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Living in the very upper left part of the U.S. has its perks. One of the major ones: We’re within a short drive of the beautiful lower mainland of British Columbia, Canada. Rare border-crossing hassles aside, we get easy access to all of the awesome kid fun in Vancouver, without having to endure the cost of living in this spendy little part of the world.

Taking Kids to Vancouver, BC

Here’s a collection of some of our favorite affordable kid-friendly spots in the Vancouver metro area:

The Stanley Park Miniature Train

 

City Gems: Stanley Park Miniature Train in Vancouver, BC

Built in 1964, the Stanley Park Miniature Train carries more than 200,000 passengers each year. It runs year-round but in the late fall changes to a Halloween Ghost Train (save that trip for your older kiddos!) and during the holiday season becomes the widely-popular Stanley Park Bright Nights Christmas Train. We rode the little circuit it travels on last summer and it was a blast!

The SkyTrain

Kid Fun in Vancouver, BC: Riding the SkyRail

From kid-sized train to big one. Large-scale events like the 2010 Winter Olympics and well before that, Expo 86 (the 1986 World’s Fair) boosted the need for public transportation from parts of the lower mainland to Vancouver’s downtown area. Enter the Skytrain. Above ground in the suburbs and underground in the city, just the experience of riding this train can be an adventure for little ones. We park in Richmond, BC and take the train straight to downtown, watching the sights as we go.

Vancouver Aquarium

Visiting Vancouver with Kids: Don't miss the aquarium!

A list of kid-favorites in Vancouver wouldn’t be complete without including the Vancouver Aquarium, located in Stanley Park. While you can see most of the aquarium in a few hours, it’s well worth it to visit this spot again and again. The educational shows, held in different areas throughout the aquarium, are entertaining and informative. The highlight of our last trip to the aquarium for my girls? High-fiving a scuba diver while he was swimming in the shark tank.

The beaches

The Best Vancouver Beaches for Kids

We’ve dug our toes in the sand at both Kitsilano Beach (Insider Tip: Call it Kits’ Beach to sound like a local) and Second Beach in Stanley Park. Sandcastle building for the kids; amazing people watching for the adults. Both have playgrounds located adjacent to the beach for some bonus sand-free fun.

Granville Island

How to get to Granville Island in Vancouver

Touristy? Yes. Worth it? Yes. Granville Island is a spot we visit over and over again, both with kids and without. Part of the fun is getting there: From downtown, hop on one of the tiny foot ferries to take you across busy but beautiful False Creek. Visit the Granville Island Public Market to sample of variety of Canadian goodies and pick up lunch from one of the numerous food vendors. In a separate building, the Kids Market has a giant indoor play area with kid-centric shops and eats. Granville is home to the biggest free water park in North America, complete with water slide, plus an awesome playground.

Side note: A few weeks ago, on a very hot Saturday, we decided to go on a big adventure to visit Granville’s splash park. We endured a longer-than-usual border crossing, parked in Richmond, took the Skytrain to Yaletown, boarded the Aquabus to Granville, ate lunch in an extremely-crowded spot and finally walked to the splash park only to turn the corner and find it shut down due to water restrictions resulting from the bad forest fires in Northern BC. Word to the wise: Check the website before you make this sort of trek. Both kids were toast by the time we got back to the Skytrain.  (Read: #parentingfail.)

Sans-kids bonus: Granville Island is also home to one of our favorite date-night spots, The Sandbar. There’s yummy food, a great local beer selection and best of all: an incredible view of the city from the rooftop patio. Read more about it here.

Watermania

Taking Your Kids to Watermania in Vancouver

Watermania is one of those places that’s soooo good that I almost want to keep it a secret. A hidden gem tucked less than a mile kilometer off of the freeway in Richmond, Watermania is our go-to spot in Canada for rainy days. While it has an Olympic-size pool for lap swimming, a giant hot tub, a full fitness center and two water slides, the crown jewel is the large wave pool, complete with a toddler-sized play area right in the middle of the shallow end.

We seriously love this place. It’s super clean, with family-friendly changing areas and huge locker rooms. And, it’s a great value – admission for our family of four is $15 Canadian. On our last visit, my 4-year-old went down the slide approximately 45 times. Watermania is located in Riverport Sports and Entertainment Complex which also includes an ice rink, bowling alley, IMAX movie theatre, trampoline park, laser tag area and an Old Spaghetti Factory. It’s also conveniently around the corner from the Richmond Ikea. We’ve been known to spend the morning at Watermania, do lunch in the Ikea cafeteria and enjoy a quiet ride home with two exhausted kids konked out in their car seats.

Our list of favorites continues to grow as we explore more of the Vancouver area, but these family-friendly City Gems that can’t be missed!

This post was contributed by Jessica Spencer who is part of the Savvy Sassy Mom Product Scouts program. You can find more from Jessica on her blog, The Average Jess.

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Summer at Squaw: What to do with KidsWhile you may only think of Tahoe in California as a wintertime destination, many ski resorts offer amazing family fun opportunities all year long. I recently had the chance with my family to visit the Resort at Squaw Creek, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary, and was blown away by the beauty of the mountain in the summertime and the wide range of activities — both on and off the mountain — for family fun. Here are some of our family favorites from our visit.

Where to STAY: Resort at Squaw Creek

Where to Stay in Lake Tahoe with Kids: Resort at Squaw Creek

We were truly impressed with the rooms at the Resort at Squaw Creek… talk about family friendly! We opted for the Fireplace Suite, which sounds fancy and romantic, but is actually super practical for families. The kids slept on the hide-a-bed in the living room while my husband and I got a king-size bed and a closed door (hallelujah!). The room has a spacious bathroom with a shower and a separate large tub, which meant there was plenty of room for this family of five to get ready.Visiting Squaw Creek Resort at Lake Tahoe

Best of all was the kitchenette, though we might as well just call it a kitchen. It had a mini fridge, of course, and coffee pot, but also came with a stove top, dishwasher and all the cookware and dishware a family could need. I really appreciated being able to just have cereal and oatmeal in the room one morning and if we had been staying for longer, we definitely would have considered whipping up a quick dinner in our room after a long day of adventures.

The room also had an amazing bay window overlooking the mountain — a perfect view for my morning cup of coffee.

Where to PLAY: High Camp at Squaw Valley

Family Travel: High Camp at Squaw Valley, Lake Tahoe

The Resort at Squaw Creek offers a free shuttle over to the Village where you can find the gondola up to High Camp. Up at 8200-feet, you’ll be able to enjoy amazing views of Lake Tahoe, a museum commemorating the 1960 Winter Olympics, a pool and jacuzzi as well as a outdoor skating/ice skating rink (season depending). There are separate fees for the tram, swimming and skating, but I like that you can buy tickets for just what each family member will use. Plus, there are separate rates for adults, young adults and children and kids under 4 are free (though they’ll still need a ticket). (Tip: Go on Tuesdays for an automatic $10 discount per ticket.) Be sure to pack layers for the top… as you can tell from Exhibit A below, it can be a bit windy up there.

