Camping at Westgate River Ranch Resort and Rodeo

So this isn’t my normal type of camping. When I camp, in Florida especially, it usually involves a spring, a tent, a campfire, etc. in a state or national park. This was a little something “extra”. My camping buddy asked me if I wanted to try @westgateranch in Lake Wales, Florida. I checked out the website and discovered here was where one goes “glamping”. Y’all they got fancy teepees and double wide wagons to rent. Not such a fancy pants, I wasn’t sure it was my thing but then I checked out the activities and decided to give it a whirl. Glad I did!

Things to Note

The tent on the platform option does not seem any better than bringing your own tent. The tent size was not bigger than mine. If you really want electricity than this is an option. The water pump at the site was at the entrance so everybody could use, whether you brought your own tent or rented one of theirs. And let’s be honest, the party was in the open field. So many kids running around, riding their bikes, making friends, climbing trees. This is what it’s all about!

Try to camp during the week. We got there on on Thursday and the field where we could choose a spot was wide open and we found a beautiful location right under a perfect climbing tree. There are no designated camping spots so you can pick wherever you want in the field, but this also means people can camp as close to you as they want or can. On Friday night, the field was a totally different place! It was packed!! If you get there early, you can grab a spot with a picnic table.

There were spots to build a campfire. When I read the camp site description, it did not say there was a fire pit but we found one. It also did not say we couldn’t bring in our own firewood. We ended up purchasing their firewood because we didn’t think it was an option but if we do it again, we will bring in our own. There firewood bushels were around $10. That’s a lot in my opinion.

The lines are long. The wait is long. I don’t know if they have cut their staff in half because of COVID-19 but the wait to check in took forever. Then we had to wait longer so someone in a golf cart could escort us to a giant field. Big waste of time. The line/wait at the General Store was long. One person on the cash register, and they were also taking food orders. I understand you want to distance people and space them out at check in but it beats the purpose if they are standing in line for long periods of time. Especially if people aren’t wearing a mask (no surprise here but not everyone (guests) wore a mask.

Be at each activity you sign up for at least 15 minutes in advance. They make you check in (and there are lines again).

Bring your own soap for the bathrooms. The bathroom near the campsite (also beside the general store and skeet and shoot range) were almost always out of soap. Thankfully, someone always left some soap behind. Thank goodness. You would think that during a pandemic this would be top priority but I guess not.

The rodeo starts at 7:30pm on Saturday’s only. They say be there at 6:30pm. We purchased tickets in advance and found seats easily once we got in but again, we had to stand in line for 30 minutes until the gate opened and it was packed. Buy your tickets in advance, but don’t necessarily feel like you need to be there at 6:30pm, unless you like standing in lines, during a pandemic, around people with no mask. I will note, one of the doorman walked around and asked people to put there masks back on. This made me happy. I also noticed that people brought in there own food and drinks, FYI.

Everything cost money. And it cost a lot. Book everything in advance. We couldn’t purchase rodeo tickets until we checked in but for everything else, book online and book early.

Things We Did

The Rodeo! What can I say. I had fun! It’s very all American so if you have friends who aren’t American and want to show them a very American tourist show. It’s great. There is just something majestic about the horses galloping at a fast speed with riders bumping up and down. I don’t know if it’s because I am Taurus but I love counting the seconds riders can hang on until a bull bucks em off! It was good clean fun, music bumping to put you in the mood, and some friendly competition between riders. I have been to other rodeos and in the past I have felt uncomfortable at the way calves were handled but not at this place. The price for an adult was $25.01 with tax. Kids were $15.00 (5-12).

Airboat Ride.

Adults 13+ were $30.00. Kids (2-12) were $20. I did an airboat ride in the Everglades and this one was better. We didn’t see a lot of critters but in my experience you don’t because you are going so fast. Our driver took us up close to an area with baby gators and we got stuck. I have to say it was a lot of fun and a mini adventure because a pontoon boat had to come and pull us out. We loved it. And it gave our driver an opportunity to tell us about the waterways and the abundance of gators!

The Petting Zoo.

It was cute. There was not a lot of animals but there were some and it was nice. If you want to feed the animals, have quarters only for the bubble gum style food dispenser. The had baby kangaroos. My son said maybe they are rescues. Hmmm. I’m not a big fan of that. And I don’t need to see kangaroos at a farm in America.

How cute are these calf’s teeth?

Horseback Riding.

It was $48.15 with tax/per person for an adult and a 12 year to ride. It was nice. Wear sunblock while you wait for everyone to get saddled up. If they don’t offer, ask about getting a helmet. They had younger people running the counter and to me, this seems obvious for inexperienced riders but I guess I am biased as public health practitioner. I did see a horse decide to lay down mid trail with a woman still on. She was okay but here leg was a little trapped there for a bit. Kinda pricey for the ride but hey, it’s not something you get to do every day.

Meet Katie.

Swamp Buggy Rides

Adults 13+ were $30.00. Kids (2-12) were $20. So much fun. Cold! But fun. It wasn’t very swampy but it’s been dry lately. We went through some pretty big puddles and met some cows along the unbeaten patch. See video below. You might want to mute me gushing over the cows and calves running.

We loved it.

The Pool.

There is a pool and a hot tub. The pool was heated. The hot tub was hot. I read about there being a pool in the resort but it was not marked on the map or listed as an amenity in the flyer they gave me. But we found it behind the apartment or hotel looking rooms. It’s not a fancy pool but it does the trick. I was just so happy it was warm and towels were provided.

The Archery.

$10/per person. It was good way to practice your skills and kill some time. No instruction or instructors so maybe watch a YouTube Video beforehand it you didn’t go to 4H camp as a kid. I don’t think I saw mini or small bows for little ones but I could be wrong about that.

Things we didn’t do.

Rent a golf cart.

Visit the saloon.

