Kid-Friendly Las Vegas

Yes, I take my kids to Vegas and I love it. Now, get that terrified expression off your face and hear me out. I have been going to Las Vegas since I was a baby. I had a few years of doing Vegas in my twenties, before I filled my life with toddlers and I have to say I didn’t enjoy it anymore than I do now. Las Vegas has so much to offer to families to have a great vacation together, you just need to know where to look. Here are HotMama’s top five things to do in the LV with babies.

Vegas and Babies

Vegas and Babies

1. Pool Day: A great way to spend the day in Las Vegas, especially during the summer months is in the pool. Many of the hotels along the strip have gorgeous pools that you’ll want to spend some time by, sipping Pina Coladas in the sun. I personally love The Mirage pool, because it is tropical and lush. The Grecian style pools at the other hotels are beautiful, but there is something special about The Mirage’s pool that is more exciting than the rest. Although, when Steve Wynn owned The Mirage the pool was better. It had water-slides that entertained me for hours as a child. Unfortunately, all the water-slides were removed, but the pool still has the fantastic waterfalls, palm trees and seclusion from the strip that I have always loved. Pool days are great way to burn up the kids’ energy too, yielding relaxed kids at dinner.

Family fun for everyone

Family fun for everyone

2. Free entertainment: Most hotels offer some sort of attraction or entertainment to draw people in off the strip. This works out great for families, because this means constant entertainment for everybody.

The Mirage has the volcano which erupts nightly starting at 8pm and runs every half hour until midnight. It is really intense and exciting for the kids. It is pretty loud and really hot, so if you kids is a bit jumpy stand back a bit.

DSCN0204Caesars Palace has characters and show girls that stand out front for photo ops. The kids love it and all they ask for is a tip so carry some singles and let them have fun.

Never know what you'll run into on the Strip

Never know what you’ll run into on the Strip

Inside Caesars Palace, in the middle of the Forum Shops, is the Fall of Atlantis show. The statues come alive as they tell the tale of how Atlantis was destroyed. There is fire, a light show on the ceiling and tons of excitement. The great thing is that it is located in front of many dining establishments, so you can enjoy your meal while the kids are being entertained.

Bellagio has a water and light show that is set to music.

At the Silverton there is a giant aquarium where kids can view live mermaids. Our kids love it. Heck, I love it. We always make a stop on our way into Vegas to check out the mermaids.

DSCN0063Off the strip a bit as you venture off to Downtown Las Vegas is Fremont Street and they have the really cool Viva Vision Light Show that is about six minutes long and runs every hour starting at 6pm.

3. Restaurants with live music: Parents will have a much more enjoyable dinner if the kids are entertained. I try to pick restaurants that have something for everybody. I love the Nine Fine Irishmen, because Sin E Ri-Ra (a fantastic Irish band) starts performing at 9pm and kids can be in there until 10pm. That gives us about an hour of entertainment with the kids. Restaurants that offer live music are different from the bars and lounges, because kids are usually allowed until the time they stop serving food.

DSCN0080 DSCN01064. Hotel Attractions: It would be hard to find a hotel that does not have some sort of attraction, though you may have to pay for a ticket. I usually decide ahead of time what attractions my kids would be interested in and budget for them. For instance, my kids LOVE Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat at The Mirage, so I plan for that attraction every trip. We also get a discount as hotel guests which make it a great value.

DSCN0307 DSCN0321The Venetian Hotel has gondola rides and Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum.

Mandalay Bay has the Shark Reef.

Paris has the Eiffel Tower.

New York New York has the arcade and roller coaster.

5. Shows: Most of the shows allow children age five and over. Some shows will even allow younger. Shows are a great way to entertain the whole family and a perfect evening activity. My parents always took us kids to shows growing up. We loved getting dressed up, going to dinner and then going to see live entertainment. Every hotel has their own show and they vary from Cirque, musical showcases, magic, comedy, impersonators to everything in between. It is fun to pick a new show every visit.

DSCN0349Despite what many may think, Las Vegas can actually be very family-friendly. Although there is gambling, cocktails, clubs, bars and plenty of adult entertainment, it also has a plethora of attractions, activities, amazing restaurants and live entertained that kids as well as adults can all enjoy together. What I love most about Las Vegas is that it so versatile. Vegas can whatever you want it be, so plan your visit and make it your own! Viva Las Vegas, Baby!

 

Backyard Oasis

Let’s face it. We don’t always have enough time or money to indulge all our travel goals. My desired travel capacity is so much bigger than I can realistically accomplish at this stage of my life, but that doesn’t mean I stop trying. I am constantly keeping myself inspired and rejuvenated in between trips by keeping the spirit of travel alive even when I’m staying local. I call it traveling in place.

For me, my favorite part about travel is the time spent outdoors, sight-seeing, having cocktails on a patios and the overall downtime to enjoy my surroundings. An easy way to recreate what you love most about travel is to show some love to your personal outdoor space. In other words, create a backyard oasis.