Family Travel: Exploring Lake Tahoe with KidsFamily Travel: Exploring Lake Tahoe with Kids

If you’re look for budget-friendly fun, the Resort at Squaw Creek offers lots of fun free options for the whole family to enjoy. There’s a fabulous pool complete with a water slide, beach, multiple hot tubs and a separate shallow kiddie pool. My boys also loved the inviting turf “lawn,” complete with giant chess and checkers, shuffleboard and pick-up soccer games with other resort guests.

Kid-Friendly Outdoor Fun at the Resort at Squaw Crreek

The resort also has a handful of shops to browse on their promenade, including lots of good finds for the kids at the Little Dumplings Toy Store.

Where to EAT: Sandy’s Pub

Sandy's Pub at Squaw in Lake Tahoe

There are a number of great places to eat at the Resort at Squaw Creek, and one of our favorites was the family-friendly Sandy’s Pub, named after one of the original founders of the area. You can sit inside and enjoy sports on one of the big-screen TVs or get a table outside and enjoy the view of the pools and waterfall. Sandy’s Pub has a great kid’s menu with lots of entree options, as well as a creative cocktail menu (ahem) and delicious entrees for the adults.

The Sweet Potato Deli is also another great option for families and offers lots of quick grab-n-go items as well as Starbucks coffee drinks, made-to-order pizzas and ice cream, which my boys insisted on sampling (Tip: Ice cream portions are very generous so consider sharing if you have young kids or just want a taste.)

If you’re out exploring Squaw Village after time up at High Camp, we also enjoyed dinner one night at the Fireside Pizza Company, which has live music, a wonderful outdoor patio, and room for the kids to run around.

Where to RELAX: The Spa at Squaw Creek

The Spa at Squaw Creek

After being on the road with my family for a month this summer, I couldn’t leave the Resort without checking out the spa! I needed to get the road trip kinks worked out and a few minutes without anyone asking me for a snack. The Spa at Squaw Creek provides just the kind of bliss this mama needed — serene decor, an endless array of treatments and over an hour of complete quiet. I always feel a bit ridiculous in these oversized robes, but that, right there, is the smile of a steamed, sauna-ed, massaged, very happy mom.

What to Try at the Spa at Squaw Creek, Lake Tahoe

Summer, winter, spring or fall, you’ll find lots of reasons to enjoy a family visit to the Resort at Squaw Creek. Be sure to check out their website for all the special deals and events going on to celebrate their 25th anniversary.

Savvy Sassy Moms was not paid for this post. Our travel was hosted, but all opinions expressed are our own.

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You may have heard of the Indianapolis Colts or the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, or maybe you have never heard anything about Indiana. I was born and raised a Hoosier, but only truly fell in love with Indianapolis when I graduated college and moved to Indy with my husband. Since becoming a stay-at-home mom and having my son, I have only grown to love the city more. I truly love how Indy gives off a “small town” vibe while being a big city. In my opinion, it is the best of both worlds! This city has a lot to offer so check out some of my favorite local spots to visit in Indianapolis with kids.

Where to PLAY

ChildrensMuseum

The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis

The world’s largest children’s museum is located in Indianapolis and it is a stop you don’t want to miss! The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis features five different floors of fun learning experiences and exhibits, one of my favorite’s being the Dinosphere. Children are sure to love the Playscape area where they can play and create with water, sand, musical instruments, art supplies, and more!

Mulberry Farms

Mulberry Fields Park

In every area of Indianapolis you can be sure to find incredible parks and splash pads. One of our favorites is located in a suburb northwest of downtown (Zionsville) at Mulberry Fields Park. It has a park play area, picnic tables and shelters, paths, a skate park, and a splash pad. The best part, however, is the man-made creek that the splash pad water trails off into. You can splash around in the splash pad area and play in the creek! My little guy spends all of his time exploring the creek and collecting rocks and I can’t really blame him.

Monon Trail

Indianapolis has a lot of fabulous trails. In fact my entire suburb is connected by them. However, the Monon Trail definitely tops the list. Connecting downtown Indy to northern suburbs, it is great for walking, cycling, jogging, or whatever you prefer! There are multiple unique restaurants and attractions that line the trail, making it easy to hop off wherever.

Where to EAT

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Bru Burger Bar

Bru Burger Bar is my favorite place to grab a burger! Dare I say the BEST burgers in Indianapolis? There are countless burger options on Bru’s menu made fresh and cooked to order, and you cannot go wrong with any of them. This is a great spot to stop and eat if you are exploring the Mass Ave. Arts District downtown.

St. Elmo Steak House

St. Elmo’s is my very favorite restaurant in Indianapolis. Known for their famous spicy shrimp cocktail sauce and delicious steaks, it is absolutely worth dropping in for a night out. It is Indy’s oldest steakhouse in it’s original location and it is located right in downtown Indianapolis.

Scotty’s Brewhouse

Scotty’s has several locations located throughout Indiana and you can find serval in the Indy area alone. They have a huge selection of food and a very impressive menu. Scotty’s Brewhouse is very family-friendly and kids eat free on Tuesdays and Sundays at all locations! If you have any picky eaters in your family, they are sure to find something on the menu they will enjoy.

Where to EAT and PLAY

traderspoint

Traders Point Creamery

Come visit and explore Indiana’s first organic dairy farm at Trader’s Point Creamery! You can enjoy delicious hand crafted ice cream from The Dairy Bar or grab a nice meal at the rustic and unique restaurant, The Loft. The Loft features on-site fresh farm-to-table food. You can tour the farm and watch the cows get milked daily.

Where to TREAT

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The Flying Cupcake

Treat yourself to the most delicious cupcakes in Indy! With a couple of locations around Indy and tons of amazing flavors you can be sure to cure your sweet tooth. “Here Comes The Bride” is always my go-to flavor because who doesn’t love wedding cake? The Flying Cupcake has an adorable atmosphere and you can often find their food trucks around town.

This post was contributed by Amy Gene of O’Leary Love.

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We have lived in Atlanta pretty much our entire lives, so we hold this city very near and dear to our hearts. From the big city lights to that friendly Southern feel, Atlanta offers so much for tourist and locals alike.

One thing that this city is not lacking are things to do as a family. There are countless delicious kid-friendly places to eat and numerous top-notch attractions to visit. No matter what your tastes or interests, Atlanta has it all!

Where to PLAYAtlanta City Gems: Olympic Centennial Fountain Park

Centennial Olympic Park: This park, in the heart of Atlanta, was originally created as a gathering spot for visitors and locals to enjoy during the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games. Perhaps the most iconic and recognized part of this park is the Fountain of Rings. It is an interactive fountain representing the Olympic Rings symbol and there are four free shows daily, put to music, that combine water and music in a way you would not think possible — the water literally dances in front of your eyes! When the Fountain of Rings show is not taking place, you will find children (and adults with a child-like spirits!) running and splashing in the fountains.

Fernbank Museum of Natural History: Named one of the top 10 places in the world to learn about dinosaurs, this museum has exhibits all about natural history and it entertains as well as educates. They present hands-on exhibitions perfect for kids and also have an IMAX theater featuring the biggest movie screen in Atlanta.

