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 7 Best Family Hotels in Mexico

 7 Best Family Hotels in Mexico

If you are traveling to Mexico with kids, you are in for a treat. With breathtaking scenery, awesome resorts and some of the most intriguing cultural activities, Mexico is one of our favorite countries in the world. There are so many fantastic hotels and resorts in Mexico, you may be wondering where to stay. You’re in luck! Check out our list of best family hotels in Mexico.

beach and sailboats at Grand Velas Riviera Maya Resort, Mexico

The beach is wide and the water warm in front of the Grand Velas Riviera Maya in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

7 Best Family Hotels in Mexico

In no particular order, here are some of our favorites:

1. Grand Velas Riviera Maya, Playa Del Carmen

Grand Velas Riviera Maya is one of the best luxury all-inclusive resorts in Mexico. Located on the Mexican Riviera Maya, the Grand Velas Riviera Maya offers the most luxurious way to indulge your beachy side. Families will love the all-inclusive offerings of this hotel. Access to all eight restaurants, 24-hour room service, a fully stocked mini bar, and all drinks including beer, wine and liquor are included! At Grand Velas Riviera Maya, the service is impeccable and the food is absolutely delicious. We feel in love with the traditional Mayan architecture and the superior accommodations. We’ve visited many resorts in Mexico and think this is our favorite all-inclusive resort in Mexico. Read our full review here.

pool view rooms at the Grand Velas Riviera Maya

Everything is impeccable at the Gran Velas Resort & Spa in Riviera Maya.

Family Tip:  The fully supervised kids clubs at Grand Velas Riviera Maya are open late to give parents the break they deserve when they are visiting the Playa del Carmen, Mexico with kids.Read about our secret to flying to Cancun via CBX for super CHEAP here.

2. Hilton Los Cabos Beach & Golf Resort

We loved our escape to paradise at the Hilton Los Cabos Beach & Golf Resort, a Four Diamond hotel with world-class amenities. Positioned on an inlet of the Los Cabos Corridor along the Sea of Cortez, the Hilton Los Cabos is the nicest Hilton we’ve ever seen. Not only that, guests can experience direct access to the one of Cabos’ only swim-safe beaches. Families can relax at the infinity edge pool, play a round of golf, or indulge in world-class restaurants. Parents with younger kids will love that the supervised Cabo Kids Club is available for children ages 4 to 12.

Want to up your luxury quotient? Book a room or suite at La Vista Club. This hotel-within-a-hotel is found on the top floors of Hilton Los Cabos with a lot of extras. La Vista Club offers upgraded amenities, personalized attention, VIP privileges, and access to the private Club Lounge. Read about our Cabos adventure here.

Main pool at Hilton Los Cabos, Mexico

With a disappearing edge, the main pool at the Hilton Los Cabos Resort is impressive.

Family Tip: Visit Hilton Los Cabos between December and March to experience a whale watching excursion. You can find prime whale watching from any ocean-view guest room, all of the restaurants and at the infinity edge pool.

3. Camino Real Zaashila, Huatulco

Another of the best family hotels in Mexico, Camino Real Zaashila is comprised of breathtaking, airy whitewashed buildings overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It is a chic beachfront hotel featuring private balconies or terraces, most with ocean views. If you are visiting Huatulco, Mexico with kids, you will love being able to spread out in the 1- and 2-bedroom suites with living rooms. For a larger group or just a more upgraded experience, look for gigantic villas (even 6 bedroom ones) with private pools! Enjoy the complimentary breakfast buffet, and 4 restaurants, including a laid-back beach club, the rest of the day. The hotel rooms in this low-key locale stack nicely up the hill to catch views and offshore breezes. Read our full review here.

Pools at Camino Real Zaashila in Huatulco, Mexico

The pools and grounds at the Camino Real Zaashila in Hualtulco are above and beyond.

Family tip: Guests can take advantage of “Club Mischief”, which offers free supervised recreational activities daily for kids. Complimentary lunch daily at an onsite restaurant, accompanied by “Los Amigos”, is included.

