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by Jen Lucas, Pack Up + Go Contributor
To summarize, if you haven’t read part one of this journey, my Dad and I drove from California to Pennsylvania with a six and a four-year-old. We lived to tell the tale and honestly had an enjoyable time due to proper planning, keeping each leg of the trip under eight hours, researching a few kid-friendly options in each city and remaining flexible.
We left off in Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico and were heading to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. This city was more of a stopover destination, mostly to catch up on sleep, as it was over the recommended eight-hour drive. However, I wanted to ensure we had something to do in case we needed to blow off some steam so I found a few options that seemed interesting, such as the Martin Park Nature Center and the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum.
The Martin Park Nature Center is a great escape from the city with walking trails, a nature themed playground, and a Visitor Center with live animals and streams cascading over red rocks. It seemed like the perfect option right on the way to get out into nature, and would prepare us for the next leg of our trip.
The Cowboy Museum seemed fitting based on the location, which is also important when visiting different cities, as I like the kids to experience local culture. Conveniently located off Route 66 and highly rated on TripAdvisor, the museum is full of Western culture and Native American history. Unfortunately, we decided to bypass activities in Oklahoma City, get a solid night’s sleep, and hit the road in the morning towards our next stop, Memphis!
As this was my first time in Memphis, I chose to stay at La Quinta Inn near Graceland, because I was hoping to be near the action but not experience quite the party scene as I would downtown. The area was not the best, and when we pulled into the parking lot through the iron security gates, I felt as though it could be a mistake to stay in the area. The property itself was clean, offered free breakfast, had a nice outdoor pool and was of great value. We were minutes away from Graceland and many Elvis-themed establishments, so it was quintessential Memphis and excellent for the adults. As for the kids, I chose not to shove Elvis Presley down their throats and instead gave them a few options of activities, including a river boat cruise or Graceland, figuring they couldn’t care less about the music icon.
Shockingly, my six-year-old was very much interested in going to Graceland and watching performances in restaurants complete with Elvis impersonators in sequin-filled jumpsuits. I was beyond excited, as Graceland was a first for both of the adults, as well, and I’ve deemed it one of those place you must see at least once in your life. The kids were both fully engaged in the tour of his home and still tell the stories of his life and death to this day.
To continue with the kid-approved, Elvis-themed occasion, I discovered that the famous Marlowe’s pink Cadillac would pick us up at our hotel, so immediately made reservations. Since Elvis used his first royalty check on a pink Cadillac for his mother, Marlowe’s chose the same vehicle to shuttle local hotel guests to their restaurant.
After filling my belly with some of the best BBQ I’ve ever had and their famous fried pickles, we rested up for the final leg of our trip, a visit with friends at their cabin in Lake Lure, North Carolina.
Some may recognize Lake Lure as the filming spot for the movie Dirty Dancing, but the 720-acre lake, located amongst the Blue Ridge mountain range and near Chimney Rock Park, is kid heaven with approximately twenty-one miles of shoreline. The beach is pristine with boat and kayak rentals, fishing, water skiing and a water park with water slides and games. We opted for the boat rental and spent hours cruising around the lake, jumping off every few miles to enjoy the refreshing water.
Our friends had a timeshare at the Fox Run Resort which was close to the lake. It had both an adult and kid pool, lazy river, golf course and bar/restaurant. The amenities were perfect on rainy, cloudy days when we didn’t want to risk being on the lake in case of thunderstorms.
After three days at the lake, it was noticeably time to make our way to the final destination: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Even though the kids’ DVD players broke somewhere in Tennessee, we were able to keep the trip enjoyable and headaches to a minimum by ensuring they were informed and therefore interested in our destinations. We also made sure to take a break whenever necessary. We are proof ten days in a small SUV with young children can be enjoyable!
By Jen Lucas, Pack Up + Go Contributor
Southern California has a great deal to offer including an average of 260 days of sunshine per year, warm temperatures year round, beautiful beaches and one of my ultimate favorites, fantastic Mexican food. Growing up on the East Coast but having lived in Huntington Beach for several years, I not only familiarized myself with the cuisine but also found some of the best tacos and burritos on the planet. So if you ever find yourself in Surf City, I highly recommend the following:
Fiesta Grill & Catering - 418 17th St, Huntington Beach, CA 92648
Fiesta Grill tops this list as my all time favorite Mexican food spot. There are two locations – but the main one (located just a few blocks from the beach) has a small eat-in space with just a few tables and bright beach themed murals adorning the walls. My personal favorite, and what I recommend to all carnivores, is the shredded beef enchiladas. The beef is slow cooked daily with the perfect amount of spice, and the homemade red sauce that covers the dish is to die for. I often found myself buying tubs of the sauce a la carte and using it in my home cooking. I’ve failed at any attempt to find a better enchilada and believe me, I have tried.
