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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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Our City Gems Series travels to Baltimore…with the kids

The urban seaport of Balitmore, Maryland is one of the most colorful and interesting cities on the East Coast. Its cozy city center makes for a manageable and enjoyable adventure to explore with kids. Packed with American lore, industrial history and hubs of science, parents will find loads of exciting family friendly outings. Everyone in the family will revel in the delicious food and beautiful Chesapeake Bay views. Here are one Savvy Sassy Mom’s must-do stops in Charm City.

What to DO

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Baltimore National Aquarium

501 East Pratt Street

One of the world’s most extensive aquariums, kids can view a living collection of more than 17,000 marine-dwelling animals. The new Blacktip Reef exhibit replicates an Pacific reef and features a school of blacktip reef sharks. Kids can also visit with the aquarium’s eight Bottlenose dolphins and their expert staff. Private dolphin encounters for children age eight and up are available for an additional cost.

Where to PLAY

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Port Discovery

35 Market Place

Baltimore’s children’s museum truly lives up to its name, providing kids with a day’s worth of activities for discovery. Exploring art, science and technology become ridiculously fun thanks to the engaging exhibits. Kids will particularly love the giant KidWorks three-story urban treehouse with rope bridges, “secret” passages and slides.

What to SEE

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The Walters Art Museum

600 North Charles Street

This world-renowned (and completely free) art museum is packed with works by Monet, Manet, artifacts from ancient Egypt and Rome and more. But parents know the museum’s master stroke was the establishing of a Family Art Center that provides kids with interactive gallery materials like drawing kits and art books. Saturdays and Sundays the museum hosts ever-changing, but always free, art activities for kids.

What to EAT

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Joe Squared Pizza

133 West North Avenue

This urban joint always appears on food critics’ lists for best pizza places in the country and it was featured on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. But you will not see any Italian papis or red-checkered tablecloths here. Instead you get eclectic art and celebrated sourdough coal-fired pizzas baked in the out-of-the-ordinary square shape. Kids can customize their own pizza creations or choose from the interesting cheese and topping choices. Gluten-free eaters will appreciate the wheat-free pizza and pasta options.

Where to TREAT

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Pitango Gelato

802 South Broadway

The freshest, only locally-sourced ingredients make up the finest scoops of heaven at this Fells Point gelato shop. Freshly-squeezed tangerine juice, hand-ground pistachios and an entire pint of raspberries are expertly folded into each artisan cup. The cappuccinos and affogatos are crafted by baristas trained in the Italian art (complete with perfect latte art “leaves.”) Sure, this place will cost you a little more than the ice cream shop at the mall, but you will remember it for freaking ever. Take your gelatos out to watch the boats on the harbor while you savor.

Where to SHOP

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Sassanova

805 Aliceanna Street

OK, I will admit it: This final Baltimore pick is not for the children but for the women who are raising them.

The coolest boutique in town is stocked by the savviest buyers. Shelves and racks overflow with treasures by Calypso St. Barth, Tory Burch, DVF and loads of up-and-coming designers. Handbags and jewelry choices are always totally on-point. And the shoes! Sisters, the shoes picks are exquisite. Frequent sales, trunk shoes and awesome clearance racks make finding a little something special attainable.

Are you a Baltimore fan? What is your fav thing to do in Baltimore with kids?
Photos courtesy the destination websites and Getty images.
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When your family consists of more than one child, life can oftentimes feel like a survival series. Once school is back in session — with the constant stream of after-school activities, homework and getting ready for the holidays — life can seem like a tornado coming at you full speed ahead. Slow down and connect with each of your children by planning a one-on-one travel date and you’ll be amazed at how much you can learn about your kid and how much fun you can have.

kid travel ideas travel date

I have been lucky enough to take each of my kids on a one-on-one travel date and to some pretty cool spots, too. On these trips, I have had the MOST fun connecting with each of my boys and I hope to make this a regular event.