4. Fairmont Riviera Maya, Playa Del Carmen

The luxurious Fairmont Hotel Mayakoba will exceed your expectations in every conceivable way. It is absolute paradise on the Caribbean oceanfront. If you want an ideal place for a family vacation to unwind, play and explore together, the Fairmont Hotel Mayakoba is for you. Resort staff go out of their way to welcome kids of all ages (and moms and dads too)! Take advantage of the super entertaining (and complimentary)  Kids Discovery Club for ages 5 to 11. They even have a fantastic game room in there! Let the staff watch your kids while you lounge poolside or play a round of golf. Read our full review here.

night view of main building at Fairmont Mayakoba Resort in Playa del Carmen Mexico

Day or night, the Fairmont Mayakoba Resort does not disappoint.

Family Tip: Unlike many luxury hotels, the Fairmont Hotel Mayakoba offers menu items conceived specifically for kids, with poolside service too. Kids 5 and under always eat free and kids 6 to 12 eat for half price!

5. The Westin Resort & Spa, Puerto Vallarta

As a home base in Puerto Vallarta, the Westin Puerto Vallarta is one of the best family hotels in Mexico. Located only 10 minutes from the airport, and a short Uber to “El Centro” (downtown Puerto Vallarta), you’ll be in the middle of everything.  The resort is set on 14 tranquil acres, with over 400 feet of private Pacific Ocean beach. It is a magnificent oasis that will feed your soul. Opt for an even more relaxing stay by book Club rooms or suites. These exclusive rooms come with access to the Royal Beach Club which features delicious breakfasts, and evening cocktails and hors d’oeuvres in an ocean-view lounge. Read our full review here.

Westin Hotel Puerto Vallarta, Puerto Vallarta, MX

Each room at the Westin Puerto Vallarta has a spacious balcony with ocean views.

Family Tip: Sign up for the SPG Kids Pass when you check in. For a flat fee, kids 12 and under can enjoy meals, drinks and other dining options.

6. Velas Vallarta, Puerto Vallerta

Velas Vallarta is a luxurious family resort that is authentically and unapologetically Mexican. The grounds are immaculate, the facilities are well-equipped, and it offers up to 3 bedroom villas that can fit everyone. This oceanside all-inclusive resort about 10 minutes from the airport and offers transportation for guests. Be sure not to miss the nightly cultural performances during dinner. It is the perfect place for your family’s next Mexican adventure! Read a full review here.

lobby of Vela Vallarta in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

The arched lobby of the Velas Vallarta Resort in Puerto Vallarta

Family Tip:  Enjoy organized activities at the pool as well as a supervised kids club (with a Xbox Lounge), as well as plenty of outdoor games and sports equipment for the use of guests.

7. Villa del Palmar, Loreto

Loreto is one of Mexico’s best-kept secrets, but not for long so go visit now! Offering families tons of water activities in a quaint little fishing village, Loreto is what old Mexico used to be. At the Villa del Palmar in Loreto, families have all the perks of a suite with all the benefits of a full-service resort. If you’re a golfer, this place is for you with its tournament-worthy Danzante Bay Golf Course that tucks into the canyons overlooking the deep blue ocean.

golf course at Villa del Palmar in Loreto, Mexico

Freshly mowed greens tumble down to the Sea of Cortez at the Villa del Palmar Resort & Spa.

Family tip: For the littles, don’t miss the live dinner show at Market Restaurant with dancers and reinactments of popular kids’ programs.

Just Go!

Wherever you decide to stay, go visit one of our best family hotels in Mexico. These are in  beautiful places that are safer as most big cities in the US. The people are welcoming and resorts are simply breathtaking. When you are traveling to Mexico with kids, make sure you splurge on one of these incredible hotels.

The kids love playing on the warm beaches of Mexico.

