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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.

 


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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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Low Tech Things To Do On A Road Trip

Low Tech Things To Do On A Road Trip

Summer road trips are our family’s jam. We love to hit the road for long weekends, visiting fun California places within easy driving distance like Santa Barbara, Palm Springs, Hollywood and more. If you are traveling by car with your family this summer, you’ll want to plan some on-the-road activities that don’t involve staring at a screen. It’s easy to let our kids get lost in their smartphones while on the road, but a family trip is also an opportunity to connect and engage in some low tech things to do on a road trip.

2018 Kia Cadenza

We are ready to hit the road in this snazzy new Kia Cadenza, outfitted perfectly for any road trip. #KiaPartner

 

Here are a few of our favorites:

Low Tech Things To Do On A Road Trip

1. Good old-fashioned reading

Ebooks are easily accessible on the road, but there’s something to be said about the feel of paper and reading a book jacket to find out what you’ll find in the pages. Whether you use a bookmark or dog-ear pages, there’s something special about reading a book. Our daughter Ava loves to read, and she’ll pack some of her trusty  young adult favorites for the road.

desert road sign to nowhere

Whichever way you choose, it’s about the journey not the final destination.

2. Sing-a-long

Although music involves electronic components, there’s no need to bring out the phones or tablets when the Kia Cadenza has a premium stereo system and available Sirius XM Satellite Radio. Your kids might roll their eyes a little when you blast the ‘90s on 9, or you can turn up the latest pop tunes and partake in some carpool karaoke. (Cue teen eye rolling).

3. Scavenger hunt

Before you hit the road, have your family make a list of things you may see on your route. Pick some obvious items for the younger kids (like semi trucks or slug bugs) or more obscure items like a labrador in a truck or a red Ferrari. Try to plan out some monuments or special tourist attractions along your journey. Using our Kia Cadenza’s state-of-the-art navigation system, we were even able to map those locations and make it easy for the driver to find the stops along the way.

pin in a map for road trip planning

Having the kids be part of planning the road trip route helps them be interested in following along from the back seat.

4. Journal

Writing about travels is a great way for your family to reflect and make memories. Encourage your kids to free write about the trip. You may want to pass a notebook around so everyone can share their own special memories as you drive across the country or region. The best part is looking back years later on the fun times you shared. Add pictures when you get home to document your journey with both words and photographs.

journal about travel adventures

When driving to multiple road trip destinations, the time spent in the car is a great opportunity to journal about the trip.

5. Crack the code

Have one family member choose a code word before you begin your trip. Pick something that is not too common but likely to be said somewhere along the journey. Once one person cracks the code with the secret word, they become the new code word creator until another person says their word. This is a fun way to pass the time on a trip while having fun, engaging conversations!

6. The license plate game

Since our girls were very little, our family has loved to play the simple license plate game. Just calling out the name of the US State when you see it first can get pretty competitive. The girls have gotten very good at spotting license plates from faraway places like Maine and Florida, or more obscure ones like Alaska or Hawaii. Me? I never win because I’m usually the driver and keeping my eyes on the road for safety reasons. I just randomly yell out “Alabama!” so they think I’m still in the game. (I think they are on to me).

New Mexico license plate

Some license plates are more colorful than others. Extra points?

It’s not necessary to break out an iPad or fancy phone to keep your family occupied on a long drive. These low tech things to do on a road trip are fun and easy ways to interact or entertain your family on your journey.

Enjoy your vacation with your family with these unplugged activities!


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Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort Great for Families

Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort Great for Families

* We were guests of Hilton Hotels & Resorts for this stay and as always, these are our own thoughts and views.

Santa Barbara is one of our family’s favorite places, and over Memorial Weekend we visited this beautiful beach city along the California Coast for a little getaway. We were told the Hilton is a Santa Barbara beachfront resort great for families, and we set out to see for ourselves.

We have actually stayed at this property a couple of times before, when it was formerly known as the Fess Parker Doubletree Resort. With a recent remodel and room upgrade, the property has been reborn as the Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort. And as Hiltons go, this is one of the best we’ve experienced in the US.

SUP in Santa Barbara

A stand up paddle board lesson on the calm waters of Santa Barbara Bay, taken from Stearns Wharf.