Now, I realize that not everyone has a “backyard.” Heck, I don’t even have a backyard. I have a patio and before that I had a stoop. It doesn’t matter how small the space is, it is about what you do with it. A few simple touches can turn any outdoor space from boring to mental getaway in a snap. Just take a minute to think a travel memory that gives you the best feeling. What elements come together to create that feeling? Is it the smell? Is it the sounds? Is it the scenery? What aspects of your outdoor space can be highlight or be enhanced to evoke that vibe?

I loved sitting on my stoop, because we lived on a greenbelt and had this amazing tree. On hot sticky summer days I used make a gin and tonic, sit under the tree listening to the blues and imagine I was in New Orleans. It would get my writing juices flowing and revitalized my soul after a long day at work.

CIMG0172 CIMG0196Find what you love and make your own version of at home. That is what my brother did when designed his backyard oasis. He loves the peaceful feeling he gets from Hawaii. Tiki men peek out randomly from his lush foliage as Tiki torches light up the night. Waterfalls splash peacefully into the pool and Hawaiian music fill the air. When you are in his backyard you really feel like you are on vacation. By turning his backyard into a tropical escape, he gets to take a mental vacation to Hawaii as often as he likes.

DSCN7187DSCN4569Make your outdoor space somewhere you want to be and put the suitcases away to settle in for a staycation. No airport hassles. No road trip woes. Just make a cocktail and step outside your door. Travel in place with your own backyard oasis.

Where to Drink in Old Town San Diego

Just because you are traveling with kids doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a drink. Actually, when traveling with kids it is a necessity to have a little somethin’ somethin’ and when in Old Town San Diego tequila is the name of the game. Now get the images of college bar $1 shots and nasty hangovers out your head, because good tequila is meant to sipped and enjoyed like a nice whiskey. Not to be pounded or slurped out of a belly button. Make sure the tequila is 100% blue agave, otherwise you are just drinking fillers and that is the crap that gets you sick. Obviously if you drink too much of anything you will get sick, so drink in moderation. I love tequila and drink it regularly, as some would enjoy wine, but even I have to be reminded of this rule the hard way from time to time. Ugh.

Every September Old Town hosts the Tequila Trail which a celebration and sampling of the wonderful world of tequila, but the rest of the year visitors can wonder into any one of the fantastic bars or restaurants to sample and sip on some of Mexico’s most special and unique (and tasty) tequilas. Here are some of my favorite places to Chug-a-lug in Old Town San Diego.

O’Hungry’s: Okay, I don’t drink tequila here, but this where we kicks off. It has become tradition to start with a yard beer at O’Hungry’s, leave our mark with a dollar bill and leave feeling fine. The yards are $15 for domestic and $20 for imported which is really good deal. Drinking them takes some skill, especially if you are surrounded by children (which I always am). For the lighter drinker or the light budget get the ½ yard or the mug for $2. Yes $2!! The food is really inexpensive and my son goes to town on the bottomless soup bowl for $6. The atmosphere is great for families, because it’s loud, casual and they can decorate a dollar bill to tape on the wall. When you visit, look for our dollars. They are everywhere!

DSCN6835DSCN6833Fiesta De Reyes/Casa De Reyes: This is where the party is at. Live music, dancing, shops and more, this is our favorite spot to hangout in Old Town. Within Fiesta De Reyes you can shop, watch the performances and enjoy giant beers or mixed cocktails. There is also a place to beer taste from local breweries.

DSCN4300In the restaurant Casa De Reyes which is within Fiesta De Reyes, you can feast on delicious Mexican comfort food and the bar is fully loaded. The options of tequila are fantastic. I know it a bit pricey, but I encourage you to try a shot of the Clase Azul Tequila. It is so buttery and delicious.

DSCN6901The main reason we go to Casa De Reyes is for the El Jefe Margarita served with our choice of beer plopped inside the jumbo glass. It is fun. It is jumbo. It is yummy.

DSCN1538Old Town Mexican Café: With a great selection of tequila and scrumptious street tacos, this makes for a fun little pit stop. We usually don’t spend a huge amount of time at this establishment; because Fiesta De Reyes is has so much entertainment, but it is definitely worth the stop. The also host tequila dinners which pair various brands of features tequila with a coursed meal.The kids will enjoy watching the ladies make homemade tortillas as the parents enjoy a libation.

DSCN6900El Agave: If you love tequila or really want to try, I encourage you to check out this place. They have over 2000 different tequilas displayed throughout the restaurant, making it a tequila museum of sorts. They even have their own brand of tequila. It is up a ways from the main plaza and not extremely kid- friendly, so we don’t make trek up there often.

El Agave (2)In Old Town the options are endless. There is the Tequila Factory, Barra Barra Saloon and so much more. The one’s I’ve mentioned are the ones that I personally love to visit and have made a part of my routine every time I visit this historically awesome city. Remember when you travel with kids it is important that the adults have fun too. Travel should be fun for everyone, so here’s to tequila and here’s to a good time! Salute!

