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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.

HAVE FUN!

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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See Mermaids (and more) at Weeki Wachee Springs

See Mermaids (and more) at Weeki Wachee Springs

By Marcea Cazel, My Cornacopia

Imagine a world where mermaids swim through crystal clear blue waters, breathing underwater, dancing to music. A place where you can slide into crystal clear freshwater springs. Somewhere your family can explore and learn more about a former roadside attraction of the last century. There’s no need to imagine all this – it all takes place where you can see mermaids at Weeki Wachee Springs in Florida.

History of The Springs

Located on the west coast of Florida, Weeki Wachee has the deepest natural springs in the United States. The springs expell about 150 million gallons of crystal clear fresh water per day and maintain a temperature of 72-74 degrees Fahrenheit year-round. Named by the native Seminole Indians, the springs flow directly into the Gulf of Mexico 15 miles away.

Crystal clear waters of Weeki Wachee Springs

Crystal clear waters of Weeki Wachee Springs (photo by Marcea Cazel)

 

 

Outside of the Native Americans using the springs and a skirmish or two during the Civil War, the area surrounding Weeki Wachee was fairly desolate until after World War II. Then in 1946, a Navy SEAL named Newt Perry came to the area. He came up with the idea of a roadside attraction that featured women swimming underwater using breathing apparatus hoses.

After cleaning up the springs which had become the area’s dump, Perry built an underwater theater. The theater is still in the same location but larger than the original 18 seats. Now it’s built into the limestone and is 6 feet below the surface. Perry found some women who agreed to be ‘mermaids’ and trained them to swim using the air hoses. They can also eat and dance, all while underwater!

View of Mermaid Theater at Weeki Wachee (photo by Marcea Cazel)

 

 

By the 1950’s, car travel became huge in the United States and Florida was becoming more and more popular (thanks air conditioning!) Weeki Wachee was a roadside attraction and became one of Florida’s most popular vacation stops. Even Elvis Presley visited to see mermaids at Weeki Wachee Springs.

Things To Do at Weeki Wachee

Weeki Wachee Springs State Park is built into two sections: Weeki Wachee and Buccaneer Bay, which is the water park. Admission to the park provides entrance to both sides.

Weeki Wachee

When visiting, it’s good to remember that the Weeki Wachee side was built in the 1940’s and has an old-timey feel. It’s not that things are run down. In fact, recent renovations were done to the walkways and mermaid theater. It’s just that it’s a small park and doesn’t have lots of flash and pizzaz, which is why I love it so much.

Pontoon Tour

The park’s pontoon takes you down the Weeki Wachee River with a captain who gives a guided tour. The tour takes about 30-40 minutes and the captain will point out wildlife and give you some history about the area. It’s a great way to get a good view of the river without renting a kayak. If you visit in the winter months you might spot a manatee or two since they gravitate to warmer waters when it gets colder.

View of Weeki Wachee River from Pontoon Tour

View of Weeki Wachee River from Pontoon Tour (photo by Marcea Cazel)

 

 

Florida Wildlife Show

The wildlife show is a great way for visitors to get a glimpse of the wildlife that resides in Florida. One of the rangers brings out native birds, snakes and alligators and explains how they interact with the eco-system of the state. Don’t worry if you aren’t keen on getting close. Everyone sits in bleacher seats while the animals are on the stage.

Wildlife Show at Weeki Wachee

Wildlife Show at Weeki Wachee (photo by Marcea Cazel)

 

 

Mermaids

Let’s be honest – boat tours and wildlife shows are fun. But people visit to see mermaids at Weeki Wachee Springs. There are over 20 mermaids that work at the park and swim int the shows 365 days a year. They also have mermen, or Princes as they’re called since they’re part of The Little Mermaid show.

Inside of Mermaid Theater at Weeki Wachee

Mermaids swim inside of the Mermaid Theater (photo by Marcea Cazel)

 

 

Sitting in the 400-seat theater, watching the curtains lift and seeing the mermaids performing to the music being piped into the theater is an experience unlike any other. While you know that these are humans with tails attached and you can see them holding their breathing tubes, it’s hard not to be mesmerized by the underwater ballet being performed. 

Since Weeki Wachee is a living spring, you will even see wildlife like fish and turtles swimming by as the mermaids perform. During one of the shows we went to during the winter, we looked in the background and saw a manatee swimming by. Where else can you get that experience?

Mermaid at Weeki Wachee

Mermaid performs at Weeki Wachee (photo by Marcea Cazel)

The shows are about a half-hour long. There is a video pre-show that shows the history of the springs along with footage of mermaids from the past performing. The theater can fill up quickly so I suggest that you arrive at least 40 minutes before showtime during the crowded summer months to see mermaids at Weeki Wachee. After the show, make sure to head to the area outside the theater where one of the mermaids who didn’t perform is available to meet and take pictures with visitors.

