Have A BLAST in No Time Flat! Indianapolis

Having driven through Indiana a few times (with so many Interstates passing through, it is aptly known as the “Crossroads of America”), my most lingering impression of the state is pure, plain, barren, sleep-inducing flatness.  Flat farm fields.  Flat, stick straight roads that go on for miles.  Flat. Flat. Flat.  Oh look, a tree.  Wake me up when we get to a beach or a ski slope or a curve or something.

Indiana’s vivacious capital, Indianapolis, manages to dispel the Flat = Boring myth.    The city goes all out to entertain visitors with a terrific choice of activities both indoor and out.  Many of these fun undertakings center around the glory of sport.  Obviously sports aficionados will have entered heaven in all there is to do for them here.  Fortunately “Indy” has taken us non-fans into account when designing their attractions, because they offer a wealth of appealing options for us to do as well.   Flat can be a blast!  Read on and you’ll see!

 

Indy 500 racetrack
Could this be you?

OutdoorsCultureWould any trip to Indy be complete without a visit to the world-famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway, home of the Indy 500?  If you don’t know much about this historic race or its incredible track, head over to their website immediately.  The video visuals are simply stunning!   Then plan your visit to the facility’s museum, and ask to schedule a VIP grounds tour for some incredible photo ops at the winner’s circle, a chance to check out the pit stop, and so much more!   CONFIRM this tour a day or so before your visit because last-minute changes to their schedule could mean a sudden cancellation of the tour.

♠ The best-heeled amongst you may even arrange to drive a real Indy car around the track!  Sign up with the folks at Indy Racing Experience online for the package of your choice.

 

OutdoorsCultureIndoors

Newfields (“A Place for Nature and the Arts”) encompasses the Indianapolis Museum of Art as Lilly House Indianapoliswell as beautifully curated gardens and a magnificently restored historic mansion known as the Lilly House.   You could easily spend an entire day here exploring the exhibits and touring the grounds.  Especially enticing is Winterlights, when over a million lights are strung along the pathways, lending the holiday season an over-the-top magical sensation as you amble around, mouth agape at the dazzling beauty.  Don’t forget your mug of hot apple cider or cocoa and plate of s’mores.

 

IndoorsIf little sister Sasha drags you along to the Children’s Museum Indianapolis, don’t be upset.  This is the largest children’s museum anywhere in the world, and it offers great fun for everyone of any age!   If nothing else, there are a million opportunities to crank up interest in your Instagram by the photo ops offered here.  Who do you know who can post a pic of themselves as if they had been shot out of a cannon, for instance?   Other cool stuff to do is on hand.  Prove you’re a winner by outracing your opponents on the outdoor speedway track.  Show off your superlative fashion sense in the American POP exhibit.  It’s all here, along with a LOT more to keep you entertained for hours, and you can plan ahead by visiting their website!

 

IndoorsMiscellaneous

Escape Room Rob a bank or break out of jail – with your parents’ permission, of course – at Indianapolis’ interactive escape attraction, The Escape Room Indianapolis.  You’ll have to brainiac your way into figuring out how to exit the themed room of your choice, so be prepared to use those SAT smarts you’re so proud of.  And just like those standardized tests we all know and love – you get the added pressure of the clock ticking to boot!  This highly-rated attraction is located above the Old Spaghetti Factory, so dinner is easy to “factor” into your break out plans.

 

IndoorsMiscellaneousIf you know anything about Indiana, you know its residents, nicknamed “Hoosiers,” are rabid fanatics of basketball.  Nothing wrong with that!   You can visit the ground zero of this mania by taking a free self-guided tour of the Hinkle Fieldhouse.  This “cathedral” of Indiana basketball, a co-star itself of the movie Hoosiers, was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1987.   See where all the “hoop”la began, right here at the Hinkle, located on the campus of Indianapolis’ Butler University.  This is a must-visit for any fan of college basketball.

 

OutdoorsCultureOn a beautiful day, or really, any day that isn’t frigid cold, you must take some time to visit the White River State ParkWhite River State Park.  This incredible scenic outdoor wonderland is located just west of downtown.   Instead of walking along the well-kept river banks, you can rent bikes at Wheel Fun Rentals or even a Segway from Segway Tours of Indiana.  Concerts happen at this pedestrian delight at various times, or you can check out museums such as the Indiana State Museum or the Eiteljorg Museum (home of some great Western-themed art).  The NCAA Hall of Champions is yet another museum in the Park, and it features some sensational interactive exhibits.