Sea World San Diego

Sea World San Diego has been the center of some recent controversy since the release of Blackfish, but I have done my own research and found that many of the claims of the film are fraudulent, manipulative and the “science” severely flawed. It is not the purpose of this post to convince you that Sea World is perfect, but rather to share my experiences and give tips to make the most of your visit. Everyone’s opinion is their own and everyone’s intentions are good. We all care about the well being of our marine friends, but I do encourage people to do their own research before spewing negativity and to consider the serious repercussions it could have on conservation efforts around the world. Now on to the fun stuff!

DSCN7020Keep the Cost in Check

For the awesome attractions Sea World offers, they are really quite affordable. They are always doing special ticket events. For instance we recently got in for free, because they allot certain months of the year for law enforcement, fire, military personnel and their families. For the best deal (like most amusement parks) get the annual pass. There are few different options to choose from for the pass which gives families and their wallets some flexibility. The “buy the day and get the rest of the year free” is a rare find at many parks. We really like the holidays at Sea World so this a great option when we make our summer visit. They even offer monthly payments for passes, because coming up with a large sum of moola at once can be tough. In addition to the pass, you can add the all day dining deal and parking pass. For more options and information, check out Sea World Annual Pass.

Save money with all the special animal interactions by purchasing them ahead of time online.

Get Your Grub On:

There are a ton of dining options at Sea World from burgers to pasta and everything in between. Anywhere that offers the “All Day Dining Deal” is great value for families who plan on eating every meal at the park. All that walking around makes you hungry and it is nice to pay once and have unlimited access to meals.

Dining with Shamu is an awesome experience. It is pricey, but worth experiencing a least once. It is $39 an adult, but you save $5 when you purchase online and kids are $19. It is an all you can eat buffet loaded with delicious food. Kids will love the Shamu shaped chicken nuggets and desserts! The most amazing part is the viewing of the Killer Whales as the swim and play while you dine. It is a definite crowd pleaser.

Chug-a-lug:

There is beer! Yay!! With a great selection of draft beers to make your day even more enjoyable, Sea World ups the ante with cheaper refill options. Save your beer pint and get refills for $7.

DSCN7110The same goes for the souvenir soft drink cup. The first one is $12, but refills are $1! The cup is huge and easy shared among the kids.

Entertain Me:

Exhibits:The thing my kids loved the most about Sea World is all the hands-on opportunities with the sea life. When you first enter the park kids are encouraged to touch and interact with various creatures at the Explorer’s Reef. My son and nephew loved the petting bamboo sharks, while my daughter just loved the little fish that nibble on your hand. At the California Tide Pool kids are able to hold and touch star fish, sea urchins and more.

DSCN7033DSCN7037Turtle Reef is spectacular for watching the magnificent and giant sea turtles. We were awed by how big they actually grow. The exhibit ends with a fun little video game where kids try to get their sea turtle to the beach to lay eggs; dodging sharks, jelly fish and fish hooks. Smart phones allow for more interaction with the sea turtles.

DSCN7114 DSCN7117My son absolutely loved the Shark Encounter. Walk through aquarium as these stealth creatures swim over head.

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DSCN7138At Dolphin Point the kids will love to interact with these playful water friends. One dolphin in particular took a liking to my son and interacted with him repeatedly, even giving him a playful splash. My son was squealing with excitement. I had to pull him away from his new finned buddy in order to move on with our day. Here, visitors have the opportunity to feed, touch and help the dolphin trainers with signals. For deeper connection, book the Dolphin encounter or the Dolphin Interaction Program.

DSCN7159Penguin Encounter is super cute. You get to see the different types of penguins swim, dive and waddle. They remind me of a bunch of little toddlers with their round little bellies. In order to meet the little penguins book the Penguins-Up-Close Tour.

DSCN7076DSCN7078During the summer it is hot and kids love to get wet (a least mine do) so the Sesame Street Bay of Play is fantastic. It is a giant water park for kids to run, play and splash. During the Sunny Days show creatures will walk around for photo ops. I love this play area, because it gives the kids a chance to get out of the stroller, run around, burn off energy and cool down.

Animal Connections is a fun viewing area of various land animals. The kids really enjoyed the up-close and personal interactions. Certain times of day the animals are brought out for a meet and greet so kids can have a really cool picture to take home.

DSCN7075DSCN7066The Aquarium de la Mer gives kids the chance to view an array of exotic fish. At the Fresh Aquarium be sure to catch the piranha feeding. It is intense and the kids will really enjoy the activity.

At Pacific Point kids get the opportunity to feed the sea lions and seals if you get there early in the morning.

DSCN7154Shamu Underwater viewing is a great way for the kids to interact with the Killer Whales. They are usually pretty amped up after a show so that is the best time to take the kids.