Mermaid and girl at Weeki Wachee Springs

Getting a Pic With a Mermaid at Weeki Wachee (photo by Marcea Cazel)

 

 

Have you ever considered being a mermaid? Becoming a mermaid requires an audition and includes an endurance swim test and the ability to tread water for 10 minutes. If you’re like me and a little too old to audition but would love to experience what it’s like to be a mermaid, think about going to mermaid camp. For children who are too young to work as a mermaid, there’s a camp for them too!

Buccaneer Bay

Entrance Sign to Buccaneer Bay at Weeki Wachee

Entrance Sign to Buccaneer Bay (photo by Marcea Cazel)

 

 

On the opposite side of the mermaid theater is Buccaneer Bay. A waterpark that features three water slides, a floating dock, swim area and lazy river, Buccaneer Bay is built right into the freshwater springs of the park.

View of Springs Inside Buccaneer Bay (photo by Marcea Cazel)

Buccaneer Bay has a sand area that has lounge chairs on it. You can also put your towels out on the grassy area to sit. People bring their own small tailgating tents or pop-up cabanas – those are only allowed to be set up in the grass.

Beach Area of Buccaneer Bay at Weeki Wachee

Beach Area of Buccaneer Bay at Weeki Wachee Springs (photo by Marcea Cazel)

If you’re traveling with older children (pre-teen and above) you’ll feel comfortable letting the kids get on the slides or in the lazy river in groups since it’s a small place and there are lifeguards at every ride. If you have smaller children under the age of 11, you’ll want to walk around with them.

The Lazy River at Buccaneer Bay at Weeki Wachee

Floating On The Lazy River at Buccaneer Bay at Weeki Wachee (photo by Marcea Cazel)

There are height restrictions on the slides but not on the lazy river. The floating dock you have to have the ability to swim out to. The spring is more than 6 feet in some spots so swimming skills are required. Flotation devices aren’t allowed inside Buccaneer Bay unless the child cannot swim without it. So lifevests and baby floatation devices are okay; decorative pool floats aren’t allowed.

Only open during the summer, Buccaneer Bay can fill up very quickly resulting in both parks closing to additional visitors. Tickets aren’t available for pre-purchase so the best way to avoid this is to arrive at the park before it opens. You can also follow Buccaneer Bay on Facebook or Twitter for updates of when the park has reached capacity.

Food, Drinks and Rentals

Both Weeki Wachee and Buccaneer Bay have food and drinks available to purchase. Choices include burgers, wraps, chicken fingers, sodas and ice cream. The prices aren’t too high and the quality is good.

If you’d like to save some money, small coolers are allowed to be brought into both parks. No alcohol is permitted to be brought in from the outside. Buccaneer Bay does have a tiki hut bar that’s open for frozen drinks and beers.,

At Buccaneer Bay you can rent lockers, umbrellas, chairs and pop up cabanas. To ride the lazy river you’ll need to purchase a tube wristband for $7 but the wristband is good for unlimited rides throughout the day.

Where To Stay

Weeki Wachee is a very small town. There is a motel across the street and several in the surrounding area. I’d suggest that you stay in the Tampa/Clearwater/St Petersburg areas and make a quick day trip. It will only take about 75 minutes from any of those locations, and you’ll be closer to a wider variety of things to do during the rest of your stay.

A trip to Weeki Wachee Springs is a trip into Florida’s past and the days of smaller roadside attractions. An opportunity to see mermaids at Weeki Wachee shouldn’t be missed, and makes for a fun visit while vacationing with the family.


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7 Road Trip Snacks and Tips That Will Make You Want to Drive Everywhere

7 Road Trip Snacks and Tips That Will Make You Want to Drive Everywhere

Road trip snacks are the most important things to pack for your next trip with kids. In many ways, they are more important than phone chargers, swim suits and hotel reservations. Seriously. They can make it break your trip!

Ever since our girls were teeny tiny, we packed them up for road trips. Our sojourns to Palm Springs each year are legendary (if only to us). The number one rule I’ve learned is this: You can never have too much food. NEVER.

If you have the time, pack a full meal for everyone (including adults) so you can be sure to have a healthy, satisfying meal on the road. This saves a ton of money too! For families with older kids, put them in charge. One less thing for you to do and one less thing for them to complain about. (Hopefully…)

farmers market plums and apricots

Whole fresh fruit makes a great snack for the road.

Road trip snacks need to walk that difficult balance between being fun so the kids will eat them and being healthy to make sure kids still get the nutrients they need, even on vacation. If you have picky opinionated kids like mine, you have to get pretty savvy about what you pack. Don’t worry though, I am here to help!

On a recent road trip in Northern California, we drove from San Francisco across the Golden Gate Bridge to Mendocino in a sweet Chevy Silverado 1500 LTZ. The ride was smooth, the truck was fully equipped with all the bells and whistle, and everyone was even happier because of the SNACKS.

family with Chevrolet Silverado

Smiles on our faces because we brought snacks on this road trip.

Check out the road trip snacks I love for families, as well as some of my favorite tips to help you survive your next family road trip!

