Escape the Cold- to the Best Beaches in America. Visit Desin, Florida

Now that the cold weather has arrived, you might be thinking about ways to escape it.  Consistently rated among the best beaches in Florida and in the USA (and even the world), you can’t go wrong with a visit to Destin, Florida. Known for it’s emerald green, yet totally clear water and white “sugar sand” powder soft beaches, Destin will give you the break from reality that you have been craving. If you have yet to make up your mind, let the beautiful scenery, amazing seafood, and endless opportunity for outdoor activities help you arrive to that conclusion.

best beaches

If you are a fan of seafood, you will be in a foodie paradise. Obviously the fare is as fresh as it gets, being right on the water. Part of Florida’s “panhandle” (along the Northwest of the state, most boardering the Gulf of Mexico, and yes- because it looks like a panhandle), people here take seafood seriously. You will find some of the most interesting and unique ways of cooking seafood you have had along the panhandle region, in my own experience. You might have had oysters, but I can guarantee you have not tried them all the ways you will find them here. It doesn’t’ matter if you prefer “tried and true” dishes or you are more of an adventurous eater, you won’t be disappointed in Destin.

beach restaurants

At The Crab Trap, you can eat outdoors or inside. I’d recommend out, as this restaurant has the most beautiful views of the beach and the Boardwalk below. There, watch beachgoers play vollyball or the waves roll in while you enjoy your meal. The ocean breeze is peaceful and welcome, and it’s a very relaxing way to spend your time out as a family. Located directly below you is The Boardwalk at Okaloosa Island, with shops, a small spray park, and other ways to while away your time. Let the kids run ahead of you or enjoy the water while you keep an eye on them. Great restaurant with great food, fantastic service (really, top notch), location, atmosphere, and views.  (crabtrapdestin.com)

fishing pier

Make sure you take the time to visit Okaloosa Island Pier after you eat; it’s about a block away. Not only the perfect spot to take a family photo, but you can also look for dolphins, fish, seabirds, or other marine life. You can also go fishing as well if you’d like.  I know, again with the views- but really, they are incredible.

destin aquaruim

Across the parking lot, in the same center, is the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park (gulfarium.com). It is a top Fort Walton Beach attraction, and perfect for families and animal lovers. This marine park houses animals like seals, turtles, alligators, fish, snakes, and much more. Learn from trainers and staff members about these animals, their care, and what they do in the wild. There are live shows at set times, and you can also sign up for animal encounters to feed penguins, snorkel with stingrays, and other options. Do this ahead of time so that you have your choice available to you at a time you are able to attend. 

SNUBA

We were definitely looking to spend as much time as we were able to outdoors. Getting as much vitamin D as you can while you can is always good, true? If you are looking for some outdoor adventure, book some time with Destin Snorkel & SNUBA Tour (destinsnorkel.com) Easily one of the coolest things we have done in a long time, this experience is part scuba, part snorkel, and perfect for almost any age and any level of swimmer.  Head over to the (very cool, save time to walk and shop along) boardwalk, where you will meet your SNUBA professional and get your snuba-suit on. Yes, it’s just a wetsuit and fins, but you will feel so much cooler thinking of it that way. Once you are ready, head onto the boat where you are driven to safe, calm, and clear waters. First, you will receive a 30-minute orientation where you are shown how to use all equipment and explanations are given, as well as questions answered. Then, you can swim and snorkel for a while. After that, you are able to dive up to 20 feet, with the rest of your group and your SNUBA instructor swimming along with you. Your mouthpiece is connected to an oxygen tank, and you are able to breathe fairly easily after you get used to it. You can see quite a variety of ocean life, and it’s a really awesome experience to be completely submerged underwater for such long stretches of time. Literally otherworldly, and very peaceful.  Not a great swimmer? Believe it or not, that’s OK. Got kids? Also fine. Call ahead and talk to them about restrictions, but there are far fewer then you might think. If you have never experienced SNUBA, or are thinking about SCUBA diving but have not yet, you must try this. An absolute “must try” experience for anyone. 