SANTA BARBARA BEACHFRONT RESORT GREAT FOR FAMILIES

There’s a bunch of reasons why the Hilton is a Santa Barbara beachfront resort great for families:

Fantastic Location Across from East Beach

I lived in Santa Barbara years ago, and one of my favorite beaches was always East Beach. The Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort is directly across the street from this beach, with green lawns on either side. A short walk down the sand is Stearns Wharf and the base of State Street. Triton and I got up each morning, grabbed a Starbucks from the lobby and enjoyed a nice quiet walk at the waters’ edge. Later in the day when things warmed up, that same beach served as the ideal spot for some sunbathing and splashing around in the Pacific Ocean.

Helpful Hint: Ask for a room on the third floor for the best ocean views.

sunrise East Beach Santa Barbara

This little seagull friend helped us greet sunrise at East Beach in Santa Barbara.

Activities to Keep the Entire Family Busy

The pool and spa at the Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort are spacious. Families with kids of all ages played in the water and lounged poolside with cold drinks. Nearby on property, the bicycle rental beckoned us to go for a spin down the boardwalk. We happily rode along under the palm trees, watching a band of standup paddle boarders practice their moves. Out on Stearns Wharf, visitors can spy the occasional dolphin swimming among the sailboats headed out to the Channel Islands. Or pop into the Natural History Museum’s Sea Center to see some ocean life up close.

Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara

From Stearns Wharf, you can see the beach, the Santa Barbara Riviera and mountains beyond.

Later, we enjoyed a stroll on Lower State Street, checking out the cool shops, restaurants, and historic train station. Also not to be missed is the gigantic Moreton Bay Fig Tree – awarded as the largest and oldest in the country.

Moreton Bay Fig Santa Barbara

This Moreton Bay Fig tree in Santa Barbara is thought to be the largest and oldest in the US.

Helpful Hint: Right next to the train station, pop into the lobby of the little known Ronald Reagan Museum. Right inside the front door, they have the largest piece of the Berlin Wall in existence outside of Berlin.

Fresh New Rooms

The remodeled Hilton Santa Barbara has all the bells and whistles, and our kids are the ones that notice the most. Both girls inspect a hotel room as though they were the management. We find them looking in every drawer and opening every closet and cabinet.

Balcony view at Hilton Santa Barbara

Our balcony at the Santa Barbara Hilton overlooked a grove of olives, a string of palm trees, and the Pacific Ocean.

My pet peeve is when there are not enough outlets for charging our many (many!) devices. These new rooms had plenty of options. Now if we could just get our girls to stop draining the batteries on their phones from overuse!

Helpful Hint: Each room has a nice mini fridge that fits snacks and drinks. Just down the street is a produce market, where you can buy fresh-picked organic fruit for snacks in the room.

Friendly Staff That Remembers Your Name

To me, hotel staff makes all the difference in the quality of our stay. When team members remember us from previous visits and go out of their way to remember our names? Well, that is hospitality at its finest. From the valet to the doorman to the housekeeper, the team here is exceptional. Real authentic smiles from people that look you in the eye are so rare these days, and our entire family was impressed by this team.

Helpful Hint: Valet park your car. It’s only $6 more per day, and the staff is so wonderful you will appreciate them having your car ready when you want to scoot out.

Close to all the Action

Want to play some beach volleyball? It’s right across the street at East Beach. Or perhaps try some of that famous Santa Ynez Valley wine? There a scores of wine tasting rooms scattered throughout Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone, the coolest neighborhood in the city. The Funk Zone is filled with trendy restaurants, fun cafes, craft breweries, galleries and shops, all within walking distance of the Santa Barbara Hilton.

Wine tasting in Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone is a blast when you’re with your friends.

A short car ride away and we were able to reach downtown Santa Barbara in minutes. The shops of State Street, the gorgeous architecture and gardens of the County Courthouse, and the historic adobes of the original settlers are all here. Up the hill a bit is the gorgeous Santa Barbara Mission and its ocean views.

Helpful Hint: If you visit the County Courthouse (and you really should) go all the way to the top for views from the tower. This historic landmark has some surprisingly beautiful tile work and other adornments that make it a must-see for any Santa Barbara visitor.

How to Get There:

  • Car: 2 hours from LAX (without traffic) and 3.5 hours from San Diego.
  • Train: 3 hours from Union Station in downtown LA.
  • Air: Santa Barbara International Airport welcomes flights from many major US cities and beyond.

Where to Stay:

The Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort offers rooms starting at $ and suites starting at $.

 

East Beach Santa Barbara

Sunning in the warm sand at East Beach in Santa Barbara, looking cool in my new StitchFix clothes.