Planning your one-on-one kid vacation

When you’re coming up with kid travel ideas for your one-on-one travel date, it’s really important to focus on what your kid likes. If your kids are anything like my kids, they have completely different interests. My older one is more adventurous and athletic, while my younger one is inclined to take things more slowly. Needless to say, each of our trips will be completely different, and it’s important to plan accordingly.

Here are some tips:

  • Include your child in the planning process. What activities does he want to do? Where would he want to go? How does he want to spend his one-on-one time with you?
  • Coordinate with school. Your kid will survive a few days out of school – you’ll make it educational anyway, right? Ask your child’s teacher any work you can take along with you on the trip and carve out time daily to complete it.
  • Prep your other child(ren) for your special one-on-one time and simply remind them that their time will soon come, too. You may also need to prep your spouse (you can encourage him/her to enjoy their own special time with the kid who is staying).
  • In fact, you should encourage your spouse to take his own travel date with the kids. He will give them a totally different, completely memorable experience.
  • Choose a destination that will give you a variety of activities, and give you maximum flexibility. I  know in both of my one-on-one travel dates, I had all these grandiose plans for how things would go, but something inevitably happens. Must. Be. Flexible.
  • If you’re heading out of the country (and might I recommend Mexico or the Bahamas?), you should go ahead and order your child’s passport. Actually, go ahead and order their passport anyway (we should all have an up-to-date passport!)
  • Also, when traveling without the other parent, it is required by law to bring a notarized letter acknowledging the trip is ok. Read more about this on the US Border Patrol and Customs Protection website.
  • Record as much as you can; video, photos, journaling. Then, when you get home create a hard copy photo album and an online album, too.

I found that traveling one-on-one with each of my kids incredibly eye-opening. Come to find out my oldest is not nearly as aggravating when his little brother isn’t around, and my youngest is much more self-sufficient than I give him credit for. I was able to get to know my kids individually without the distractions of everyday life.

one on one travel date collage

Getting away with one of your kids is totally fun and incredibly rewarding. Look at that face!

Kid travel ideas

Plan a BIG trip for a particular birthday, such as Hawaii, Europe, or even a long road trip and plan to go on big adventures. (Your spouse may be jealous, but you and your special guy will have the trip of a lifetime!).

Can’t do a big trip? No problem, stay stateside. Our friend Tonya of Letters for Lucas, recently took her guy to Chicago, Keryn of Walking on Travels took her little guy on a boat in Seattle and I was able to spend a few days with my little one here at Snow Mountain Ranch in Colorado. The point is, that there are so many options for adventure when you consider the what kind of stuff your kid is into.

So, what if you don’t have the budget to fly somewhere? Consider a stay-cation in your very own community!  I have not done this yet, but I love the idea of taking one of my boys to a local hotel (that has a pool) and staying the night. We would consider local “adventures” and I would let them run the show.

Really the possibilities are endless when thinking about kid travel ideas. They enjoy the one-on-one time as much as we do.

one on one travel date collage

A one-on-one travel date will create lasting memories. I sure do love this kid!

Your family is a precious commodity and investing in life’s moments not only adds a richness, it also creates a deeper connection when you take the time to create memorable one-on-one moments. It just goes by too quickly!

What are your favorite kid travel ideas for a one-on-one travel date?
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A memorable family trip to Washington, D.C. means striking a balance. You need to embrace the history and eighth-grade-class-trip-ness of it all, but you also can break away from the marble monuments to enjoy the hip, unique offerings of the United States’ capital.

As a Washington, D.C. ‘what to do with your kids’ local blogger at A Parent in Silver Spring, I’m honored to share with you how to experience both sides of the (Presidential profiled) coin when you visit with your family.

What to DO 

washington d.c. family travel guide

VIP U.S. Capitol Tour

First Street SE

Sure, you can wait in the massive line for a generic tour of the United States Capitol Building. But why wait when Members of Congress’s staff members provide weekday tours for constituents? Once you chose your trip dates, contact one of your Senators — they have larger staffs to handle tours.

washington d.c. family travel guide

White House Tour

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Hard to believe, but it is possible to take a tour right through the public rooms of the place where the leader of the free world works and lives. When you call that Senator’s office for a Capitol tour, also ask to schedule a White House tour too. Requests can be submitted up to six months in advance. If you are citizen of another country, contact your embassy in Washington, DC to process your tour request.

