Barbara

When I lived in Santa Barbara years ago as a student at UCSB, the area of warehouses and nasty abandoned buildings east of Lower State Street was no man’s land. If it’s possible for a city as gorgeous as Santa Barbara to have a trashy neighborhood, this was it. It even earned its name, The Funk Zone Santa Barbara, because for decades this was the area of town where fisherman, marine repair shops and other industrial trades made their living. It was just plain stinky.

But with the ingenuity of artists and creatives, the area slowly evolved. Interesting older buildings and warehouses became occupied by artists, sculptors and the creative community that seeks a more funky scene. And The Funk Zone was born.

Now a bustling and ultra-popular area of Santa Barbara fully feeling its own rebirth, The Funk Zone played host to our Eat This! Shoot That! tour route. We could not have found a better way to dig into this lovely city.

Stop #1 – Enterprise Fish Company

Enterprise Fish Company has been open at this site for more than — years, and is heralded as one of the first exhibition kitchens with open grills. I remember eating there when I was a college student (and my parents where visiting so they paid the bill!)

wood-fired grill at Enterprise Fish Co.

The wood-fired grills are tended daily in the open kitchen at Enterprise Fish Co.

Just as cool now, Enterprise was host to our first stop on the Eat This! Shoot That! tour. They served up Lobster Bisque with a buttery-licious puff pastry crust that was to die for. While we slurped our soup, Andrew taught us a few pointers on food photography using an iPhone. Eureka! Some of these tips were so easy, but these techniques had never been explained to us before. Our photos became instantly better.

Lobster Bisque at Enterprise Fish Co.

Our tour started out with a creamy lobster bisque at Enterprise Fish Co.

Photography Tip: Always have the grid showing on your iPhone screen. It allows you to better block the shot, laying out where you want the main subjects to appear in relation to the frame. I tried that in the shot at Enterprise – see that the shot is more interesting if I offset the dish so it’s not in the exact middle of the frame.

Stop #2 – Poquita

pinxtos at Poquita and Loquita

In the back of popular restaurant Loquita is Poquita, a tiny but fun places for pinxtos hand-fired and served fresh.

Just around the corner from the main entrance of popular Spanish tapas restaurant Loquita is its little sister Poquita. A hole in the wall serving up delicious pinxtos and high-end vermouth tastings, Poquita is cute and sweet and small. Just enough tables and bar stools to maybe fit 20 people. Behind the bar, staff fires up a delicious sampling of pinxtos – the form of tapas most popular from the Basque Region of Spain.

Photography Tip: When shooting food, use the portrait setting on your iPhone and place the dish in front of a long, deep space. The photos come out crystal clear on the food, with an out-of-focus background that gives more attention to the main subject – the plate of food.

Poquita delicious pinxtos menu

Pinxtos with spicy serrano ham stuffed with dates and sharp bleu cheese, along with skewers of olives, sardines and peppers.

Stop #3 – Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co.

Down the street and across, Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co. was HOPPING. We arrived at about 12:30 pm on a Sunday, and the place was packed with people enjoying microbrews and watching the game. Since the girls were with us, we made our way to the patio where kids could mingle with adults drinking beer. We tasted a flight of brews from Figueroa, all delicious. I could not tell you a single name of anything we drank, but I liked them all!

beer flight at Figueroa Brewing Company

The beer flight at Figueroa Brewing Company was delicious.

Photography Tip: When shooting drinks or liquids, try to position the glass with light coming through from the back or side. This way the beer (in this case) lights up, frost on the glass sparkles and you end up with a tantalizing photo.

Stop #4 – Shalhoob’s Funk Zone Patio

A couple of blocks down, we sat down under canvas shades at the comfortable picnic tables of Shalhoob’s Funk Zone Patio. Shalhoob Meat Company has been a staple in Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone for over 40 years. Serving guests and local restaurants their premium quality meats, they decided to open their own little restaurant spot. If you go, you MUST order the Tri Tip Sandwich – it is heaven. Delicious smoked meat is perfectly spiced and grilled, sliced thin and served with pico de gallo and a horseradish sauce I could drink straight up. I wanted more but we had to go to our next stop!

tri tip sandwich at Shalhoob's Funk Zone Patio

The tri tip sandwich at Shalhoob’s Funk Zone Patio was out of this world.