Braves games: Do you have a little (or big) baseball fan? The Atlanta Braves are one of America’s most historic baseball teams and with their stadium located right in downtown Atlanta, it makes for an easy attraction to visit. It doesn’t even matter if the team is playing in town when you’re visiting — there are tons of activities, even in the off-season. Turner Field offers tours that will take fans through the Braves Museum and Hall of Fame, press boxes and the dugout. The Coca-Cola Sky Field features large over-sized Adirondack chairs that afford you excellent views of Atlanta’s sky-scape and a base-line that children (both young and old) can run to test out their speed. To enhance your base running experience, kids can participate in the Kids Run The Bases program where they get to run on the actual field.world.of.coke.Collage

World of Coca-Cola: This Atlanta attraction celebrates one of the most famous brands in the world, Coca-Cola. Not everyone knows, but it all began from a secret recipe originating in Atlanta. This fun museum features brand favorites and memorabilia from Coca-Cola’s beginnings, pop-culture and even the Olympics. Also not to be missed is the fun 4-d movie and a tasting room featuring Coca-Cola products from around the world.

Where to EAT

Fox Bros. BBQ: You can’t come to the South and not visit one of our famed BBQ joints! One of our favorites is Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q. Located in the beautiful Candler Park neighborhood, this finger-licking BBQ with a Texas-twist is a huge hit. From ribs to pulled pork to their Fox-A-Roni, you can’t go wrong.Googie.burger.shakes

Googie Burger: While you are at Centennial Olympic Park, be sure to stop by this fun burger place. They have no freezers in-house, which means everything is made fresh. Their menu offers delicious burgers with creative sauces and hand-spun shakes that you can enjoy in the outdoor seating area while you take-in the sights and activity of the park.

Fellini’s Pizza: While New York and Chicago might lay claim as the pizza kings, the South does offer a few challengers. Fellini’s Pizza has several locations throughout the city of Atlanta and makes one of the best pies we have ever tasted. Their restaurants have large outdoor seating spaces and the atmosphere is always enjoyable with kids. You can order full pies or pizza by the slice to sample a little bit of all the cheesy goodness offered.King.of.pops.Collage

King of Pops: This unique Popsicle company was started by two local brothers and has grown into a successful business that is an Atlanta favorite. In addition to their permanent location and their availability in local restaurants, you can find their carts all over town at special events, farmer’s markets and food truck events. Their pops are made with fresh ingredients, are all-natural and their flavors are truly unique. Some of our favorites are Chocolate Sea Salt and Watermelon Lime!

Where to EAT and PLAY… in the suburbs

Here’s the deal with Atlanta… most people you’ll meet that tell you they are from the ATL do not technically live in Atlanta. Most of us live outside the city limits, in sprawling suburbia. However, because of the massive suburban sprawl of Atlanta, our ‘burbs also have some really fantastic places to eat and things to do, so we wanted to be sure to share a few of our local favorites!american.girl.Collage

American Girl Boutique and Bistro: If you have doll obsessed little girls, the American Girl Boutique and Bistro is a perfect way to spend some time. With one of the few locations nationwide, North Point Mall, just north of Atlanta, hosts a store that is almost like a museum where you can shop in doll heaven followed by a delicious meal or even tea in the adjacent bistro. Not only will you and your girl enjoy the tasty treats, but their dolls will too! The American Girl Bistro has thought of it all, including doll sized seats, cups and saucers for them to use during your meal.tellus.Collage

Tellus Museum: About 45-minutes north of Atlanta in Cartersville, Tellus is hands-down one of the best museums in the Atlanta metro area. Tellus is a hands-on interactive museum for kids of all ages. Exhibits feature dinosaurs, gemstones and jewels, a solar house, mind puzzles and a planetarium.

Stone Mountain Park: One of the most popular attractions in the state is just 10-miles northeast of downtown Atlanta. Stone Mountain is the largest exposed mass of granite in the world and the park offers numerous family activities as well as thousands of acres of natural and historic sights. You can hike to the top of the mountain or take the Summit Skyride. Some other family favorites are the SkyHike adventure course, the Scenic Railroad ride around the mountain and viewing the state of the art digital graphics Lasershow as a way to end your day.McEntyres.Collage

McEntyeres Bakery: This friendly neighborhood bakery entices you with its impressive display of sweet treats and boutique goods the moment you walk in the door! It is a great place for lunch, as it offers an impressive selection of yummy sandwiches and soups. The Kickin’ Chicken sandwich is our favorite and you can leave with out some cheese straws and a Petit Four.

Moxie Burger: This great burger place just north of Atlanta was created as a neighborhood gathering place for families and it has become just that. It is a hidden gem, tucked into a shopping village, but doesn’t deter the crowds as it is a favorite amongst the locals. Everything is delicious and the atmosphere is warm and perfect for a family-friendly meal. They have toys on-hand for children and a fun patio with a chalkboard table for kids to play and get crafty pre- or post-meal. Also, for Mom and Dad, they have a fabulous wine and beer list!

Have you ever been to Atlanta? What are some of your favorite places?

This post was contributed by The Magnolia Mamas as part of the Savvy Sassy Moms Product Scouts program.  You can find more about their adventures in and around Atlanta on their blog.   

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St Louis Arch

I’ve lived in St. Louis nearly 15 years and never have I loved this city more now that I have children.  St. Louis has so many amazing attractions and events for kids, most of which are completely free! This affordable, drivable, small city is packed with fun activities, beautiful parks, amazing museums and some of the best food in the Midwest. We are more than just a baseball and brewery town (although we really like those, too). Welcome to my city!

Where to PLAY

City Gems: Exploring St. Louis with Kids: Grant's Farm

Grant’s Farm: This unique St. Louis attraction combines the appeal of a zoo with the local history of the Anheuser-Busch legacy. Free to the public, admission includes a tram ride through an animal preserve, animal shows and even free beer (for adults only). This is also where you can meet all the famous Budweiser Clydesdales. Mom tip: Buy the $5 pass so your kids can feed the goats, take a carousel ride and get a snow cone. If you don’t do all three, the card can be redeemed on your next trip.

CityGems: Exploring St. Louis with KidsEckert’s Country Store & Farms (Belleville): Eckert’s is a great place to take kids and fill your grocery cart at the same time. Located about 25 minutes from downtown, it’s open year-round, but go during “Pick Your Own” season, which begins with strawberries in May and continues through fall with vegetables, apples, blackberries, peaches and pumpkins. Picking is easy for kids of all ages and they love the tractor ride to the fields.

City Gems: St. Louis Forest Park Forest Park: I don’t think anyone can do a St. Louis feature without mentioning Forest Park. One of the 100 largest parks in the country (over 1,300 acres), it houses our world-class St. Louis Zoo, the History Museum, Art Museum, Muny Amphitheater and Science Center… all of which are free to the public.  And if that wasn’t enough, it has an ice skating rink, a tennis complex, an 18-hole golf course, a boathouse (with paddle boats), multiple playgrounds, lakes, streams, running trails and wooded areas (perfect for family photos).