7 Road Trip Snacks and Tips for Families

1.    Eat fresh food

The best road trip snacks are the ones your kids eat. This means don’t go crazy trying to introduce a kiwi and mango fruit salad if your kids haven’t been exposed to tropical fruit. Keep it simple. Whole fruit like apples and pears are great options. Wrap each one individually to keep it clean. Triton loves a fresh juicy orange to curb his snack attacks on the road. Berries are also a great choice. Just be sure to take the time to put them in individual containers, and not bags. No one is going to eat smushed blueberries. Skip bananas as they tend to brown quickly and get mushy. Also, grapes can be a choking hazard so if you have little ones, so save them for when you stop for a meal.

bag of Cuties mandarin oranges

Sometimes we bring along a bag of Cuties on road trips, and they always go fast.

2.    Stock up on squeezable snacks.

Especially for families with elementary school-aged kids or younger, squeezable apple sauce or yogurt packets are a fantastic invention. They aren’t messy…so yay for that. Even more important though, they are healthy, delicious and travel well. A new favorite of our road trip snacks are the protein-dense Slammers Snacks, which are like portable fruit smoothies without the spills.

3.    Limit liquid to a juice box.

My favorite thing about juice boxes is that you can control how much liquid your child is taking in. Some kids have bladders that size of a pea and if you don’t want to pull over every 30 minutes, you probably don’t want to give them a giant water bottle or super-size fountain drink. Go for the 100% juice brands. (We liked Juicy Juice when the girls were younger.) Older kids can get the 6oz bottles if they balk at a juice box. Limiting liquids in the two or three hours preceding the trip also helps. We try to walk that fine line between making sure the kids don’t get dehydrated ,while also trying to reduce the potty breaks as much as possible.

Check out 3 things I absolutely must have on every road trip.

4.    Buy individually packed snacks.

Normally, I’m not a huge fan of pre-packaged, individual snacks like chips, crackers and cookies. However as road trip snacks go, these are some of the best. They are portioned out so no one complains about someone eating “ALL” of the chips and kids don’t go crazy munching all your food within the first hour. Have fun with it. Buy the treats your kids never get at home. Splurge on the variety pack of chips from Costco and let them check out new flavors. And get something you like too! I’ve always got a stock of energy bars and trail mix in the car for road trips.

Creminelli salami and cheese snack packs

Snack packs make an easy solution for road trips.

5.    Engage the help of older kids.

If you are so lucky to be traveling with more than one child, give the older ones some responsibility for helping the little ones. I find this knocks out two birds with one stone! Helping to entertain, open food packages, or find the lost iPhone charger are all things tweens and teens are good at. Giving older children responsibility can give them a sense of pride and accomplishment when you reach your destination. If that’s not enough, $5 goes a long way too…or so I’m told.

6.    Prepare your road trip snacks the night before.

Do not wait until the last minute to put together your road trip snacks. When traveling with kids, there’s too many other things to think about when you’re packing up and trying to hit the road. If you’re making sandwiches, wrap them individually. Portion out cookies or other treats into containers for each child. For Sophia, that would be fish-shaped cheddar crackers, and spicy rolled tortilla chips for Ava. Freeze water bottles overnight and use them to keep a cooler cold. Take as much off your plate the night before the big road trip as you can. You’ll be glad you did!

Doritos, almonds and cheese snacks

Sometimes it’s okay to splurge on slightly unhealthy treats too.

7.    Pack your patience.

Road trips are harder on the parents than they are on the kids.  I mean, let’s face it – family travel can be stressful. Try to go into each trip with a good intention and concentrate on being patient with your kids, your partner (if you have one) and other drivers as well. Know ahead of time that you will probably run into traffic. You may have to stop twice in one hour because your 5-year-old swore she didn’t have to go at the first stop. You may drop a bottle of orange juice in your lap. Just take advice from Elsa and let it go. Concentrate on having fun and making memories instead!

colorful macarons

One of our kids’ favorite treats is macarons like this colorful sandwich cookies.

The bottom line with road trip snacks is that you can never, ever have too many of them when you’re traveling with kids. Pack way more snacks than you think you’ll need. And if you have a tween or teen, double it.

Now go hit the road!

man behind wheel of Chevy Silverado

Our recent road trip from San Francisco to Mendocino in this sweet Chevy Silverado 1500 LTZ was so fun!


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Tucson is a Desert Paradise for Families

Tucson is a Desert Paradise for Families

We partnered with Visit Tucson, Loews Hotels and Chevrolet for this visit, and the opinions expressed here are our own as always.

There’s just something special about Tucson that draws people from all over the world. Maybe it’s the spikey saguaro cactus that sticks up from the desert floor, or the purple and red mountains that surround this high desert hamlet. Or maybe it’s the darn good food? Whatever floats your boat, there are tons of things for families to do in Tucson. It really is a desert paradise.

Our recent visit here was guised as a college tour for Sophia, who is now a high school junior. At this age, juniors have to start thinking about where they might like to apply for college. Most don’t have a good concept of what they are getting into, thus the college tours. Parents like us go to great lengths to show our kids a variety of options so they can better envision themselves on a campus somewhere. We love Arizona, so we loaded up the spacious hatch of a sweet new 2019 Chevrolet Traverse and headed for Tucson.

