Why the Best Trips in California Include a Stop to See the Redwoods!

Best trips in California Big Basin Redwoods National Park

One of Our Best Trips in California

Me: We’re going to see some really big trees.

Kids: Really Mom? Why?

Me: Because you’ve never seen anything like them.

Kids: OMG (growning)

A few hours later…

Kids: Mom, that was really cool.

Me: I know.

Road Trip!

We always have the best trips in California.

Seriously… some of our best family memories!

This particular trip from Monterey to San Francisco included a little detour through Big Basin Redwoods State Park. Big Basin is about an hour and a half from Monterey and an hour and a half to San Francisco.

The California State Park system is awesome! And their website is fantastic. (Especially for not so outdoorsy moms like me.)  I love that it includes things like: what you can do if you only have an hour…or half a day…or a week! So Big Basin was the perfect destination for us to check the famous redwoods off of my bucket list!

Big Basin is the oldest state park in California and has the largest continuous strand of ancient redwoods south of San Francisco. There are more than 80 miles of trails, several waterfalls, and trees 2500 years old!

Best trips in California- Big Basin Redwoods National Park

Can you fit your family in a tree??

The Redwood Loop Trail

We chose to walk the Redwood Loop Trail since we only had an hour. It’s a little over half a mile trail that is stroller and wheelchair accessible. This may be a short trail but it packs a big punch! They have a self guided tour pamphlet so you can follow along on the trail.

Nature is so cool y’all.

The highlights were definitely the Mother of the Forest and Father of the Forest…two of the oldest and biggest beauties.

So cool.

Best trips in California Big Basin Redwoods National Park

The root structure of a giant redwood that fell in 1983!

Best trips in California- Big Basin Redwoods National Park

A new meaning to group hug!

Best trips in California- Big Basin Redwoods National Park

Although it’s an easy walk, I’d still recommend wearing better/more appropriate shoes!

Best trips in California- Big Basin Redwoods National Park

Chimney Tree- A redwood hollowed out by fire completely to the top!

Tips for Visiting Big Basin:

  • These are mountain roads leading to and from Big Basin. If you or your kids get car sick…be prepared!
  • There are a few little places to eat on your way to the park in Boulder Creek (15 minutes) or Ben Lomond (20 minutes).
  • Wear walking shoes (unlike me…what was I thinking?).
  • There are actually really nice restrooms at the beginning of the trail.
  • It costs $10 to park at the Headquarters area of the park. Our “walk” was definitely longer than the 0.6 mile trail since parking was limited, but that was not a big deal to us.
  • They give you this nifty little form to fill out and leave on your dashboard to let rangers know what your plans were if you don’t return to your car. Kinda cool/ kinda scary! Safety first people!Best trips in California Big Basin Redwoods National Park

We have had some of the best trips in California! I would definitely recommend adding a stop to see the redwoods to any California road trip itinerary. There are several other places to see them if Big Basin isn’t along your route. Here is a good resource for other places to see the redwoods in California.

I personally loved Big Basin because it was a super easy stop without feeling like I had to spend the day hiking or camping. Don’t get me wrong, I do like hiking… I just don’t feel like that always fits into the itinerary without devoting an entire day to it.

You can read more on our California adventures HERE (San Francisco) and HERE (Napa Valley with kids!)

Have you seen the giant redwoods in California? As always, let me know what y’all think!

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Best trips in California Big Basin Redwoods State Park

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How to Enjoy a Day in Napa Valley with Kids!

Napa Valley with Kids

Napa Valley with Kids!

Napa is just for adults.

Or so you thought.

Don’t get me wrong. Napa Valley is certainly on top of my “I’d like to go back without my kids” list. Because, well…wine. But, it is possible to have a ton of fun in Napa Valley with kids.

I promise.

Our day in Napa was jam packed to the brim full of fun activities for both the kids and adults to enjoy. Napa was on the tail end of our epic California road trip and I honestly thought when I was planning our day in Napa that the kids would be miserable. I actually scheduled the following day at Six Flags amusement park because I was trying to make up for dragging them through wine country.