City Gems: St. Louis Magic House

Magic House: The St. Louis Magic House is truly one of the gems of our city. It’s packed full of fun and interesting science and problem-solving exhibits, which create a hands-on learning environment for kids of all ages. Some of our favorite exhibits are the imaginary shops, art center, outdoor construction area, 3-story beanstalk, bubble room and the giant electromagnet ball that will make your hair stand on end! Mom tip: Leave for lunch and come back to play for the rest of the day — try Dewey’s Pizza in downtown Kirkwood.

Yucandu Art Studio: This is a unique retail store and interactive art studio in Webster Groves, which is interesting for both children and adults. They provide the materials (paint, beads, paper, ribbon, tiles, etc.) and teach you the steps so that “yucandu” the projects yourself. They offer mosaic, collage and/or paint projects for a small hourly studio fee, which includes staff guidance, use of tools and brushes and complete clean-up!

Creation Station at the Museum of Transportation: The Creation Station is a hands-on learning environment dedicated to introducing children (ages 5 and under) to all modes of transportation while focusing on play, imagination and interaction. This large brightly-lit room is filled with train tables, play houses, books, costumes, cars and racetracks. Mom tip: There’s almost always a Groupon available for discounted entry.

Citygarden: Located in the heart of downtown St. Louis, Citygarden is two square city blocks long, filled with sculptures, gardens and trails, as well as fountains, waterfalls, spray parks and wading pools perfect for splashing in on a hot summer day. Within walking distance of Busch Stadium, Ballpark Village, the Gateway Arch, the Old Courthouse, Peabody Opera House, Scottrade Center and a variety of shops and restaurants.

City Gems: Ices Plain & Fancy in St. Louis

Where to TREAT

Ices Plain and Fancy: This is St. Louis’s first (and only) made-to-order, liquid nitrogen ice cream parlor. The process is totally amazing — an ice cream base and your add-ins go into a mixer, followed by liquid nitrogen and they’re quickly blended while clouds of cold smoke pour out. The mixture gets so cold it has to be blow-torched from the bowl!  Mom tip: Make dad drive and get one of their boozy drinks if you’re having one of those days.

Jilly’s Cupcake Bar: Jilly’s has won Food Network’s Cupcake Wars two times and is hands-down the best cupcake shop in the Midwest. Flavors change monthly, but some of my favorites include Key Lime Gooey Butter, Chocolate Thunder and 24-Karat Carrot Cake.

This post was contributed by Sara McCarty as part of the Savvy Sassy Moms Product Scouts program. You can find more about Sara on her blog Running from the Law

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Dreams Las Mareas Resort in Costa Rica
Family-friendly resort in Costa Rica

I am a huge fan of Costa Rica — hence the reason I live here — so you can believe me when I say that it is an excellent family vacation destination. Traveling with kids to Costa Rica from the United States is fairly quick and easy, which makes it even more appealing, especially if this is your first time traveling with internationally with your kids.

Since I do live here full-time, I’m able to easily explore different areas of the country and stay at a variety of hotels and resorts. A few weeks ago, my daughter McKenna and I took a little mommy and me trip up to check out the new Dreams Resort Las Mareas. It is located in the northern Guanacaste region of Costa Rica, which is about a 90-minute drive from the Liberia airport and very close to the Nicaraguan border.

Dreams Las Mareas Costa Rica All Inclusive Hotels

Dream Las Mareas Costa Rica

Dreams Las Mareas is an all-inclusive Costa Rican resort with over 400 rooms on the property. The resort comes with all the family-friendly amenities you would expect at an all-inclusive resort — plenty of dining options, on-site daily activities, excursions and a kids’ club. There are several different buildings throughout the property and there are several room options so be careful when you are making your reservation to make sure you’re getting the location on the resort you want. The more impressive rooms are in the smaller buildings and either have private Jacuzzis on the balconies or the semi-private dipping pools right off the patios.

Dreams Resort Costa Rica Building and Room
Our building happened to be the building with the most privacy, nestled on the hillside and a little further away from the pools. It was also a bit more of a walk to our room (which I actually appreciated to get in a little exercise between meals!), but there are plenty of golf carts buzzing around and you can get a ride to your room quite easily, which might come in handy when traveling with older family members or your little ones. These rooms are also great for those couples spending their honeymoon at the resort. Beware: Your patio is right next to your neighbor’s patio, so if people are talking loud, you’ll definitely be able to hear them… and vice versa!

Dreams Las Mareas Dipping Pools offthe Rooms Hotels in Costa Rica
We had one of the rooms with a dipping pool and this was, by far, our favorite feature! From our room we even had a small view of the ocean and I can only assume that the rooms above us had even a better views. One thing to mention, if you are traveling with children that cannot swim, this is probably not the best room option for you because it’s going to be nearly impossible to keep them out of the pool 24/7. I absolutely loved this room and would have a hard time staying here again without the dipping pool right outside my door!

Dreams Las Mareas Waterslide Family Hotels in Costa RicaDreams las Mareas Pool Costa Rica Hotels

Pools, pools, pools

If pools are your thing then you will be very happy here. They have two distinct pool areas, each with two very large pools. The pools start at the top of the resort and work their way down to the beach. The top pool area is all about the kids — it has a water slide, basketball hoop, a large poolside chess game and an additional shallow pool for toddlers.

The other pool area is one large continuous pool that begins with an adult only pool that leads to the swim-up bar and a large infinity pool that looks out to the beach, which kids can visit. This pool also has a volleyball net and a bridge that kids like to swim under. There is also a small poolside cafe that offers a few snack options, cocktails and endless amounts of smoothies for the kids.

Dreams Las Mareas Resort Pools in Costa Rica
For those that are not traveling with kids, you’ll appreciate the adult only pool. Or, if you are traveling with kids, drop them off at the kids’ club and head here to take advantage of some peace and quiet.

Dream las Mareas Oceana Bar with Swings Costa Rica

Food and dining options

Since this is an all-inclusive the resort, they feature the typical buffet-style breakfast, lunch and dinner. The line can get long in the morning so if you just need a caffeine fix in a hurry, they do have the CoCo Cafe to grab your latte or to pick up a small pastry for the kids. There are four restaurants on the property — two of them are only open for dinner and the Italian restaurant, Portofino, does not allow children.

Our dinner at Oceana was very good and probably my favorite meal. We ate the buffet lunch at this restaurant as well and it was pretty basic with your standard hot dogs, hamburgers, french fries, some grilled vegetables and salads. Oceana sits right next to the pool and has the bar with the swings that my daughter and I loved swinging in.

Dreams Resorts Costa Rica Beaches Play el Jobo Dreams Las Mareas Beach Boogie Boarding Playa El Jobo in Costa Rica

The beach at Playa el Jobo

The beach here is in a cove, so the water is very calm and the waves are small, which is great for young children. My daughter did catch a few small waves with her boogie board, but these waves may not be that exciting for older children. There are better beaches in Costa Rica and if you are looking to surf, you definitely cannot do that here. if you are expecting soft white sand you won’t find it here — the sand is a bit more compact, brown and rustic like many beaches in Costa Rica, compared to beaches that you might find in the Caribbean or Mexico.