What to SEE

washington dc family travel guide

Washington Monuments Cruise

3050 K Street NW – Washington Harbour – Georgetown Dock

The most pleasurable, and easiest way, to see those massive marble temples of democracy is to view them from the breezy decks of a tour boat. Much like the touristy cruises along the Seine in Paris, you get a beautiful view of the sights. I like to catch my tour boats from the Georgetown Dock. Various operators mean that a boat tour leaves every 15 minutes or so from 11:30am until 10pm or so. Evening cruises are especially cool. After your cruise, Georgetown provides loads of dining and shopping options.

Where to PLAY


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National Building Museum

401 F Street NW – Gallery Place

DC locals love this dream of a play-space-heavy museum for crawlers through elementary schoolers. From indoor miniature golf, a huge room of imaginative play areas, various LEGO rooms and more, your child will be in hands-on heaven.

Where to LEARN


Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History  – 10th Street and Constitution Avenue NW

Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum – Independence Avenue at 6th Street SW

Smithsonian National Museum of American History – 14th Street and Constitution Avenue NW

The three museums above are those that most people think of when they hear the words “Smithsonian.” Although there are more museums in the Smithsonian family located along the National Mall, these are the most popular and the ones that best cater to children. Since there’s no admission fee, feel free to breeze in and out and simply check out the things your family will find most exciting.

What to EAT


Good Stuff Eatery

303 Pennsylvania Avenue SE – Capitol Hill

Chef Spike Mendelsohn of Top Chef fame has several DC-area restaurants, and Capitol Hill’s Good Stuff Eatery will provide you with one of the best burger/fry/shake meals you have eaten in your life. There is a reason that Spike has won Rachael Ray’s burger challenge! The french fries with mayo bar and hand-spun shakes are delish. Mom and dad can get a Belgian beer on a tap, often a necessity after a day spent sight-seeing with kids.

Where to SHOP


Violet Boutique

2439 18th Street NW – Adams Morgan

Mom deserves some ‘me time’ after a playing Mrs. Griswold in DC all day. Head to Violet for the on-point styles, bright colors and unique accessories. The owner prides herself on curating a collection of tops, bottoms, dresses, handbags and jewelry that are accessibly-priced (almost everything is less than $100.) Yet with every item in the store, you feel as if you are in the coolest, most high end, funky boutique of your dreams.

Are you a Washingtonian or DC-tripper? Share your recs in the comments!


Images courtesy Jessica McFadden, the Architect of the Capitol, WhiteHouse.gov, Violet Boutique and Lil’ El and rubyshoes on Flickr via a Creative Commons license. 

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walking-on-travelsTraveling with kids is great. It’s amazing! It’s easy! It’s perfect in every way! Ummm… no. Travel with kids, just like anything you do as a parent, is far from perfect or easy, and is sometimes just not that much fun. There are missteps, accidents, local snafus and a few awkward moments to say the least.

Stranger danger

While traveling in China on business with my son, then 20-months-old, I had an odd encounter with a woman outside of the local Wal-Mart (yes, even China has giant box stores). As I approached the entrance a she came towards us and started reaching for my son.

Normally the locals would just pat his cheek and gesture that he was adorable. This is something I was more than used to after two trips to this part of the world. However, her objective was more than a simple hello. I used every hand gesture and Chinese word I knew (I know three words total) to convey to her that no, she could not unstrap my child from his stroller and pick him up. This crossed a line that my jet-lagged brain just couldn’t handle at that moment.

Thankfully the woman quickly backed off, and understood my concerns. The people I met in China were extremely friendly, and I will say that my blue-eyed son may be a minor celebrity at this point since he had his picture taken multiple times a day. Rarely did anyone make me feel uncomfortable with his or her attention. It was a nuisance to stop so much for photos, but it was a fun experience that allowed us to meet more people than we would have on our own without my son.