Participate in the Adventure Center. Each activity in the Adventure Center cost money. For example, the Mechanical Bull costs $9/per person. But we didn’t go because of the money, It was because the kids just got too busy running around or riding their bikes and making friends. Also, the adventure Center didn’t open until 4pm. I wanted to play putt putt but we just didn’t get to it.

The Drive In Movie. Alert. It’s only for people in golf carts. The parking lot for the drive in only allows for golf carts. They don’t mention this. Bit disappointing. The Drive In Movie is free and on Friday nights.

Craft Shack. Or whatever it was called. It was closed.

Skeet and Shoot. Seemed hard and it was expensive. The age minimum is 13 so we missed it. Give it a go if you want to though.

We definitely had fun. I wouldn’t say it was the safest for a COVID-19 free get-away despite being outdoors, but it was close. We would do it again and I don’t think you need to have the glamping experience to get the best out of it. Matter of fact, you might have more fun amongst the tent campers. But definitely have some cash put aside for all the activities. Happy Camping!

10 Day California Road Trip continued…Mt Tamalpais, Patrick’s Point, Redwoods and More!

This post focuses on our 10 Day California Road Trip once we left San Francisco and continued north along Route 1 to Route 101 up until Eureka. The first day was Mount Tamalpais and Eureka. The second day we spent exploring the Redwood National State Park and the dramatic landscapes of Trinidad. Keep reading below for more details.

Mount Tamalpais. San Francisco in the background between clouds.

Day 2 (22nd July): Drove up the west coast on Route 1 stopping at or through Mt. Tamalpais State Park, Stinson Beach, Bodega Bay and the Avenue of the Giants (Humboldt Redwoods). Night in Eureka, CA;

Day 3 (23rd July): Explored the Redwoods. Hiked Lady Bird Johnson Trail and Fern Canyon Loop trail. Camped at Patrick’s Point State Park (total $42.99- Abalone site).

So we got up early from our AirBnB in San Fran and headed to Fisherman’s Wharf for breakfast. I feel like this was a very touristy area with a lot of chain restaurants. We decided on Darren’s Cafe for breakfast. It was good but expensive for a diner, in my opinion, and we would probably have been better off grabbing a coffee and pastry or biscuit to go and saving time and money. From here we drove over the Golden Gate Bridge along Highway/Route 1 to Mt. Tamalpais State Park. This was a beautiful, scenic drive with no clear state park signage. I wasn’t sure if we had passed or missed our marked spots. We did stop for some cherries and apricots on our way up the mountain and a hiking trail along the road.

We intended to stop at Muir Woods (we drove past it) and Point Reyes National Seashore but we just did not have enough time. If I had to do it again, I would have added another night on the west coast between San Fran and Eureka. I would skip Stinson Beach and camp near Mendocino. We currently live near the ocean so we decided to omit the estuary habitat and go for gorgeous trees and mountains.

Once we left Mt. Tamalpais we ended up in the town of Stinson Beach. I think we were looking for a quick lunch cafe, but as we saw mostly restaurants, we ended up going for ice cream at the Parkside Snackbar. Now I am going to complain a little bit again about the restroom situation here. There is an adjoining restaurant and even though we were patrons at the ice cream parlor, they would not allow us to use the restroom inside the restroom. A father at the near by park just walked into the restaurant with his child and used their restroom, but when I politely inquired with the host beforehand, he said no. So I wasn’t happy and wish I hadn’t purchased the ice cream, which was window service. Though everyone else with their big, messy ice cream cones were content. Oh well. In the town of Stinson Beach there is nice shop called Livewater Surf Shop with swimsuits and gear if for some reason you need a little boutique browsing escape from your family (no judgement) or forgot your swim gears. They also provide board rentals and surf lessons.

Next stop was Bodega Bay. At Bodega Bay we found public parking right on the beach with a large parking lot, restrooms, and outside showers to rinse off sandy feet. This is wide open beach with plenty of room, warm sand and choppy Pacific water. Great place to stop for a swim for seasoned swimmers and surfers. From Mount Tamalpais to Eureka, CA it is about a 4.5 hour journey not including any stops.

By the time we got closer to Eureka it was getting dark as we drove through Humboldt Redwoods State Park and we did not stop. The ONE BIG REGRET of this trip because I absolutely loved the large, giant redwoods we did encounter on this 10 day trip and couldn’t get enough of them. I could dedicate a whole trip to just the Redwoods in California (Cathedral Grove in Muir Woods, Avenue of the Giants, etc.). That night we stayed at an AirBnB in Eureka. My impressions of Eureka is that its a small, logging town with lumberjacks drinking coffee and retirees bird watching. Haha. It’s quaint and a great launching spot for the next day.

Day 3- My Redwood Dreams Come True.

The next morning we had breakfast at Old Town Coffee & Chocolates on F Street. So glad we were able to find a local coffee shop with yummy baked goods. Did I mention I live for pastries? But this was not my favorite spot on the leg of this trip. What we found afterwards was… the Lady Bird Johnson Trail. This is a very easy and perfect hike for the kids and grandparents. It was flat and had wide open paths to accommodate lots of people, though we didn’t see that many people outside of the parking lot. The restrooms in the parking lot are also holes in the ground BTW with no sink/hand washing available.

My favorite photo
This was a very peaceful place. Beauty in silence. Majesty in trees.

Plenty of opportunities for the kids to climb trees, make pretend tree forts and hide in old tree trunks here!

I was doing some serious tree hugging on this trail. Such a beautiful place. It really shows you the importance of protecting our national forests and parks!

After we left Lady Bird Johnson National Trail, we headed to the Fern Canyon Loop Trail located inside Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. This trail is known for being used in Jurassic Park.

jurassic3

Both trails are a part of the Redwoods National and State parks. You can find more details about these trails and others at the National Park Service webpage, as well as temporary closures.