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6 Best Arizona Resorts for Families

6 Best Arizona Resorts for Families

Arizona is arguably one of the most fun places for active families. From Phoenix and its suburbs to Sedona, Tucson and Scottsdale, we found 6 of the best Arizona resorts for families that you will absolutely love. Whether you want to take time to play golf or tennis, go hiking, or just hang out by the pool, these hotels can offer all this and more.

mountains and cactus in Tucson, Arizona

Driving outside of Tucson, we were treated to so many gorgeous views of mountains and deserts.

6 Best Arizona Resorts for Families

  1. Enchantment Resort, Sedona

With Sedona’s dramatic red rock background, Enchantment Resort is a place families can go to connect to nature, and each other. Get ready for exhilarating adventures like mountain biking, tennis or golf. Or perhaps you want to opt for some deep relaxation at Mii amo Spa while the kids enjoy Camp Coyote. Guests ages 4-12 years old are invited into this unique space designed to educate and entertain them. With activities that explore everything from Native American culture and to the awes-inspiring natural environment around them, kids will never be bored. The peaceful, welcoming town of Sedona, about 2 hours from Phoenix, sets the tone for a family experience that melds outdoors with spiritual mindfulness. Read our full review here.

family playing in the pool at Enchantment Resort in Sedona, Arizona

We had a blast cooling off in the pool at Enchantment Resort in Sedona.

  1. Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort, Scottsdale

On our Big Gay Road trip of 2017, our family stayed at the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak resort in the middle of the blazing hot summer. The best feature at this sprawling all-suites resort is its fantastic pool area. River Ranch Water Park comprises over 4 acres and includes a waterslide, lazy river, several pools, and a super sweet mini golf course to keep everyone refreshed and entertained. The resort offers standard suites as well as one and two bedroom casitas to comfortably fit most families.

lazy river at Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort in Phoenix, Arizona

We all loved floating in the lazy river at the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort

  1. Hilton Sedona Resort at Bell Rock, Sedona

With views looking out over the desert  directly at Bell Rock, the Hilton Sedona Resort at Bell Rock comes perfectly equipped. The hotel is decked out with a spa, tennis courts, 2 outdoor pools, spacious rooms and more. If you want to stay active, visit the full-service air-conditioned Athletic Club with outdoor cross training area, 3 lighted tennis courts or on-site 18-hole championship golf course. Or you could hike or bike Sedona’s famous red rock formations.  Read more about what to do in Sedona with kids here.

View from Hilton Hotel Bell Rock of Bell Rock in Sedona, Arizona

Bell Rock is one of the most photographed places in Arizona, and this was taken from our balcony at the Hilton Sedona.

  1. Arizona Biltmore – A Waldorf Astoria Resort, Phoenix

Soak up the sun in the lap of luxury within the 39 acres of the Arizona Biltmore Resort. Built in 1929 in the style of Frank Lloyd Wright, families will find elegant rooms, suites and villas. Some even come with fireplaces, balconies or full kitchens. Upgrade your vacation by booking a Club Room. The complimentary drinks and breakfast that comes with the Club Room level is really helpful for families. At the Arizona Biltmore, you will probably spend most of your time at one of the eight outdoor pools. The main pool even contains a 92-ft waterslide. Kids will also love the playground and Camp Coyote supervised play area too. At less than 10 miles from Sky Harbor Phoenix Airport, this is one of the best Arizona resorts for families looking for a little luxury. Read about our restaurant recommendations for Phoenix.

the historic Catalina Pool at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix, Arizona

Original tiles from 1929 are still in place at the Arizona Biltmore’s Catalina Pool

  1. Phoenix Marriott Resort Tempe at The Buttes, Tempe, AZ

This hotel is the perfect spot for families looking to spend some time in Tempe or Greater Phoenix, Arizona. The Phoenix Marriott Resort Tempe is tucked up against The Buttes, a postcard-perfect rock formation. While visiting, we even took at morning hike up to the top of The Buttes and watched the city around us wake up. Curving naturally around these rocky outcroppings, this Marriott resort takes full advantage of its elevated desert views. And you will adore both the pools. The design is lovely and one boasts a waterslide! Read our full review here.