Embarrassing moments

Speaking of uncomfortable, sometimes you will come across situations that you just might not be ready to explain to your kids. Jessica from Suitcases and Sippy Cups begged her boys to stop pestering her when their family was lost in Athens trying to find their hotel.

One of her sons suggested they ask the ladies standing on the corner for help. Little did her son know, although Jessica certainly did, that these were women on the night looking for their next job. Jessica’s sons were too young to understand what was going on, but Jessica was mortified and begged her husband to figure it out and get them to their hotel. Jessica looks back on this story now and laughs, but I’m sure it will go down in history as “that time we saw hookers in Greece and mom wouldn’t let us stop to ask them for directions cause she was too embarrassed.”

Walking On Travels
Accidents

Unfortunately not every travel snafu is hilarious. During our 5-week trip around Europe we were visiting Tuscany with a few friends. Our kids were playing. I repeatedly asked my oldest, who was 3 at the time, to stop playing with the gate by the steps. Apparently his ears were not working no matter how much I yelled.

A few minutes later I heard my friend gasped and I turned around. Never have I heard such a guttural cry come out of my mouth. I watch my son roll head over feet down the stone steps of the agritourismo we were staying at. I saw his neck breaking in my mind, bones shattering and losing my son forever. My heart still clenches just thinking about this moment.

I ran past him on the steps so I could catch him before he fell anymore. I scooped him up and was convinced I would never ever let him go. I got him to a chair and started feeling every bone in his body. He was fine. He had a gash on the side of his head from where he had clipped a stone edge, but other than that he was perfectly fine. He screamed more while I tried to clean the gash and figure out if he needed stitches than he did after the fall. Promises of gelato calmed everyone down. I got him bandaged up and we all headed into town. I kept a careful watch on my son to make sure he didn’t have a concussion, and yes, I woke up every hour that night to make sure he was still breathing.

Life with kids is crazy, whether you are at home or exploring a distant land. Accidents happen, cultural snafus occur and you will meet people from every walk of life. Roll with what your travels bring you, pack a first aid kit and maybe pray a little extra hard while on the road. These things can happen anywhere.

Parenthood isn’t perfect, so you better figure out where you want to do it. I prefer the back roads of Tuscany, ladies of the night and friendly strangers myself.

What crazy traveling-with-kids story do you have?
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ski season with kids

Time to hit the slopes!

Ski season is on its way and your kids need to be ready. What will you pack? Is ski school right for them? What do you need to know before you hit the slopes this year? It’s not an easy task, but with the right information you will be on your way to a bit of winter fun. Now is the time to introduce your child to winter sports. Little ones as young as 3 years old can strap on a pair of skis and go speeding down a mountain. You can learn as a family if you have never done it before, or you can start your child on the path to being able to join you on a Black Diamond run.

ski season with kidsHow will you keep your little one toasty warm?

One of the biggest concerns as a parent is that you want to keep your child safe and protected. Keeping warm but limber is a big part of the ski experience. You don’t want your child so overloaded with layers that they can barely move. Here are the key elements you will need when outfitting your child for winter sports.

  • Water-resistant winter jacket/ ski jacket
  • Snow pants
  • Water-resistant mittens
  • Ski socks
  • Long underwear or thermal shirt and pants
  • Helmet (you can usually rent one or it comes with your rental skis)
  • Goggles

If you are just taking a day trip up to the mountain you will want an extra change of clothes, a ski cap/hat and extra mittens for your kid. If you are staying at a mountain resort you can always run back to your room or leave these extra items at ski school. When picking out your child’s gear, let them have a say in what you buy. Your child’s personality can really shine through with the gear they wear. Adorable pink goggles or a helmet with flames may give your child the confidence they need to hit the slopes. Definitely have your child try on a few pairs of goggles before you buy. Each will fit a little differently — you want a pair your child will actually wear or they will be left on the mountain for the bears to find in the spring.

ski school

Should my child be enrolled in ski school?