You can check out stand-up paddle boards and boogie boards from the resort and you can also rent kayaks and jet skis for an additional fee if you want to head out further into the water. Fishing and snorkeling tours are available for you to book and you can get a massage right on the beach if you’d rather relax. The kids’ club also brings the kids down to the beach for their special camping nights that include a variety of activities and beach games.

Dreams Las Mareas Costa Rica SpaDream Las Mareas Spa Costa Rica
The Dreams Spa

If I am going to be honest, the spa was the highlight for me. They have the usual spa treatment options, of course, but they also have a five-step hydro-therapy spa, which includes a sauna, steam room, cold-plunge pool, pool with water massage chairs and pressure waterfall, and hot tub. It has been a long time since I have had the opportunity to do a spa cycle like this, so it was an unexpected and pleasant surprise. They also had what I am calling “relaxation pods,” which I almost fell asleep in. This indoor-outdoor spa experience was really fantastic, giving you a true Costa Rican experience. They also have a full salon for hair services, as well as manicures and pedicures.

Additional activities

This resort is a bit secluded, but they do offer a few day trips such as zip lining at the Spider Monkey Canopy Tour and the Buena Vista Lodge day trip, which has even more activities. They will arrange to take you to the Arenal Volcano area, but this is a very long trip and, in my opinion, visiting the Arenal area is not a day trip. You will likely feel rushed and it will be a very long day, especially for children. It’s best to stay for at least one night in that area to really experience all it has to offer.

Every night they deliver a resort newsletter, The Sundial, which has a full list of activities for the following day. You can also participate in yoga classes, dance lessons, beach soccer and volleyball, among other activities at the resort. They have have nightly shows and entertainment and movie nights for the kids, which are a fun way to relax after a day in the sun.

Plan your visit to Dreams Las Mareas Costa Rica

Dreams Las Mareas Costa Rica is a great option for both families with young children and those looking for a relaxing family vacation. It is a resort-style vacation that comes with the typical family-friendly amenities right on the property, but with the option to explore outside of the resort for some more exciting Costa Rican excursions and adventures via the resort, if you choose.

Website: Dreams Resort Las Mareas Costa Rica


Disclosure: This was a press trip and all accommodations and meals were included. All my thoughts and opinions are my own. I am a family travel professional and share this with you to help families decide on places to stay for their vacations.

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Palm Springs sits like an oasis in the desert of Southern California. Its proximity to Los Angeles has made it a go­-to escape and retreat for decades, including for well-known Hollywood celebrities whose homes are on tour maps and whose names line the streets of the greater Palm Springs area. But, you don’t have to have a Screen Actors Guild card to enjoy Palms Springs with kids. This desert retreat welcomes everyone, including families, and there are myriad city gems for families to explore.

Where to EAT

Where to eat with kids in Palm Springs

Palm Springs has some great family-­run, independent restaurants that offer a welcome change from franchises and fast food. El Gallito is an historic Mexican eatery that has been a local Palm Springs favorite for 36 years. They offer an extensive menu of delicious specialties that your family already loves, like ­burrito especial, beef or chicken tacos, quesadillas, chips with salsa and yummy guacamole. The line-­up out the door attests to the tasty food, great service and comfortable atmosphere of this super family-­friendly restaurant.

Blu Ember is an upscale, family-­friendly restaurant at the Rancho Las Palmas resort in Rancho Mirage. Make reservations to ensure a seat on their large outdoor patio and enjoy a delicious, if pricey, selection of excellent cuisine featuring local ingredients like dates and beets.

In old Palm Springs, Birba is all the buzz for an Italian pizza dinner. They have a wide selection of thin ­crust, wood ­fired pizzas, as well as salads and pastas. It is a very busy restaurant, so reservations are highly recommended.

Where to PLAY

Exploring Palm Springs with Kids

Just south of old Palm Springs sits the expansive Indian Canyons conservation area. There are a variety of walking, hiking, cycling and horseback riding trails for outdoor enthusiasts to enjoy. We chose the two-mile loop hike in Andreas Canyon, just past the entrance gate into the conservation area. The hike was a fairly level pathway, with some small elevations from the creek bed into the hillside, but nothing too strenuous. Arrive early in the morning to enjoy cooler temperatures before the desert canyon heats up during the day. The hiking trail in Andreas Canyon is in partial shade from the many fan palms that our unique to this area. Stop to admire the rock formations along the creek bed. Their unique colors and shapes represent a geological journey through time that is interesting to rock fans. Hike safely: Don’t forget to pack along some water and a hat in this dry desert environment.

The Palm Springs Air Museum is a must for any aviation fan or military history buff… or simply for your little airplane enthusiast. The large museum is staffed by knowledgeable Air Force veterans and is divided into a Pacific and European Theatre, showcasing World War II history and battles. The indoor plane collection is extensive, and the outdoor planes date from the Korean and Vietnam Wars. Take time to enjoy the informative history displays and don’t by shy of asking questions — ­the volunteers love to share their incredible military and aviation knowledge.

Exploring Palm Springs with kids

For incredible views of Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley, ride up the Palms Springs Tramway, just 30 minutes from the city. The rotating gondola takes just 10 minutes to travel to 8500 feet at Mount San Jacinto State Park. Pack a jacket as the temperature will be much cooler than in the valley! The Tramway station has restaurants, facilities, and a state park nature interpretation display. The 1-1/2 mile Desert Trail is an easy loop hike (it’s stroller ­friendly) with five lookout points, called notches. They offer beautiful views of the valley and the mountains, and even the San Andreas fault.

Where to SHOP

To the east of old Palms Springs, in the town of Indio, is the Shields Date Garden. Growing and selling dates since 1924, this date farm offers tours of its extensive grounds, date tastings, date movies in its vintage theater, and a store selling every kind of date you can imagine. Don’t leave without trying their famous date shakes made with date sugar crystals. They’re very sweet but very delicious!

To the west of Palms Springs sits the enormous Desert Hills Outlet Mall, part of the Simon Premium Outlets family. This outdoor shopping mecca has many high-end fashion labels, including Armani, Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci, Jimmy Choo, Prada and Saks Fifth Avenue, along with trendy and popular shops such as Forever 21 and Polo Ralph Lauren. If you’re a shopper, you’ll probably want to plan at least a half-day visit.

Where to STAY

Where to stay with kids in Palm Springs

Palm Springs is filled with beauty and history. The Waldorf Astoria property of La Quinta Resort & Club dates back to 1926. It was built as a refuge for Hollywood celebrities to escape and relax in the desert and the guest list has hosted the best of Hollywood history from ­Bette Davis and Marlene Dietrich to Greta Garbo and Errol Flynn. La Quinta Resort remains a very popular destination for film stars and discerning guests of more humble stature, with or without family in tow. The property boasts 41 pools, private haciendas, villas, fitness facilities, a kids club and professional tennis courts that host celebrity and charity tournaments year round. Enjoy breakfast of fresh fruit or eggs benedict at Twenty 6 Cafe and a gourmet dinner of surf and turf at Morgan’s in the Desert.