2019 Chevrolet Traverse hatch open with luggage

The 2019 Chevy Traverse fit all of our bags and still had three rows of seats for spreading out.

Of course while there, we explored some super cool spots to share with you for your next visit.

Things for Families To Do in Tucson

Not sure why, but some people’s impression of Arizona is a bunch of retirees. Well yes, there might be some of those mixed in with the young families, hipsters, scholars, artists, adventurists, makers and scientists. In Tucson, you get all that and more. A pool of blue in a red state, Tucson is liberal, progressive and undeniably chill. It’s a live-and-let-live kind of place, where LGBTQ families like ours are welcomed with a hug.

Ventana Canyon mountain landscape

The mountains behind Loews Resort Ventana Canyon are breathtaking, especially in the bright clear mornings.

Full of history and Western lore, the city of Tucson has maintained it’s blended roots from Native American, Mexican and Spanish influences. People from all over have been attracted to this place, and now that diversity makes it really special.

If you visit here, we’ve got some recommendations on things for families to do in Tucson. And if this is not enough, check out Visit Tucson for more suggestions and ideas.

For a Taste of the Old West

Head to Downtown Tucson to catch the flavor of the Old West. In the blocks surrounding the Hotel Congress, the early roots of this town can still be seen and experienced. In fact Hotel Congress looks a lot like it did back in 1918 when it was built. The Hotel is famous as the site where legendary gangster John Dillinger was finally captured, after hiding out at the Congress from the long arm of the law. (He’s now celebrated there with his own Dillinger Days events every January). Now the Hotel is full of old-time memorabilia, hip guests with a downtown vibe, some pretty great live music, and a really great cafe (see below for more on the restaurant).

Cup Cafe interior Hotel Congress Tucson

The Cup Cafe at Hotel Congress in Tucson serves up a mean French Dip Sandwich with a southwest flair.

Fun Fact: The Hotel Congress did not have air conditioning until 2010. Say what?!? Summer temps in Tucson rise to 100-degrees+.

For the Desert Flora and Fauna

If you love the desert landscape and its scrappy critters as much as we do, you will love the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Just so you know, “museum” is not really the right word for this place. It’s like a zoo and botanical gardens and aquarium and bird show and art gallery and nature hike all in one. Phew! There is a lot to see here, so don’t plan on doing it in 90 minutes.

burrowing owl at Desert Museum Tucson

This little dude gave us the evil eye when we arrived at the Desert Museum in Tucson, and the burrowing owl did too.

From the moment we walked in, were were greeted by a man with a Burrowing Owl on his arm. From there, it was a cavalcade of desert animals including vultures, coyotes, javelinas (wild boars), prairie dogs, rattlesnakes, tarantulas and more.  Heed the advice of the kind guides when they suggest you make your way into the gardens for the Raptor Show. As these impressive hawks and owls fly overhead, it’s fascinating to observe their delicate wingspans and learn more about their desert homesteads.

napping coyote at Arizona-Sonoma Desert Museum Tucson

We’ve seen a few coyotes in our neighborhood at home, but never as relaxed as this dude at the Desert Museum in Tucson.

Fun Fact: Great Horned Owls do not build their own nests. They lay their eggs in the abandoned nests of other birds. Squatters!

For Homage to Early Missionaries

If my Catholic mom were still alive, she would be proud we visited the Mission San Xavier del Bac while in Tucson. The thing is, we’re suckers for mission architecture and this one is pretty spectacular. Built in 1783, the Mission is considered by experts as the best example of Spanish Colonial architecture in the US.

Mission San Xavier del Bac Tucson

I promise the sky above the Mission San Xavier del Bac in Tucson was even more beautiful than this photo shows.

From the exterior, it looks unfinished – like the builders never got to the second bell tower. But from the inside, the frescoes and tile work are truly impressive. Combined with the flickering votive candles and the voluminous ceilings, the effect made me feel like I was in Europe. For those feeling perky, there is a nearby path that climbs to a cross on the hilltop. We did not make that pilgrimage though, opting instead for some warm and delicious Indian Fry Bread purchased from locals in the courtyard.

Fun Fact: This Mission was built in New Spain, which transferred to Mexico and ultimately became US territory.

For Your Empty Stomach

Tucson has a broad range of culinary options to match any taste. In fact, the city was recently named the first UNESCO City of Gastronomy in the U.S. Here’s a few of our favorites:

Tucson, and Arizona in general, is known for some pretty great Mexican food. And so we did have to try it out, and headed to dinner at El Charro Cafe. Touted as the oldest family-owned Mexican restaurant in the US, El Charro lived up to the hype. The carne seca was delicious, and so were the enchiladas, tacos, chile relleños and more.

family dinner at El Charro Cafe Tucson

It’s nice to have family in Tucson that takes us to great places like El Charro for delicious Mexican food.