The short answer? Yes. Yes, they should go to ski school. Unless you are an expert skier and you have the patience of a saint (the major ones, not the minor ones) your child should definitely take a few ski classes. The ski instructors really know their stuff when it comes to motivating a child to strap two boards to their legs and plummet down a hill. More importantly, when a child is around their peers and sees other kids doing something new, they are more likely to do it themselves. Even if you opt for a private lesson for your child, chances are they will see other kids on the “magic carpet” riding up the hill with them.

ski school

Will my child love skiing from the start?

This is always a tricky question. It all depends on your child’s personality. If you are nervous about signing them up for ski school try tubing, sledding and ice skating first. Oftentimes these are cheaper activities you can do to get your child used to snow, falling down and having fun in cold weather. Grab a cup of hot chocolate and watch the skiers and snowboarders race down the mountain. The younger your child is the more they may want to give it a go. Let your child surprise you — they may love it. Then again, they may hate it. Even if you sign your child up for ski school and they do OK they may decide it isn’t the activity for them. That is all right. You need to make sure they know it is fine. Forcing your child won’t make them love skiing the next year, especially if you are trying it for the first time. Your child may just be too young, or maybe downhill skiing isn’t their thing. Wait another year and give it a second try. You can also give Nordic skiing a go or wait until your child is about 7 or 8 years old, when most ski schools allow students to try snowboarding.

winter skiingAbove all else, remember that winter sports are supposed to be fun. This could be a life-long passion for your child or it may be something you do every now and then. Either way, this is family time you can have outside together and a way to beat those winter blues.

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Big Ben

Ah, London. England’s capital city is a huge metropolis with enough history to fill the British Library and more. Cultures collide as evidence of the former British Empire and its global scope fill neighborhoods throughout the city. Monstrous toyshops, museums and markets line the streets. Trains traverse the city underground and above, just waiting to whisk you and your children away to some of Europe’s most beloved sights. With so many things to do in London with kids, where should you begin?

London Covent Garden

Tasty treats found at the market at Covent Garden

Cultural cuisine

Evidence of the British Empire can easily be found in the city’s cuisine. No longer are you limited to meat pies or fish and chips — both of which are very tasty indeed. Years of British rule have made Indian food a highlight of modern day taste buds, making a trip to Brick Lane is a must. Introduce your children to curries both mild and mind-blowingly hot. Whether you love meat or are a vegetarian you are guaranteed to find something you will love. Make your way to the Baywaters neighborhood just off of Hyde Park for Mediterranean delights and Asian takeout. Wagamama, just a short walk from Victoria Station, is a favorite spot to dive into a dish of noodles with your family or just a few friends. If you need something fast and guaranteed to please your picky eater you can never go wrong with Italian food. Pizza Express and Ask Italian are just two restaurants to add to your list when making your way through the sights of the city.

Hamley's

Say hello to the Queen at Hamley’s

Shops

Hamley’s is a London institution and a must-stop on any trip. Floor after floor will capture your child’s imagination (and your wallet) as they discover toys not found back home, as well as a few old friends like Thomas the Tank Engine and Barbie. Get your picture taken with the Queen, or at least the LEGO version of her, and test out some of the best selling toys, including a car that can drive up a wall. Make your way to Covent Garden and SoHo to pick up a few fun and unique trinkets to take home. Adorable kids’ clothes, toys imported from Japan and great travel gifts can be found just around the corner from the National Gallery.

Science Museum

Take a tour of vintage cars at the Science Museum

Museums

The Science Museum and Natural History Museum are a must for any pint-sized explorer. Walk through the automotive history of England on the ground floor of the Science Museum or hop in a jet on the top floor. Discover dinosaurs and volcanoes through a terrific kids’ program at the Natural History Museum. The best part about museums in London is that most are free. If you have five hours, or maybe just one, to look around, you won’t feel rushed to take it all in. You can make several visits to really get to know the museums and find your favorites. This also gives mom and dad a chance to sneak into the (not so thrilling for kids) National Gallery, whose walls hold a world-renown art collection that even your kids can stand if you give them the right tools — aka a scavenger hunt!