 

Cobblestone street

OutdoorsA different kind of stroll that has you walking back in time can be found in the Lockerbie Square District, the oldest surviving neighborhood in Indy, which features cobblestone streets and lovingly restored houses in sizes from cottage to mansion.  It’s just up the road from downtown Indy’s other fascinating historic district, Chatham Arch, which sprawls in comparison, but is still doable on foot.  Now that you’ve fed the history buff inside of you, take care of your stomach at one of the myriad of terrific local dining options lining Massachusetts Avenue.

 

Seriously Entertaining – Nashville, Tennessee

My 14-year-old daughter, who is teaching herself virtually every instrument known to mankind, joined me a few months ago for a quick but fun trip to Nashville.  Tennessee’s capital rightly calls itself “Music City.”  You can’t swing a saxophone in any direction whatsoever without hitting someone playing music, usually live, in virtually any location, formal venue or park sidewalk.

It’s no exaggeration to say music (not just country music, either) is serious business here.  Naturally this place was like Nirvana for her and her love of music.   I bet it will be yours, too.  Rock on.

 

MiscellaneousThe first stop to make when you hit town is the Visitor’s Center adjacent to the Bridgetown Arena at 501 Broadway.  Awesome Nashville swag is available for sale by very friendly, very helpful staff who want you to have a great time.  They stage live music right here amongst all the Music City brochures, mugs and t-shirts, and if you are at all talented you can book yourself a gig on their website!  If you aren’t, you can still make believe it thanks to the props they have set up next to the faux stage.

 

CultureIndoorsNo matter your feelings on museums, this is one to check out.  Music City’s Musician’s Hall of Fame, located in the Historic Nashville Municipal Auditorium, imparts the thrill of knowing that so many legendary artists have performed in this very space.  Within the museum are musical instruments on display that many lesser-known musicians played, but for music that you’ve surely heard before.  The sitar on that Beatles hit?  You’ll admire it here, not far from one of Jimi’s workaday guitars.

Yes, Mr Hendrix’s guitar (one of many he would have played in his short life, but still) is lovingly displayed with all due reverence behind bulletproof glass.  Finally, the most exciting part: the large sections within the GRAMMY Museum Gallery in which you can play instruments, compose music, produce music, and much more, all on your own (with guidance from the exhibits themselves).   Feel like a rock star for a couple of hours in this place!

 

CultureIndoorsCountry Music Hall of FameIf you’re really into country music – and even if you’re not – you’ll surely get something out of a tour of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.  In the beautiful Hall of Fame itself are permanent and temporary exhibits of all your favorite country music stars past and present.  Do sign up for the tour of RCA’s historic studio B, the “Home of 1,000 Hits,” while you visit the Hall of Fame.  Luminaries like Elvis Presley put Nashville on the map thanks to their recording sessions here.

 

Broadway Fireworks Nashville
This is Broadway, folks! One massive party on Broadway Street in Nashville

IndoorsCultureGood eatin'Veterans to Nashville won’t let you leave until you’ve checked out the Honky Tonk scene on Broadway.  It’s all neon all the time to complement the music, food and dancing on this iconic street!  Each venue has different policies for admission for anyone under 21 but if it’s daytime or early evening, you should be okay; just ask the staff at the door.  One recommendation for lively fun and tasty food in a spacious, energetic Music City atmosphere is the Wildhorse Saloon. All ages are welcome until 9:00 pm nightly for live music, dining and dancing.  Learn the newest line dancing steps demonstrated here, and amaze your friends back home with your trendy self.

 

OutdoorsSeasonalNow that you’ve experienced downtown Nashville, you probably need some room to roam alongtreetop with some fresh Tennessee air.  Your best bet: head over to Nashville Shores Lakeside Resort.  This scenic hideaway of cabins and RV spaces features an exciting variety of adventurous activities from which to choose.  Your folks will probably be content to rent a pontoon boat for some leisurely relaxing and fishing.  Fine, but make sure they set aside ample time to join you in rocking the Treetop Adventure Park, an obstacle course in the treetops, and the refreshing Waterpark.  The website has all the deets so check it out first.