But, boy was I wrong!

The Jelly Belly Factory Tour

We started our day at the Jelly Belly Factory. They offer FREE self guided tours starting every ten minutes. We arrived early, but still had to wait about fifteen minutes. We weren’t the only ones excited about jelly beans! In the meantime, we admired all the Jelly Belly art and got our trusty (required) hats ready for action.

Did you know it takes 7-14 days to make a Jelly Belly bean? We all thoroughly enjoyed learning about the Jelly Belly bean life cycle but maybe enjoyed the free samples a bit more! Yum!

(Side note for any allergy-friends out there: Jelly Belly are gluten free, dairy free, peanut free, and vegetarian friendly.  Certified kosher. Yay!)

Napa Valley with Kids Jelly Belly Bean Factory

The Napa Riverfront

Next up on the agenda was the Napa Riverfront. We strolled through the super cute little shopping area and stopped at Lucero for an olive oil and balsamic vinegar tasting. Not all tastings in Napa have to be wine tastings!! And believe it or not, the kids really enjoyed sampling all the different flavors. We even purchased a few and had them shipped home.

Since fine dining wasn’t an option with kids, we just walked past the acclaimed French Laundry restaurant before grabbing a quick sandwich and some sweet treats from Bouchon Bakery. We ate alfresco in the attached courtyard which was a perfect compromise with the kids.

Sadly we didn’t have time to explore the Oxbow Public Market which I’ve heard is fantastic! It’s definitely on my must-do list for the next visit!

How you can enjoy a day in Napa Valley with kids.

Kid- Friendly Wineries

Wineries in Napa Valley with kids??

Yep! No problem! We had two wineries in mind that during my research appeared to be kid-friendly. Our decision was made for us since Sterling Vineyards’ aerial tram was closed for maintenance the day we were in town.

Castello di Amorosa was the destination!

Y’all…it’s a castle…a full fledged Tuscan style castle smack dab in the middle of Napa Valley. And it’s beautiful. You can roam the grounds for free but to go inside you have to pay…there are several different options depending on which type of wine tasting or tour you prefer, but we just did the basic general admission ticket. We had access to two floors, sampled five wines, and the grounds.

You do also have to buy a minor ticket for children, but it includes a grape juice tasting which my daughter thought was the coolest thing ever!! (Side note: they do not allow strollers inside the castle.) We weren’t the only ones with kids there either, so we didn’t feel out of place or anything.

The castle was very busy. This isn’t the place to go for an intimate romantic date. This particular day, they were setting up for a private event later that evening so there was a full orchestra practicing…it was pretty cool! But that was even more entertaining for the kids, well…actually us too.

Oh and the wines were quite lovely. We are far from wine experts. It was more about the experience for us. We did order a bottle or two (or a case) to be shipped home!

So see…Napa Valley with kids is possible!

How you can enjoy a day in Napa Valley with kids- Castello di Amorosa Winery

Worth Mentioning

We also stopped by Stags’ Leap Vineyard. We had wanted to purchase a special gift for my father in law and knew he was a fan of their wine. This is definitely a more upscale winery and not so much for the kids. BUT, they were so kind and patient with our children as we talked, sampled, and made our purchase. They even brought the kids water in wine glasses while they were waiting. Kindness goes a long way people!

How to enjoy a day in Napa Valley with kids!

Old Faithful Geyser

There’s an Old Faithful in California? Say what?

Yep. Apparently there are three geysers in the world with the Old Faithful designation. Who knew, right?

We rolled up to Old Faithful in Calistoga, California in the early evening catching the tail end of her eruption. She goes off about every 30-40 minutes for around two-six minutes. And she’s incredible. You most likely have heard so much more about Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, but in my opinion…this one is better.

Why?

There was one other couple there. That’s it. And we actually hung around after the first eruption and watched again…

ALL BY OURSELVES!!

It was very cool. We hung around the 40 minutes or so and played bocce ball, read about the geyser, meandered the gift shop, and hung out with the goats and llamas. Yep! It was the most peaceful evening. If only I had packed us a picnic dinner too.