Portobello Road Market

Portobello Road Market in London

Markets

If you are a fan of the Disney movie Mary Poppins then you can not miss a trip to Portobello Road Market. This iconic shopping spot may not be covered in soot and books you can pick up for a pence, but you will find a few fabulous vintage frocks, decadent baked goods, antiques and more to take home with you. For a bit more highbrow, but equally fun experience head to the market in Covent Garden and the adjacent Jubilee Market. The latter is a bit more of a tourist trinket dive, but you can find some cheap souvenirs to take home and mulled wine on a cold winter’s day. Covent Garden hosts the Apple Market where you can score jewelry, paintings, photographs and clothing made and sold by local artists. Don’t be afraid to haggle a little bit, especially if you can pay cash.

Covent Garden

The market at Covent Garden

The city slogan, “See the world. Visit London,” isn’t kidding. You really can get a great taste of the world through just one trip to England’s capital. From food to shops, markets to museums you can never go wrong with a trip to London with the kids. A city where cultures collide, educational fun is at your fingertips and new toys are just a flight away may have you wishing you could stay just a few days longer.

National Gallery

London’s National Gallery

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I’m extremely lucky to have made my home sunny Tampa, Florida. I should probably thank my mom for that, actually, since she moved us down to the Tampa Bay area from Ohio when I was ten, but I digress…Tampa is so rich in history and such a beautiful part of our country! OK, I may be a bit biased about how wonderful Tampa is, but my hometown really IS flush with fun things to do with your family. So if you have been mulling over a trip to our fair city, I say go for it! It’s under an hour away from Florida’s finest beaches and a little over an hour from Disney World. If you need any more convincing, I’ve rounded up some of my favorite local, family-friendly, spots!

Ballast Point Tampa

Family time

I have two kiddos and when the second one came along, I struggled with the guilt I know all of you fellow mamas can relate to. I worried that my lil’ lady bean was missing out because she wasn’t getting all the one-on-one time that her brother got with us. One day it finally clicked with me that we can’t beat ourselves up over things we can’t change and although, she might not get to experience what being the sole focus of our attention is like, she does get to experience having her big brother as her fiercest ally…and that’s priceless!

little girl at Florida aquarium

After I had my epiphany, I decided that when my son was at school I was going to make the most of my alone time with my daughter, so we started taking mommy and me jaunts to various places around our city. She’s a little over 1 year old, and considering how fleeting this stage is, I want to make as many memories as possible with my lil’ bean. I used to take her brother everywhere when he was a toddler because he was my first baby and life just wasn’t as busy then. Considering that it is probably going to be quite a while before life slows down again, I’ve resolved to fit in quality time with my bambino whenever I possibly can. We may do something as simple as getting ice cream, but those memories of her going to town on a cone will last a lifetime! And speaking of ice cream…

Dairy Joy Tampa

Sweet treats

Our favorite neighborhood ice cream joint is Dairy Joy. Nestled in the heart of south Tampa, Dairy Joy is a low-key kinda place whereyou can expect to run into your friends and neighbors at any given point in time. It has been around for ages and has a very loyal following. I’ve been scoring my cones at Dairy Joy since long before my kiddos were born and I love that I get to share the experience with them now!

Ballast Point Tampa

Play time

Not too far away is Ballast Point Park. Ballast Point has everything from a pier with an insanely beautiful view of downtown Tampa, to a seafood shack, to even a playground and water play area. My lil’ lady bean just loves to race up and down the pier. It’s the perfect spot to let wee ones run off all that energy they seem to have endless amounts of!

Bayshore Boulevard Tampa

Next up is the longest continuous sidewalk in the world. Bayshore Boulevard is quintessential Tampa. It runs right along the Bay and makes for one of the prettiest sunset walks you will ever take.