To access the Fern Canyon loop trail we drove down a dirt road, past the beach and into a sandy parking lot. I say this because 1.) you can take a detour to the beach and 2.) your vehicle WILL get dirty and you WILL track sandy dirt into the car. The car parking lot was busy and packed. This trail was more populated than Lady Bird but we had enough space to physically distance ourselves from others.

My son said he preferred this trail but he is a water baby so whenever there is a creek he is happy. He was able to dip his head in the water dripping off the cliff-side ferns. Because of the cold water and shade, this is also a cool trail. As we were coming from Florida in July, you can see we had jackets wrapped around our waists for cool morning temps and coastal winds.

This is also a great trails for teaching children about different types of ferns. Plant lovers will revel in the unique and ancient species of ferns found here. This easy hike is a .7 mile flat loop, with opportunity to join longer trails if you want more. Would definitely come back here again and again.

After we were done with the Redwoods for the day we headed back down south to Trinidad. What a cute town!

We headed down to a restaurant on a pier called Seascape Restaurant and really lucked out with a great dinner and evening. I had clam chowder and it hit the spot from being on a chilled, windy beach.

Dinner view inside the restaurant. Eye spying some seals.

Turns out this restaurant is owned and managed by a local tribe – Cher-Ae Heights Indian Community. We also went to Murphy’s Market and Deli in Trinidad to stock up on groceries and firewood for our night camping. They have pre-made meals as well and a decent selection of beverages.

Next to the Pier is the Trinidad State Beach and Lighthouse. What an amazing beach! We had a beautiful evening. Some were kite flying. Others walking. Lots of critters to explore on this beach as well.

I would say this was one of our favorite moments of the trip. An after dinner stroll, drawing our names in the sand, chasing each other with seaweed, and walking off dinner. And aren’t moments like these what its all about?

I spy a yellow slug.

Afterwards we headed to our campsite at Patrick’s Point State Park. As this was our first campsite, we were really impressed with how nice it looked and its location. But if you read my first post about this trip you might remember my comment about the bathrooms in California campsites. Basically, you need to have quarters to take a shower at THIS campsite. And by the time we headed into the bathroom at night for a shower, the campground attendant (who I guess makes change for people) had closed down for the night. And again because people either didn’t know like we did or didn’t want to spend the money, the sinks were clogged with dirt and paper towels from where people were trying to take sponge baths in them. There was a pump outside near our campsite and even though it was freezing water, I opted to wash my face, brush my teeth and rinse my feet and hands off here. Funny thing, in the middle of the night I went to use the bathroom and came across a SKUNK! Thankfully I spotted him before I got too close and he/she did not spray me. 🙂

The real appreciation of this campsite did not come into the morning when my son and I woke up and decided to take a little stroll. A little path near our tent led to the most beautiful, dramatic lookout and kindred wild flowers. Top spot alert.

Dramatic drop off leading to the Pacific ocean and craggy rocks.
This reminded me of Goonies.

The area right outside of the campsite was also very pretty and lends itself to lots of picture stops. It’s very hard not to keeping stopping which is why the more time you can spend in CA, the better, or you’ll have to come back like I hope too.

From Patrick’s Point we headed to our next stopping point, Lassen Volcanic National Park. The drive was between 4-5 hours and since we had been going non-stop, this was a great opportunity for passengers to catch some ZZZzzz. Please check out my post on Lassen Volcanic Park coming soon!

Thank you for reading and feel free to comment below with any questions or suggestions for our next trip. Happy traveling!

10 DAY CALIFORNIA ROAD TRIP ITINERARY AND MUST-DO’s!

As you can see from my chicken scratch below, my initial plan was pretty ambitious. But you should have seen it before when I was planning a Washington to Santa Cruz trip! But with all travel, especially when you are traveling with children, flexibility is key.

Below I offer an outline of our

10- day California itinerary:

Day 1 (21st July): Flew into San Francisco- Explored San Fran. See below 10 day itinerary for our day details in San Francisco;

Day 2 (22nd July): Drove up the west coast on Route 1 stopping at or through Mt. Tamalpous, Muir Woods, Mendocino Beach and the Avenue of the Giants (Humboldt Redwoods). Night in Eureka, CA;

Day 3 (23rd July): Explored the Redwoods. Hiked Lady Bird Johnson Trail then visited Fern Canyon. Camped at Patrick’s Point State Park (total $42.99- Abalone site).

Day 4 (24th July): Drove to Lassen Volcanic National Park (4-5 hours). We traveled through the Shasta-Trinity National Forest and stopped along the road for a stretch and breathtaking views along the river. We hiked the King Creek Falls trail at Lassen Volcanic Park (from Manzanita Entrance) then traveled down to South Lake Tahoe (3 hours). Night at Hotel.

Day 5 (25th July): Hiked Eagle Falls Trails to Eagle Falls Lake. Camped the night at Emerald Point (total $32.99 tent site at Lower Point). Dinner in town at @bluedogeatstahoe We had pizza and my partner discovered his new favorite beer, Great White from @LostCoastBrewery in Eureka, CA.

Day 6 (26th July): Hiked on the Rubicon Trail from Emerald Point campsite to Vikingsholm and Kayak Tahoe. Drove to AirBnB (Coulterville) outside of Yosemite.

Day 7 (27th July): First Day in Yosemite. Hiked the “4-Mile Trail” and visited Bridal Veil Falls. Stayed the night back in Coulterville at AirBnB.

Day 8 (28th July): Second day in Yosemite. Drove down to Mariposa Grove and hiked the Mariposa Grove Trail to the Mariposa Grove Cabin. The evening camped out at Cedar Bluff inside the Sierra National Forest (total cost- too much-charged for 2 sites).

Day 9 (29th July): Drove to Santa Cruz and straight to AirBnB. Explored Santa Cruz Wharf and harbor. Dinner at The Crow’s Nest and night at AirBnB.