Phoenix Marriott Resort Tempe at The Buttes interior waterfall in Tempe, Arizona

The Phoenix Marriott Resort Tempe at The Buttes has an interior waterfall in their lobby restaurant.

  1. Loews Ventana Canyon Resort, Tucson, AZ

Families will find it a pleasure to stay at the luxurious Loews Ventana Canyon Resort. The rooms are spacious, and some are connected to a full suite with living room, dining room and even a working fireplace! The Loews is just the right amount of cozy and chic at the same time. Some of the rooms offer a Murphey Bed in the living room to help families spread out. This upscale resort in the Sonoran Desert has views of the Catalina Mountains, dotted with hundreds of saguaro cactus. The resort also offers two huge outdoor pools and is very close to magnificent hiking. It is only 6 miles from the historic cavalry post, Fort Lowell too.  Read our full review here.

Loews Ventana Resort entrance, Tucson, Arizona

Loews Ventana Canyon Resort & Spa in Tucson is very family friendly.

What’s the best Arizona resorts for families that fits your needs?

No matter why you’re visiting Arizona or when during the year you’re there, it is a fantastic place for families. The best AZ resorts are all terrific home bases from which to explore all Arizona has to offer.

Loews Ventana Canyon Resort mountain view, Tucson, Arizona

Arizona mountains are some of the most beautiful in the US.

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The Famous Pink Jeeps of Sedona

The Famous Pink Jeeps of Sedona

Have you had the opportunity to visit Sedona, Arizona and take a tour in one of the ubiquitous Pink Jeeps? If not, you are missing out! And I’m not just saying that because they are HOT PINK (the official color of the gays). Whether our family had two dads or not, I guarantee we would have been on one of those Pink Jeep Tour in Sedona.

They’re ubiquitous. We must have counted at least a dozen pink jeeps parked around town as tangible advertising for Pink Jeep Adventure Tours. And that didn’t even count the actual jeeps full of fun-loving visitors in the midst of a tour! Perhaps for locals this might be a little much, but we found it charming – especially since we had such a blast on our own Pink Jeep Tour experience.

line of Pink Jeep Tours vehicles in Sedona Arizona

Pretty Pink Jeeps all in a row, waiting for the next guests to hop on board.

Your Very Own Pink Jeep Tour in Sedona

Quite some time ago, some smart business owner decided to make their off-road tour stand out. After all, tours of gorgeous Sedona, Arizona rock formations are better in touring vehicles painted pink. Brilliant. So our family went along for the ride, and loved every minute of it.

What to Bring on Your Pink Jeep Tour in Sedona

In case you didn’t know, it’s hot and sunny in Sedona most of the year. We visited in the heat of summer when it was over 100 degrees. Bring a bottle of water for each person, a hat, sunscreen and good walking shoes because you get out of the jeep to walk on the rocks a bit. Also, the ride is bumpy (you are off-roading after all) so wear comfortable, loose clothes you don’t mind getting a little dusty. For those of you who are worrywarts, just stop it – you will be fine!

desert sign post in Sedona, Arizona

Our Pink Jeep took the Broken Arrow turn-off, but there are a lot of choices.

Broken Arrow Tour

Pink Jeep Tours’ signature is the Broken Arrow Tour, although they offer many other interesting choices. Our whole family loved this tour, because we felt like our little group were the only people in this canyon. OK, maybe there were some other Pink Jeep Tours around as well, but still.

(Fun factoid: It’s called Broken Arrow because this area used to be the film site of many old Hollywood westerns, including a Jimmy Stewart flick called Broken Arrow).

Beautiful landscapes of Sedona, AZ

Our Pink Jeep Tour in Sedona drove us to the top of this amazing rock formation.

Our guide David was terrific and knowledgeable, with a wry sense of humor that made his narration even more entertaining. He told us about the sedimentation that formed these rock formations. Pointing out the layers of color in the massive cliffs, David explained why this tectonic shift happened millions and millions of years ago. It was like a Cliff’s Notes version of an outdoor geology lesson, The adults loved it, and the kids tuned out – just like in school. Oh well, maybe some of those details did seep into those forming brains.