scuba diving

While you are in the area, and you’ve worked up an appetite, head to Harbor Docks for some lunch. This Destin seafood restaurant staple has been locally sourcing food for more than 35 years, and you can really sense the pride and connection to the community. The menu offers only fresh, locally grown or locally caught options and flavors. Harbor Docks prides themselves on their long established relationships with local growers, fisher people, and seafood markets when at all possible.  In addition, you will find an unusual for the area cooking style, brought to you by Yoshia Eddings (sushi chef) as well as Dang McCormick, who is from Chiang Mai, Thailand, and runs the kitchen. There is not a ton of Asian influence in the area, and added nice variety. 

airboat

For an interesting way to see some of the local landscapes, Destin Airboat Tour offers informative tours, views you won’t see many other ways, and the enjoyment of riding in an airboat (destinairboat.com). The kids will really love this. The 6 passenger capacity airboat’s  owner and operator, Captain Frank, has been described as “a crusty Ozark Mountain Hillbilly with a sense of humor and love of nature”.  I don’t disagree- he is definitely a character, and amusing. Again, the kids will get a kick out of him. They will get a turn to drive the boat as well if they want (anyone can, should they like to), and my own kids gladly took the opportunity. Captain Frank is also the proud owner of the only mobile, floating chapel I have ever seen, and should you be looking to get married, he can spirit you off to do so. In a floating church. Really. (That’s enterprising, no?)

Florida organic

Some of the best food we ate while in Florida was at this “off the beaten path” place called Café Organic. The food was local when possible, organic, natural, and delightful. The menu changes seasonally and based on what is available from the organic, local farmers they work with. Best part? They didn’t even overcharge for the goodness and sustainability factor. A little out of the way, but entirely worth it, the food was amazing, and tasted as good as it was for you. The owners, chiropractors, make all the food from scratch and also still practice, and host other events such as yoga and tai chi on the property. No, not in the restaurant, but next door. There is also a food co-op for locals to participate in. These people are the embodiment of practicing what they preach (or “you are what you eat”, choose a saying you prefer, they both work).  Vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, etc? No problem. You won’t have a problem finding something you can eat here, and multiple options, even. Meat eater? Also no problem- everything goes here, as long as it’s healthy and tastes good. (cafeorganicfwb.com)

paddle boarding

Get outside and stay outside, if you know what’s good for you! Have you ever tried Paddleboarding? Also called SUP (Stand Up Paddleboard), it is a great way to be outside and active. It’s not as easy as it looks- think yoga on water. As long as you have decent balance, you will be OK. Don’t really? That’s also OK- you will just fall in a few times while you get used to it. This has become a favorite activity of ours, and one we have brought numerous friends out to do with us. If you have not tried it, do yourself a favor. If you have, all the more reason to head out with the Paddle Tribe Company. (paddletribecompany.com) The waters are lovely to glide through, and you will enjoy several different types of waters and scenery during your time out. No matter if you are a first timer or you’ve been out often, this is a fun time out and a good way to experience some of Destin’s topography. It’s also a killer workout, keep off some of that vacation weight, woot!

play outside

The Paddle Tribe Company is located directly outside LuLu’s Destin, a beachfront restaurant that often has live entertainment in addition to it’s excellent food and scenery (Lulubuffett.com). While you wait for your food to arrive (and of course, the seafood options are innumerous), the kids can play on the beach, which is outfitted with sand toys and games like cornhole. Parents can play as well, or they can enjoy some “chill” time, whatever works for you. 

lulu's destin

None of this even begins to take into account the time you can spend relaxing poolside or at a dazzling Destin beach, where you will no doubt want to park yourself for at least part of your trip. There is so much to see and do in Destin and the surrounding area, that you will be hard pressed to find a reason NOT to visit. Some of the best beaches in the world, fantastic seafood, endless outdoor activities, friendly local service, all of which makes your family vacation easy to plan and stress free.  Check out a few of the links, you will be searching for flights in no time.

best seafood

Astronaut Training Experience® (ATX) at Kennedy Space Center

Your Child’s Dream of Space Travel is HERE!

We have all imagined what it might be like to go into space, to land on Mars, to be an astronaut. Now at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida you and your family can live it.