Stop #5 – Pizza at The Lucky Penny/ The Lark

Sister restaurants owned by Funk Zone leader and entrepreneur Sherry Villanueva, The Lucky Penny and The Lark sit next to each other. The Lucky Penny serves woodfired pizzas with interesting ingredients, and we sampled the machaca and egg burrito pizza. On another visit we had dinner at The Lark, and it was one of the best meals we’ve had in Santa Barbara. I guess others agree, because now it is nearly impossible to get a table.

Photography Tip: Pizza is really hard to photograph, as evidenced by my shot below. I got nothing for you here.

Stop #6 – Santa Barbara Wine Collective

Down a sweet little alley from The Lark, we popped back out in a courtyard directly between Figueroa Brewing and a fun wine tasting bar called Santa Barbara Wine Collective. There are now many, many tasting rooms in Santa Barbara – so many they have dubbed it the Urban Wine Trail. With tons of award-winning wineries just up the mountain pass in Santa Ynez Valley, people still don’t want to drive that far. So the wineries came down here and set up shops. At the Santa Barbara Wine Collective, several wineries have gotten together to share a space. We tried the Chenin Blanc from Notary Public Wines, along with their Cabernet Sauvignon as well. Unbeknownst to the staff there, our girls are not 21 yet they poured glasses for them anyway. Oh well, more for us! We slurped their servings down too. So delicious.

wine tasting at Santa Barbara Wine Collective

The wine and cheese tasting at Santa Barbara Wine Collective was fun and funky.

Stop #7 – Cutler’s Artisan Spirits

Our last stop turned out to be great fun – a boozy interlude at Cutler’s Artisan Spirits. With the master distiller himself doing the pouring, we tasted healthy shots of six (SIX!) different spirits. We started with their vodka, and then moved on to gin. Any of my friends out there may know that I cannot stomach gin (product of an unfortunate episode at a tender age – say no more) and so I skipped that round. From there, we sampled the most delicious whiskey and bourbon ever. The 33 Straight Bourbon Whiskey was so good that we bought a bottle right then and there. The final two tastings were of apertif whiskeys, one called Apple Pie and the other I’m a little fuzzy about. Both were surprisingly good – sweet, nutty and robust.

Photography Tip: Never try to take a good photo after six shots of premier hooch. That is all.

 

Cutler's Artisan Spirits Ian Cutler

The man himself, Ian Cutler, pours our group tastes from six of his finest spirits. We came home with a delicious bottle of bourbon.

 

 

 


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Taking the Learner’s Permit Test at the DMV

Taking the Learner’s Permit Test at the DMV

We knew one day soon Sophia would be ready for taking the Learner’s Permit Test at the DMV, and in some ways it’s been a long time coming. Like many kids her age these days, she really has little interest in obtaining her drivers license. She turned 16 recently and is still completely unmotivated to drive herself anywhere.

For some time we’ve cajoled her, prodded her, encouraged her and even demanded that she study the online courses needed to prepare for taking the Learner’s Permit Test. It has been like another chore to her, or another homework assignment in a sea of many.

But, we got her there – and here’s how we helped our daughter get ready for taking the Learner’s Permit test at the DMV.

student driver scary

At the beginning, driving with Sophia was a little…harrowing.

Taking the Learner’s Permit Test at the DMV

Offer Solid Benefits of Driving

I don’t know about you all, but when I was Sophia’s age none of us could get our driver’s licenses fast enough! We were there at the DMV on my 16th birthday, my mom sitting nervously in the waiting area while I drove some grumpy man around to prove I deserved the right to drive a car. It was an ecstatic feeling to have proof of my adolescent maturity.