If a modern take on diner food is more your game, then Welcome Diner is the place. The kids loved the kitschy 1950s architecture, which the owners had updated and funkified from a previous Sambo’s Restaurant location. And the food! Oh that food  – it was a collection really inventive and delicious version of diner food. We viewed fried chicken, chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes, and several kinds of pie.

exterior of Welcome Diner in Tucson

The architecture of the Welcome Diner in Tucson is so kitschy and fun, and so is the food – so delicious.

Back at the Hotel Congress, the lobby restaurant Cup Cafe is something of a local legend. With some staff members on the team here for more than 50 years, Cup Cafe and the hotel bar have stood the test of time. The food here is dependable and tasty. My French Dip sandwich had an interesting southwest flavor twist, and the kids loved their breakfast-for-lunch omelettes. But here, save room for dessert because they are famous for it. An old-fashioned spiraling display case shows guests a variety of sweet treats. We chose to try the coconut cream pie and the carrot cake with cream cheese frosting.

Carrot Cake at Cup Cafe in Hotel Congress Tucson

The carrot cake at Cup Cafe is just one of the desserts that called our names at the Hotel Congress in Tucson.

For Your Sleepy Heads

It was a real pleasure to stay at the luxurious Loews Ventana Canyon Resort, and we highly recommend it. The rooms are large, and some are connected to a full suite with living room, dining room and even a working fireplace! It was just the right amount of cozy and chic at the same time. We slept on the Murphy bed in the living room suite, letting the girls each have one of the queen beds in the bedroom. Both Ava and Sophia said they were the comfiest hotel beds they had ever experienced.

Front entrance Loews Ventana Canyon Resort Tucson

The architecture of the Loews Ventana Canyon Resort was designed by one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s students.

One of our favorite things about this hotel’s public spaces was all the enormous amethyst crystals and geodes on display. And by enormous, we mean museum-quality sizes. We were told the hotel was designed by one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s students. That influence was strong in the unique architecture of these buildings inside and out.

Loews Ventana Canyon Resort Tucson Arizona

The lobby of the Loews Ventana Canyon Resort in Tucson.

Tucked up against the Catalina Mountains at the entrance to Ventana Canyon, the Loews Resort in Tucson has some gorgeous views of the high desert. From the hotel’s entrance, guests can look down towards the lights of downtown Tucson. We loved the grounds surrounding the hotel, and walked the paths to have an up-close look at the local flora and fauna.

So beautiful.

pool view Loews Ventana Canyon Resort

The view from our room at the Loews Ventana Canyon Resort was pretty spectacular.


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9 Tips for Planning College Tours for Your High School Kid

9 Tips for Planning College Tours for Your High School Kid

It’s really hard to believe that Sophia is a Junior in high school already. It was just the other day we were pushing her around in the stroller while she gummed a handful of Goldfish Crackers. Now as a high school Junior, she has to start thinking about college. But where to go? Many parents have to help their kid visualize potential college options by actually going to visit them. We’re starting this now, and wow is it fraught with questions and landmines. Turns out planning college tours for your high school kid is no walk in the park!

This past week, we loaded up a sleek 2019 Chevrolet Traverse (#brandpartner) on loan for our family to test drive, and headed to Arizona. First up on the college tour schedule were Arizona State University in Tempe, and University of Arizona in Tucson.

Chevrolet Traverse with desert background in Tempe Arizona

With the Arizona desert landscape of Tempe in the background, the Chevy Traverse showed up nicely. #brandpartner

9 Tips for Planning College Tours for Your High School Kid

As we prepped for beginning this process, we learned some things about planning college tours for your high school kid worth sharing. Already we’ve made a couple of mistakes, so let us help you avoid some of our pitfalls and learn from our experiences. I imagine this will be an ongoing series, because we still have a lot to go!

9 Tips For Planning College Tours
  1. Talk with you kid about what they want to study. I know this seems obvious, but when we started planning this process Sophia did not have an answer to this question. Without knowing what she wanted to study, we were flying in the dark on choosing college campuses to visit.
  2. Know your budget in advance. One of our mistakes was planning to visit schools before we had checked on tuition and other costs. Well THAT was a shocker. We live in California, and out-of-state tuition and associated costs like housing, books, etc comes to $44,000/year for ASU and $48,000 for UofA. Not to get into anyone’s personal finances, but that might be a lot for some people to shoulder for 4-5 years. PER KID.
  3. Buy this book: Fiske Guide to Colleges. It lists every college in the US, complete with important stats like tuition costs, GPA/SAT requirements, strong areas of study, acceptance rates, financial aid and more. We’ve been pouring through this book, looking for potential college fits for Sophia using a list of criteria combining her desires and ours. It has been immensely helpful in narrowing down on great options.
    Fiske Guide to Colleges book cover

    This book, Fiske Guide to Colleges, is the bible for kids (and parents!) researching which colleges best suit their needs.