Learning about science and space is important, but experiencing the trials and actively participating in simulations of life on another planet gives education a whole new perspective. There are two parts to the new program, the Astronaut Training Experience (ATX) and Mars Base 1. These are both are pretty much all day events, though there are shorter options available should you prefer. Keep that in mind because you will want to give yourself plenty of time for each, and time to explore the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

space center

Astronaut Training Experience® (ATX)

The virtual reality Walk-on-Mars, Land-and-Drive-on-Mars full-motion simulator, Launch Mission and Spacewalk Training are all part of the ATX. This experience is hands on and high tech. If you or your children already love science and have a fascination with space, this will bring that passion to life. Prepare for your mission to Mars by training like a real NASA astronaut headed to space. Once you have been through ATX, Kennedy Space Center has taken it one step further with Mars Base 1. Ever wanted to take a space walk? How about a zero-gravity experience, where you fix space equipment like a real astronaut would? You and your team are strapped into special seats just like the real thing and you are handed tools to maintain the equipment you need to function day to day in space, using NASA techniques to solve problems. Navigate Mars terrain to deliver needed goods in your own space rover- be careful, it can get very bumpy. Don’t worry, you receive training so your skills are up to par before you are sent on these harrowing missions.

You can do any of these as “mini missions” if you don’t have time to do them all at once in a 5 hour spurt. Each stage takes about 30-45 minutes.

Keep in mind that this program takes about 5 hours and does not include admission to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex

Mars Training Camp

Mars Base 1

What could be cooler than a day actually spent on Mars? Not and hour or a walk through display, but a real day working and surviving on the planets surface doing real science? If like me your answer is that nothing could be cooler than this, then there is no other place to be. Become a “rookie astronaut” participating in simulations and scientific research to grow and analyze crops in the Mars Botany Lab, or use robots to accomplish tasks. Yes, you actually take part in these activities, and grow real food that is really used and consumed.

Again, keep in mind that this program takes about 5 hours and does not include admission to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex

There is so much to do and learn that goes beyond what we imagine. Having the real life science and innovation at your finger tips melds what we learn in books with what we actually put our hands on. Both the Astronaut Training Experience® (ATX) and Mars Base 1 offer the magic of space travel without leaving the ground. Plan your visit, first stop Florida, final destination the Red Planet, Mars.

astronaut camp

You will really want to save some time to visit Kennedy Space Center as well, it’s quite an experience on it’s own. At least a full day, more if you want to see and take part in everything the attraction has to offer. There are endless museums, theaters, an IMAX, shows, hands on demonstrations, items belonging to astronauts, satellites and ships that have been in space, and of course, there are opportunities to meet astronauts themselves. And of course, there is an app for that. Should you want, the Kennedy Space Center Official Guide App is available for free in both the App Store and Google Play. Fun.

See all the Details on the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex’s website – Kennedyspacecenter.com or on Social Media – Twitter FacebookInstagram

Summer Fun In New York With the Family

There is a lot to do in New York with the kids this summer, no matter what your interests are. From waterparks to Broadway shows, indoor or outdoor activities, you and your crew will find much to do in the Empire State.

When it’s hot, but you still want want to be outdoors, why not consider a water park? Splish Splash Waterpark is a great place to spend the day as a family in the heat of the summer. Waterparks should be high on the summer “to do” list, and this is one of the best spots in the area.  There are lots of options for kids of all ages, with smaller splash or wade pools for smaller kids (scaled down pools and slides, little swings, spray parks, etc) in several varieties so that everyone can have fun and enjoy themselves. The bigger the kid, the more places they can play- but of they are too big, they can’t play in the small kid areas, so that the little ones don’t have to worry about being trampled.  Some favorites were Mutiny Bay, which puts your family in brightly colored boats, letting riders use water-spray “cannons” to blast other boats while those outside the ride can blast those inside the boats- and get sprayed themselves. Abyss Tube Slides were a favorite with all the kids, twisting and and turning your way down the enclosed slides. So was Bootleggers run, which holds up to four at a time in a tandem raft.  “Climb aboard a four-man raft that actually goes uphill with new generation hydromagnetic technology. It flies like a roller coaster without rails. So much fun, it just may be illegal!”says the park.  It really did seem as much like a roller coaster as it did like a tube ride, it was very cool. There are also favorites like wave pools and “lazy rivers”, and so much more.  Head over to SplishSplash.com and get your tickets soon, summer will be over before you know it.

luna park

 