Palm Springs City Gems: Where to stay

Rancho Mirage is centrally located in the greater Palm Springs area, and home to many family-friendly hotels. The Hilton Garden Inn has spacious rooms, comfort adjustable beds, in­-room Keurig coffee machines and a lovely pool area surrounded by palm trees and fragrant flowering jasmine. The hotel is close to restaurants, shopping and tourist amenities, including the impressive mid-century Sunnylands estate of the Annenberg family. Book tickets in advance to tour Sunnylands, as it is a very popular destination.

Upscale, mid-­century modern chic comes with cute valet car service and posh surroundings at this boutique hotel property in Palm Springs. Tucked away behind high walls and lush landscaping, The Parker offers luxury, privacy and full modern amenities on its 13 ­acres. The property includes two pools —­ one for kids and the other for adults ­only —­ tennis courts and a couple of swish restaurants that offer the ultimate, top­ drawer Palm Springs experience.

This City Gems post was contributed by Claudia of The Travelling Mom

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City Gems: Exploring Nashville with Kids

Nashville, also known as Music City, USA. Most think it’s just a bunch of honky-tonks and cowboy boots, but Nashville has so much more to offer — even if you don’t care for country music. Of course, if country music and cowboy boots are your thing, you’ll have a great time, too! Nashville is quickly growing and evolving every day, which means this guide will probably be out-of-date before it even posts! But that’s a good thing because in Nashville, there is always a new place to shop or restaurant to check out. Here are some of my favorites.

Sweet treats

Las Paletas has become a Nashville staple. They make their gourmet popsicles using fresh fruit, veggies, nuts and herbs so the popsicles taste just like they should. They have cream popsicles, which are more like an ice cream bar, and fruit popsicles, which taste more like a traditional ice pop. You can also get them dipped in chocolate! They have around 20 different flavors each day and while they always serve your normal strawberry or chocolate, you’ll also find avocado (my favorite), hot chocolate with chili peppers and so many other interesting flavors. You’ll wish they didn’t melt so you could take more home with you!

City Gems: Exploring Nashville with Kids

If you don’t make a stop by the Goo Goo Clusters shop, you’re missing out! Those amazing candies are made right in downtown Nashville and you can even watch them work while you’re in the shop. There are usually samples out of the different flavors. I have yet to try one that I didn’t like, but the classic will always have my heart. Grab a box to take home for some friends, or hoard for yourself.

Date night & girls’ night out

City Gems: Date Night in Nashville

Pinewood Social is a very unique place. It’s a full-service restaurant, bar, coffee shop, bowling alley and even has a pool outside. If you want to bowl, you’ll definitely need to call ahead to reserve a lane, but it’s worth it. The bowling alley is made from reclaimed wood using old bowling lanes. The pool area is 21+, but has its own menu and is great option for a girls’ night. Even if you only have time to stop by for a drink, Pinewood Social is worth it. The atmosphere is awesome and you will fall in love the vintage-industrial feel inside.

City Gems: Where to have a date night in Nashville

Arrington Vineyards is the perfect place to visit for picturesque views of rolling vines and a relaxing and welcoming atmosphere. All of the vineyard wines can be tasted and purchased on-site and visitors are encouraged to bring a picnic to accompany their wine. While I recommend this as an adults-only outing, kids are welcome. There are spacious areas overlooking the vineyards that are perfect for children to explore while the adults relax. Several nights each week in the spring and summer, the outdoor patio features live music and a visit at dusk offers spectacular views of the sunset over the Middle Tennessee hills that can’t be beat.

Foodie favorites

Edley’s BBQ is a must when visiting Nashville. I mean, you can’t go to Nashville and not have barbecue, right? Edley’s knows how to do it right. They have your typical pulled pork sandwiches, but they have so much more than that. You can get BBQ nachos, quesadilla or perhaps one of their best dishes — the Tuck Special. I would suggest going for a walk after that meal on the streets of 12 South, one of the awesome neighborhoods in Nashville.

City Gems: Where to eat in Nashville

Batch Nashville is a great stop to make if you want to be able to support the amazing local artisans in this town. They carry many of the food products that are made here in Nashville. Some of our favorites (that you can totally pack to take home with you): Willa’s Shortbread Cookies, Bluebird’s Biscuit Mix, Olive & Sinclair Chocolates and Eli Mason Cocktail Mixers. The Batch store itself is located inside of the Nashville Farmer’s Market, so make sure to save time to walk around and see all that they have to offer. You can also grab lunch while you’re there at some of the great restaurants.

Family time

City Gems: Exploring Nashville with Kids

The Frist Center is a true privilege to have in Nashville. A sophisticated art gallery and museum for Mom and Dad to enjoy, but there’s a twist. Upstairs, there is an entire area (Martin Artquest) dedicated to the kids. It’s hands-on fun that teaches kids about principles of art. I have to admit, you can usually find me pretending to help my kids with the activities, but really just doing them for myself. It’s tons of fun! The Frist is always free for children under 18, so you won’t have to spend a fortune to enjoy it.

City Gems: Fun in Nashville with Kids

Cheekwood Botanical Gardens is another family favorite that seems more adult than child, but really is family-friendly. Sure, there are amazing exhibits for Mom and Dad to admire, but there are also special things for the kids to enjoy. They have the trains set up where Thomas and his friends drive through an elaborate track setup. They also have an amazing tree house that the kids can climb up and play in. The exhibits change periodically, so make sure to check what is going one before you visit.

Nashville locals, where are you favorite city gems?

This post was contributed by Lindsey McPherson as part of the Savvy Sassy Moms Product Scouts program. You can find more about Nashville from Lindsey on her blog, The Nashville Mom.

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Los Angeles is a pretty magical place. I was born and raised in this fine city, and now I’m raising a family of my own here. So, it’s been great visiting places that I went as a kid, now with two of my own. Of course we’ve found some new favorites along the way, so narrowing this list down to just 10 places to take kids in Los Angeles was quite the chore. Whether you live here already or are thinking of visiting, here are my top picks on where to take the kids in Los Angeles.

10 Places to take kids in LA: Descanso Gardens1. Descano Gardens

We found Descanso Gardens  by accident after visiting some college friends in Montrose. It’s literally an oasis in the middle of the city where kids are allowed to run free and smell the roses — literally and figuratively. The park is divided into different types of California native foliage: Walk under the shade of the Redwood Grove, stroll amongst the roses in the Rose Garden and visit the bonsai in the Japanese Tea Garden. Don’t forget to visit the turtles and the gigantic koi fish in the main pond. If you’re lucky you see dragonflies too.

10 Places to take kids in LA: Farmer's Market
2. Original Farmer’s Market at 3rd and Fairfax

Every time we go out to dinner with the boys, we’re kind of sorry that we just didn’t head to the Farmer’s Market instead. The Farmer’s Market is like an oasis of food — all the foods from every region of this great wide world. And truthfully, it’s very representative of the city’s vast heritage. And it’s that cultural diversity that I love so much. You can literally get a bowl of gumbo, a plate of sushi, a shwarma sandwich and wash it all down with a Belgian beer, all in one stop. The kids can be as loud and as messy as they want because you’re outside. We like bringing board games. Friday nights bring live music and you can stay as long as you want. Be sure to hit Bennett’s ice cream after dinner, or else you’ll really be missing out.