Sanchos Tacos - 602 Pacific Coast Hwy, Huntington Beach, CA 92648
Sanchos Tacos, voted the 2016 best breakfast burrito in Orange County, is only a few years old but has already opened 4 locations. Sanchos is always one of my first stops when visiting HB, and everything I’ve ordered there is legit. My favorite, the Flaco Burrito, is technically a breakfast burrito per the menu. However, I always opt for the lunch option which includes spinach, onions, mushrooms, artichoke hearts, avocado, their incredible green salsa on the side (ask for extra – you’ll need it) and be sure to add chicken. Sanchos is conveniently located in downtown Huntington Beach with an art-for-sale filled restaurant and several tables outside. The eclectic environment adds to the character and being across the street from the ocean is a nice bonus as well.
Taco Grill – 8481 Heil Ave H, Westminster, CA 92683
Taco Grill was recently recommended by a friend and was not one of my original go-to spots, but it is so tasty it’s now on the “must visit” list. The restaurant is small with a few tables, but the outdoor space is a decent size and covered with an awning. Although technically located in Westminster, CA it’s only minutes from downtown Huntington Beach and well-worth the drive. The menu is typical with tortas, burritos, and flautas but my taste buds always call for the tacos, specifically the shrimp and grilled chicken. There’s nothing extraordinarily unique about their tacos, just full of flavor and authentic street style. Muy delicioso!
Mario’s – 18603 Main Street, Huntington Beach, CA 92648
Mario’s is a sit-down restaurant and bar with a popular happy hour. During Monday night football they offer a free buffet in the bar seating area during the game. The menu is large, and the margaritas are killer, but my favorite dish has to be the beef tamales. The outer cornmeal is not super thick like what I’ve usually encountered and it’s filled with large chunks of tender beef. They also throw a few pieces of the beef on top of the tamale as well as a darker, almost mole-type sauce with a nice amount of spice. The décor is very Mexican beach themed with palapas covering tables and subdued lighting.
Normita’s Surf City Taco – 815 Indianapolis Ave, Huntington Beach, CA 92648
Normita’s serves their famous fish tacos and other Mexican street foods in a counter serve operation. There are a few tables outside, but it’s more commonly known as a take out establishment. Although I appreciate a good fish taco, my favorite grub here is their breakfast burrito. You can customize the fillings as you wish but my favorite includes eggs, bacon, potatoes, beans, rice and onions – which I realize are pretty standard in the breakfast burrito realm, however, there’s something about Normita’s flavor combination that makes it stand out from the crowd. Also, their salsa alone is something to rave about and thankfully is included with the burrito.
After each visit to my old stomping grounds and due to all of the Mexican food I consume, my diet quickly switches to salads. However, these are some of the best spots I’ve encountered (including those within Mexico), and it’s worth every single bean and rice-filled calorie.
By Jen Lucas, Pack Up + Go Contributor
Feeling the need to scratch the ski trip itch, a fellow winter-loving friend and I started planning our trip to Steamboat Springs, Colorado in search of the famed Champagne Powder® snow.
Steamboat Springs, also known as Ski Town, USA®, is located 160 miles northwest of Denver. It boasts two ski areas, three State Parks and more than 150 natural springs, lakes, and rivers catering to a wide array of outdoor activities, no matter the season. The Champagne Powder snow, however, is the trademark of the Steamboat Ski & Resort Corporation, which is the only ski resort in the world with trademarked snow. Champagne Powder can be described as light, dry and smooth—so light you can’t make a snowball with it. Legend has it that the term originated in the early fifties from a local rancher who claimed the snow tickled his nose like champagne.
As if the snow weren’t enough, it just so happened that our trip fell on Steamboat’s annual Winter Carnival. The carnival, which takes place in early February, was started to help residents cope with cabin fever and to simply celebrate winter instead of loathing it. During Winter Carnival you can expect to see kids being pulled on skis behind horses down the main street and a group of skiers with red lights descending down the mountain. The last skier in line launches roman candles from his/her backpack to make for a great transition into the firework show that follows.
Our first adventure was to meet up with friends for dinner at the famed Ore House Restaurant. We quickly learned Uber was not established in the area and cabs were extremely scarce. The best way around town is by bus so we had to quickly learn the routes to avoid being late to dinner. Fortunately, bus stops are widespread and easy to navigate so we managed to only be fashionably late.
Officially named the Ore House at the Pine Grove, the restaurant is set in its original barn and is a staple in town with its rich history dating back to 1889. The Ore House has been serving steak and seafood to the community and tourists alike since 1971. The atmosphere is quintessential Colorado with wood burning fireplaces complementing the rustic, ranch-style interior.
After an amazing dinner, we decided to explore the nightlife that downtown Steamboat had to offer. The Main Street District consists of a few streets running parallel and offers a wide range of dining options, shops, and bars. With so many options to choose from, we started our journey at the eclectic Sunpies Bistro, which sits along the Yampa River and is well-known for their cheap, stiff drinks and Cajun fare.