Coney Island, a “must” for locals and tourists alike, is a great place to beat the summer heat, or at least lean into it somewhat gracefully. A go to spot for generations, each season changing slightly, adding more rides, keeping new and fresh while still appealing to the nostalgia of days past. Just steps from the boardwalk, there is a beach with a clean shore and big open ocean.  For the animal lovers, there is the New York Aquarium just a little ways down, which also has a wonderful seal show that should not be missed.  For the adventurous types, there are big thrill rides at Luna Park which include 7 roller coasters like the classic wooden Coney Island Cyclone.  For the littler park goers, there are tons of attractions and rides at Luna Park like the Happy Swing and Magic Bikes. This year, Luna Park has also opened new rides Cozmo Jet and Coney Clipper, so even if you have been before, there is a great excuse to go again.

coney island

The Cozmo Jet is a family friendly ride which uses virtual-reality, video, and an interactive gaming console. It looks like your child’s game system, but with a VR mask that you wear as you are on the ride. It was an odd sensation, moving with the “virtual” reality while trying to blast and keep count. You and your family (one or two per “Jet”) blast aliens, with the high score winning.
The Coney Clipper is a more classic “pirate ship” themed ride that rocks back and forth, lifting you off your feet a bit as you reach the top of the swing. Don’t worry, you are all buckled in.
Visit https://lunaparknyc.com or the park itself to get tickets.

Saw Avenue Q, a witty, silly, yet poignant musical on Broadway , tickets via TripAdvisor

For a variety of fun, you can go to TripAdvisor for booking ease. It is the world’s largest provider of tours, activities and attractions, with more than *56,000 bookable experiences in 2,500 destinations worldwide (according to the company). TripAdvisor Attractions has options for every kind of traveler,from walking tours, skip-the-line access, hotels, and more. You can find the best prices and values from more then 200 sites, which are updated in real time so you never miss a good bargain. Gift certificates only work for certain attractions, so be aware of that- most options will only work when you book directly from the site and using a credit card. However, if you are looking for a good deal, this is a site you should visit. Choose a restaurant, get a massage, go to a museum, and much more. Visit https://www.tripadvisor.com for more info and to choose your experience. 

Anastasia on Broadway, photo by Matthew Murphey

Looking for the iconic NYC “Broadway” experience, but don’t want to break the bank? Visit

 Broadway Inbound and The Broadway Collection to choose a show you and your family want to see, at a price you can afford to pay. These aren’t second rate shows, you can see performances of Wicked, The Book Of Mormon, Anastasia, more. No matter if you are taking a couples night out, taking the kids to see a show, or arranging a large group (the WHOLE family? A club, team, or committee that wants to go together, etc) you will be able to get discounted tickets to shows that you actually want to see. To us, bringing the kids to see live theater is very important, it gives them experiences that can’t be replicated elsewhere, as well as an appreciation for art and music. So what are you waiting for? It’s Broadway, baby- grab the family and head out.

Everything from the practical to the sublime: Le Blanc Spa Resort, Los Cabos

mexico vacation

With what limited time we have for vacationing, when we run off, we want our romantic voyages to exceed our wildest imaginations. We want the best of the best, with everything as soothing and simple as can be. Le Blanc Spa Resort, Los Cabos, Mexico, has already been awarded the AAA 5 star status. That’s the pinnacle of luxury destinations, with many strict requirements to qualify for your best vacation ever, assuring your pleasure and enjoyment. The property is located right on the beach, but still has 4 pools – including an infinity pool – along with swim up bars, a massive and sumptuous spa with hydrotherapy and special couples’ treatments. Speaking of water, their drinking water is purified – so no worries there, you don’t need to worry about “bottled water only”, saving both your sanity and the environment. 

le blanc

Leave your extra stuff at home! With Bulgari toiletries, Chi hair appliances, top shelf liquors, bathrobes,  slippers and umbrellas, you can lighten your load (and not pay ridiculous airport fees) in luxurious style. You can leave your change at home, as well: taxes and tips are included. But should you want some cash, there’s an ATM and currency exchange on site. For those who may require them, there are rooms available for those who are physically challenged and wheelchairs are available, as well as a 24 hour doctor on call.