10 Places to take kids in LA: Churro Borough Ice Cream Parlor
4. Churro Borough Ice Cream Parlor

Two of my favorite things combined into one at Churro Borough Ice Cream Parlor – churros and ice cream. The line is usually out the door at this place, so be sure to go at off hours. Round, crunchy, sugar coated churro disks sandwich artisan ice cream for the best treat ever. We can’t get enough. Seriously, it’s kind of becoming a problem. My favorite flavor ice cream is the spicy Mexican hot chocolate and the kids love the creamy vanilla. They’re purists, what can I say.

10 Places to take kids in LA: The Last Bookstore
5. The Last Bookstore Downtown Los Angeles

Stepping into the Last Bookstore in downtown LA is kind of like walking onto a movie set. There are books as far as they eyes can see, and art everywhere. Plus the people watching is fantastic. You can literally get lost in there for hours. There’s dollar book section, a color coordinate book wall, a tunnel made completely of books, and an upstairs artisan gallery. We’ve picked up a few good art prints there, some of which are currently hanging in our living room. And it’s great to show our kids, that books are still relevant, that there’s nothing quite like holding a book as apposed to reading it on a kindle. How old school right? Tip: One of the best taco joints in town is right around the corner – Guisados. Check them out. You won’t be disappointed.

10 Places to take kids in LA: The Hollywood Bowl
6. The Hollywood Bowl

Okay, here’s a super well kept secret. Ready? During the summer months, you can go and watch the Hollywood Bowl orchestra practice for FREE on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Practices run from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Settle in and get ready for a treat. It’s a truly unique experience as is going to an actual show where you can pack a picnic dinner complete with wine (for you) and juice boxes (for the kids).

7. LACMA Concert Series

Nothing says summer more than chilling out at a Latin Jazz concert at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. It’s a great way to expose the kids to music, and you can let them run and be crazy, and they crash before you even get home from the outing meaning that you have the rest of the night free! If you’re not into the concert scene, you can always visit the museum. Kids 18 and under, plus one adult can get in for free if you sign up for the LACMA NexGen program. Now, that’s a good deal.

8. Olvera Street

Olvera Street is one of Los Angeles’ oldest historic locations, and is often referred to as the birthplace of the city. Walk up and down the storefronts, and grab some Mexican candy or a hand-stitched purse and maracas for the kids. There are a handful of sit down restaurants but grabbing tacos or taquitos from one of the take out joints is where it’s at. You really can’t beat the price – or the taste. You’ll be back for more. Check the event’s calendar for a chance to watch traditional Spanish dancers. Halloween brings the famous Day of the Dead parade, which is a unique experience in and of itself.

9. Chinatown

Have a craving for dim sum? Thinking of taking the family out for a fun night of karaoke? Chinatown is the place to visit. And if you have a karate fan in the house, paying homage to the Bruce Lee statue is a must. If you’ve never seen a Chinese Dragon Dance, then add that of your list of things to do – now! The self-guided walking tours are also great for first timers. The kids can partake in a scavenger hunt!

10. Griffith Park Merry Go Round

We’ve been to the Griffith Park Merry Go Round more times than we can count. It gives off a pretty nostalgic vibe, of what Los Angeles used to be many years ago. It runs every weekend and during the weekdays as well during the summer. We even had a friend have a circus themed birthday party at the park, with free rides for the kids, but that’s the kind of over the top birthday party you’d come to expect from living in Los Angeles.
10 Places to take kids in LA: The Los Angeles Zoo
11. LA Zoo

Okay we could not leave this one off the list – so there is actually 11.

Are your little monkeys driving you batty? You see where I’m going here? Yeah, the LA Zoo has all the animals. Every one that your little one wants to see. Plus there’s a new reptile exhibit (that gives me the creeps but keeps the kids coming back for more). There’s also a petting zoo and a pretty expansive play ground with misters for hot days – and there are plenty of them in Los Angeles. I recommend grabbing a frozen lemonade at the stand near the giraffe exhibit and watching them for while because those guys are awesome.

 

Moms, where are your favorite Los Angeles places to take your kids?
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Exploring Cannery Row Monterey California
Weekend in Cannery Row

If you aren’t already familiar with the area, Cannery Row is a street that runs parallel to the coastline of Monterey Bay in the middle of California, made famous by American author John Steinbeck, who captured the lives of workers and residents who worked in the fish canneries that gave the area its name. Once the area was fished out, the bay was made into a marine sanctuary, but the canneries remained.

Following a period of revitalization, this little section of Monterey now boasts beautiful hotels, restaurants, shopping and other activities, as well as opportunities to explore the water and coastline. Some of the original canneries are still standing, and you can see and even walk in the iconic “crossover” bridges that joined the canneries to the old shipping houses across the street.

Just an hour and a half drive from San Jose airport, Monterey is also home to Monterey Bay Aquarium, the famous scenic 17-Mile Drive, and a marine sanctuary for sea otters, elephant seals, sea lions, and many species of birds. The area enjoys a temperate climate, so it’s a perfect place to bring your family during the summer for a road trip stop or a final destination.

Visiting Monterey Bay in CaliforniaWhere to STAY

The Victorian Inn is located just blocks up the hill from Cannery Row itself, and the higher floors offer views above the rooftops to Monterey Bay. Centered around a large Victorian home built in 1907, the decor of the inn reflects the style of the period. Rooms are spacious and comfortable and each one has a gas fireplace which is nice when it gets chilly at night. There’s free continental breakfast and daily wine receptions in the lobby, complimentary in-room internet, and in-room massages if you need one. There’s no pool at this hotel, so your kids will have to get their swimming fix in the ocean.

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Monterey Bay Inn

A little bit more upscale for adult travelers, the boutique Monterey Bay Inn is perched above the ocean at the southeast end of Cannery Row, adjacent to San Carlos park and beach. Rooms have sleek updated decor and each has a small balcony overlooking the coast – binoculars are provided, too. The bathrooms have double sinks, private toilets, and large showers. With two hot tubs on site, the hotel also provides comfy spa robes ready for you in the closet when you arrive. In-room breakfast is complimentary, as long as you hang your order on the door by midnight.

What to-do in Monterey, CaliforniaWhere to PLAY

When at Cannery Row you’ll definitely want to visit the oceanside. A great way for an active family to see the sights and get some exercise is to rent some equipment from Adventures by the Sea and either paddle around the bay or ride around town. I rented an adult-sized cruiser for maximum comfort (braking by pedaling backwards, which I haven’t done in decades, took some re-learning) and there are also two-person surreys available to rent in three locations along the coast.

The recreational trail that runs 18-miles along the Monterey Bay coast was once a rail line, and you will even see old railroad crossing signs still standing as monuments to an earlier era. In fact, there is an old train car that is now parked right on the trail that is now a bookstore.
lovers point beach

There are many spots to stop and run around and take in the natural beauty, and Lover’s Point Park is a perfect one: a calm beach for young children with crystal blue waters, a spacious green park, a large rocky outcropping perfect for climbing, and a restaurant for dinner at the end of your day.

