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Category Archives: California

Making the Most of 24 Hours in Palm Springs

Palm Springs, CA

Week-long vacations are great, but our family ends up doing a lot of quick, one- or two-night trips. With work and school schedules, it’s difficult to carve out 7-10 days to travel. We would rather go on a quick road trip than not go at all, which has lead us to explore places like Houston and Seattle in just a few short days.

Our trip to Palm Springs was no different. We spent a mere 24-hours in the Coachella Valley. Here’s how we made the most of our time exploring the area:

Day 1: Morning
We hit the road and drove from Las Vegas to Palm Springs in about 4.5 hours. We stayed at the Renaissance Esmeralda, which is located in Indian Wells.

Day 1: Afternoon
We arrived at the Renaissance Esmeralda, and I immediately knew I’d picked the right hotel. The grounds were immaculate, and I loved seeing lots of colorful, blooming flowers in the middle of winter. (Believe it or not, Las Vegas gets pretty cold in the winter. The Coachella Valley is consistently warmer than Southern Nevada.)

Beautiful grounds at the Renaissance Esmeralda in Indian Wells

The resort is absolutely beautiful: airy and light and luxurious. Although our assigned room had a balcony, we upgraded to a pool-view room for an additional fee. It was worth it. This is the view we enjoyed from our room:

View from our room at the Renaissance Esmeralda

After we arrived at our room, it took about 30 seconds for five-year-old E. to see the pool from the balcony and decide that she wanted to join the fun. Although it was late afternoon by this point and starting to get a little chilly in the shade, the pool was heated and didn’t feel too bad. Besides, there isn’t much that can deter a kid from swimming.

E. and her dad went swimming while I sat poolside and had a drink. Eventually the sun set, and we decided to call it a day and get ready for dinner.

Day 1: Evening
I hadn’t scoped out any restaurants prior to our arrival, so we did the “drive around and look for a place to eat” routine that night. We headed to Palm Desert, the town just west of Indian Wells. We drove through the little downtown area filled with shops (most of which were closed for the day) and restaurants. We decided on an Italian restaurant and enjoyed some pasta before finding a frozen yogurt shop and then heading back to the hotel.

Day 2: Morning
Another hotel guest had mentioned to me that the breakfast place at the Renaissance Esmeralda was pretty good, so we decided to give it a try. I’m so glad we did! The breakfast buffet was outstanding and included a juice bar, omelete station, waffles, and fresh fruit. We sat out on the patio and enjoyed the beautiful weather. It was a great spot to discuss our plans for the day.

After breakfast, we took a quick walk around the resort grounds and then gathered our things and checked-out. Afterall, we had some exploring to do!

Day 2: Afternoon
Our main objective before heading home was to explore the Living Desert. This is a zoo that features desert animals from around the world. We saw everything from giraffes to panthers. We also enjoyed a camel ride, for an additional fee. It was worth the money for one lap around the camel enclosure.

Camel Ride

My view from aboard our camel

Living Desert was really the highlight of our trip. We don’t have a real zoo here in Las Vegas. It’s strange to think that something that was a staple from my own childhood is more of a rare occasion for E. We need to get her to a zoo more often even if it requires a drive to San Diego or elsewhere.

After our visit to the Living Desert, we began to make our way home…kind of. We stopped for lunch on our way out of town in downtown Palm Springs. We decided to try Maracas Cantina. I ordered something there I’d never eaten before: a mango salsa and brie quesadilla. It was just as delicious, of course. (How could it not be? Brie is the best!) After we ate, we walked around, checked out some of the stars along the sidewalk, and then drove back to Las Vegas.

downtown Palm Springs

I hope our travels will take us back to Palm Springs again. This isn’t the most kid-friendly place we’ve visited, but Living Desert is certainly worth a visit, and the city is filled with resort-style accomodations that are great for families.

Four Awesomely Fun Things

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I really don’t like writing these kinds of posts. I’d rather let each of these adventures have the spotlight, and write four nicely-composed, detailed posts rather than lump these experiences into one entry.

But this is the way it goes when you’re busy. (I also hate saying that “I’m busy” as if that’s an excuse because, really, everyone is busy.)

Excuses aside, I know that if I don’t write about our four recent adventures, I will never write about them, so here they are: four awesomely fun things that we have done recently.

Charlie Parker’s Diner: Springfield, IL

Checking out the menu at Charlie Parker's Diner

While we were in St. Louis for the holidays, we took a side-trip to Springfield. Being fans of Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, we had to check out Charlie Parker’s, a breakfast and lunch place that is housed in a quonset hut. Famous for their “horseshoe” breakfast and lunch dishes, this diner serves classic American fare in a unique environment. And it’s definitely kid-friendly, so keep it in mind if you ever travel to Springfield.

Keepers of the Wild: Valentine, AZ

I have become obsessed with Groupon, which is always filled with interesting deals and discounts. I saw a “use it now” groupon for Keepers of the Wild, and we decided to give it a try. We love anything that has to do with animals. Keepers of the Wild is a non-profit that seeks to rescue exotic animals. During our visit, we saw lions, tigers, monkeys, and llamas, just to name a few. And of course we had to stop at Cracker Barrel when we drove through Kingman, AZ on the way. It’s a road trip staple! (My daughter is now better than I am at that triangular game with the pegs.)