The following day it was time to hit the slopes and experience this famous snow for ourselves. The ascent from Gondola-Square at 6900 feet to Mid-Mountain at 9,080 feet was proof that altitude sickness is, in fact, real. I had an immediate, pounding headache and forced myself to drink two bottles of water in the chalet before skiing. After serious hydration, I was back in action and had a blast on the trails. Even though the snowfall for the year was below average, this snow was unlike anything I had skied before. It allowed for an easy ride and an even easier fall!
After a full day of skiing, there’s nothing better than a dip in a hot tub or, even better, natural mineral springs, of which Steamboat has plenty. Our local friends recommended Strawberry Park Hot Springs, which is outside of Steamboat but worth the journey. No rental vehicle, no problem. There are a few shuttle operators, including Sweet Pea Tours and Hot Springs Shuttle, with vans to transport you from your front door to the hot springs. There are several pools to choose from, all with varying temperatures. Most range from warm to warmer to hot, but there’s also a pool with refreshing, ice-cold runoff from the river. The facilities include restrooms, a teepee, and heated cabin for changing and picnic areas.
Needless to say, there is something for everyone during every season in Steamboat Springs. I, however, look forward to another winter trip and more tickling of the nose from that Champagne Powder!
by Jen Lucas, Pack Up + Go Contributor
Having been to the Bay Area several times, I knew I wanted this trip and the activities to be as unique as all of the trips I take, each one a snowflake. This time around I would be navigating the city with a good friend who is a San Francisco native. I planned to take total advantage of having my very own tour guide, and disappoint she did not!
It’s August and the average temperature in San Francisco is a high of 72 but these few days it barely made it to 60 in the city. I’d battled the East Coast heat and humidity for months, so I welcomed the gloomy, misty San Francisco microclimate as a bit of relief.
On day one I suggested a trip to Muir Woods. The weather was similar to that of the city and required us to layer up, but the large tree canopies seemed to be a buffer between us and the damp fog lurking above. The smell hits you as soon as you enter the forest, like a whiff of clean air, tree sap and fresh pine. We decided to take one of the more intense hikes which included some insane switchbacks and one serious ascent up a rocky staircase. It turned out to be about a 2 hour hike through the majestic forest with many different sites, tall, skinny trees, round fat ones and various creeks running through. The main obstacle was wanting to view the site in all of its glory but having to look down so as not to trip over a root or tumble down a very steep hill.
The following day was one that I’ll remember for this lifetime. Everyone recognizes the Golden Gate Bridge as the major landmark of the city, which I’ve seen previously, but when my friend mentioned us riding bikes across, I visualized myself with a huge sharpie checking off a large box on my bucket list.
We started in the heart of the city, dressed in layers, forced to walk the bike up a few of the famous, steep incline hills, down the Presidio and finally arriving at the iconic red bridge. After the obligatory photo, we continued the adventure, weaving in and out of people on that very chilly, windy afternoon. The crowd did not intimidate nor affect my riding abilities, although it’s possible I was in such a euphoric state that I didn’t notice. The total distance across was about 1 mile and our plan was to keep going onto Sausalito to grab a well-deserved brunch then take the ferry back to the city.
After a welcomed descent down hill to Sausalito, we agreed to perch at the Barrel House Tavern, which boasts outdoor seating along the water. The weather in Sausalito was a sunny 75 degrees, so we stripped off the two top layers down to tank tops. In the spirit of brunch, despite it being a Thursday, we both went with the Summer Champagne Cocktail complete with Brut champagne, Blackberry and Elderflower Liquor and with zero regrets! I chose the blackened snapper sandwich as I was immediately sold on the fried caper aioli—another exceptional choice. I felt like I’d just conquered the world!
After brunch and a little shopping, everyone on Sausalito had the same idea to head back on the ferry, as it was about 4:30pm, so the boarding line was enormous. Luckily there are anxious cab drivers offering to take those passengers unwilling to wait for the ferry and their bikes back to the city. Their goal is to fill up the car with a minimum of 4 people and they all charged around $18 per person. If choosing this option you’ll need cash and to confirm with the driver whether the fee includes bridge charges, as I learned they try to throw that in at the end if you do not ask up front.
We finally made it back and somehow managed to keep the adrenaline flowing for another amazing meal and drinks in the Polk, which is known as the “city’s premier bohemian drinking enclave.”
Sadly it was time to say adios to one of my favorite cities and battle the airport nightmare that is SFO. Luckily, my next stop was Southern California and I’d just had an epic, enlightening trip, otherwise I may have been more bummed about the 5 hour delay I encountered. Instead I let my battered body heal as I sat in the airport, staring at the foggy sky I look forward to seeing again very soon.