Day 10 (30th July): Drove to San Francisco and flew home 😦 Depending on your flight time, there is the possibility to do at least one hike in Santa Cruz or highlight in San Fran.

Mariposa Grove Trail, Yosemite

Be sure to check out my other posts for more in depth details about each stop along the way!

Cost Breakdown

This is the first time I have posted a cost estimate of my trips but for this trip I kept better notes on expenses and I want to show people that you can accomplish a lot with a little, even in an expensive state like California (gas prices were insane!). This is not an exact price list but it can give you a good idea for a starting budget.

  • Plane tickets from Florida to San Francisco- $ 394.30 /per person
  • Travel Insurance for flight – $51.26
  • Car Rental for car pick up and return at San Francisco airport (10 days) – $ 440.44 (not including insurance, insurance was included with my personal car insurance policy);
  • Total accommodation costs including 3 camping sites, 1 hotel and 4 Air BnB’s (1 for two nights) – $1335.06;
  • America The Beautiful National Park Pass– $80.00

Day 1- San Francisco!

Day 1 (21st of July): Fly into San Francisco- We arrived at 9:40am and went straight to the Golden Gate Bridge. We hired a rental car from the airport and compared to Tampa, FL, the driving was stressless. We checked out Fisherman’s Wharf and grabbed an expensive but delicious panini from the Round House Cafe, right near the visitor center.

It was July and it was windy/cool, so bring a jacket. There is a mild hike near the bridge and we did see one homeless person but other than that, it was beautiful, and we felt safe. This was the only homeless person we saw btw. I think San Fran gets a bad rap for homeless people but I honestly have seen a ton more homeless people in San Diego. I only say this for any safety concerns. Personally, I use it as a teaching lesson.

Next, we met up Kara from Chinatown Food Walk: Tea & Dim Sum experience from AirBnB. This was the first time I tried an AirBnB experience and we really enjoyed it. Of all the things we did for 10 days, my son said this was his favorite! Granted, he is a foodie like me. We went to a tea shop, a temple, THE Fortune Cookie Factory and three food stops. We tried dim sum, a moon cake, pork roll, boba tea and tons of tea! From this experience, my son and I became hooked on Boba Tea. I thought it was like Thai Tea and I find Thai Tea too sugary so when we tried traditional, Chinese black boba mile tea, I was pleasantly surprised. You don’t know unless you try things! When we got home we immediately scoped out the best Boba tea shop in Tampa. I won’t specifically name where we went on the tour, you’ll need to contact Kara for that 😉 https://www.stretchy-pants.com/sf-food-tours/chinatown-food-tour-san-francisco/

Pork Roll. First stop. Not Vegetarian.

Side note: this tour is not for vegetarians. Contact @stretchypantssf if you would like them to try a vegetarian menu. They might be able to accommodate. I generally don’t eat meat but I make exceptions for special occasions. My child has a shrimp allergy and they were able to help us with this.

After our tour we went to our AirBnB. Unfortunately, we couldn’t stay out late due to flying in from the East coast and London so we were exhausted. We stayed at Jonathan and Sally’s AirBnB in the Twin Peaks area. Not much to eat within walking distance but a nice and safe area. The home was clean and cozy and offered a rare, second closed bedroom for an AIrBnB.

Next morning we hit the road up Route 1!

Tips and Tricks

If you don’t read any more of my posts about this trip I wanted to make you aware of a couple key things that you may not see on any official website or in a book.

At the San Francisco airport the cell phone waiting lot is not at the airport! It was about 6 miles away further down the interstate. Don’t make the mistake I did!

Showers are NOT included in the price of your camp fee at California State Parks. Some required quarters, some tokens- one had no shower at all (though it might have been a federal camp ground?)! So please, please do yourself a favor if you are camping and contact each campsite to see what they require to take a shower.

Gasoline prices are no joke. In areas outside of major cities, like Shasta, the cost per gallon was pushing $5.

Not all restaurants have bathrooms. Not sure how they got around this but we learned this to be true. AND the public restrooms at gas stations are NASTY. The majority of ones we stopped at didn’t even have soap. I can’t imagine the situation now with COVID-19. So while you are at stopping for supplies, grab some toilet paper, disposable wipes, soap, gallon of water and hand sanitizer!

Please continue reading my other “10 Day California Road Trip posts” to see fun photos, honest reviews and good details from each major stop!

Thanks for reading and please feel free to ask questions in the comment section. Happy travels!

10 Day California Road Trip Cont… South Lake Tahoe

On days 5 and 6 we traveled to South Lake Tahoe from Lassen Volcanic Park and spent two days exploring this beautiful area. The drive from Lassen was about 3 hours. The road into Lake Tahoe was windy. We arrived late our first night and stayed at Beach Retreat & Lodge Tahoe https://www.tahoebeachretreat.com/?utm_source=google%20my%20business&utm_medium=listing&utm_campaign=visit%20website. I don’t remember the room being especially nice. It was outdated but clean. However, the staff were really nice and there was a nice laundry facility right beside the pool. Since we got there late, parking at the hotel was difficult to come by. Even though we didn’t experience this, I would guess this is a great place to stay for a bunch of young friends in the winter, where they ski during the day and enjoy the night life at the end of the day. It is close to shops and restaurants/bars.

We were not out the next morning very early because I had a call and still managed to find street parking somewhat close to Eagle Falls Trail. The parking lot definitely does not hold enough visitors so plan to park on a windy, steep road and walk to the entrance of the trail. I believe there is a fee to park on the road or in the parking lot. I don’t remember paying it but we also had a national park pass decal so that may have been why. We hiked from the parking lot to Eagle Falls Lake.

Warning: the bathroom facility in the parking lot is a hole in the ground. I opted not to try it. Despite the scary bathroom, my son said it was his favorite hike of the whole trip.