The Wild Arctic is great on summer days, because it is nice and cold. You can choose to partake in the Arctic Wild simulator ride before entering the snow cave or you can just enter straight into the base station. My daughter is a thrill seeker, so she and HotDaddy did the ride and met up with me and my son in at the Beluga Whale viewing. Here kids get to see Polar Bears, Belugas and Walruses. Towards the end of the Arctic journey kids to play in an ice cave as the roars of the Polar Bear echo through the cave. Then kids are able to touch the huge ice wall. BURRR. It is cold!

DSCN7109DSCN7099DSCN7100DSCN7102DSCN7095DSCN7096Rides: There are ten rides at Sea World and most the time the lines aren’t that long. On the rare occasion they are they have their own version of fast pass for popular rides.

Manta is the roller coaster located over the manta ray interaction. Perfect for thrills.

DSCN7170Shipwreck Rapids and Journey to Atlantis are great for getting wet and high in thrills.

Bayside Skyride and the Skytower are perfect for relaxing and gorgeous views of the bay and park.

Oscar’s Rocking Eel, Elmos’s Flying Fish and Abby’s Sea Star Spin are fun for the little ones.

Both the Arctic Wild and the Riptide Rescue are fun rides that make you giggle, but keep you dry.

DSCN7140Shows: The shows are awesome. There are tons to choose from all day long and what I love most is the break. You get to sit down, enjoy some snacks and relax. One Ocean and Shamu Celebration Light up the night are the Killer Whale shows and they are amazing. Although the Blue Horizons with the dolphins gets you wet, nothing compares to the splash of the Killer Whales. The highlight of my daughter’s day was when the trainer sent the whale over to her for a special splash. I’ve never seen her smile so big. She still talks about that experience.

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DSCN7182The Sea Lion show is really funny and kids will love the Pet’s Rule and Madagascar Live, because they are very entertaining and engaging. At the Pet’s Rule kids get to meet the animals after the show.

That’s a Wrap:

Despite the negative things that have been said, Sea World is a very positive place for the animals as well as its human visitors. The hands-on interactions allow the kids to learn, bond and appreciate these amazing creatures. There aren’t many places that kids are allowed to touch and feed wild life in this capacity. Sea World gives kids experiences and that they will cherish for a life time. It is time to experience it for yourself.

For more info check out the Truth about Blackfish

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Hacienda Hotel Old Town San Diego

Located in the heart of Old Town San Diego, the Best Western Hacienda Hotel is our favorite place to drop our bags. The location is walking distance from all the restaurants, shops and historical sites which is extremely convenient, especially if you plan on partaking in all the opportunities to enjoy wonderful tequilas and tasty yard beers.

The atmosphere is tranquil and charming, surrounding guests in early Californian Spanish-style. The wrap around balconies whine endlessly throughout the property. The beautiful palm trees, colorful flowers and peaceful fountains add a sense of serenity. There are plenty of courtyards and conversations areas to gather, enjoy a cool drink and take in the beautiful backdrop.

DSCN6802DSCN6800DSCN6813After a long day walking (and drinking) our way through Old Town, we like to end the day by taking the kids to the pool. When the kids are officially wiped-out we put them to bed and enjoy some adult conversation and tequila on the balcony as we over look the beautiful city below.

DSCN7013Like most decent hotels in San Diego, the rates are usually pretty pricey. A typical night stay will run you about $250 a night, but there are ways to get some pretty decent deals. The Hacienda offers a rewards program which sends specials through your email, but honestly the best deal I’ve had was through AAA at $99 a night. The rooms are a good size with a sofa, wifi, hair dryer, iron, ironing board, microwave, coffee maker and mini-fridge which is nice if you need to keep milk for the babies. Each room comes with two complimentary cold bottles of water and a complimentary breakfast (although I recommend going into Old Town for a delicious Mexican breakfast).

Other amenities include:
Fitness center
Old Town Tequila Factory Restaurant and Cantina
Room Service
Free airport, Amtrak and Cruise Terminal shuttles

Staying at the Hacienda Hotel is a great choice if you are planning to stay and play in Old Town San Diego. It’s great for families with small kids, because of the convenience of being walking distances from all the activities. Plus when you stay at the Hacienda you are only short drive from other San Diego attractions such as Sea World and San Diego Zoo. Hope you enjoy your stay as much as we do!

Newport Coast

A mermaid at heart, it is no wonder why I love the sea. The beach is my happy place and Newport Beach is like home. The beach of my youth, I grew up playing on Newport’s sandy coast, day dreaming about all things childishly magical. It is where I first tried my favorite mint chocolate chip ice cream during a family vacation at the age of five. It is where HotDaddy and I spent many lazy days of summer as teenagers. Now, it is where I get to watch my children play and explore as they make beachy memories that will last a lifetime. Newport Beach may hold a special place in my heart, but it also attracts millions of visitors every year. It is also where a couple of the OC Housewives reside. Many associate Newport Beach with pomp and circumstance, but Newport is very relaxed and perfect for families. Newport Coast offers something for everyone from the chic to the family-friendly. It’s a wonder I travel anywhere else.