le blanc mexico

For many of us, the best part about traveling is the wonderful and exotic food that you don’t have to cook. As part of the included indulgence, 24 hour room service allows you to stay ensconced all cozy in your room. Sometimes, you just want to lie in. When you want to head out, there are a dozen restaurant options, serving almost anything you could be craving. Whether you want to explore the local Mexican traditional fare, freshly caught seafood, a cornucopia of buffet choices, classic steakhouse cuisine or even a simply perfect pizza, it’s all yours for the asking. Vacation time is the perfect splurge time and Le Blanc makes it worth your while: the world-renowned and award-wining pastry chef, Antonio Bachour, curates all of their menus, cakes, desserts, pastries, breakfast pastries, etc. He was named one of the ten best pastry chefs in America, so you know that your caloric intake sacrifice will be worth it.  Then, of course, you can atone the next day at one of their juice bars if you feel guilty- but I suggest that you leave THAT baggage at home as well. There is a gym on site with state of the art equipment as well as classes that include yoga, spinning, (even a water spinning class, which we tried and loved) and many more that rotate on a daily basis. Check the schedule on the weekly calendar when you arrive, your workout routine doesn’t have to suffer if you don’t want it to.  It’s also a great time to try something new, why not?

resort mexico

The spa is absolutely amazing, and if you can tear yourself away from the pools and beach, you will want to book a treatment or 20. The spa area is absolutely enormous, at more than 29,000 square feet. You will find a hydrotherapy area, hot and cold plunge pools, tons of lounge chairs, a sauna, herbal steam room, an ice room (with little individual palettes of chilled aloe lotions in ice baths you can massage all over yourself for further cooling), a relaxation lounge, and 25 treatment rooms to  indulge in any spa treatment your heart desires, including some really lovely couples options.

The relaxation areas have some fun and unique lounge options, with teardrop hammock swings big enough for two, various bed-like chaises, cold tiled seats shaped to your body which are great for the temperature rooms and add to the experience, and so many more options.  Bring your bathing suit and prepare to spend some time relaxing on your spa day- you won’t want to leave quickly.

resort in mexico

After you are done being pampered, head back to your room and perhaps order in. Your room comes with full butler service, and it’s amazing to have someone there to assist you when you require it. At one point, I had wanted to put some bath salts into my (amazing) tub, but was out. I called to request some, and the wonderful and thoughtful butler brought about four different scents and options to choose from, as well as extra towels and conditioner ( I have very long hair and he thought I might run out).  What a guy!

room service le blanc resort

If you want a day out to experience a bit of Mexico, see your butler or guest services, as there are numerous excursions available. Of the options available, we spent the day in Todos Santos- the “magic town”, where we visited the iconic “Hotel California” (yes, THAT one), toured local restaurants and shops along streets with amazing and beautiful historic architecture, and had the good luck to wander upon a festival happening.  We also went whale and dolphin watching with Cabo Dolphin, where we were able to see quite a few species of ocean life. This we highly recommend, the views as we sailed were amazing- bring a waterproof camera.

whale watching mexico

If you are looking for a truly relaxing and invigorating experience- yes, it can be both- make your next romantic getaway at Le Blanc Spa Resorts in Los Cabos, Mexico.

 

Pageant of the Masters, Laguna Beach Ca.

Living Art in California

The Pageant of the Masters in the artistically inclined Laguna Beach California is an oasis by the sea for art, music, and food. Running from July 5th through September 1st this Festival of the Arts stands out from any other you may have experienced before. This is more than art you stroll up to like a gallery or art walk. This is art that fills a whole stage! Accompanied by live music and narration, works of art are brought to life for crowds filling the outdoor theatre. If that was not on a grand enough scale there is the fact that parts of the painting are played by live models!

Pageant of the Masters in Laguna Beach California sign.

How? Well the models too are painted, their clothes, every detail to match the style of the piece they are a part of. Part of the fun is picking out the real from the painted two dimensional portions. The scale of this event is huge, from the stage filling backdrops, the painted models, the costumes that blend in seamlessly. Even the lighting that adds so much to each scene. This year’s theme is “Under the Sun”, Impressionists from the early 20th century. These artists spent their time under that sun while creating works that are still appreciated today and you couldn’t pick a lovelier place to do the same than The Pageant of the Masters.

Models and costumes for the Pageant of the Masters in Laguna Beach CaliforniaMake sure you leave plenty of time to go through the offerings of the local artist on display outside the theatre. In fact even if you don’t get tickets for the Pageant you can still pay an entrance fee and go and enjoy a day out. There are jazz nights and other events to take part in. Kids and adults can enjoy workshops, classes, watch demonstrations, and enjoy the work of 140 artists working in a number of mediums.