It takes about 1/2 mile to get to the cascading water itself. When you cross the bridge there are some stones to rest on, cool your feet off and take a freezing dip if you are so inclined. We rested for a minute or two and then headed on to the lake.

While we were hiking up a little chipmunk followed beside us on the rocks. I think it thought we had some food.

Pretending I had food in my hand. As you can see, it was not shy. It was however, cute as can be!

Clearly some people are feeding them. Please do not do this. Later we discovered some carry the plague.

This is posted at Emerald Lake Trail bathrooms. Oops.

This hike is beautiful. It was a little steep in places and some of the footing was tricky but overall it is a pretty moderate hike with water to play in and stunning scenery.

The lake itself is not for the faint at heart. It is FREEZING. And you guessed it, all of the people in it were from Northern Europe or Canada. Except for my son, the island water baby and my poor freezing soul.

Cold water shock is real so make sure you read up on it ahead of time and expect to burn twice as much energy swimming in freezing water. BUT the reflection of the mountain on the lake and the scenery will leaving you feeling #blessed and invigorated.

You get great high up views of Lake Tahoe and big boulders to warm up on after a freezing swim in the mountain lake. This trails is about 1.8 miles one way.

Our second night we checked in at Emerald Bay State Park. The campsite was very clean and there is a nice spot to hop into the lake, HOWEVER, you need coins, not quarters to use the showers. After our first fiasco at Patrick’s Point where we discovered we though needed quarters to use showers, we came prepared with at least $20 in quarters. And after a long day of hiking and swimming we were ready to shower up and headed to the showers with a bags of quarters only to discover you needed tokens to shower. It was dark when we went so if there was a machine outside to change quarters for tokens, we did not see it. And of course, because either we aren’t the only ones who didn’t know this or some people don’t want to pay, the one big sink outside the bathrooms was busy with people cleaning up. I guess at least they offered that big sink? The showers were not very close to our campsite but there was a small bathroom across our site with 1 stall for women and 1 for men. If you don’t like bugs, than don’t go in. That’s all I can say. Also, bears are a big deal here so make sure you don’t leave any food or “smellies” aka deodorized toiletries out or in your car. You need to use the bear-proof storage lockers provided at each site.

On day 2 we tried the Rubicon trail that starts inside the Emerald Bay State park (near the entrance/exit). It was an easy, hike down and back to the lake and Vikingsholm.

At the time, Vikingsholm was undergoing some reservations so we did not go inside and do the tour but there is a little guest shop and neat restroom (complete with stalls and toilets) nearby. The guest shop was able to tell us a little bit about the family that built and lived in Vikingsholm, which was informative and free.

Then we headed down to Kayak Tahoe https://www.kayaktahoe.com/index.htm. There is a line, or two lines, to rent kayaks so go early and be prepared to wait a little. I don’t believe we waited long because we opted for paddle boards instead of kayaks, which seemed more popular. They are very friendly and can take card payments. You get a few minutes instruction and life jackets.

Children are not allowed beyond a certain point and must share a paddle board with a parent or guardian so my partner and I took turns riding with my child so we could paddle out to the little island in the middle. If you haven’t guessed yet, the water is cold. If you have never tried paddle boarding, this is a calm, relaxing way to give it a go. There are boats on the water with you but we didn’t witness any speeding so balancing on the board was not hard, but you can also lower down and paddle on the bottom or knees. #kayaktahoe is open 10-5pm with the last rental going out at 4pm. It is $25/hour or $35/hour for 2 hours on a paddleboard. UPDATE: Please check their website before going as locations, hours and renting times are constantly changing due to COVID-19.

Raccoon? What do you think?

For more of the 10 day California road trip adventure continue onto the Yosemite post or day 7.

Continued…Grand Canyon to Sedona Road Trip

Flagstaff > Slide Rock > Bell Rock Loop > Pink Jeep Tours > Sedona > Meteor Crater Landmark

That evening we headed down to Sedona but stopped in Flagstaff along the way. We stayed in a clean Courtyard Marriott right off the interstate https://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/flgcy-courtyard-flagstaff/?scid=bb1a189a-fec3-4d19-a255-54ba596febe2. A continental breakfast was included and there is a small, indoor pool. The scenery from Flagstaff to Sedona along 89A is AMAZING. It is winding road, covered in big evergreens, and absolutely beautiful. We decided to stop at Slide Rock State Park and boy, am I glad we did! This was by far my son’s favorite part of the whole trip. It’s a beautiful spot to explore and go swimming, including sliding down the red rocks. Capped off with a ridiculously big ice cream cone. Get there early. There is a line, it’s busy and I am sure they have a cut off limit.

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Swimming Hole @SlidingRockPark
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It is slick. Best to ride down on your backside. Even with gripping water shoes, like Keens, you may slip and land on a hard rock. Not recommended for the fragile.
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Ice cream pit stop is a must-do.

Then we headed into Sedona. Again, more amazing scenery along the way.


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We stayed at Orchards Inn in Sedona and the view from our room was great! See pic below. It is also very close to the entrance in the town. And not far from the shops and restaurants. They had a picturesque pool overlooking a valley. https://www.orchardsinn.com/?utm_source=google&utm_medium=organic&utm_campaign=business_listing.

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One major reason we came to Sedona was to hike and learn a lot about geology. It had all of that. Sedona is just beautiful and if you are into all things “earthy” and “artsy” then this is the place for you as well. My Mom taught my son the different types of rocks as a toddler, so despite proclaiming I would never spend money on a rock, it happened. Labradorite….lapis lazuli…..How many can you name and identify? Better yet, how many can you spell correctly? Apparently, none for me .

Bell Rock Loop

Bell Rock Loop is a simple, flat, 3.5 mile hiking trail with great views and climbing rocks is you so desire. Perfect for the grandparents and kids alike.