Sedona Rocks with Pink Jeep Tours

Most of Sedona’s famous vistas are enjoyed from a distance, so you can take in their huge scale. Formations like Bell Rock, Castle Rock and Cathedral Rock are wildly popular and recognizable. All are postcard-perfect examples of what has brought so many visitors to Sedona.

Bell Rock in Sedona, Arizona

The beauty of Bell Rock is just breathtaking, no matter what the vantage point.

Having said that, the Pink Jeep Tour in Sedona that we took allowed us to get up close and personal with these formations. We loved seeing them up close and studying their detail. In a couple of instances, David parked the jeep and took us on a short walk. On one stop, we walked to the top of a giant rock so we could touch and feel the stone. He even pointed out a fault line from eons ago, which put a straight-line crack through the giant rock we stood upon. It was geeky cool.

Hilarious Laughs on Bumpy Terrain

One of the coolest things about this tour was the incredibly steep terrain we traversed in our sturdy jeep, both up and down. The kids squealed with laughter as we climbed up tiny pathways that seemed so vertical we should fall backwards. Don’t worry, it felt safe the whole time – just VERY STEEP.

steep trail in Sedona desert

Hard to tell in this photo but this trail is super steep for Pink Jeep Tours and anything else!

Even more dramatic were the sections of path downwards that was sometimes at a 45-degree angle (or more). David expertly guided the jeep over gigantic boulders in our path as we descended to a more reasonable angle of pathway. It was so cool, and a tiny bit unnerving. But that’s the fun of it! We laughed the whole way, amazed to look back at the mountain we had just descended.

Beauty All Around You

People travel to Sedona from all over the world to see these famous red rocks. This Sedona Pink Jeep Tour  serves up all that and more, including flora and fauna. We saw many colorful birds and squirrels, and we hear local mule deer are regular morning visitors. No snakes though, thank goodness. The rattlesnake population does well in Sedona (or so we are told), but we never saw a single one.

girl hanging from rock in Sedona

With the right camera angle, Ava looks like she’s hanging off a cliff in Sedona

The plant life amazed us, and our guide pointed out various plants and their native uses. Some we could eat if stranded, use for shampoo if feeling a little soiled, and store for sources of water if our thirst grew too great. Not that we truly needed to access any of these emergency rations, but it’s always good to know. You know, for the next time you find yourself alone in the middle of the high rocky desert with a dead phone and no hope.

Aaaaanyway, back to the fun. There is a reason why these Pink Jeep Tours are ubiquitous – it’s because they are so darn cool. This is simply a must-do activity on your visit to Sedona. Don’t get all anti-commercial and crystally-vortexy on me. This experience is well worth your time, no matter how enlightened you are.

Where To Stay

While we were visiting Sedona, we stayed at the ultra-relaxing Enchantment Resort & Spa. It’s one of the best spa resorts in Arizona, and wow is it a spectacular experience. Our stay here was far too short, so we just need to make our way back there for a week or three.


Pink Jeep Tour offices in Sedona Arizona

You can’t miss the Pink Jeep Tours office and meeting place right in the middle of Sedona town.

*This experience was sponsored by Pink Jeep Tours, and we thank them for hosting our family for this awesome adventure.

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Things to Splurge on During Your Next Vacation

Things to Splurge on During Your Next Vacation

Everyone likes to save money when traveling, but there are some things you just need to spend a pretty penny on. Certainly when our family travels, we know not every vacation will put us in the lap of luxury. Still, we try to find at least one splurge on each trip to make it feel even more special. Whether it’s a delicious meal, an exciting excursion, or a place to stay, there are plenty of things to splurge on during your next vacation. Sometime we let the kids choose one thing each.

snorkeling with DePalm Tours in Aruba

Boating in tropical places like Aruba tend to go with snorkeling adventures and colorful fish.

Ava might choose an excursion, and Triton might go for a fancy meal. Sophia will want to go clothes shopping, and you can pretty much find Jon getting a massage. Whatever floats your boat doesn’t have to break the bank.