Gondola at the Venetian: Las Vegas, NV

If you’ve ever researched a trip to Vegas, you’ve come across references to the gondola at the Venetian, I’m sure. Even though we’ve lived here for over a year, we didn’t take a ride on the cute little boats until recently. It’s not a cheap adventure, but it was fun. An added bonus was the fact that our gondolier sang for us and had an amazing voice.

Living Desert Camel Ride: Palm Desert, CA

Camel Ride

Of these four fun adventures, this is probably my favorite! We went to the Coachella Valley for a weekend and visited the Living Desert, a zoo that focuses on desert animals of the world. For an extra fee, visitors can ride a camel. At first, I thought my daughter would be riding alone, but at the last minute I decided I couldn’t resist joining her! (I’ll be writing more about our Palm Springs trip in future posts, so stay tuned.)

Writing about these latest excursions makes me think it’s time to plan a few more. Have any suggestions for us?

Photo Friday: Malibu

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Last weekend, we went to LA to see the Cubs play the Dodgers (see? I told you we love our Cubs!) On Sunday, before heading home to Las Vegas, we took a detour up to Malibu.

We took in the beautiful views:

Day trip from LA: Malibu

Played in the waves:

running on the beach in Malibu

And buried our toes in the sand:

feet in the sand in Malibu

It was a great way to end the weekend…and to console ourselves after the Cubs lost their game.

For more travel photos, stop by the family travel blog Delicious Baby.

Death Valley Advice

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The name sounds ominous, but Death Valley can be a fun day-trip if you plan ahead, arm yourself with plenty of water, and visit before the weather gets too hot. This is a park of “-ests.” It’s one of the lowest, hottest, and driest spots in North America. Here are three quick tips for enjoying your trip to Death Valley National Park with your family:

1. Check the weather. You might be surprised! Yes, the name is ominous and it does get extremely hot during the summer months. However, if you visit Death Valley in winter, you’ll want to bring a jacket. Also, be aware that if you visit the sand dunes or the salt flats, your clothes and shoes will get sandy, salty, or both. In other words, leave the fancy clothes at home! (This should be a no-brainer, but I’m always shocked by the clothes some people choose to wear when they go hiking.)

2. Do some research before you go. This is a vast park, so you’ll want to make the most of your time. We went into the park at the East Entrance, near Death Valley Junction, and worked our way north. We then hit the salt flats on our way back at the end of the day. Kids will enjoy the Mesquite Sand Dunes, which is basically a huge sandbox.

3. As you can imagine, it’s a pretty lonely drive from Las Vegas to Death Valley. A good place to stop for gas or food is Pahrump, Nevada. You’ll find a variety of restaurants, gas stations, and grocery stores. I suggest stopping for gas here; there is a gas station inside the park, but the prices are higher than they are elsewhere.

Have you visited Death Valley with kids? Please share your advice by leaving a comment!

Photo: The Ultimate Sandbox

Death Valley NP, sand dunes

The Mesquite Sand Dunes at Death Valley National Park are so much fun to visit. We brought sand toys for my daughter, and she could have stayed there all day. Even my husband and I were running around barefoot and making “sand angels.”

Gotta love those three-day weekends. Hope yours was just as fun.

Pictures From My iPhone: Coronado

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Flower at Hotel del Coronado
Flower at Hotel del Coronado where we stopped by for some lunch and beach time

Smelling the flowers at Hotel del Coronado
Admiring flowers at Hotel del Coronado

Hotel del Coronado
The historic Hotel del Coronado

On the beach: someone's been here before...
Tracks at the beach

Beach, Coronado
A gray but beautiful day

On the beach, Hotel del Coronado in the background
That’s me!

Coronado, California is a short drive from San Diego. Even though it was a gray, cool day, we all had a wonderful time. E. built two sandcastles and waded in the water. I enjoyed admiring the historic hotel, wiggling my toes in the sand, and looking out into the vastness of the ocean.

Sick and Tired in Los Angeles

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During our recent southern California trip, we encountered a problem we haven’t had to deal with in the past. It started with a few sniffles before we left home. It continued at dinner our first night in LA, and it hit full-force that night when none of us got much sleep. Our daughter, E., was sick.

Of course we’ve dealt with colds before. But there’s something a little scary about dealing with illness when you’re away from home. Luckily, E. seemed to improve for our first full day in LA, despite not getting much sleep the night before. Nick and I were tired, but a little caffeine helped. By our second night, everyone slept much better and the worst seemed to be over.

Flowers in LA

So, what did we do to entertain ourselves that first full day when E. wasn’t feeling well? We ordered a room service breakfast and ate on the patio. We visited a local park where E. played in the sand and sat in the swings (I encouraged her to cover her mouth when she coughed, of course. And the swinging was a fairly solitary activity, so I don’t think we passed on too many germs.) We took a walk and found some pretty flowers along the way. We ate lunch at the swanky mall in Century City, and then we headed back to the hotel room for a nap.