 As you can see, there are options for every level so if 3.5 miles is too much, you can choose a shorter route. It cost $5.00 to park a vehicle.

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 Just playing in the dirt. Isn’t this what real childhoods are all about?

 Chapel of the Holy Cross. We saw a coyote when driving up. 

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One thing different that we enjoyed was the Pink Jeep Tours in Sedona. I liked it because we got to meet some other families and it gave us a different “perspective” of the rocks. Plus, its like what I imagine monster truck drivers do except on rocks. I only wish the tour was longer. 

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The rocks look amazing wet.
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 Rain on the rocks. Just beautiful. 

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Fossil spotting and the shifting of rocks.

Last stop before heading back to Vegas was the Meteor Crater Natural Landmark. The visitor center was very good and the crater was… enormous. I just wish you could get down closer to it because you can’t fully appreciate how large it is from above. 

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Top family tips for a road trip from the Hoover Dam to the Grand Canyon to Sedona!

We had to go to Las Vegas to cheer on family at a basketball tournament so I thought I would take a detour and to go see the Hoover Dam, the Grand Canyon and Sedona. What an amazing trip! Keep reading and scrolling to see our highlights!

First stop from Las Vegas, the Hoover Dam. All I can say is get there early. We were fine and we went in July. But by the time we were done at lunchtime, it was a-blazing outside! You do have to park a little ways from the entrance and it can be dangerously hot if you aren’t hydrated and able.

There are two types of tours. Unless you are a engineer nerd (nothing wrong with that), the basic tour is good and informative.

From the Hoover Dam, we decided to take the longer but more historic Route 66 to the Grand Canyon.

There are few stops on the drive so make sure you are stocked up on water and snacks just in case.

Needles? I think this was a town but my first thought was that it was a place to dispose of intravenous needles 😦 So I was like, “peace out”.

The scenery was at times beautiful and it paints a picture of a different landscape of America, not one that I am use to coming from the east coast. And I added a quarky stop along the way…Grand Canyons Caverns.

Very interesting back history here. It’s amazing what risks people use to take. This beauty greets you upon entry. It doesn’t look like much from the outside but I will say this was a great little stop and lots of fun. If you can get past the dodgy looking elevator, you are in for a simple, little treat. There was also a little diner and shop inside for refreshments and tourist gifts.

This is where you can book a night stay inside the cave (NOPE). Apparently people get married here too. Whatever floats your boat.

 Wide open paths that any beginner could navigate. 

 I think this was a replica of an ice age groundhog? Haha. 

Grand Canyon Southern Rim

Next stop the Grand Canyon. We stayed in the Grand Canyon Village. If you aren’t taking a tour, I would definitely recommend that you book a hotel here early and stay in the village. Guided tours don’t have to wait in a big line but individual cars do. By staying in the village you have a jump start on early morning visitors and can get it early. We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express and it was clean and comfortable. They have an indoor pool which we enjoyed and offered coverage from the sun. 

https://www.ihg.com/holidayinnexpress/hotels/us/en/grand-canyon/gcnaz/hoteldetail?cm_mmc=GoogleMaps-_-EX-_-US-_-GCNAZ

We decided to go beyond the look out sites and do some guided hikes. Again, I was traveling with a child under 8 and did not want to do anything dangerous or too extraneous. We chose All Star Grand Canyon Tours and we had a wonderful guide, lunch (provided) and day https://www.allstargrandcanyontours.com/ . We did a 3- hike day tour and would have done more if we had more time. The three different hiking trails were uniquely different and we were able to see a variety of landscapes and walk down into the canyon (not all the way down!). We also got to see some fossils.

I want to caution hikers, if you have unruly children or think you may fall or slip, DO NOT do any hiking tour into the canyon. There are no handrails, etc. so if you jump or fall off, that is the end of you. I am scared of heights and there were times that I was hugging the wall side with my child in between me and the wall. He was fine. And when the donkeys come by you have to move over for them, and not to the inside but the outside! Don’t let me alarm you though, most accidents happen with rafting inside the canyon.

Grand Canyon Tour provides you with a backpack to carry your items and a walking stick.
Our tour guide pointed out the fossils in the rock.
Hiking into the canyon.
Upon entering the Canyon.

When the donkey tours come by you have to move to the OUTSIDE of the path. Meaning, there are no walls or guard rails to keep you from falling.
Fossil!

 Our guide showing us some points at the Grand Canyon visitor center.

One reason I like tours, besides the safety of traveling with others, is that tour guides are so informative and they are usually experts on the locations. That and tour guides can gain your child’s attention better than we can. Why stress yourself out trying to educate yourself before a trip only to have your child tune you out? Try and tour, save yourself stress, learn a lot and make friends!

The visitor center was last on our tour. Great lookouts but crowded. Another reason to take a tour. Visitor Center had lots of great information and hands on exhibits.
Oh Ah Point

There was so much to do and see that it all won’t fit into one blog post! So continue reading more from Flagstaff to Sedona to the Meteor Crater Natural Landmark in the blog post “Continued…Grand Canyon to Sedona Road Trip.

Key West for Kids, Too!

Top 10 spots for traveling in Key West with children

I will be honest. Key West is not the best place for kids. But it still is a great place for them! It still has lots to offer even at the wildest of times. I took my child during Spring Break in 2016. Don’t get me wrong- we had plenty to do and lots of fun. But we were in by 8pm every night and avoided the restaurants and bars that lined Duval Street. With that said, here is what we enjoyed the most. If you like relaxing by the pool in the evenings and plan to make dinners in, than this is still a great family destination. 

Find the cats at Hemingway House

Hemingway kitties!