Things To Splurge on During Your Next Vacation

Local Cuisine

Grocery shopping and food trucks are acceptable during your journey, but when you travel pick one meal that showcases the local flavors. We’re not talking the tourist traps. Ask residents where they eat that really showcases what their city is all about. In Omaha, Nebraska, it’s absolutely V. Mertz, where the chef uses fresh, local ingredients to create a spectacular menus in this hidden Midwestern gem. In Midtown Manhattan, there are several places within walking distance of most hotels, including Joe’s Shanghai for dim sum. Ask a local in New Orleans for the best place to find Creole or Cajun cuisine, and it most likely will not be the famous ones.

lemon dessert at V. Mertz

Ordering a decadent and delicious dessert is a great way to splurge.

Your meal may be moderately priced or on the higher end, depending on the city you’re visiting and what the locals suggest. Go for broke if you must, in order to experience the best and most delicious meal on your vacation.

Get Adventurous

There are always those once-in-a-lifetime bucket list experiences you simply cannot put a price tag on. Going rafting in New Mexico down the Rio Grande or sailing in Kauai are two amazing, authentic local experiences perfect for our family. We always try to do a boating trip on visits where there is water. It’s such an incredible way to experience sea life and the oceans when you travel. Double points if there is snorkeling or kayaking as part of the day!

white water rafting adventure

Vacation adventures like white water rafting may be pricey, but they deliver memories to last a life time!

If you’d rather experience the scenery by air, try a helicopter tour. There are many places that take you above the city to see a different view of your vacation destination. We loved our experience in Las Vegas, where we buzzed above the Grand Canyon, Colorado River, and the Las Vegas Strip! Even small towns may have helicopter tours available. Don’t hesitate to ask the locals or a concierge at your hotel.

front of helicopter in Las Vegas

Sightseeing in helicopters is like nothing else – the views are incredible.

Where to Stay

When you decide to splurge on your hotel stay, your experience is bound to be unique and flawless. We’ve stayed at many fantastics hotels, and the very best give you a vacation-worthy experience without ever leaving the hotel. Resort hotels often offer photo-worthy architecture, activities for the whole family, and dining experiences. Check out hotels that include breakfast, have complimentary happy hour, and concierge services. You may even consider a resort that includes food or spa accommodations on site, an all-inclusive hotel where meals and drinks are included.

Dining room at Tamarijn Resort Aruba

Expansive buffets like this one at the Tamarijn Resort in Aruba make all-inclusive resorts a wonderful splurge.


Even if you have a strict budget for your vacation, there are places in your financial plan where you can stretch a bit. Try that one local meal that tickles your taste buds, or add a little bit of adventure to your trip with an outdoorsy escapade. Don’t forget that a great hotel can make a vacation perfect. These things to splurge on during your next vacation have made our trips memorable and exciting.

What are your favorite indulgences on vacation?

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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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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.





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Visit Hearst Castle with Kids

Visit Hearst Castle with Kids

Hearst Castle is one of those iconic California destinations that seems taken from the pages of a fairy tale. It’s hard to believe the amount of wealth and resources it required for William Randolph Hearst to build a magnificent estate of this grandeur in the 1930s. By today’s standards, it would hardly be possible. Our family loved our tours, and to visit Hearst Castle with kids is a glimpse into a bygone era.

Outdoor pool at Hearst Castle

The Neptune Pool at Hearst Castle holds more than 345,000 gallons of water.

Visit Hearst Castle with Kids

To call it a museum is really a disservice – it’s an experience in history. The architecture, interior design, furnishings, art collection and grounds are each eye-popping in their own right. Hearst even imported his own zoo, and kept exotic animals on the acreage surrounding the Castle.  His personal zoo included zebras, giraffes, lions, tigers, monkeys, bears, ostriches, kangaroos and more. Even today, you can see zebra herds still grazing in the grassland near the park entrance.

Some helpful hints for when you visit Hearst Castle with kids:

Buy your tickets in advance

Tours are popular, and the number of guests in each tour is limited to keep the facilities and grounds from being overrun by visitors. It’s best to book at least one month in advance and pre-purchase your tickets.