Florida Aquarium

Nearby, in downtown Tampa, is The Florida Aquarium. There you’ll find tropical fish galore, fierce sharks, adorable penguins and more. Plus, they have a large-and-in-charge water park that includes a life size pirate ship with water cannons! My lil’ dude may have soaked a parent or two with said cannons. Haha! Pirates are a big part of Tampa history and each year we have a huge celebration called Gasparilla! So, anything with a pirate theme is a hit with us Tampanians.

Holy Hog BBQ Tampa

My final city gem is Holy Hog BBQ. It is tough to find good BBQ outside of the hot spots like Texas, Tennessee and the Carolinas, but Holy Hog has brought a deliciously authentic taste to Tampa. It can sometimes be hard to choose a restaurant that the whole family agrees on, but Holy Hog is always a hit with the ‘rents and our cherubs!  Try the pulled pork. It’s out of this world good!

I hope you’ve enjoyed my little rundown of Tampa and if you’re ever in the area, keep my favorite spots in mind! Your kids will thank you!

About our City Gem author

bonbon rose girls-headshot-smallKristin Swenson is the fashion-obsessed founding partner of BonBonRoseGirls.com and contributing fashion editor for Momtrends.com. She lives in Tampa, FL with her husband and two children,  enjoys styling, writing, and is on a constant hunt for ways to help the girls next door — whether they’re busy career gals or harried mamas — stay hip and fashionable.

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Hawaii The Big IslandThe weather is starting to cool down. Winter is on the way. There is no better time to book a ticket to the active Big Island of Hawaii to explore the wonders it holds.

Fabulous weather

Located near the Tropic of Cancer, Hawaii, The Big Island enjoys year-round warm weather and sun. OK, well the west side of the island does! This is a tropical island through and through. While the west side of the island (Kona) will generally see a whole lot of sun, the east side of the island (Hilo) gets a fair amount of rain. Year-round the weather is generally in the 80s. The sun beats down creating the perfect beach weather, while the nights cool off ever so slightly — making it a fabulous time to take an evening stroll or dine al fresco.

Hawaii The Big Island

Cheap flights

With fabulous weather usually comes the crowds, right? Wrong. In November you will see airfare drop and the crowds thin out. Kids are in school and it isn’t quite Thanksgiving in the U.S. Once the holidays hit you will see plane ticket prices spike again — but those first few magical weeks of November, and sometimes early December, hold discounted airfares you won’t see any other time of the year. Keep an eye especially on Hawaiian Air, Alaska Air and recently Delta Air, for specials and autumn promotional rates.

Hawaii The Big Island

Low season accommodations

Airlines aren’t the only ones discounting their prices. You may see a drop in hotel room and vacation rental rates as well. Hotels and owners want to fill up their empty spaces. Now is the time to dive in, do a little negotiating and get the room you always wanted. However, book early whenever possible. The secret is getting out. Parents with young kids and those willing to pull their children out of school for a week are catching onto this price break and booking up some of the best spots. You don’t want to be left out!

Hawaii The Big Island

Great eats

The Big Island is no stranger to great food. From sushi to poke and French toast to burgers you won’t go hungry here. The farmer’s markets are a must to load up on some of the cheapest produce you will see in the islands and on the mainland. Try a fruit you have never had before, push your kids to dive into that local catch and don’t forget to indulge in the island’s favorite dessert — Tropical Dreams ice cream and shave ice.

Hawaii The Big Island

Gorgeous beaches

You will be hard-pressed to find beaches as fine anywhere else in the United States than you will in the Hawaiian islands. Discover baby beaches, a surfer’s paradise, tide pools, boogie board spots for beginners and experts, and calm snorkeling waters to get your little marine biologist out exploring.