 

CultureOutdoorsWhat’s up with the controversial views Americans have about their Commander-in-Chief?  Well, their 7th one, anyway?  Find out when you step back in time at the Hermitage, home of the 19th century’s “People’s President,” Andrew Jackson.  The grounds, as beautiful as they are, provide a bittersweet backdrop into the workings of a southern cotton plantation, slavery and all.   Rustic slave cabins scattered about the landscape contrast with the majestic mansion.    Fascinating interpretative signs which provide an explanation of daily life here skirt the leafy, tranquil countryside.

 

Grand Ole Opry Nashville

CultureIndoorsExperience a part of Nashville’s musical heritage when you tour the Grand Ole Opry.  No less than three backstage tours are offered here, the Ground Zero of America’s country music origins.  Performances have been broadcast on radio, and then TV and now Internet, for almost a century.  Take one in while you’re here; check the website for backstage and show information.  And whatever you do, get here early to fight for the limited parking spaces.  Better yet, summon back that Uber driver you had ferry you around downtown!

A really unique hotel, the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center, lurks next to the Grand Ole Opry, and if you’re in town on a convention you may be lucky enough to stay there.  If not, though, the hotel is still worth a visit, especially when the weather is less than ideal.  The highlight of this facility is its multi-story enclosed atrium, around which the guest rooms cluster alongside dining options and boutique shops.  Luckily there is no charge to marvel at the property’s lush waterfalls as you amble through its nine acres of indoor gardens.  A Delta Riverboat Cruise, all indoors, is even offered for a nominal charge.

 

OutdoorsSeasonalTranspoYou can book a single or tandem (double) kayak at River Queen Voyages and spend the better River Queen Voyages Nashvillepart of an afternoon riding some sick Cumberland River waves.  Kidding about the waves.  But yeah, the journey involves plenty of soothing immersion into nature when you’re not basking in the majesty of downtown Nashville’s skyscrapers from a unique river vantage point.  You can choose a canoe if you prefer, but either way this is a great way to get some cardio action in while admiring the scenery.   Read the FAQ’s here thoroughly before you go!

The Wild West’s Gateway to a Good Time – Oklahoma City

There’s so much more to Oklahoma and its capital, Oklahoma City, than EF5 tornadoes.  Natives such as yours truly learn to respect these terrifying wonders of nature from a very young age.  You can pick us out in a crowd because, when we hear tornado sirens, we don’t cower against the wall.  We grab a soda and run out of the house to look for the darn thing!

There’s no use letting fear of twisters, or anything else, ruin your life.  Similarly, don’t panic because you’re headed to The Sooner State instead of Florida, California, or pretty much anywhere that at first glance would see more enticing.  There’s a lot of cool stuff to see and do here!

 

OutdoorsSeasonalSummer heat calls for whitewater rafting in the heart of “Cowtown” at Riversport OKC!   While there, enjoy high speed slides, flatwater kayaking and more.   The highlight of your day may well be The Sky Trail, the tallest adventure course of its kind in the world!

Whitewater rafting
Whitewater rafting in the heart of the city

The 80-foot structure features six levels of challenges that get tougher the higher you climb. Like a playground in the sky, the challenges include rope bridges, balance beams, zig-zag elements and more.  Study website carefully for waiver requirements, inclement weather policies and more.

 

 

Good eatin'

Steak
Steak!

When the president’s in town, this is where he eats.  Cattlemen’s Steak House, in Oklahoma City’s famous Stockyard City, has been serving up scrumptious carnivore fare since 1910.  Vegans, sorry, you’ll need to wait in the car.  The skimpy vegetarian options (except the okra, which is breaded) all come with cheese!

 

 

Brickopolis , in the heart of Oklahoma City (near downtown if you happen to be out that way)

water taxi
water taxi

offers mini golf, laser tag, a bungee trampoline, and “Lazer Frenzy,” an arcade-style labyrithine challenge.  Get to it on Bricktown’s Water Taxi, the area’s most unique mode of transpo, and stop in on an OKC Thunder game while you’re here!