Hearst Castle main entrance facade

The front facade and main entrance of Hearst Castle was patterned after medieval European cathedrals.

Plan at least two tours

The buildings and grounds are extensive, and one tour does not cover it all properly. We booked two tours back-to-back, and it was just enough for us to feel we got a decent viewing without the kids spinning out of control. Still, this took about three hours.

We enjoyed the Grand Rooms Tour, which covers most of the opulent rooms in Casa Grande (the main house). Our kids marveled at the enormous living room, with a fireplace so large you can walk right into it. Another favorite was the indoor Roman Pool, complete with real gold tiles among the azure blue designs.

Don’t miss the Upstairs Suites Tour, which features the insane Gothic Suite, the Library and many of the bedrooms. Even the stairways and servants quarters are unbelievable to modern eyes.

Visit the beach before or after

The coastline in this area of California is stunning, and right at the base of Hearst Castle’s driveway is a sweet and quiet respite called William Randolph Hearst Memorial Beach. The ships that brought many of the workers and supplies to San Simeon during construction were moored here, and now still remains a wooden pier, long sandy beach and the occasional sea lion.

Beach near Hearst Castle

The rustic pier on the beach in front of Hearst Castle.

Just up the coast a few miles is another sensation – the elephant seal sanctuary at Pierdas Blancas. During the time of the year we visited, the creatures were not on site but best viewing can be enjoyed January, April and October. These are those gentle giants with the big floppy noses that like to laze on beaches and bark at the waves.

Food is a challenge

Food choices around this area are scarce, and food and drink are strictly forbidden in the exhibit areas outside the visitor center. The Hearst Castle guest center has a few choices, and the food wasn’t bad – not inexpensive, but the quality and menu choices were decent and family friendly. Another option is to bring a picnic lunch and enjoy the many coastline stopping points, including the beaches described above.

Hearst Castle view of California coast

The view from Hearst Castle is breathtaking, when you know all your eyes can see was once part of the Castle grounds.

Take your time!

Relax and take your time, enjoy the drive and leave plenty of time to stop at some of the vistas along the way. This part of California is beautiful and unspoiled, giving a sense of what it was like before our modern craziness.

We hope you enjoy a visit to Hearst Castle with kids as much as we did. In fact, we are planning to go back so we can take the other tours and see more of this amazing and legendary enclave.

Historic pier at William Randolph Hearst Memorial Beach

This rebuilt pier at the nearby was once the dropping off point for supplies that helped build Hearst Castle.

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Istanbul with Kids is a Feast for the Senses

Istanbul with Kids is a Feast for the Senses

Istanbul has been on our bucket list for as long as I can remember. The sights, sounds, smells and tastes of this amazing city have always captivated our imaginations, and the real thing did not disappoint. It’s a perfect family destination, and truly Istanbul with kids is a feast for the senses.

Istanbul with Kids is a Feast for the Senses

Colorful History, Colorful City

At one point in history, the Ottoman Empire controlled much of Europe and Asia all from Istanbul (then called Constantinople). On each street of the city you see examples of culture from hundreds – sometimes thousands – of years of Imperial Dynasty rule. There is so much history on every block the tour guides rolled their eyes when we asked about a building that was “only” 500 years old. Go figure.

Dolmabahce Palace view from the Bosphorous Strait

If you have time, take a boat tour of the Bosphorous Strait in Istanbul to view the city from the waterways.

Not to miss:

Hagia Sophia – Remarkable history as a Christian church, then a mosque. Now a museum with pieces of all those backgrounds still intact. Enormous and breathtaking.

The Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Mosque) – It was amazing to view the inside of this gargantuan mosque, covered with blue tiles hundreds of years old. How solemn and inspiring it was for us to hear the call to prayer from outside its walls. Then we were allowed inside where prayer activities were quiet and reverent. Heads up: women have to cover up with headscarves and skirts out of respect for the culture. (They supply them for free at the entrance).