Yes, Yellowstone does shoot higher and may seem mightier, but there are huge crowds. HUGE! There are so many people there and you have to stand back really far from the geyser and may have people standing directly in front of you. In Calistoga, you were right up close and personal with Old Faithful. It was just a different experience all together. One that I will remember for a very long time and would highly recommend.

Napa Valley with Kids- Calistoga California Old Faithful Geyser

I most definitely think an adult trip to Napa would be epic. But, when you’re in the area, there’s absolutely no reason you can’t do Napa Valley with kids…and ENJOY it! I didn’t even need that silly day at Six Flags after all.

You can read more about our time in the San Francisco area HERE.

Have you been to Napa? Let me know what y’all think!

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How you can enjoy a day in Napa Valley with kids.

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Visiting the World Trade Center Memorial in NYC

World Trade Center Memorial

Where were you on 9/11/2001?

I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing as I’m sure most people my age do. There are few events in my lifetime I remember such vivid details about. I was hurrying to get to my meeting on time and putting on a final swipe of mascara when my attention was grabbed by the breaking news on the television.

Visiting the World Trade Center Memorial in New York City was a profound experience for me. I think the only other time I’ve ever felt such raw emotion was when my husband and I visited the Mauthausen Concentration Camp Memorial in Austria.

Chills.

That’s the best word to describe it.

My husband and I actually visited the 9/11 site in 2002, not even a year after it happened. Then, it was all debris and construction and a lot of homemade memorials. This visit was part of a girls weekend in the city and I will tell you that it will send you into emotional overload. I’m a crier on a normal day, so this was hard for me…but at the same time it was one of the highlights of my visit to NYC.

The World Trade Center Memorial

World Trade Center Memorial

You can visit the September 11 Memorial reflecting pools outside the Museum for free. The pools sit exactly where the twin towers stood and are a tribute to the lives lost, not only in New York City, but at the Pentagon, in the flight that went down in Pennsylvania, and the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.

The names of those who perished are engraved in the bronze panels surrounding the pools. People are encouraged to touch the names and remember. I saw many people running their fingers along those etchings reflecting on the horrific losses. Some people stood there for what seemed like forever…others were looking for specific names. Some people, like me, just seemed kind of in awe of it all.

Unthinkable.

The 9/11 Museum

Visiting the World Trade Center Memorial in NYC.

The best resource for your visit is the 9/11 Museum website for details of pricing, hours, etc. It became very clear, very early on during my visit that the 9/11 Museum was very well thought out. There was clearly a tremendous amount of effort put into paying respect to the lives lost yet telling the story at the same time.

The Museum is divided into three sections: the historical exhibition covering the timeline of events, the memorial section paying tribute to the lives lost, and the Foundation Hall which contains some of the physical pieces of the twin towers.

My visit to the World Trade Center Memorial clearly will be something I never forget. Parents should use discretion (especially with children under ten). I will likely wait a few more years before taking my kids, but I will definitely take them!

Visiting the World Trade Center Memorial in NYC.

Visiting the World Trade Center Memorial in NYC.

 

So…should you visit the 9/11 Museum and Memorial?

I think that’s a personal decision. I know not everyone wants to visit and some feel as though they can’t handle it. But in my opinion, it’s an incredible tribute that I think shouldn’t be missed!

What I remember most:

  • The timeline is so detailed. I learned things about the day before, day of, and days after that I never knew.
  • This is an event that played out live on television. The playback of Matt Lauer on the Today show is chilling.
  • The personal messages left by the families of those lost…some recorded and some written are absolutely heart wrenching.
  • The photographs and stories of the witnesses, survivors, and first responders. Tears…lots of tears.

Some tips for your visit:

  • Buy tickets online ahead of time!
  • Go early to avoid the crowds.
  • Be prepared for the emotional overload  (they have tissues strategically placed throughout the museum for you).
  • Give yourself plenty of time. I think we spent about 2 and 1/2 hours, but truthfully I felt like I just couldn’t do more.
  • Guided tours are available if you choose.

Have you been? I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments. If you’re interested in what else I got into while in NYC you can read more HERE. Let me know what y’all think!