  4. Consider hiring a college coach. This may seem like a luxury for some, but we have found it to be money extremely well spent. You know that thing your teen does, where she looks at you like you are an idiot and know absolutely nothing about anything? Yeah, well they don’t pull that with a neutral third party. The college coach has gotten more information out of Sophia than we have. Plus she’s helping Sophia prepare for writing entrance applications, essays and more.
  5. Plan your college visits to include an actual school day. It may be hard to drag your kid out of school to miss a day for touring, but it will be good to see the campus with actual students and activity. On our recent tours, school was out on vacation and the colleges were deserted. It was a chilly way to see what is normally a bustling campus. Part of the reason for touring is to see the other students, and have your kid determine if they like what they see. Can they be friends with these people? Are these people they could be dorm roommates with?
  6. Make appointments for your college visits far in advance – the dates book up quickly. Most college websites have a built-in scheduling function so you can request your chosen day and time. The tours are very full, and no walk-ups are allowed.
  7. Encourage visits to large and small campuses, colleges and universities, public and private, small town and big city. This will help you kid start to envision themselves in this place, living here for most of the year. Do they like the energy and bright lights of the big city? Or maybe they prefer a quieter, less active country location.
    University of Arizona sweatshirts

    Waiting at the UofA bookstore for our tour of the campus, it was hard not to purchase a signature sweatshirt.

  8. Don’t stress if they hate it. This touring business is as much about helping your kid determine what she doesn’t like as what she does. Just like you, they are not going to like or feel comfortable in every location. Some will naturally drop off the list after touring.
  9. Have your kid keep a notebook for writing down pros and cons of each college you visit. Good advice given to us by our coach was for Sophia to ask herself the same four or five questions after each campus tour.
Tucson mountain landscape

The landscapes in Arizona are breathtaking, like this one in Tucson.

Arizona College Overview

Arizona State University

ASU is located in a sweet little town called Tempe, a suburb of Phoenix. Located right next to downtown Phoenix, Tempe is a mix of hotels, retail, residences and the Arizona State University campus. Our tour started at the Welcome Center, and was extremely well organized and planned. Starting in an auditorium with a slide show and video, our host guided us through a great amount of information. She was warm and personable, and Sophia felt instantly at ease.

family entering Arizona State University Welcome Center

The ASU Welcome Center was, well, extremely welcoming! Great way to start a campus tour.

After that 30-minute orientation, we were split into groups by major or interest, and off we went to tour the campus. Because it was holiday break, we did not see lecture halls or dorm rooms. However, we did tour the sports center and student union buildings – both were very impressive. Sophia’s eyes were wide open, taking it all in.

University of Arizona

A more informal tour, this one started at the bookstore on the Tucson campus. We were split into random groups and assigned to a guide for our walking tour. Since there was no orientation, the guide became the source of information about all things University of Arizona in Tucson. Our guide was knowledgeable and funny, but not overwhelmingly personable. We toured the student union, sports center and even a dorm building.

Old Main building at University of Arizona

The Old Main building at UofA was the original university structure, and now houses administration offices.

Sophia was not feeling this one, and I think maybe seeing a dorm room was the clincher. She will get used to it, but at first glance these rooms are S-M-A-L-L. She did not like the idea of having the shared bathroom down the hall either. We will be encouraging her to shake off the princess attitude, but this first tour was not the time to address that.

After a very brief comparison of pros and cons, Sophia decided that she did not want to pursue either of these colleges in Arizona. We’ll see if that view changes after touring more!

red 2019 Chevrolet Traverse in driveway

This sweet red 2019 Chevy Traverse was our loaner car for our Arizona college tours, and it was the perfect fit for our family. #brandpartner


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Three Things to Bring on a Road Trip – Always

Three Things to Bring on a Road Trip – Always

This post was made in partnership with Kleenex® Wet Wipes. All opinions my own.

We travel a lot as a family, and sometimes getting to our destination is hard work. Often we find ourselves schlepping luggage to the car, getting everyone on the road without losing something, and attempting to reach our destination in one piece. That’s why we know there are three things to bring on a road trip in order to keep our sanity. Good music, a strong supply of snacks, and Kleenex ® Wet Wipes are all on our must-bring list.

We use Kleenex (R) Wet Wipes when we travel, especially during the cold and flu season. Germs are part of the deal, but we just keep them away!

 

 

Three Things To Bring on a Road Trip

Even when we’re on an easy road trip, it’s not always easy. Sometimes the road is too curvy, one of the kids turns a little green, and we have to pull over. Or perhaps *someone* gets a little peckish, and without immediate snack gratification things can turn ugly quick. Often we are in and out of the car to get gas, or water, or to use the restroom.  Maybe it’s  to capture that perfect Instagram moment from the scenic view point. An easy clean-up is often needed – and that’s where the Kleenex ® Wet Wipes come in handy.

We keep a pack of these babies handy in the car. Who knows when there might be a spill to clean up on aisle seven?

Whatever the agenda and combination of elements, it seems we are invariably in need of something while traveling in the car. That’s why there are three things to bring on a road trip in our family, and they are part of our packing routine without fail.