IMG_2238Keep the Cost in Check:

Like most beach towns in California, rich people stay here and play here, but that doesn’t mean you have to rich to enjoy this beachy city. The beach is free and there are plenty of reasonable dining and accommodation options for those without bottomless wallets.

Drop your Bags:

Newport Coast has a wide range of hotel options from the ultra-luxurious to the simple and comfortable. It really depends on what you want your experiences to be about. For the epitome of luxury, stay at the Pelican Hill Resort, but for those that are more budget conscious the Little Inn By The Bay is sweet and conveniently located across from the beach.

Doryman’s Oceanfront Inn is one of my favorites. It is a Victorian dating back to 1880 and decorated with French and American antiques. It is across the parking lot from the sand and pier with gorgeous views and walking distance from all the activities. It is rather pricey, but perfect for a special occasion.

Another great option is beach house rentals. It is great for large families and easy way to keep the cost in check with meals at home. The more people you have the cheaper the financial burden on each individual adult. For more information on beach rentals.

Get your Grub On:

Spaghetti Factory is my favorite, because it is the only place I can get my Mizithra Cheese & Browned Butter. My mouth is watering already! Our family loves The Manager’s Favorite where you get to pair your two favorite sauces. For us, this always means meat sauce and mizithra. I recommend upgrading to the hearty portion, because it makes for a wonder leftover or late night snack! All meals come with bread, salad and ice cream which make this meal a great value for families. My kids LOVE the broccoli which is slathered in mizithra and browned butter. I order the large portion of broccoli for my son and he will eat the whole platter. They also offer whole wheat and gluten free noodles. The décor is unique with jewel colored velvet oversized chairs, dark rich woods, Tiffani light fixtures, stained glass and of course the signature red trolley. It is the perfect place to the end day and to satisfy that beach hunger.

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Crab Cooker always has a line around the corner, so you know it is good. Known for having some the best seafood around, Crab Cooker was featured in Coastal Living Magazine.

Charlie’s Chili is located right off the pier. They have fantastic chili (duh) which is even better over fries, but I really love the chef salad. It is always our first stop before we hit the beach and usually where Papa hangs out while the kids play on the sand. They serve breakfast as well and I recommend the chili omelet.
For a list of restaurants in Newport click: HERE.

IMG_0974Chug-a-lug:

For being considered a ritzy area there are a surprising amount of dive bars. So for those who what the beach bar scene, Baja Sharkeez, Beach Ball, Malarky’s Irish Pub, Blue Beet and Mutt Lynches are walking distance for the beach and great for a quick drink.
Charlie Chili’s has a good happy hour, but they don’t allow drinking on the patio anymore which is kind of a bummer.

Rockin’ Baja Lobster is across the parking lot from the pier and also has a good happy hour.

Newport Beach Brewing Co. is great for beer lovers and they offer some late night specials. Most of these venues allow kids during certain hours so be sure to check.

Entertain Me:

It is the beach! Have fun in the sun, sand and surf. Bring a nice blanket, some chairs and some toys and let the fun happen naturally. The kids have a blast just playing the sand and splashing in the waves. You never know what adventures will ensue.

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My daughter usually always makes a new friend and sometimes we even gets to meet some sea-life friends.

New Friends

New Friends

DSCN5415DSCN5407Newport has miles of coast and plenty of activities and attractions. For family fun I like to take the kids to Balboa to ride the ferries wheel.

DSCN9914Visitors can choose from a variety of water sports like jet packing, para-sailing, kayaking and Duffy boats, just to name a few. Our favorite thing to do is take the kids to Back Bay for some paddle boarding. It’s relaxing, fun for the kids and great core workout HotMama.

DSCN0397 DSCN0414I’m not a fan of marathon days on the beach, because it is hot and my kids are white. Luckily, Newport Beach is in the OC and that means proximity to fantastic attractions such as Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, OC Marketplace, Fashion Island, etc. So be sure to check out all your options before you plan you visit and have fun visiting Newport!
For more info: Things To Do

That’s a Wrap:
Newport Beach is rather large with nine different neighborhoods to explore, but the coast is a great place to start. The weather is rarely bad and the fun never stops. So pack up the kids, pack up the sunscreen and get ready for a wonderful family beach vacation in Newport!

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The Perfect Souvenir

Besides taking a gazillion pictures, souvenirs make for fun little reminders of our adventures. The problem is deciding what trinkets to bring home. I don’t know about you but I get this sort of panic that I may never come here again and end up grabbing every gaudy item possible to commemorate my trip. Those overexcited moments on vacation when I can’t seem to buy enough memorabilia often leave me stuck wondering how I’m going to get all this crap home. Luckily, I have learned to tame the shopping beast and have found the perfect souvenir that brings me daily enjoyment.