This wasn’t the day I originally planned, but it turned out just fine. E. remained in good spirits, except for a freak-out at lunch stemming from some green parsley that had been sprinkled over her macaroni and cheese. I’m just glad everyone felt better in time for Disneyland and San Diego.

Advice: Napa Without A Car

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.So, you’ve got your Napa Valley trip all planned. Your flight is booked, your hotel room is reserved, and your wine tour is paid-in-full. But what about the rental car? Yes? No? Well, that depends. Here are a few things to keep in mind when deciding whether or not to rent a car in Napa.

–Transportation to Napa Valley from area airports is available via shuttle service. Expect to pay about $45 dollars one-way if you want to be dropped off at your hotel. You can call your hotel and ask for recommendations. Be sure to plan ahead, since it might be necessary to book your spot on the shuttle in advance.

–Of course, you can always use cabs to get around once you’re in Napa Valley. However, be aware that at certain times of year there are more people needing rides than there are available cabs. On Friday and Saturday nights, you might be waiting 60-90 minutes after you’ve called the cab company.

–Wine tours aren’t only fun and educational, they’re also a great way to see Napa Valley if you haven’t rented a car. We loved the Platypus Wine Tour, which took us to four local vineyards.

–Ask if your hotel offers a shuttle or courtesy car. This can be a great way to get around town and is often less expensive than a cab (although you should always tip the driver, of course).

–Try renting wheels of a different kind: a bike!

–Be sure to check out Napa Valley Car-Free, which has contact information for cab companies, shuttle services, limosine companies, and other forms of transportation.

Whatever you decide to do, make sure you research your options carefully. The last thing you want to do on your vacation is worry about the logistics of getting from one place to another.

Napa Valley Marriott Hotel: Friendly Service and Quiet Rooms? Yes, Please!

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I’ll admit that I’m a little crazy when it comes to customer service. I try my best to be nice to others, especially those who work with the general public since I know it isn’t easy. I expect the same politeness in return. I’m pleased to say that the Napa Valley Marriott went above and beyond in terms of making us feel welcome and helping us when we had questions.

Even though our stay was fairly short (2 nights), I could give a dozen examples of their hospitality: the friendly smiles at the registration desk, the quick service of the hotel’s courtesy shuttle, the helpful late-night Twitter message from the hotel when my friend and I were stuck without a cab in downtown Napa. (Speaking of cabs, just know that if you call for a cab or a Friday or Saturday night, you’ll be waiting 60-90 minutes. We had no clue!)

So, how was the hotel itself? The location was convenient–not far from downtown Napa and an easy drive north to St. Helena. This isn’t the place to stay if you’re envisioning your Napa trip filled with scenic vistas right outside your window. But it is located near restaurants and shops, and allows easy access to Highway 29.

Room, Napa Valley Marriott

The room reminded me of other Marriott rooms: two comfortable beds, refrigerator, clean bathroom, flatscreen TV.

One of the things I enjoyed most about this hotel was that it was absolutely silent at night. I didn’t hear so much as a door slam or voices in the hallway during either night of our 2-night stay. My friend and I are both moms, so part of the purpose of our trip was to relax and get some sleep without midnight requests for another glass of water or a special stuffed animal! Mission accomplished in our quiet hotel room!

Although we didn’t go swimming, the hotel does have a nice pool with lots of comfy-looking lounge chairs.

I would absolutely recommend the Napa Valley Marriott Hotel to any traveler who is looking for convenience and good customer service. (And you should follow them on Twitter, too.)

Disclaimer: I received a discounted rate from the hotel. I also follow the hotel on Twitter and have communicated with them in the past. However, all opinions expressed here are my own, and I was not asked to write this review.

Pretty flower at the Marriott

Platypus Wine Tours: The Perfect Day in Napa?

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What could be better? Driving through beautiful Napa Valley without having to worry about directions (or your sobriety), led by a knowledgable guide who takes you to vineyards where you learn all about the wines of the region. After a delicious lunch, it’s off to more wineries until the shuttle delivers you back to your hotel.

Sounds pretty good, right? This is exactly what it was like to join one of the Platypus Wine Tours.

We visited four wineries: Biale, Tudal, Arger-Martucci, and Robinson Family, all of which are smaller than the “big name” places and have reasonable tasting fees. Since Napa Valley is known or its reds, we tried several syrahs and pinot noirs, with a few whites along the way. In terms of the wine, I really liked Arger-Martucci. As for the beauty of the surroundings, Robinson Family Vineyards was absolutely stunning.

I’m certainly no wine expert. However, I had a wonerful time on the tour and enjoyed meeting our tour guide, Shawnda, who was truly a breath of fresh air! Knowledgable, yet down-to-earth, she made this wine-newbie feel right at home.

Poolside wine-tasting at Arger-Martucci

A beautiful view at Robert Biale Vineyards

Where it all begins

For more information on Platypus Wine Tours, visit their website.

All opinions are my own. I paid for my wine tour and tasting fees at each winery.


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