Tokapi Palace Istanbul

At the Tokapi Palace, we explored the history of the Ottoman Empire.

Tokapi Palace – If you are a history junkie like me, you will love the Ottoman Empire era Tokapi Palace. There are suits of armor, scimitars, jewel-encrusted daggers and battle gear on display. Or just skip into the Imperial Treasury to gaze at the 86-carat Spoonmaker’s Diamond. Impressive, to say the least!

Dolmabahce Palace – On the shores of the Bosphorous, the “new” palace (1860s) became the official modern home and office of the ruling Sultan. It features 285 rooms, the largest ballroom I’ve ever seen, and a whopping 4.5-ton glass chandelier. Opulent doesn’t even begin to describe it. We were even treated to an Ottoman marching band, performing some of the Sultan’s favorites out in front of the palace. The kids loved it!

Ottoman Brigade at Dolmabahce Palace

Out of nowhere, a traditional Ottoman Brigade appeared at Dolmabahce Palace to serenade us on our tour of Istanbul.

Where Europe Meets Asia – Food Extravaganza

Istanbul straddles the Bosphorous River and sits one side in Europe and one side in Asia.  This is literally the place where the historic Orient Express crossed from Europe into the Orient to continue its journey. Istanbul has always been at a crossroads of cultures. Its foods are a tasty example of this mix.

Authentic Turkish Coffee in Istanbul

When enjoying an authentic Turkish Coffee in Turkey, don’t forget to ask for sugar. That stuff is STRONG.

Culinary musts:

Turkish Coffee – Some places served a better cup than others, but this coffee lovers’ treat was omnipresent. When ordering, ask for sweet, more sweet or very sweet. I highly suggest you do not try it without sugar. (We learned that lesson the hard way.)

Fresh Seafood – At the meeting point of the Marmara Sea, the Aegean Sea, the Black Sea and the Bosphorous River, Istanbul’s fisherman can practically reach into the water and pull out a fish with their hands. The seafood is so fresh and delicious! Local restaurants are proud to serve it to you prepared many different ways. The kids were mesmerized in many restaurants, as they brought a basket of fishes to our table for us to point to the one we wanted.

Istanbul colorful streets at night

These colorful streets of downtown Istanbul were perfect for al fresco dining on a summer night.

Turkish Delight – Who knew there were so many different options? Turkish Delight is a sweet combination of dried fruits and nuts in a sliced roll. The traditional option is made from apricots and pistachios, but we found all kinds of variations to sample. And sample we did, every chance we got! The kids became legit connoisseurs.

Kebabs – With everything from traditional spiced lamb or chicken to more unusual combos – eel, anyone? – you’ll find kebabs everywhere in Turkey. Those from fancy restaurants and street vendors are equally tasty. We feasted for very little money with various treats on a stick.

A Shopper’s Delight

In a city known as a mecca for shoppers, there are a few highlights worth the visit even if you don’t spend a single lire.

Grand Bazaar Istanbul colorful Turkish lanterns

You can find all sorts of cool things at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, including these colorful Turkish glass lanterns.

Some of our favorites:

The Grand Bazaar – Yes, it is both grand and bizarre, and you must see it. Like something out of the movies, it’s a labyrinth of tiny shops selling wares from the far corners of the Near East.

Spice Market – There are few places I feel overwhelmed, and this was one of them. It’s easy to get lost among the sea of options, piles of spices and choices of teas. So many colors, smells and tastes to choose from, and definitely worth a stop.

spices at Istanbul Spice Market

The Spice Market in Istanbul is full of sights and aromas that tantalize the senses.

Rugs and Lanterns – Pretty much anywhere you walk, there is a rug merchant and, close by, a lantern store. Both are alluring, and it’s hard to know where to start. Just dive in and start talking. You will learn a lot, and by the third or fourth stop you’ll be negotiating like an expert.

Which brings me to my most important point: nothing in the shops should be purchased at face value. It is inherent in Turkish culture to bargain with the merchants. It’s a fun game, and the trick is to be willing to walk away. They will always come after you with a better offer.

Happy hunting!