Now when I shop for souvenirs I focus on items that will give me the most satisfaction and evoke the most feelings long after a travel has passed. For the kids, that means a themed toy like a rubber alligator from Florida or my daughter’s favorite Mexican doll from Old Town San Diego. Sure, I’ve done the t-shirt thing, but they usually end up as gym shirts or cleaning shirts. As for the kids, they grow out of them too fast and the shirt gets thrown in a box within months. I have grand plans of making a quilt out of their souvenir t-shirts one day, but let’s be honest, I will never personally make a quilt. That’s my mother-in-law’s arena.

I still like my postcards, because they are easy to store and cheap. But, unless I incorporate them in a display they just get put away, never seen again until spring cleaning. I do have a multi-photo frame that I use to display vacation and holiday pictures and sometime intermix postcards and scrapbook paper with the photos to add some flare and excitement, but I rotate the photos out so often that my postcards get maybe a month of display time before being put in the postcard book.

I try to get a charm for my travel charm bracelet, but they are hard to find in some places and I usually waste too much time on the hunt. Again, the charm gets put on my bracelet and put in a jewelry box, only worn on rare occasions. I have toddlers so my jewelry wearing has become limited. Now I have a new focus.

So what is my new favorite souvenir? Coffee mugs! Yes! I also always pick up a shot glass as well; because it’s no secret HotMama likes her tequila. Although, the shot glasses make for a cute display on my bar, my coffee mugs get daily use first thing in the morning. I start every morning with a pot…uhm…I mean cup of coffee so when I pick out my mug I’m actually deciding which mental vacation I’m taking that day. It starts my day off in a great mood.mugs As I drink from that beautifully colorful piece of porcelain all the positive feelings of bringing somewhere I love come rushing back. I can feel my toes in the sand and the Florida sun on my skin. I can hear the Vegas slots machines ching-chinging. I can smell the pine trees of the mountains. It’s a wonderful way to start my day.

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My new St. Pete mug makes me think of…

Hammock

This!!!

I encourage everyone when hunting for the perfect souvenir, think about your everyday routine and find something that will be a daily reminder of your adventures as opposed to something that will get stored upon return. Here’s to great travels and great memories!

Bravo Farms

Although my kids have been raised near the sea, my daughter is a country girl at heart. She claims to want to live on a farm, milk cows, get her eggs from her own chickens and grow her own food. She loves the Food Network with her favorite shows being Pioneer Woman, Farmhouse Rules and Heartland Table. Fortunately, my niece married herself a real cowboy and we were invited to visit his family farm. My daughter had a blast feeding all the animals and letting the baby calves suck on her fingers. She was in country heaven.

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On the way home we kept the farm fun going with a pit-stop at Bravo Farms. It was a great way to break up the long drive with cute shops, an interesting diner, and fun attractions for the kids. Bravo Farms is very reminiscent of Knott’s Berry Farm’s beginnings. We had such a wonderful time, that we all agreed that this will be a regular pit-stop.

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Get your Grub On:

Café 99: The perfect way to satisfy that road trip hunger. Delicious burgers, sandwiches and salads washed down with a giant milkshake or a cold jumbo beer. Yes, please. With both outdoor and indoor setting, Café 99 has a wild roadside diner atmosphere with vintage road signs splashed all over the wall, pool tables, and neon bar signs.

DSCN0950 DSCN0951 DSCN0958 For more tasty treats be sure to check out the cheese shoppe, ice cream shoppe, fruit stand and Leo’s Barbeque.

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Chug-A-Lug:

When I’m the road all I think is: Cold Beer. Cold Beer. Cold Beer. Café 99 has a cute rustic bar and a great selection of large draft beers to help keep parents sane on long road trips. Cheers!

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Entertain Me:

Bravo Farms was fantastic for the kids. It is the perfect place to get them out of the car to stretch and wear out. The patio to Café 99 is like an American Pickers honey hole, loaded with bizarre almost junkyard pieces made into a playground for kids. There is a wonderfully whimsical seven-story tree house for kids (and parents) to explore. Actually, I could have moved in, it was so darn cute. There are tons of animals to feed and pet. Slides, tire swings, pretend horse and carriages, random wooden swings, wishing wells, miniature golf, shooting gallery, fun little antique vignettes throughout the property and much more.

DSCN0993DSCN0989DSCN0992DSCN0965DSCN0986DSCN0955DSCN0978DSCN0976The kids loved exploring the playhouses for sale. I wanted to buy each one, because they were so fun and unique. My favorite was the Saloon. It just seemed fitting for our family.

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That’s a Wrap:

One of the great things about road trips is the random treasures stumbled upon. Bravo Farms was a wonderful break from the long road ahead and a place went can’t wait to visit again soon!