 

 

 

CultureIndoorsOklahoma City’s National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum authentically and vibrantly celebrates the mythos of the American West.  Artists such as Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell helped to vividly depict cowboy and Indian life on this stark frontier for the benefit of would-be frontiersmen back East.  Amongst so many other activities, you can learn what life was like traveling via chuckwagon and experience residing in the fictional town of Prosperity Junction.

 

MiscellaneousIndoorsWhen you first imagine setting foot at a place the National Memorial and Museum,

OKC National Memorial
OKC National Memorial

the site of such sudden and such unspeakable horror, you probably can’t imagine how gratifying your visit can be.  The Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building was bombed on April 19, 1995, killing 168 innocent victims, some of whom were very young children.  Exhibits track the survivors’ journey of loss, resilience, justice and hope.  The museum, located directly on the site of the bombing, touches the soul of the visitor, and ultimately reassures that the world holds far more good than bad.

 

Good eatin'Best burgers in OKC – this is Cowtown, USA, remember? – Johnnie’s Charcoal Broiler.  Johnnie’s was a very special treat worth accumulating tardy points back when my classmates and I escaped the high school grounds for a delectable mid-day lunch.  Piled high with shredded cheese and smothered in chili, the #3 burger will not disappoint.  Ask for a side of Johnnie’s sauce for your crunchy onion rings.  Taking a stab at cheerful-sounding options to appease all you health fanatics are the Mandarin Cranberry or Strawberry Spinach Salads.

 

IndoorsCulture Fans of antiques, retro living and marvelous oversized dwellings need to check out the time capsule that is 1903’s grand Victorian-style Overholser Mansion. Tour guides help you envision a gilded lily of a life in this beautiful home left unredecorated and unretouched for several decades.  After this wonderful stop for history buffs and period home lovers alike, be sure to roam the neighborhood and gawk at the other magnificent historic houses in the area.

 

Run/Bike/Zip for the Roses in Louisville

Louisville, Kentucky’s largest city, lies on the southern banks of the Ohio River across from Indiana.  You can pronounce the city’s name any way you want to, but if you wish to sound like a native, remember, the “S” is silent!  In fact, it’s probably best to just let your mouth go lazy and call it “LOO-vul.”  Everyone will know exactly where you mean.

It’s crazy difficult to find an unappealing spot within the state of Kentucky.  The views in the Bluegrass state of undulating hills, antebellum manors and emerald lawns can’t help but enchant.  The people embody that southern hospitality we all yearn for.  It’s really no wonder the tea is sweet by default – that’s how everyone is here!  The totally fun stuff to do rocks as well.

Kentucky Derby
Cheering on the horses and keeping hat makers in business

MiscellaneousThe city’s primary claim to fame is its annual Kentucky Derby, a weeks-long excuse to party culminating in an all day celebration where everyone cleans up nicely over a two-minute horse race.  Hey, this is the South – they’ll do glamour however they wish, thankyouverymuch!  Visit the website for museum information along with the scoop on attendees’ fancy garb.  Is it required that the ladies wear hats and the gents summer suits?  Will they be required to clean out the horse stalls if they don’t? 

OutdoorsGood eatin'The best way to drink in the sights of downtown Louisville means you’ll want to traipse just over the river to Clarksville, in Indiana. Take a picnic lunch to Ashland Park and then drink in some nature exploration at the Falls of the Ohio. With whatever time you have left, hoof it over to Widow’s Walk.  You can enjoy some delicious ice cream at this picturesque Victorian gem, and then work those yummy calories off straightaway thanks to Widow’s Walk’s bicycle rentals!

MiscellaneousNo less than 17 miles of underground passageways in Louisville stand ripe for exploration at Louisville’s modestly-named Mega Cavern.

Zipline underground
Underground ziplining!

Feel free to ask the staff about the difference between stalactites and stalagmites, but if geology isn’t quite your bag, you’re still in luck here.  At the Mega Cavern, you can tour the joint via zipline, bike (BMX and Cross Country included), aerial ropes challenge, or tram!   This is a truly unique experience since you spend the entire time underground where it’s a comfortable 60 degrees F.   This haunt is so HUGE, you’ll wonder how Louisville manages not to sink in on itself.  But you’ll be having way too much fun to worry about it!