Workshops and demos at the pageant of masters in Laguna Beach CaAll the art might make you hungry so take advantage of the new on site restaurant Terra Laguna Beach. Offering sit down meals and a full bar this is a perfect way to take a break before getting back to walking through the artist displays or taking in the show. The artistry continues though with the California cuisine which will delight you with the farm stand fresh ingredients, and their commitment to sustainable food sourcing. Everything I ate there was delicious from the first bite to the cake. The setting is beautiful doing justice to the whole event.

Terra Laguna Beach at the pageant of mastersWhen visiting Southern California this summer this is a must check out event for the whole family. Make sure you get your tickets early, this event sells out on a lot of dates. Find out more about The Pageant of the Masters on their website – foapom.com or on Social Media – TwitterInstagramFacebook

Underwater Adventures at the Downtown Houston Aquarium with CityPASS

Home to over 200 species of aquatic life, the Downtown Houston Aquarium is an impressive & entertaining place to visit with the entire family. You can truly spend an entire day watching the adventures of your favorite sea creatures under 500,000 gallons of wonderment, dining within a full service restaurant and enjoying a variety of amusement rides to thrill kids of all ages. Grab your Houston CityPASS and save 49% off your visit to the aquarium and four other top attractions in the city at just $59 for adults and $49 for kids.



As you make your way through the Louisiana swamp you’ll spy gators, snapping turtles, crayfish, bullfrogs and more that will make you feel like you’re really exploring the bayou. Within the Shipwreck exhibit you’ll view a colorfully diverse array of coral, tangs, groupers and moray eels.

 

 Aside from the red bellied piranhas and venomous freshwater stingrays they featured in the Rain forest exhibit, we were all happily surprised by the handful of other inhabitants to view, like the emerald tree boa, vibrant birds and tree frogs.

If you’ve ever found yourself curious about the day to day travels of a shark, OCEARCH‘s global shark tracker enables scientists, explorers and even families at home to follow the tagged sharks in real time.

Discovering that the Downtown Houston aquarium has 4 majestic white tigers named Nero, Marina, Coral and Reef in the Maharajah’s Temple was an unexpected surprise. Coral had just awaken from a nap but we were told she’s normally quite the feisty firecracker. The state of the art exhibit is temperature regulated with multi-level areas for the tigers to climb, a large pool for water play and is one of 230 exhibits that have been accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).

Hands down, the stunning restaurant was definitely a feature of the Downtown Houston Aquarium that stood out to me.It felt like a scene from the Little Mermaid with twinkling fish shaped, light fixtures above us. While dining you can take in the mesmerizing views of the beautiful sea creatures swimming by, so why not take a few pictures with family and friends.The sting rays and eels were not shy for the camera at all so snapping pics are a great way to pass the time before your meals arrive.

I’m all for trying new things, so feeding the sting rays at the reef was a must do! Now please keep in mind that this experience is not included with your CityPASS but it’s totally still worth the additional $5.99 for the value pass which includes the entry and the food. If you’ve never done this before it’s really fun, I didn’t realize their mouths were beneath them and when you place your hand below to feed them it’s pretty interesting how they suck up the tiny fish like a vacuum. If they aren’t too grossed out by the idea, kids will get such a kick out of this.

 

Afterwards we headed back outdoors to check out their 5 amusement park rides. Guests can ride aboard the C.P Huntington train through the Shark Voyage a 200,000 gallon tank filled with a variety of sharks that you can get up close and personal with from every angle. If you’re a fan of being up in the air then take a spin 100 ft. up in the Diving Bell Ferris Wheel or drop 65 feet from the Lighthouse Dive all while catching spectacular views of Downtown Houston. Visitors will also have a good time riding on the back of a dolphin or alligator of the Aquatic Carousel or bounce around on the Frog Hopper. Additional pricing ranges from $3.99 to $5.99 per ride.

Spending the day at the Downtown Houston Aquarium is guaranteed to be a good time for all and with your Houston CityPASS you’ll get the most bang for your buck! 
What would you want to check out first?
 