Volcanoes National ParkVolcanic discovery

No trip to the Big Island is complete without a trip to Volcanoes National Park on the east side of the island. Be forewarned, it is cold on the volcano. Wear pants and pack at least a sweatshirt, if not a coat and hat. The altitude is higher, rain is a usual occurrence and the wind can really kick up around the park. Escape the rain in the Thurston Lava Tubes, a favorite for little explorers even without a flashlight. Don’t miss the caldera after dark when you can really see the glow of the volcano below.

With snow just around the corner what are you waiting for? Book your ticket, pack up the kids and get some much-needed vitamin D before the holidays take off. You all deserve a little rest and relaxation. With fabulous process there is really no excuse!

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pumpkin patch

It’s that time again. Time to bundle up the kids, throw on some rain boots and go mucking about in a pumpkin patch. Mentally brace yourself for the amount of mud, grass, and hay that will probably end up in your car. You may even ask yourself why you are traipsing out to a pumpkin patch when you could just hop down to the local market and pick out one of the lovely clean pumpkins they have in a nice pile. It can’t just be for the photo opps of your kids can it? Well, yes, that is part of the reason you go, but it’s also because going to the pumpkin patch signals the change of the seasons and the coming of winter. Plus, if you do it right, it could be one heck of a delicious afternoon.

Now there are a few things you need to think about before you head to the patch this year: 

  • How far do you want to drive?
  • Are there activities for the kids?
  • Do you want pumpkins on the vine or just in a pretty stack at the farm?
  • Will you pack a snack?
  • Is fresh cider and donuts available?
  • What weekend will you go?
  • If you have to go on a weekday, is it even open? Many only have weekend hours.

Once you know the answer to some of these questions you can narrow down your search. If you have no clue where to start, here are a few helpful hints that will get you to the right pumpkin patch for your family.

Pumpkins

Pumpkins on the vine

In my family this is a necessity. My husband doesn’t want just any pumpkin. He wants to bring our boys out into the field to cut their very own. This tradition is more sacred than cutting down a Christmas tree in our house. Research you local farms. Ask if they will still have pumpkins on the vines when you want to go. The closer you get to Halloween the more picked over the patch will be. Choose your dates wisely.

Fun to launch you into the season

Picking out a pumpkin isn’t as simple as it used to be. For parents who love to keep their energetic offspring entertained, they need a whole lot of fun piled into their trip to the farm. Many farms have embraced this yearly event by offering tractor rides out to the field. This brings a smile to a child’s face as they are finally allowed aboard a vehicle they have only heard about on TV or in books (especially if they are a city kid). Bonus for mom and dad: you get to put your feet up before you trek through the field.

Pre- and post-pumpkin picking activities may include farm animals to pet, hay mazes to navigate, and in the case of one of our favorite spots, a pumpkin being shot out of a cannon or catapulted into a field. Either way that pumpkin exploding as it hits the crowd is pretty darn cool. Pony rides, face painting, cider pressing, and pumpkin carving may also be found at many local farms.

Hayride

It’s all about the donuts… and cider

As I already mentioned, the art of pumpkin picking is a pretty big deal in our house. This dates back to my husband’s own childhood and possible into his father’s. I was raised picking out the perfect pumpkin at the grocery store. However, after that quick stop, we would also grab fresh cider and donuts. This is where the autumnal spirit really comes alive for me. It took about three trips to different farms in the Seattle area for me to find what I was looking for, but we finally found it. My hubby got the pumpkin patch and I got to sit down and sip piping hot cider and fresh out of the fryer donuts with a bit of cinnamon and sugar sprinkled on top. My feeling is if I can’t have cider and donuts what’s the point?

If you live in the Midwest or Northeast of the United States you will want to make sure you keep an eye out for cider donuts. These should not be missed. Pumpkin donuts can also be found, which may go very well with that pumpkin spice latte you snagged on your way to the farm; although these days, I wouldn’t be surprised if you found a latte at the pumpkin patch too.

Now that you have a few ideas to get you started, what are you waiting for? Grab the kids, throw those rain boots on with a smile and get ready to make some memories. Don’t forget the camera either. When your child tries to pick up that 40 pound pumpkin you aren’t going to want to miss it!

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