Hemingway cats, also called Polydactyl cats, are known for their extra toes. Sailors believed polydactyl cats were good luck and Captain Stanley Dexter gifted one to Ernest Hemingway. I believe there are around 40-50 cats at any given time at the house. His first cat was called Snow White. Many of her descendants are at the house today.

Ernest Hemingway’s type writer.

Before you go, tell your child or children about this legendary writer. Here is a link to some facts about his life. https://kids.kiddle.co/Ernest_Hemingway Use discretion about what you would like your child to know or read. I think a starting point to share Hemingway with your child is to tell them about, “The Old Man and the Sea”.

Hemingway house grounds.
One of the many Hemingway cats. We really enjoyed finding all of the cats around the property.

We actually had our own black Hemingway cat, which we adopted from the Lakeland SPCA. He recently passed away. He was the coolest cat and also named after a Disney character, Bagheera.

Climb the Key West Lighthouse steps

Nearby is the Key West Lighthouse. It is a tight squeeze to say the least but a good view.

View from the top of the Lighthouse.

So this was after we hiked up the lighthouse. There are low branch trees on the Lighthouse property and my son enjoyed climbing around in them.

It was HOT though. You can note the swollen lip from my jellyfish sting. Ugh- feeling a bit stink here. But wait….

It is hot. I would say after two visits anywhere, take a break and an opportunity to cool down. Kids especially will tucker out easily under the Florida humidity. Keep on track of hydration.

Aww much better. Located on the north end of Duval street (opposite end of Hemingway House- near Mallory Square, so take an Uber, bike or the trolley) was Kermit’s Key West Key Lime Shoppe. My son discovered he loves Key Lime pie while traveling down to Key West. He approved of the chocolate covered key lime pie popsicle. Now I on the other hand needed something cooler. This big fruity drink came from a stand on the side of the road and it was worth the 10 dollars I spent on it. Sorry I didn’t catch the stand’s name!  

Chickens, chickens, everywhere!

Chickens, chickens, everywhere! We thought it was a hoot. This guy was located at the Southernmost Point near some parking lot.

Mother Hen and her baby chick near Southern Most Point.
We found these two checking out our bikes in the back of my truck. (Sidenote: we didn’t ride our bikes around due to the amount of people drinking during the day. If I was without my child, I would have used a bike. Also, despite being chained in, someone did try to steal my bike.)

Catch a Key West Sunset

Take an early evening stroll along Mallory Square for dinner and/or shopping if its suits your fancy. This is where we caught this photo.

A must-do. Catch a Key West sunset. And don’t forget the Crazy Cat Man’s Crew. He AND his cats were very entertaining. My son got picked out of the audience and loved it!

Snorkel

We took a short snorkel tour with Key West Snorkel Adventure. I was a little worried about taking my child out there at his age so I opted for a short snorkel tour. I will say the water was deep for coral reef exploring. At least 20 ft. As you can see from my water camera it was not as clear as we wanted. However, we did see lots of tropical fish and a pretty large shark. I was terrified when I spotted it, grabbed my child and swam back to the boat, but the guide told me I should go back and get pics as it was harmless. So I did, but I am not sure I would do it again to be honest.  Also, the water is choppy as you try to get on and off the boat. It is a bit rough if you aren’t athletically inclined.  They do make you wear life jackets and provide noodles. I would say its a good idea even if you are a good swimmer. All snorkeling gear was provided. Wet suits were not. It was cold water. There are free drinks if you are so inclined. https://www.keywestsnorkelingtours.com/catamaran-reef-snorkel/

Large Nurse Shark!

West Martello Tower and the Key West Garden Club (free).

The West Marello Tower was a fort created during the American Civil War. It is considered a National Historic Site. It holds some impressive trees and beautiful gardens, including a waterfall and butterfly garden. Did I mention its free?? Lots of trees for your kids to learn about here.

https://keywestgardenclub.com/

African Slave Burial Grounds at Higgs Beach

Cemetery marker at Higgs Beach

A quaint little stop on the south end of Key West (also a more quiet area). We found here some beautiful trees and garden. An unexpected but interesting find was the African cemetery right beside it. Located on Higgs beach, I didn’t see any tourist info on it until I read the sign outside the Martello Tower. In 1860, 3 illegal slave ships were intercepted by the US Navy. The conditions for the slaves among the ship were horrific. The slaves who did not survive are buried here and the remaining ones were cared for by the community. It is considered a historical and archaeological site. For more info check out www.africanburialgroundathiggsbeach.org I highly encourage a stop here with children to share this example of slavery and pay respect for the slaves who lost their lives.

Southernmost Point

As the picture says, here we are at the Southernmost Point of the Continental US. It is crowded and I would suggest going near dusk when the party goers are heading to the bars and restaurants for dinner and drinks. It is also free, just gotta find a good parking spot.  

The Key West Aquarium.

This little aquarium has a lot of hands on fun for both kids and adults. We fed sting rays shrimps which was different. They have a great variety of local marine wildlife and a resident tortoise below. He hangs out at the entrance.  

If your child loves the book, “Rainbow Fish”, you can show them the real deal here!
This sting ray has a face!
Feeding a sting ray shrimp.
Nurse sharks. Large and “docile” sharks. This is the type of shark we spotted while snorkeling.

Fort Zachary Beach

We saw a Portuguese Man-of-war in the water. And quickly got out. For you that don’t know, they are venomous and their stings are excruciatingly painful, possibly deadly. If you are looking for the famous sign with all the cities pointing in different directions, than look no further. It is here.