If this girl thinks she’s going to be driving that Audi around, she’s loco.

Leading up to today, we’ve had some in-depth conversations with Sophia about the freedoms a drivers license would afford her. She could drive herself to school! Drive herself to the mall to meet friends! Get a job and drive herself to and from work!

The job is what hooked her. Having her own money to spend as she likes, and the license to drive there and back – that’s what did it.

Do The Math

Sophia didn’t see the need to get her license. She reasoned that she could just take an Uber to work and back. OMG what have we done? An Uber????

So we did the math for her, explaining that taking Uber is expensive and calculating how that would eat up all the money she made at a job in the first place. Let’s see:

  • $20 – average Uber ride to and from work location
  • $11.50 per hour minimum wage earned
  • $46 – working a typical shift of four hours
  • $36 – approximately after taxes
  • $16 – Sophia’s final upside after Uber expenses (or roughly $4 per hour)

Evidently, rationale is not popular with teens.

Coach Through the Online Course

Through recommendation from a good friend, we signed Sophia up for an online drivers education course. This course is no longer offered in public schools, and we thought she would prefer to learn this way anyway. Our friend recommended, and we chose, Driver’s Ed Direct, which was structured with a series of lessons divided into sections. A test followed each section before Sophia could proceed to the next, ensuring she had learned the material.

See how fun they’ve made Driver’s Ed now? No more boring classes at school.

At the end of the course, she is supplied with multiple options to take sample tests similar to the ones at the DMV. (She must have taken these practice tests at least 20 times at our insistence). Her course completion triggered my access to request an official form, which is mailed to us in order to take a physical copy to the DMV.

Navigating the Forms

Like anything with the DMV, nothing is easy. I went online to the California DMV website to research exactly paperwork what she needed in order to take the official test. Well. It’s a lengthy list, and it was not easy for me to obtain all the necessary documents!

She needed:

  • Original copy of her birth certificate
  • Form of identification such as a passport
  • A piece of mail (like an electric bill) proving we are residents of the state
  • The certificate of completion from online driver’s ed
  • Several forms filled out and signed by both Sophia and both parents
  • A check for $75

With all this in hand, we made an appointment at the DMV for Sophia to take the test.

Be Ready for Multiple Attempts

We learned from some of Sophia’s peers that we may not expect to pass the test the first time. And they were right. Honestly, there is so much going on at the DMV to make a kid nervous. The lines of people, the surly employees, the photo (oh yes, they have to take a photo so get ready for that surprise meltdown). We even had a couple of crazies making the occasional ruckus.

taking the drivers permit test

The DMV is such a classy, hospitable place, especially when taking the written test for the drivers permit.

Sophia did not pass the first time. Or the second. (Note: you must wait seven full days before trying again. This means a week and a day – we learned this the hard way.) You are allowed three attempts before the paperwork must be started all over again.

On the third attempt, Sophia felt confident she would pass and so did we. AND SHE DID!

Actual Driving Instruction

After obtaining that Learner’s Permit, Sophia must now complete at least six hours of professional education behind the wheel. We are required to hire a professional driving instructor (you know, the ones with breaks on the passenger side for those just-in-case moments). When this instruction is complete, we will get yet another certificate to present when Sophia goes for her actual driver’s test.

More on this soon.

student driver with instructor

Sophia was so excited to have her driving lesson, except for when her instructor made her get on the freeway!

Now What?

So here we are with a piece of paper that says Sophia can legally practice her driving on San Diego’s roads and highways. If all goes well, in six months she can get her actual California Drivers License.

Or maybe become an Uber driver, which seems like it might kill two birds with one stone?


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5 Family Activities at Taos Ski Valley in the Summer

5 Family Activities at Taos Ski Valley in the Summer

*This experience was hosted by Taos Ski Valley, and all opinions expressed here are our own.