Big Bear Shores RV Resort

When we were seventeen HotDaddy and I got into a big argument about where we would retire one day. I wanted to live by the sea and he wanted to live in a cabin deep in the mountains. We laugh about it now, but it was a pretty big deal back when we were emotional teens. Luckily, we live in Southern California where the best of both worlds is absolutely attainable. The beach to the mountains only takes about an hour, so it is not difficult to make frequent trips to Big Bear Lake. We have always rented cabins or stayed at resorts, but now we have a family RV and have happily become Big Bear Shores RV Resort regulars.

DSCN6409Keep the Cost in Check:

It is totally possible to get a good deal on cabins and resorts, but sometimes you have to sacrifice quality. I actually cried once after walking into a rental cabin. Having an RV is really cool, because the costs of RV sites are reasonable for high-quality. For example, $76 a night will get you a room at the worst motel in Big Bear, but for $77 you get a lot at a five diamond RV resort. Plus with RVing you tend to cook more, saving money from dining out three times a day.

Drop Your Bags:

Big Bear Shores RV Resort is just beyond. The lots are immaculate, the views of the lake are breathtaking and the amenities are great. It is our favorite place to stay when we visit Big Bear. Rates range from $77 a night to $125 a night for lake-front. The lots are privately owned while some rent their spots out. All the lots have cement pads, most have built-in BBQ’s and some even have fireplaces.

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What a lot looks like

What a lot looks like

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DSCN6405 DSCN6698DSCN6692Get Your Grub On:

We like to keep things simple when we RV. We have a lot of kids running around and don’t have the leisure to cook complex meals. Many of our meals are assemble-only, prepared at home and warmed up or delivered like pizza the first night. We even scatter a few restaurants in, because we like to see the village.

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Grandma’s Pasta Salad is a favorite!

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Simple snacks

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Lunch at Paoli’s

Chug-A-Lug:

Stocking up a well stocked bar is always important when RVing, because there is a lot of time to sit, chat and drink. So on our RV trios all our favorite buddies are invited.

DSCN6398Bloody Mary: She is fantastic! She helps us start the day off right, makes us alert, happy and really nice. Sorry coffee.

Spicy, savory, satisfying

Spicy, savory, satisfying

Rum n’ Coke: What a guy; perfect for bring the fun around the campfire.

Cerveza: That dependable friend that can hang all day long.

DSCN6701Vino: The gal you need for those mellow nights.

Fireball: Cause he is a blast and perfect partner post-cigar.

When we stay Big Bear Shores RV Resort, we like to venture into the village for a drinky. Many establishments offer beer by the pitcher, because you know we haven’t had enough beer. The cocktails are great at Peppercorns. I love their Peppercorn Martini. For a small mountain village, there are a ton of exciting options and it is fun to take a day to explore. For information check out Bars and Restaurants in the area.

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Peppercorn Martini

Entertain Me:

There is plenty to do at the RV resort which is convenient if you don’t feel like driving around that day. For owners the amenities include access to the club house, the fitness center and the private marina slips. Renters are able to enjoy the pool and spa, the tennis courts, the basketball courts, ping pong tables, horseshoes and foosball tables.

DSCN6645DSCN6647DSCN0653With kids you have to find ways to keep them busy and burn their energy up, so that they sleep and the parents can have some adult conversations around the fire. We like to spend days by the pool, followed by a nice scooter ride. We bring plenty of games, toys and activities to keep the kids (and dads) entertained at all times. You know I love a good theme, so I pick toys that represent our trip. If we go to Big Bear I bring the kids’ camping and bear toys.

DSCN6646 DSCN6659 DSCN6660 DSCN6661 DSCN6471DSCN6438 DSCN6664Then when things get calm we fill the kids with sugar. Yep, smore time around the fire and then off to bed. It makes total sense.

DSCN6602To change the pace, partake in the many outdoor activities offered in Big Bear. Take a pontoon on the lake, go fishing, jet ski, hike, ski (in winter), snowboard (in winter), take a scenic sky lift ride for gorgeous views of the Big Bear Valley, parasail or mosey into the village. There is a movie theater, comedy night at The Cave, shops, restaurants, bars, night clubs, trolley rides, horse and carriage rides and much more. For more ideas check my Big Bear with Kids post.

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For more entertainment, visit during holiday weekend. Check out 4th of July at Big Bear Shores.

That’s a Wrap:

We just love our trips to Big Bear. Big Bear Shores RV Resort allows our family to enjoy the beauty of nature in a comfortable and reasonable setting. The kids love the freedom to explore and I love the serene views of the lake, because you know HotMama has got to have water nearby. It is safe to say that Big Bear Shores RV Resort will be a part of our family’s regular RV resort rotation.

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4th of July at Big Bear Lake

I love to stretch events out as long as possible. Like most birthdays in my family, they are spread out throughout the month and the U.S.A’s BDay is no exception. The last few years we’ve kept the 4th of July pretty mellow with a simple BBQ/pool day and sparklers at home, but this year we went big. We loaded up the family RV and headed up the mountain for an unforgettable weekend long celebration.