Others things that we saw included the Mel Fisher’s Treasure Museum. It was good and it took a while to get thru it. Good female pirate section and if you like coins and jewelry, you’ll be impressed with the back. There are a lot of museums in Key West and if you only have a few days, I would only choose 1 or 2. Don’t feel the need to hit every one. Also, we did use the Old Town Trolley, but only on the second day. It was worth it, especially if you are planning on site seeing to a lot of places. We had bikes and I decided not to use them with all of the car traffic. Also, someone tried to steal them off the back of my vehicle 😦 Quickly, I will state what we should have skipped the Key West cemetery. Unless you are on a ghost tour it is deadly silent (pun intended), bit depressing, and hot as…

Okay heading back home but not before one more stop on our way out …Bob’s Bunz! Located in Islamorada, they have all kinds of yummy baked goods. They are known for their cinnamon and sticky bunz. They had me at bunz.

Have a safe and wonderful trip in one the best spot’s Florida has to offer!

THE EVERGLADES AND HEADING DOWN TO KEY WEST


August 16, 2019

THE EVERGLADES AND HEADING DOWN TO KEY WEST

Coming from Tampa we decided to break the drive into two days. I wanted to experience both “sides” of the Everglades since this might be the only time we were down there. I started off first on the west side of the Everglades, which took us to the Gulf Coast. We visited the Everglades National Park from Everglades City, FL. Inside the park is the Everglades Florida Adventures company which runs daily tours out onto the Gulf.

We took the Ten Thousand Island Cruise which runs about $40/per person, includes all ages and lasts 90 minutes. It’s an easy boat tour where we spotted dolphins and a variety of birds.https://evergladesfloridaadventures.com/

Side note. The boat did have a top or cover to help protect passengers from the sun. 

Next stop down Highway 41 South was the Miccosukee Tour. The Everglades are famous for their air boat rides. I chose this company to support a local, Native American tribe. https://tribe.miccosukee.com/  We did not go into the Village Shop or Cafe on Tamiami Trail but we were able to book an air boat ride on the spot. No reservation required (which oddly enough I can’t find a link to the air boat ride on the website), but you may have to wait 20 minutes or so. Make sure not to arrive right before they close (5pm). 

The boat ride itself was fun and windy. My son was a little, ummm, not blown away. But hot, so I guess it worked out that it was short. This may sound silly but I imagined the Everglades to be a Cyprus tree-filled swamp but it is not. It is very, very flat and wide open, with nothing but swamp grass and reeds. No trees whatsoever and in the boat you are kinda going too fast to spot any alligators or other wildlife. The highlight for me was not the ride itself but the little traditional village stop where you can walk on a board walk around a ton of gators (big and small) and see a village fire and some native crafts. All and all I would do it again if I was down there. But I will say that the Everglades aren’t really my thing. I need trees people.

This guy (or gal) was huge.
View of the village from the air boat.

Anhinga Trail- Everglades National Park
This is a great bike ride. I do not recommend it as a walk. Although it is flat, there is little to no shade and the sun beating down on you is hot no matter what time of year you go. If you want to see alligators than look no further. They line the paths (startling close actually) and we even saw an alligator nest. There are a lot of bird sightings as well.  I think this is a great place to stretch your legs (on a bike) and get a good feel for the Everglade ecosystem. Their visitor center is very informative as well.

I am going to be open about a parenting fail on this bike trip. There are some pretty large gators right beside the paved path. These gators are familiar with people and the park is familiar with them. But when I look back at some of these photos of my child stopping for a photograph near one of the alligators, I feel highly irresponsible. Even though these gators are “tame” they are still wild animals and very large. Gators do leap and climb and in a minute they can grab a child. So even though it seems cool to get an epic pic next to a wild, large gator, don’t take the risk. 

Blue Heron

So we had to stop somewhere to get some rest. Homestead, the town where the hostel is located, was desolated in the Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and the town, in my humble opinion, isn’t worth writing about. However it was a great stop for our night’s rest. Now back in my college days and late 90s, staying at hostels around Europe was the norm. Whenever I traveled all I could afford were hostels and I met a lot of backpackers and acquaintances along the way. But now traveling with a child and staying in a hostel in America (in Florida none the less) made me a bit weary of this place. 

The Everglades International Hostel is now called the Hoosville Hostel https://www.hoosvillehostel.com/accommodations. When I discovered this place online what convinced me to stay was the ability to get a private room. We stayed in “The Library” for a slightly higher price. When we got there my son took one look at the place from the outside and said, “No, it doesn’t look clean and safe”. I told him let’s go inside and take a look and give it a chance. Well boy was he glad we did. HE LOVED THIS PLACE. 

Get it? Potty Under the Stairs? And it was.
Fresh and free bananas anyone?

There was a very cool tree ropes course/canopy. He was all over this. Even though there were no kids around when we were there, this is a kid’s idea of heaven. Not so sure how stable and secure the ropes course was but he was fine 🙂 

A little lounge house with cushions and instruments to have a….jam session? haha. Or whatever floats your boat. There was a latter outside where you can sit on the top and star gaze if you fancy.

They also have free, unlimited pancakes. You do have to make them on your own but its a great way to meet people and swap traveling suggestions with fellow travelers around the picnic table in the morning. 

The John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. http://pennekamppark.com/activities/
Next stop was the John Pennekamp State Park. I was really looking forward to stopping on the way down and having a refreshing swim. My son really enjoyed himself while I swatted away jellyfish. WARNING: Cassiopeia jellyfish were everywhere. Also known as the upside down jellyfish. Tiny little stings everywhere including my lip 😦 What they don’t tell you until you get there is that jellyfish are more abundant around mangrove shores. They wash in and hang out. If you go, stay on the beach or kayak or paddle board out. But a relaxing swim it was not. I also walked through some mangroves on a little back trail to head to a spot further out. Almost knocked myself out on a low hanging branch. Opened my eyes to see a giant iguana staring at me. I kid you not. Could not make this stuff up. Meanwhile the kid is walking on rocks with a bunch of college kids having a great time (wear water shoes it is slick on the rocks). See rocks below and the beach in the background.

The little stingers that ruined the day for me. 

I won’t be returning for a swim here ever again. Sorry but no.

Swollen lip from a sting ;(

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