Transpo She’s over 100 years old, but this stately gal can take you places you ain’t never seen before.  The Belle of Louisville, the oldest operating steamboat in the world, cruises pretty frequently and features a variety of cruises dedicated towards particular interests such as day and night, stargazing, historical, and musical. Immerse yourself in the nostalgia of in the steamboat era, enjoying live entertainment, outdoor observation decks, dance floor, bandstand, wheelchair accessibility to portions of the vessel, easy passenger drop-off, and nearby parking.  Visit their website for cruising times on the Belle or her sister ship, the Mary M. Miller.

OutdoorsGet exercise and thrill to a 2.4 mile scenic loop at the award-winning Cherokee Park, set amidst tranquil rolling hills, verdant meadows and the woodlands of the Beargrass Creek valley.  Pedestrians and cyclists enjoy their own lane of hassle-free pavement here.  Also available are horseshoe pits, dog runs, a sprayground, and a sledding slope.   Click on the link for other great parks in the city, one of which may be closer to you.

CultureIndoorsI’m always game for an interactive, immersive art experience, and you should be too when you visit Art Sparks, at the Speed Art Museum near the University of Louisville.  After taking in its three sections that focus on Noticing, Making, and Talking about art, do check out the Speed with its striking exhibitions, exclusive cinema delights and frequent concerts.  What a cool thing to do any day but especially on Sundays, when admission is free!

OutdoorsTake a Stand in Louisville with a unique way to get your cardio in.  Continuing with the paddle and water theme … try Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP)!  You literally stand on a paddleboard, paddle, and experience a low-impact adventure on Louisville’s outstanding scenic waterways.  (See what I did there?)  Learn the basics and take ‘er for a spin during your 2-hour intro class.  Afterwards, expand your work out horizons by seeing what’s what with the SUP + Yoga offering – hope you’ve got great balance!

SeasonalOutdoorsAdventure never quits (except seasonally) at Louisville’s exciting destination theme and water park, Kentucky Kingdom.  It has over 70 extraordinary thrill rides, coasters, and arcades, and so much more.  5-D cinema is a new concept featured here; in addition to the usual three dimensions, you are the “star” of the show as you ride, not just sit, while watching the flick.  If you’re into horticulture as well as high rides, be sure to take special notice the showcase landscaping.  The Kingdom keeps it real with a variety of plants, flowers and shrubs, specially chosen to visually coordinate with the rides! Kentucky Kingdom

 

My favorite thing about Tucson is its designation by someone, somewhere, as the Mexican Food Capital of the World.  Seriously!  (Think about that for a second!)

Can you find the Mexican food?

As a family we enjoy trying different world cuisines frequently, but Lordamercy, as delicious as Chinese, French, Italian, and others may be… there is simply nothing to beat the divine flavors of a truly authentic Mexican meal.  If you agree and would like to explore the infinite possibilities of Mexican food in Tucson, read on!

Taco Bell, which is only called “Mexican” by idiotic restaurant websites, is in many American towns the only pseudo Mexican fast food available.  Tucson, incredibly, also suffers from the odd Taco Bell.  When it’s fast and cheap Mexican you need, please consider the following substitutes, each of which blows Taco Bell and its ilk completely out of the water:
  • El Guero Canelo. The “Cinnamon Blond” has a few spots in town, including its unique, semi-outdoor original restaurant on South 12th  Sonoran style hot dogs are popular with the locals.  I love their carne asada (grilled steak) tacos and burritos, however.  They serve up the most amazing quesadillas, too, and feature a salsa bar loaded with the most mouth-watering salsas I have ever savored north of the border.
  • Nico’s also has a few taco shops around town. Nothing here is going to qualify as 5-star dining, but the scrumptious treats, which nearly overflow their Styrofoam containers, are bountifully covered with tasty yellow cheese.  Stop here for breakfast, lunch and/or dinner and eat like a native!
  • Practice your high school Spanish at La Birrieria Guadalajara. Seriously, when I was there back in the 90’s, the order taker spoke no English.  Ni modo.  You can say “Burrito grande, por favor,” right? The sole stand of this cheap Mexican food mecca is to be found in the central part of town on 22nd
  • I have yet to try Aqui Con El Nene but I know trustworthy folks that have, and they rave about its quality, taste and great prices. Not to mention stuffed potatoes!
  • Chickenuevo
    Chickenuevo – so yummy!