DSCN6473Keep the Cost in Check:

Big Bear is not huge, but their 4th of July celebration is, so most accommodations book up fast. Week booked our stay a whole year in advance, so the best tip to save money is to prepare early. The restaurants don’t hike up prices or anything and the firework display is free to the public so it is possible to keep the cost in check.

Drop your Bags:

Big Bear Shores RV Resort: Now that we have the RV we try to use it as much as possible and honestly the RV resort is the most beautiful spot on the lake. The views are unreal. The sites are privately owned and some owners rent out their lots. The lots are impeccably maintained, many with built in fireplaces and BBQs. It feels like a wilderness oasis. For information check out my Hot Rving in Big Bear post.

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What a lot looks like

What a lot looks like

During the 4th of July, there are a number of festivities at the resort such as a chili cook-off, a decorating competition, parade of decked out golf carts and free hot dogs at the club house. It really brings about a certain comradely among the campers as everyone gets in the patriotic spirit mingles throughout the weekend.

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Chili Cook-off

Chili Cook-off

Amenities: The owners of the lots have more access to all the amenities such as private slips at the marina and the gym, but visitors have access to the pool, the tennis and basketball courts, ping pong, foosball and of course the gorgeous lake!

DSCN6645DSCN6624Other accommodations in Big Bear

Get your Grub On:

During the 4th of July BBQ is a must and the Big Bear’s Rotary Club’s 4th of July BBQ, located at the Marina Resort, is a crowd pleaser. With a choice of chicken, steak, hot dog or hamburger, each meal comes with potato salad and a choice of soda or water. There is a beer and wine garden for those who need something more refreshing. The BBQ offers some of the best views of the firework show as well as games, crafts and entertainment for those who attend.

In the village there are plenty of delicious options for the hungry. On the 4th we spent the day in town and tried to have lunch at one favorite Mexican restaurant in the area, El Jacalito. I say tried, because we were having a wonderful time until a sudden thunderstorm unleashed it’s fury on us as soon as our food hit the table, drowning my delicious Shrimp a la Plancha.

El Jacalito

El Jacalito

DSCN6508Since it was pretty busy this holiday weekend and the restaurants are small, the wait lists were long so we didn’t get to dine at our favorite Peppercorn’s, but we did get to discover how delicious Paoli’s was as they saved the day serving us drowned rats delicious Italian dishes.

DSCN6515Restaurants in Big Bear

Chug-a-lug:

At our RV site we had a fully stocked bar. It is a must when camping to have excess libations. We started every morning with a loaded Bloody Mary. HotDaddy’s secret Bloody Mary recipe, garnished with pickles, okra and olives. Starting my morning with one of these bad boys made me more alert, happier and nicer. Sorry coffee. Good Morning and Happy 4th!

Spicy, savory, satisfying

Spicy, savory, satisfying

DSCN6398It is fun to grab a drink in town and there are some great places to quench your thirst. El Jacalito has a great happy hour, a good selection of beer by the pitcher and some amazing margaritas. Luckily, most places in Big Bear serve beer by the pitcher which is great of us lushes. There is also the new Big Bear Brewing Company that just opened this year!

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Baby Girl with her Strawberry Margarita (virgin duh!)

Baby Girl with her Strawberry Margarita (virgin duh!)

DSCN6506Bars and Nightlife in Big Bear

Entertain Me:

Independence Day is a big deal in Big Bear. The Firework Spectacular is a 30 minute fantastic display above the7 mile long lake is rated top five in California. It is free and easily viewed throughout Big Bear Valley. It was beautiful to see the boats floating out on the lake as the fireworks lit up the night sky. For the accompanying music to the show, tune into 93.3 KBear for a truly amazing experience.

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So excited for fireworks!

So excited for fireworks!

my attempt to photograph fireworks

my attempt to photograph fireworks

Other Festivities included:

Captain John’s Independence Day Extravaganza: In North Shore Dr. Fawnskin has live Reggae music, Hawaiian style BBQ.

4th of July Cruise on Miss Liberty Paddlewheel Boat: Watch the fireworks from a boat, non-alcoholic drinks and hors d’oeuvres are included with your ticket, but beer, wine, soft drinks and snacks are available for purchase. Adults are $80 kids are $40.

Annual Big Bear Lake Independence Day Festival & Craft Show at the Convention Center has one-of-a-kind items, activities and entertainment, Wyatt’s full-service menu & full service bar.

We enjoyed walking around the village, stopping for treats and checking out the various shops. The Summer Art Walk which showcases work by local artists had great music and beer/wine garden.

DSCN6535DSCN6531DSCN6523DSCN6521DSCN6518List of 4th of July Events

That’s a Wrap:

We had an incredible 4th of July weekend in Big Bear and have already booked our stay for next year. We took one day of hot dogs and sparklers and turned into a weekend long spectacular. Happy Birthday, America. Here is to the freedom to have fun!!!

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