Downtown Houston Aquarium // 410 Bagby St @ Memorial Dr. HoustonTX 77002

Taste Of Houston Food Tour: 4 Must Try Montrose Restaurants

Ranked as one of America’s top three most ethnically diverse cities, Houston is well known for its variety of award winning culinary experiences. On a recent trip to Houston, courtesy of CityPASS & Visit Houston I had the chance to experience the array of restaurants and multi-cultural dishes that make the city a must visit destination. Just make sure you bring your appetite and walking shoes to work off all those good eats because there’s no shortage of places to dine at in between checking out the family friendly sites like the Houston Zoo, Space Center or the museum district with your CityPASS in hand.

 

Staying downtown at the Marriott Marquis Houston was the perfect location because everywhere we ventured off to eat was either in walking distance, or no more than a twenty to thirty minute drive away. After unpacking and taking in the view of the hotel’s larger than life, Texas shaped lazy river, our group headed out on a Taste of Houston Tour through the neighborhood of Montrose with our knowledgeable guide Lisa. When visiting a city for the first time, I’d highly recommend signing up for a food tour like this because not only were we able to try out some of the most popular  and innovative dishes, we learned a lot about the history and culture of the city over the years.

Montrose reminded me in many ways of hanging out in New York City, with a mix of flavorful places to eat & drink, shops, art galleries and more – there’s something to do that will appeal to everyone your traveling with.

 
Did you know that Tex-Orleans cuisine was a thing? I had no idea until we made our first stop at BB’s Cajun Cafe, where menu offerings include: crawfish, boudin balls, gumbo and 15 varieties of Po’boys. Inspired by his grandmother {Maw Maw}, Brooks Bassler founded BB’s in 2007 and a unique blend of Southern Louisiana style cooking fused with a Texas twist was created. If you’re planning to try the Crawfish, don’t let those juicy little suckers intimidate you! Tie on a bib, slap on some gloves {if you really want to avoid getting those sauces and spices all over} and prepare to dig in. Also note that the only dessert on the menu is Maw-Maw’s bread pudding and trust me, that’s ok. It’s light, sweet, addictive and you may not want to share.
 

 

If you’re looking for an eatery with an authentic Tex-Mex menu and a vintage feel, then the El Real Tex-Mex Cafe is this perfect place to dine out at. With a towering Marquee to welcome guests, it was pretty cool to see how they revamped this 1930’s theater into a family friendly restaurant that showcases old school movies. It’s such a charming space with vibrant & colorful walls, strung lights, and displayed old menus, photographs & paraphernalia that take patrons on a trip down memory lane.
 

I may never look at a crunchy shell taco the same after trying out their perfectly fried puffy tacos for the first time. If you’ve never had one, believe me you’ve been missing out! The three cheese enchiladas were delicious, the chili con carne sauce was so dang flavorful I was pretty tempted to lick my plate clean!
 

 

 

 
Traditional Mexican food is taken up a notch at Hugo’s where you’ll indulge in such refined cuisine {all made from scratch} you could only expect from Hugo Ortega, former dishwasher – now a 2017 James Beard award winning chef. Housed in a beautifully restored, Latin inspired building that’s reminiscent of old Mexico, guests can indulge in ceviche, made from the freshest seafood brought straight from the docks daily and the most decadent desserts. We literally swooned when the Churros Rellenos con Dulce de Leche, Mexican hot chocolate and house-made chocolate ice cream made it’s way to our tables. You’ll be happy you stopped by any day of the week but If you’re visiting on the weekend, their infamous Sunday Brunch is highly recommended. 

 

 

 

Hanging in central Houston instantly got way cooler once Goodnight Charlie’s opened. With honky tonk partying and wine on tap, this venue that pays homage to legendary cattle rancher Charles Goodnight, makes for a fun way to end the night or kick off any weekend! We were all stuffed after our earlier tour visits but sipped on cocktails while taking in the breeze while swaying on their outdoor swings with clever holders for drinks. With live performances Thursday – Saturday of Zydeco, Bluegrass and country music and tortillas made in house you’ll enjoy hanging here because of it’s laid back atmosphere that resonates with the true spirit of Texas.
 
Make sure to sign up for the Taste of Houston Food Tour hosted by Food Tour Corp if ever in Houston because it provides such a great look into Texas’s 4th largest cities rich history and culture while experiencing their evolving culinary scene. 