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Visiting the World Trade Center Memorial in NYC.

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San Francisco’s Mission District: Where I Fell in Love with Street Art

Mission District Murals in San Francisco

MISSION DISTRICT MURALS

I went to the Mission District for a burrito.

Seriously.

It’s no secret I have an obsession with pretty much all things Mexican, including the food. So of course, I had to have a burrito in the birthplace of the burrito!! (well the mission style burrito was born there…but you know what I mean!)

So we asked around and were told we had to go to La Taqueria for the most authentic and best burrito. It’s a small, no frills, cash only restaurant with a line out the door and family style seating. There’s not a lot on the menu, but that was ok…we were only there for one thing. Burrito time!!! And it was fantastic! I loved it! (Side Note- you should definitely try the agua fresca!! It was outstanding!! All four of us were fighting over it!)

Anyhow, after we finished lunch, I mentioned wanting to check out some street art to my husband before making our way up to the Painted Ladies. I hadn’t done a lot of research on the Mission District street art, I just knew I didn’t want to miss out while we were in the area.

I didn’t really have a plan…just a street name:

Balmy Street

We walked a couple blocks from the restaurant and murals were everywhere! Every street, alley, and building had some sort of mural. I’m not a huge art museum person. I go to art museums because I can appreciate the history, the stories, and the artists. But I don’t typically spend hours upon hours looking and studying each piece. I’ll admit, I just don’t get a lot of it.

But these wall murals were something totally different to me. I could’ve spent hours wandering those streets looking at them all. In hindsight, I should’ve done a tour…I’ll definitely look that up for next time!

My children were also in awe. Where they might complain and really just humor us in an art museum, they were totally engrossed in the streets lined with art! We heard more of , “Mom/ Dad, Look at this one!” and “Oh, I think this is my favorite! No this one!” or “Take my picture with this one!”

And that, my friends, is when I fell in love with street art.

The Mission District murals are one of the world’s largest collections of street art..it’s practically a free public museum! Some of the murals are political, others historical, and some are just fun! Topics from immigrant history, human rights, gentrification, to the environment are on display.

If you are on the street art hunt in San Francisco, some specific streets/areas to see street art are 24th St, Clarion Alley (between Valencia Ave and Mission St), Coit Tower, and of course Balmy Alley.

HERE ARE JUST A FEW OF OUR FAVORITES:

Mission District Murals

Mission District Street Art

Mission District Street Art

Mission District Street Art

Have you seen the Mission District murals in San Francisco? I wrote all about the rest of our San Francisco fun HERE if you want more tips on exploring the city with kids.

I’ve started keeping a running list of cities that are supposed to have amazing street art. I’ve been told that Melbourne Australia, Bogota Columbia, Toronto Canada, and Austin Texas are tops in the street art game. What other cities would you add to that list? Let me know what y’all think!

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Mission District Murals- San Francisco

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11 Reasons Why I Love North Carolina’s Outer Banks

NC's Outer Banks

North Carolina’s Outer Banks

There are so many things to do in North Carolina’s Outer Banks! We’ve been going for years and we never get bored. But, there are a few things you should know before going. The Outer Banks are about 100 miles of beach towns from Cape Hatteras to Corolla, NC. It will take you over two hours to drive from end to end, so you may not be able to do everything all in one trip. In addition, there’s a ferry from Hatteras to Ocracoke Island that is another experience all by itself (but well worth it)!

Here’s 11 reasons why I love the Outer Banks:

  1. Go see the wild horses. If you drive past Corolla, NC to Carova, NC you will immediately see the Wild Spanish Mustangs hanging out on the beach. There is just something absolutely magical about wild horses. It is illegal to go within fifty feet of them…but they seem to be pretty used to the people, so you can easily get great pics! You can choose to do a tour (typically in an open air jeep) or you can drive onto the beach on your own if you have four-wheel drive. Do not drive in your car…you will get stuck…and then you’ll be super embarrassed that you have to be towed out. Sigh…there’s always someone who thinks they can do it.NC's Outer Banks- Wild Spanish Mustangs in Carova
  2. Outdoor Water Sports. This might seem like, Duh…but there are so  many awesome water sports to take advantage of in the Outer Banks. From kayaking, to stand-up paddle boarding, to surfing…the options seem endless. You can choose to rent the equipment on your own or give it a go with a guide.NC's outer banks- surf lessons
  3. Explore from Above. You can register for classes with the hang gliding school or go tandem with a guide. Literally anyone can go! My five year old (at the time) to my 7o year old mother-in-law all tried it and loved it! There’s also airplane tours for those who like a little less adrenaline.Explore NC's outer banks from the air- try hang gliding!
  4. Get your history lesson on at the Wright Brothers Memorial or visit the Lost Colony: these are two of NC’s top historical landmarks. The Wright Brother’s Memorial is fascinating…if you can catch one of the “ranger talks,” you’ll get even more out of it! It’s been awhile since I visited the Lost Colony, but I remember two things: I enjoyed it and the mosquitos were awful. Take bug spray!NCs Outer Banks
  5. Take your kids to the Pirate Adventure in Manteo. Although my kids have aged out now…we can’t recommend this excursion enough! We did it two years in a row…it was that good! They let your kids dress up like a pirate, entertain, and engage them the entire time. Great for girls or boys!Manteo's Pirate Adventure is the best!
  6. Visit the NC Aquarium or explore downtown Manteo. Depending on where you are staying in the Outer Banks, this can be a bit of a drive. But no doubt, NC weather will gladly provide you at least one rain day so a visit to the aquarium is the perfect indoor activity! And when you’re done…grab a bite to eat in the cutest little waterfront area in the town of Manteo.
  7. Visit a lighthouse. You can go north to the Currituck Beach Lighthouse or south to the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, but they’re always a fun adventure!NC's Outer Banks
  8. Embrace your inner child and go fly a kite! There is no better area to buy and fly a kite than the Outer Banks! In fact, you can enjoy one of North Carolina’s most significant landmarks, Jockey’s Ridge State Park, by flying a kite or just exploring the infamous sand dunes. Be careful…the sand is HOT!NC's Outer Banks
  9. Go fishing! From fishing or crabbing in the sound, to driving onto the beach in Carova and surf fishing, to a deep sea fishing day trip, there is something for everyone. First timers like us can fish or crab with ease or the savviest of fisherman will be pleased with their options. Not into fishing…go on a dolphin watching cruise!
  10. Soak up some Vitamin D. This is one of our family favorites for sure. Spending the day building sand castles, boogie boarding at the beach, or reading a book by the pool…relaxation is aplenty!NC's Outer Banks
  11. Catch the sunrise or the sunset. We’re not exactly morning people…so we catch way more sunsets than sunrises. But they are always different and yet always amazing. I could take a million pictures and I’ll always take one more.NC's Outer Banks

We also like to check out the surf shops, boutiques, and of course look for the best local good eats. But, there are a few downsides to OBX. I like to know all the pros and cons before I visit a destination, so let’s be real.

The Downsides:

  • The traffic here can be AWFUL. I’m talking an hour to drive six miles on a Saturday or Sunday in the summer when everyone is trying to check in and out for their weekly rental.
  • The ocean temperatures can be freezing cold. This all depends on what town you are staying in, the direction the wind is blowing, and the day of the week…but when it’s 100 degrees outside and 50 water degree temps…not exactly ideal.
  • The weather can be pretty unpredictable. And when it rains, everyone flocks to the restaurants and stores. Be prepared for a wait. Just sayin.
  • A lot of the Outer Banks shuts down in the winter. Many of the restaurants and stores completely close…it’s eerie but I guess you gotta do what you gotta do.

The Outer Banks has hosted our family every summer for years and is near and dear to our hearts. We’d recommend it to anyone and everyone! Oh and don’t forget a game of mini putt-putt…a beach vacay is just not complete without a round of mini putt-putt!

Have you had a chance to visit North Carolina’s Outer Banks? Let me know what y’all think!