Taos Ski Valley is world renowned among top ski resorts as among the best skiing there is in the US. Families flock from all over for the amazing New Mexico snow, the pristine mountain conditions, and the down-home family vibe at this unique resort. In the summer the resort has even more activities to offer. A recent visit helped us discover many family activities at Taos Ski Valley in the summer.

pool at The Blake, Taos Ski Valley

The pool at The Blake hotel in Taos Ski Valley overlooks gorgeous pines and a clear running stream.

The new management at Taos Ski Valley has made enormous improvements over the last couple of years. Even more is coming this season, with many more additions over the next three years. A major focus has been to program more activities for the off-season months of May-November, when the snow is melted and the mountains are green with grasses, trees and wildflowers.

5 Family Activities at Taos Ski Valley in the Summer

With such beauty, history and adventure at its doorstep, there are plenty of family activities at Taos Ski Valley in the summer. We strongly recommend connecting with a local guide. We were so fortunate to have Angelisa Murray from Heritage Inspirations to lead us through our itinerary. She was beyond our greatest expectations, and made our whole experience extra special.

The Blake Hotel Taos

Perched at the bottom of Taos Ski Valley’s slopes, The Blake is a 5-star resort hotel.

Here’s our top 5 recommendations:

1. Exploring Downtown Taos

Downtown Taos is small enough that it’s easy to walk around the entire area at leisure. With so many interesting shops, galleries and restaurants, a family can easily spend an entire day exploring.

Taos Artists Colony

Taos has long been known as an artist community, dating back to the late 1800s. On a trip to document the Great Southwest, Bert Phillips and Ernest Blumenschein discovered Taos and settled there. Other artists soon joined them to form the Taos Society of Artists, the most famous of which is Georgia O’Keefe. Her masterpiece paintings of the raw land, colorful vistas, bones and flowers were all conceived and created from her experiences in the Taos area.

Much of these early artists’ inspirations have fueled an entire colony and economy based on original art. There are many shops and galleries where art and photography can be purchased, and even a couple where the kids can get in the act. The Harwood Museum of Art is a good place to start for children’s programs.

tasting chocolates at _____

In downtown Taos, Chokolá allows guests to taste their varieties of special housemade chocolates.

Art in Other Forms

Other businesses have grown from this fertile community as well, including an amazing chocolatier called Chokolá Bean to Bar. Here you can sample several varieties of chocolate, made from beans roasted in-house and then mixed into nibs and then bars. Our favorite was from Ecuadorean beans, while others liked the Venezuelan chocolate best. Kids enjoy ogling the many flavors of truffles and chocolates, or gobbling up some of their high end gelatos.

Another interesting place we visited was Tres Estrellas Designs.  This is a unique gallery specializing in the art of historic Native American woven blankets, serapes and rugs. Colorful examples of this art form hang from the walls, with price tags from several hundred dollars up to more than $20,000. They also have an impressive collection of old Western artifacts for sale. Watching someone demonstrate the working loom is mezmorising, as she weaves the threads according to certain patterns.

loom with Native American blankets

Learning how to make Native American textiles using a loom and natural threads at Tres Estrellas.

2. Hiking the Rio Grande Gorge

If you prefer a view from above, there are several easy hikes along the rim of the Rio Grande River Gorge. We decided on an easy, flat hike for roughly 2 miles along the Orilla Verde area on the Vista Verde Trail. Getting an early start is recommended, so the sun isn’t too hot yet and the animals are still foraging for food. After slathering up with sunscreen, we grabbed our hats and water bottles to head down the trail.

Rio Grande Gorge hieroglyphics

Angelisa pointed out a great example of local hieroglyphics on along the Rio Grande Gorge.

Just a few hundred yards in on the left, Angelisa steered us toward an impressive example of hieroglyphics from ancient times. Carved and painted on the side of a huge boulder, the writing was faded but clear enough to make out the symbols. It was a drawing of a local cactus in flower! It was amazing to think about the meaning this must have had for whomever painted it and their tribe.

Big Horn Sheep on Rio Grande Gorge

This young Big Horn Sheep kept a wary eye on us as we hiked around him to avoid disturbing his zen.