What to do with kids in Monterey Bay, CaliforniaBecause of the temperate seaside climate, mornings can be foggy or even drizzly in the area, so some indoor activities might be good to have in your back pocket. The aquarium is an obvious choice but if you want to avoid summer crowds, check these out. Monterey Mirror Maze, Lazer Challenge, and Highway 1 Black Light Mini Golf are all within feet of each other right on Cannery Row. Set up like a small Chuck E. Cheese minus the animatronic cartoon characters, these attractions let kids run amok while providing entertainment, as long as they have the tokens! The mirror maze feels like an extended creep inside a fun house, and the lazer challenge can be tough for the awkward adult (okay, me) but still fun.

On the way into the Cannery Row area as you approach from the airport, you’ll pass by El Estero Lake and a colorful children’s play area named after Dennis the Menace – his creator donated much of the money that built this park. Dennis the Menace park is no ordinary park. It has a hedge maze, a climbing wall, an old steam engine, a zip line, and a giant wiggly slide. In the surrounding complex you can rent a paddle boat to cruise around the lake.

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Where to EAT

Almost every restaurant at Cannery Row has a spectacular view of the water so I’ll just go in order of where I ate! Schooner’s Coastal Kitchen & Bar is a full-service restaurant located in the Monterey Plaza Hotel, a spacious throwback in the classic grand hotel style. Local food is the star of the “farm to fork, sea to table” menu, and the locally grown artichokes make a great appetizer.

Servers will kindly suggest a perfect local wine to go with your meal: my grilled scallops, served over etouffee and brown rice risotto, went perfectly with the crisp and fruity Carmel Road “unoaked” Chardonnay. Our party tried several desserts and the standout was the unusual butterscotch banana pudding with housemade “Nilla” wafers. Every table looks out over the water. Before or after your dinner, stroll the patio or enjoy a cocktail by the modern fire pit. Schooner’s is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Fish Hopper Monterey
The Fish Hopper


The Fish Hopper
, open for lunch or dinner, is perched on the far end of Steinbeck Plaza, where a monument to the historical figures that made Cannery Row famous claims center stage. You can stand outside in line to just grab a cup of their rich and creamy clam chowder to go, or enjoy a glass of white peach sangria in the bar before going out to the deck to enjoy a meal. Given where you are dining, right above the waters that supplied fish to the entire world at one time, you’ll probably want to try some seafood, but there are plenty of meat and vegetarian options too.

For lunch, I had a poached pear salad with seared scallops, a perfect light dish with just enough protein to keep me fueled for more walking around this colorful town. Paired with another local wine, a Blackstone Sauvignon Blanc, it was perfect. The kids’ menu includes some nice choices like grilled chicken and fish & chips along with the usual suspects of burgers and fries.

Where to eat with kids in Monterey: Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.
Bubba Gump Shrimp Company

Great for families with kids who don’t like to be quiet or necessarily sit still at the table, the well-known Bubba Gump Shrimp Company is full of things to see and touch, all in homage to the award-winning movie “Forrest Gump.” Naturally, one orders the shrimp. To keep it real I had Mama Blue’s Southern Charmed Fried Shrimp with French fries (and stole my dining companion’s remoulade dip), and I paired it with a signature cocktail, Tennessee tea (iced tea with Jack Daniels served in a pedestal Mason jar glass). Mama’s Bread Pudding was the favorite dessert, and the kids’ menu has popcorn shrimp on it. The servers make it fun by grilling you with Forrest Gump-related trivia. Our table was tough to stump.

Taking one for the team

Taking one for the team

This isn’t just another tourist trap – it was the very first location of this restaurant, so it’s worth checking out the water’s edge view, the gift shop, and the kitschy photo op – put yourself in Gump’s shoes.

Where to eat in Monterey: Cannery Row Brewing Company
Cannery Row Brewing Company

My favorite of the restaurants we tried was Cannery Row Brewing Company, which is one block up the hill from the main drag. Once a popular barbecue joint, CRBC has preserved its original smoking oven and still serves smoked barbecue wings – which are pretty spicy and delicious. The restaurant has an extensive beer list, although none are brewed on site, and a tasting flight includes a surprisingly ordinary choice of Sam Adams’ cider. Still, the Seadog Blueberry wheat ale and the Youngs & Co. Double Chocolate stout made it eclectic enough. But this is a post about family travel, so for the kids in the house, CRBC has an open, chill vibe that makes it great for dining with your children.

Outdoor seating includes a large round fire pit if your kids are old enough to be trusted not to throw themselves into the flames, and room to move and spread out. There is a children’s menu but it’s not on the website – it has a long list of choices including PB&J and chicken noodle soup. Overall, the food is satisfying and unique. In fact, the restaurant’s tasty giant pretzel has been featured on the Food Network show Diners, Drive-in’s, and Dives (although I wouldn’t characterize CRBC as any of the three). The cheddar bacon biscuits with chipotle-maple butter are a must-try, and the burgers are juicy and delicious, and customizable.

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For a splurge – come on, you’re on vacation – you must visit The Chart House at the southeast end of Cannery Row for a luxurious dinner. This location of the small chain of fine dining restaurants is true to its waterside nature here in Monterey Bay – a seat at the best table in the house feels like you are suspended over the ocean itself, and affords a prime view of the stunning sunsets here. The service is impeccable and the food lives up to the Chart House tradition. A trio of flavored hummus comes with plaintain chips and pita bread.

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One dining companion declared the coconut shrimp the best she’d had in the area – and she had sampled it almost everywhere we ate. The salad bar was a popular option for this party. You can choose it as your entree or as an addition to a main meal. If you’ve had enough seafood during your seaside stay, the Chart House filet mignon will be a nice counterpoint. Served with mashed potatoes or steamed fresh vegetables, it’s decadent and delicious. Desserts include the signature lava cake, which at our meal came out overcooked (but still chocolatey).

Where to shop on Cannery Row in MontereyWhere to TREAT

Shopping and sightseeing up and down Cannery Row can take a long time because there is so much to see and do and buy. The olive oils and balsamic vinegars at Monterey’s Tasty Olive Bar are sourced from all over the world and you can taste them before you purchase. Gifts and body care items at La Dolce Vita in Steinbeck Plaza make great souvenirs for the adults in your life. And candy stores abound – inside the Monterey Canning Company building, The Candy Factory makes their chocolate covered bacon right there in-house! (Only one sample of fudge per person, be warned.)

ghirardelli chocolate ice cream shop monterey

To take a load off, enjoy the endlessly beautiful water view, and indulge in an old-timey treat, visit the Ghirardelli Chocolate & Ice Cream Shop. Resistance is futile, really, since the aroma of baking waffle cones pulls you in as you pass by the entrance. The ice cream itself is delicious but the combination sundaes, like the sea salt and caramel sundae topped with a truly remarkable fresh whipped cream, will make you battle for the last bite, if you’re sharing at all.


Have you been to Monterey or Cannery Row? DO you have a favorite I missed?

 


Disclosure: I enjoyed most of the above attractions and restaurants as a guest of the Cannery Row Company. All opinions (and full tummy) are my own.

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