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Why You Shouldn’t Skip Nashville’s 12 South Neighborhood

Nashville's 12 South Neighborhood

NASHVILLE’S 12 SOUTH NEIGHBORHOOD

Now, I know that Nashville is known for the Honky Tonk’s on Broadway, country music, and The Grand Ole Opry. But, just a few miles away from downtown is Nashville’s 12 South neighborhood…and it is definitely worth a visit! Most well known for it’s walkability and the “I Believe in Nashville” mural, there’s some really great things going on in 12 South.

STREET ART

Street art is becoming more and more popular these days as an actual tourist destination. I mean, you can actually search the murals on google maps a lot of the time! Who can resist taking photos with these fun wall murals…I sure can’t! The most well known of the murals is probably the “I believe in Nashville” mural, but the Draper James blue and white stripes and the rainbow “Nashville” murals are pretty popular as well. There is a beautiful floral wall nearby too but we couldn’t find time to get to it!

Nashville's 12 south neighborhood

WHERE TO SHOP

There are a bunch of really cute shops in 12 South: White’s Mercantile, Hero Boutique, and my favorite Draper James. Although this little boutique is a little pricey, I still thoroughly enjoyed this super southern themed store owned by Reese Witherspoon. They even offer you sweet tea when you walk in! As southern as southern gets y’all! (Side note- they have a lovely little sitting area for kids and husbands and were happy to provide the wifi password for bored little ones so I could peruse in peace.)

Draper James Nashville 12 south

WHERE TO EAT

There’s a multitude of places to get a treat or bite to eat in the area!

Frothy Monkey– My husband picked up breakfast for us one morning from the Frothy Monkey and it was awesome! Obviously we aren’t the only ones who think so either. This place was busy!  But the coffee and pastries were on point (the cinnamon roll was our favorite! They use local ingredients and are actually open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Nashville's 12 South neighborhood
Five Daughter’s Bakery– Just OMG! These doughnuts were ridiculously good. We sampled the vanilla cream, King Kong (maple and bacon), chocolate cherry, and boston crème. We all agreed that the King Kong was the best overall. (Side note- they have paleo and vegan options!)

Nashville's 12 South neighborhood
Sprinkle’s Cupcakes– I know, I know…this is not just in Nashville. This was however, the first time we had visited a Sprinkles Cupcakes ATM. That’s right, if you’re like us and had not yet experienced this amazingly fun novelty…well then you must check them out and go to one ASAP! The little store has an ATM outside that you can order from and a minute or two later, voila…your cupcakes appear in the window. If you have children, you should go! If you don’t have children and just like cupcakes or cookies, you should go!

See that smile?? It’s worth every penny!

Nashville's 12 South neighborhood
Edley’s BBQ

We thoroughly enjoyed Edley’s BBQ…my pulled pork tacos were the bomb!! But the absolute favorite was the grit casserole…who knew?!? This is a counter service type restaurant…the line was long but moved fast. Great for kids and families who don’t want to wait an hour at the more popular restaurants.

Nashville's 12 South neighborhood

A very popular spot worth a mention although we did not go  (due to the fact the lines were crazy long)…Jeni’s ice cream! It’s clearly all the rage!

We also happened to stay within walking distance of 12 South and a $10 Uber ride of downtown…sounds ideal right? We loved every minute in Nashville! Have you ever been? Let me know what y’all think!

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What You MUST Do If You Only Have One Day in Chattanooga Tennessee

Chattanooga things to do

DO NOT MISS THESE TWO STOPS IN CHATTANOOGA!!

I’m not entirely sure why I haven’t heard more about Chattanooga Tennessee all these years…but clearly, I’ve been missing out. Living in a bubble I guess?? We only gave ourselves one day and one night on our recent southern road trip in Chattanooga and that was not even close to being enough time in this fabulous city! The city itself is much larger than I realized and located on the border of two time zones…can you say confusing?!? They have world class white water rafting on the Ocoee River and apparently an awesome aquarium too! Needless to say we are already planning a return trip to finish our Chattanooga things to do list!

So…in my honest opinion, these two stops CANNOT be missed!

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