A Solid Playlist

Whether listening through the car’s sound system as a group or individually through headphones, our family loves good music.  Especially on a road trip, music helps provide the soundtrack to the views we are enjoying through the car windows. If there isn’t a good view, a solid playlist can keep the family entertained. When the kids were little, we would listen to Disney tunes and all sing along. Now with occasionally surly teens, we sing and they grunt while rolling their eyes at the horror of our embarrassing actions.  Nonetheless, good tunes make the trip go faster and we reach our destination with our happiness (relatively) intact.

Lots of Snacks

Beware that moment when Dad passes the point of no return on the hungry scale. I’ll admit, it’s not pretty for anyone in the near vicinity. That’s why our family is always prepared with snacks for the road trip. Sophia loves her fish-shaped cheddar crackers, and Ava always craves spicy rolled tortilla chips. Both of these tasty treats are super messy and leave fingers orange and greasy. Triton usually goes for something healthy like and orange or some almonds. And Jon (me) is usually the one that needs a food fix fast, preferring an energy bar or some trail mix to do the trick before things go badly. Our whole family knows to bring snacks along for Dad to help him avoid The Dark Side.

Road trips can be dirty business, and we keep ourselves heading in the right direction with Kleenex (R) Wet Wipes to keep the germs at bay.

Kleenex ® Wet Wipes

We are extra careful about germs when we travel. Occupying a permanent spot in our car’s glovebox, Kleenex ® Wet Wipes are along for the ride – any ride – no matter what. We learned this early, when the kids were mere babies in their car seats. We’d pull a Kleenex ® Wet Wipes from the pack to clean up their dirty little hands and faces, keeping the kids free of germs as we continued on our way. Now that the girls are teens, our family still loves our road trips. Instead of messy faces and crumbs, we end up with greasy hands, door handles and car upholstery. It never fails.

We always feel safe with Kleenex ® Wet Wipes, because they’re thick, soft and clinically proved to wipe away 99% of all germs on skin without harsh chemicals. Now available in three unique varieties, they are dermatologist tested, hypoallergenic and contain no alcohol.

Totally safe for face and skin, Kleenex (R) Wet Wipes make clean-up easy on a road trip.

But we don’t stop there. Because we are in and out of the car at various rest stops along the way, who knows what germs might be picked up along the way. Kleenex ® Wet Wipes are perfect for wiping up not only hands, but luggage handles, mobile devices and other things we touch over and over again. After all, their motto is Kleenex ® Wet Wipes are Made for Doers™ and that describes our family pretty darn well – not afraid to get our hands dirty and wanting them to be clean again, fast and easy.

Pit Stop Before the Road Trip

Before we head out, we make a quick stop at Walmart to pick up a pack or two of Kleenex ® Wet Wipes, and you can too. Walmart is really a great spot for one-stop shopping, because you can purchase all three things to bring on a roadtrip from our list.

Regardless of the destination, near or far we need our basic three things to bring on a road trip.

Come to think of it, we’ll be getting on an airplane soon and that’s another great place to use our Kleenex ® Wet Wipes. Those tray tables and arm rests on a plane can be full of germs, and a quick wipe down will keep us heading towards our destination with no worries and high expectations.

Travel on!

 

I was selected for this opportunity as a member of CLEVER and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.

 


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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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Passing On a Lifetime of Palm Springs Road Trips to our Kids

Passing On a Lifetime of Palm Springs Road Trips to our Kids

I’ve been visiting Palm Springs since I was 14 years old, and I never tire of its dry heat, swimming pools and desert beauty. Those first few visits set in concrete a love affair with the Coachella Valley that has endured throughout my lifetime. Passing on a lifetime of Palm Springs road trips to our kids, our family continues to add to those memories.

There is just something about road trips that bonds a family with lifelong remembrances. Songs sung, snacks consumed, roadside pit stops visited. A zillion choruses of “are we there yet?” will reverberate in our memory banks forever. There is just something so powerful about introducing our kids to a place we love so dearly.

2018 White Kia Cadenza

The 2018 Kia Cadenza is a smooth ride with plenty of room for our family of four and all of our stuff.

Passing On a Lifetime of Palm Springs Road Trips

It’s only a two-and-a-half hour drive from our house to Palm Springs, and yet it seems a lifetime away. As we packed up the Kia Cadenza for our latest trip to the desert, I reflected on some of those memory-creating occasions. Maybe some of these will resonate with you too.

Since the kids were super little, we’ve buckled them into their car seats for the drive to Palm Springs. As parents are wont to do, we over-planned for what might lay ahead. Snacks were bundled, sippy cups filled and video entertainment secured in mass quantities as though we were schlepping to the Far East.

date shakes in Palm Springs

When it’s hot out, a date shake in Palm Springs is just the ticket!

Overpack on Snacks

To this day, the first thing our girls ask when we get settled into the car is “Did you bring any snacks?” These days it’s bottles of water, fresh fruit, protein bars and maybe some popcorn that keeps them sated for the drive.

In my younger years, I was the one that would cause friends and loved ones to pack a candy bar on trips. If my blood sugar ran low, the hangry-ness was legendary for its speed and depth. Now we know better and prepare accordingly, so the kids aren’t the only ones that need snacks for the road!