 

Niagara Falls- Ontario, Canada

Niagara Falls is nature at its mightiest. More than just a look at a waterfall, a visit is a full vacation surrounded by the natural beauty of the area and the luxury that has drawn tourists from around the world.

A great introduction to the Niagara Falls is from the water with tour from Niagara CruisesVoyage to the Falls boat tour visits Great Gorge, American Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, and the most famous, Horseshoe Falls. Whether you decide to see the Falls in the daylight, illuminated at night, or both, there is no better way than floating up close to the massive wall of moving water. You will almost certainly get wet if you are on the open/outdoor areas of the boat, make sure you wear your (free with purchase of ticket) parka they hand out. If you don’t take the night cruise, make sure you take the time to see the falls lit up at night- it’s a beautiful sight, and one you will be glad you took the time for. Before or after your ride, take advantage of “access to the Lower Landing and Falls viewing area” for a whole different viewpoint of Niagara Falls.

There are plenty of options to get close to the water on foot with the White Water Walk. Viewing platforms and a wooden boardwalk offer an up close look at the trillions of gallons of water that make the “Niagara River’s Class 6 white water rapids”. Rising above you are the walls of the Niagara Gorge, cut down by the power of the river to reveal “410-million-year-old rock layers”. The views you will get on your walk next to the raging waters are breathtaking and like none you will see anywhere else. It’s also a lovely stroll, one that anyone at any age can take.

niagara falls

 

If you are looking for a different angle to view the river, try the Whirlpool Aero Car. Over a century old (just celebrating it’s centennial in 2016) the trip takes you over “3,500 feet across the Canadian side of the Niagara River”. You will cross the international boarder between the USA and Canada during your trip. From the antique cable car, you look down over the Niagara Whirlpool, like seeing the eye of a storm from above.

Maybe a peak behind the running water with a visit to the tunnels of Journey Behind the Falls. You can feel the mist as Horseshoe Falls crashes down from 13 stories above. There is an upper and lower observation deck at the foot of the falls, just be prepared to get wet. In Spring and Summer, free souvenir rain ponchos are given out to protect you from the moisture kicked up in the air as water thunders past going 40 mph.

Wondering how Niagara Falls became the wonder that it is today? Take a look at Niagara’s Fury, a 4D, 360 degree movie that will dazzle and engage all your senses. This is a bit different then other tours, as it’s not out “in” nature, but brings nature in to you. The ground beneath you moves as the history of Niagara Falls unfolds. As the story is told, you are “snow” and water mist down on you and your family as you journey through 10,000 years of time, ending up in the present day. Take your souvenir (biodegradable) parkas with you when you leave, you never know when you will need one again.

You can take a break from getting wet and visit the Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens just ten minutes north of the Falls. It is easily one of the most beautiful spots in the area, one that might be passed up due to the overwhelming draw of the falls themselves (but should be on your “to see” list). A highlight is the Butterfly Conservatory taking you to a world of tropical plants and colorful butterflies. Flying loose, they float in the air and decorate any leaf or flower they land on. Also available from May to mid-October are guided tours of the Botanical Gardens by horse drawn carriage.

You can get deals and packages and save quite a bit by doing so. If you plan on visiting multiple locations and attractions, or if you are staying for a few days, the Wonder Pass is a pretty good idea.  There are also buss passes and more to choose from- visit the Niagara Parks page for more information and to choose what suits your family’s needs.

Niagara-on-the-Lake

Just 30 minutes from Niagara Falls is the historic town of Niagara-on-the-lake. Located where lake Ontario meets the St Lawrence River the town has a story dating back to  1790’s when it was the original Capital of Upper Canada. If you want a cool title, get elected here and be addressed as Lord Mayor. Fort George has been restored to the original condition when it played a role in the War of 1812. The costumes and recreated lifestyle of the time period add to the immersion into local history.

The annual Shaw Theatre Festival, dedicated to George Bernard Shaw, playwright and nobel prize winner, is a great time to visit. Multiple festivals are held in Niagara-on-the-lake throughout the year including events dedicated wine. You might not think of Canada when grape growing comes to mind, but Lake Ontario causes moderate weather in the area so take advantage of the local wineries. Queen Street has shops and restaurants, that will introduce you to other regional favorites.  Stop for an Ontario specialty, Butter Tarts, or for locally made jams at Greaves Jams & Marmalades.