Flora and Fauna

Just down the path we entered a clearing full of bunnies, their ears angled carefully to pick up the sound of our footsteps. Remarkably unconcerned at our interruption, the adults and babies went on feeding, nibbling the green bits of new growth on low plants. Later we happened upon a young Big Horn Sheep, who took a liking to our gang and followed us for quite a ways.

The views from this vantage point are breathtaking. From the edge, it’s possible to look up and down the Rio Grande River Valley.

deserted road in Taos, New Mexico

The high desert roads near Taos, NM are often completely deserted except for the occasional photo model getting in the way.

3. Touring the Taos Pueblo

Not to be missed, the Taos Pueblo is a remarkable combination of modern day needs and ages-old traditions. In fact, the Pueblo has been maintained in its original condition for more than 1,000 years. As we walked through the grounds, we visited the dwellings, the stream that feeds the area, the beautifully decorated church and the graveyard. The Catholic church, St. Jerome’s, was built in 1850 after the original church from the 1600’s was destroyed in war. Now the church is cared for by a special group of women that regularly change the adornments of the holy figures at the alter. These themes follow the seasons, with colors that match the turning of leaves or the flowering of spring.

Historic Significance

Taos Pueblo is very special, as it is the only living Native American community designated both a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and a National Historic Landmark. The Pueblo is the oldest continually inhabited Native American community, having never been overtaken in war or conquest.

Original dwellings at Taos Pueblo

Blue skies, green mountains and clay-colored adobe dwellings are beautiful contrasts at historic Taos Pueblo.

There are many, many impressive points of interest and things to learn on a guided tour of Taos Pueblo. Local merchants sometimes sell their handmade wares, created in the tradition of their ancestors. There are toys, jewelry and mica-flecked pottery of all shapes and sizes. We enjoyed touring the site, seeing how adobe bricks are made and watching as residents climbed traditional ladders to reach their upper-story dwellings.

4. Rafting Down the Rio Grande River

The Rio Grande River cuts through a chasm in the high desert terrain just outside of Taos. The effect creates a dramatic gorge containing rocky walls that tower more than 1,000 feet in some places. In the spring and summer, the melted snow feeds waters into the River that create fun rapids perfect for rafting. Several local rafting companies offer fun-filled rides down the Rio Grande, with an average rapids rating of 2. This means there are a couple of wild spots to get your heart racing. Mostly, the route contains moderately moving waters that are easier to navigate without drama. Kids love the roller coaster-like effect, and the cool waters are a nice respite from the hot summer days.

Check out Cottam’s Rio Grande Rafting to inquire about different tour options and pricing. Stand Up Paddleboarding is also available in calmer areas of the River. Some places offer funyaking as well, with boats sized for one, two or more people.

Williams Lake near Taos, New Mexico

The hike to Williams Lake yields tremendous vistas.

5. Hiking the High Wilderness to Williams Lake

Starting at Taos Ski Valley, this trail leads to high elevations that rise above the forests and qualify as true wilderness lands. As high as 11,000 feet, these hiking trails are more a bit more aggressive and probably not best for little kids. Older kids (maybe 9-10+) and adults will love the views from here, like no others to be found in the area. The trails lead through the pines and up to meadows full of wildflowers and green open land. A few yards more, and Williams Lake comes into view.

Williams Lake Trail

The Williams Lake Trail in the summer is a thing of beauty. Led along by our intrepid guide Angelisa, our gang set out in the morning for the two mile hike. When we reached the meadows, the flowers were in full bloom and the air was so clean and fresh. The lake is not large in the summer, and can be easily circumnavigated in short time. Sitting at the edge was one of the most peaceful experiences of the whole trip.

Tons of Family Experiences

With so many cool things to do in Taos Ski Valley, we need to go back and repeat all these experience and add some more! Planning for  such a long list of must-sees, we are already scheduling our next trip for great family activities at Taos Ski Valley in the summer.