In Palm Springs, my favorite snack place may be gone forever. Does anyone remember Fun in the Sun Candies? They made these caramel covered marshmallows that were THE BEST THING EVER.

Road Trip Tip #1: However your family defines snacks, bring them in quantity. Whether the drive is long or short, somehow a road trip will trigger hunger pangs like no other. If you don’t consume everything, at least you will be stocked up for the hotel room or Airbnb. (Even if it’s not Fun in the Sun marshmallows).

Supply Entertainment Choices

When the girls were little, it was a library of DVDs we would play on the car’s entertainment system. It’s an odd memory for us because we only ever heard the soundtrack. Sitting in the front seats, we couldn’t see the movie but have by now memorized every single word of all the Disney classics. The Little Mermaid, A Bug’s Life, Sleeping Beauty, Toy Story, High School Musical – they have all been engrained in our parent brains.

Palms to Pines Highway from above

The Palms to Pines Highway winds down from the mountain tops to the Palm Springs desert floor.

Now the girls stare at their phone screens with earphones affixed, occasionally looking up to see how far we’ve traveled. We’re considered strict parents for limited their time on devices, but relax our rules for traveling. Still, we do have some road trip limits.

Back in the day, my entertainment on those trips to Palm Springs was looking out the window of an Air California jet from San Francisco. Remember Air Cal? Groovy flower-pattern seats and “stewardesses” with bucket hats and hot pants. I was enthralled.

Road Trip Tip #2: Intersperse entertainment addiction with real life experiences. We know our kids feel like car prisoners, and yet we do make them aware of the journey along the way. We give them time periods to spend on entertainment, and then a break to look out the window. Whether they enjoy the passing scenery or stare into the void, they can learn to enjoy the nothingness. Sometimes a blank mind can bring the most powerful observations, and road trips are perfect for those moments.

The scenery can be pretty spectacular, both horizontally and vertically. The Kia Cadenza sports a ridiculously large sunroof, perfect for watching clouds form the shapes of animals and other objects. We used to play this game for hours while staring at the sky, and even today it can draw their attention for at least a minute or two.

Palm Springs wind farm

The windmills in Palm Springs are massive, and passing them is a sure sign we are close to our destination.

Plan Interesting Stops Along the Way

Depending on what part of the Coachella Valley we are visiting, our lifetime of roadtrips to Palm Springs brings us through different routes. If we are headed towards La Quinta or Palm Desert, we typically take the Palms to Pines Highway (Highway 74). This curvy wonder tracks from the back reaches of Temecula through the high desert, tipping over the rim high above the desert floor. Winding down that road you pass by pine trees, and in the winter sometimes even snow. When you reach the desert floor, your view switches to cactus and palm trees. This, Palms to Pines Highway. There’s several great stops along this path, including a sketchy diner with the best greasy hamburgers.

If we are staying in Palm Springs proper, it’s better to take Highway 111 from Interstate 10. This winds us through the enormous wind farms with giant propellors spinning as far as the eye can see. Just before exiting Highway 10, the kitschy life-size dinosaurs come into view. A stand-out for as long as I can remember, the Cabazon Dinosaurs have become a tourist attraction. They’ve even been featured in many Hollywood movies including my favorite – “PeeWee’s Big Adventure”.

The first big stop on the way to Palm Springs that I remember was to get a burger and shake from Bob’s Big Boy. There was something so perfectly Southern California about the giant statue of a little boy with his hand in the air. So kitschy. So delicious. What ever happened to Bob’s?

Road Trip Tip #3: Take a moment before you get in the car and plan a couple of potential stops along your route. The kids will appreciate something to look forward to, and you will probably need a bathroom break long about that time anyway. Sometimes we let the kids pick where they want to stop, and sometimes that idea backfires horribly.

Build Family Traditions

Our family tradition nearly always includes a stop for date shakes on the way into town. Other folks prefer to stop at a farm stand and pick up some fresh fruit and vegetables. Maybe you have a special favorite restaurant in the area, and it is your family tradition to go there each time you visit?

pool at Riviera Hotel Palm Springs

Sometimes the hotel pool is a perfect spot for watching the kids swim while we lay in the sun.

For us, that restaurant in Palm Springs in the Blue Coyote. Known for its delicious Mexican fare and strong margaritas, the Blue Coyote is a good solid favorite. For some reason, this place gets requested by our kids every time we are in town. It’s not earth shattering cuisine, but it’s memorable.

Another tradition is driving through the center of town  – at night – down Palm Canyon Drive, music blaring and the windows down. There’s just something about that warm desert air blowing into the car, and singing ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ at the top of our lungs.

Road Trip Tip #4: Pick a tradition that is easy to uphold, and one the kids will love and look forward to. It does not have to be elaborate or difficult – it’s the small things that matter!

There are so many great things to do with kids in Palm Springs. Our family loves the Red Jeep Tours, the Living Desert Zoo, and just hanging out and walking around in Downtown Palm Springs. Hope you are able to build great family road trip traditions, regardless of where you choose to roam!

girls in hot tub

Ever since the girls were babies, we’ve been road tripping to Palm Springs.