    My kids would kill me if our first stop after flying to Tucson wasn’t Chickenuevo. It’s only a few blocks from the airport directly on the way into town.  Chickenuevo’s roasted chicken is just like the kind I enjoyed when I lived in Mexico – simply sublime.  The side dishes are so-so, but do try the roasted jalapeno served with your plate!

 

I should mention now that I utterly disdain the concept of high-end Mexican food.  I’ve never found any that can beat your average hole-in-the-wall for incredible flavor.   Please check listings on Yelp or Travel Advisor if you wish to find such outlets in Tucson.   Having said that, I’m happy to move somewhat upscale towards splurge territory.  Accordingly, I hereby offer additional Mexican food outlets that offer a bit of atmosphere in addition to yummy food:
  • Elvira’s has been in action somewhere in Northern Mexico/Southern Arizona for as long as I can remember. Their food is a bit on the stuffy side but it is still incredibly delicious.  They couple good food with a truly memorable ambiance.  If the budget allows it, by all means GO!
  • Mexican food is the staple at La Parrilla Suiza – don’t be fooled by the restaurant name’s translation of “The Swiss Grill” – this is a wonderful place to eat grub like you’d find in Mexico City.  I am particularly fond of their chilaquiles, which are tortilla chips smothered in a rich red enchilada sauce and melted cheese.  Their alambres de res (beef) or pollo (chicken) are also amazing.  You can enjoy them together as the best combo plate on the planet – #17 on their menu.

    salsa
    Um… yum.
  • There are various “Molina” or “Molinito” restaurants scattered about town. Try googling the one term or the other and add “near me” when in Tucson to find your nearest iteration, which will be called Casa Molina, El Molinito, or Casita de Molina.  Whichever you choose, I heartily recommend the cheese crisp, which is a large flour tortilla covered with cheese.  Another local delicacy is the carne seca, which is beef that has been dried in the Tucson sun and rehydrated with spices.  Order it here in a burrito, and thank me later.
  • Poco and Mom’s serves up delectable New Mexico style Mexican food. Its Tanque Verde location is located in a cute southwestern-style shopping center directly on the way to either Sabino Canyon or Mount Lemmon.
  • If there’s one delight Tucsonans take almost as seriously as Mexican food, it’s steak. Both are served up in blissful harmony at downtown’s highly-rated Charro Steak.  I would strongly advise non-carnivores to examine the menu online ahead of time.

 

Products and books you might wish to try!

 

 

 

 

But it’s a dry heat…! Enjoying Tucson, Arizona

 

Tucson.  But it’s a dry heat, man!  If you travel here in the summer, Tucson’s “low season,” you’re in luck.  Prices are lower, the streets are less crowded, the evenings are glorious, and there is, I hope, good swimming for you to enjoy somewhere.  The Old Pueblo, facetiously called The Armpit of the Universe during the warm season, is a terrific year-round destination; it’s never really too cold or too hot to do anything fun.

Tucson Arizona

The Sonoran desert terrain, of which Tucson forms part, is so striking, so different than anything else on earth thanks to its towering Saguaro cactus, its unique desert critters and southwestern style architecture.  This ain’t at all the barren Sahara.  One of the most glorious aromas on earth is the scent of the desert creosote after a summer monsoon rain.  But if you’re here virtually any other time, what are you waiting for?  Go on… take a hike!

 

OutdoorsThe best thing to do in Tucson almost any time of year is, in my opinion, hanging out at the pool.  It doesn’t matter if it’s your grandma’s neighborhood pool, your stuffy hotel pool, or the city’s lone waterpark, The Breakers (which is technically in Marana, a suburb northwest of Tucson).  My teens even enjoy swimming at Tucson’s extremely economical public pools, which often have a waterslide, diving board, or both, along with fun local kids to share a splash with.   Staying cool and beating the heat is where it’s at.

JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort
JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort

The best Aquatics Center in the area, hands down, lies within another of Tucson’s suburbs, Oro Valley.  And of course, really lucky teens staying at an area resort never really have to get out of the pool.   Of the many resorts in Tucson, we prefer to splurge at the JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort.  This gorgeous Tucson hideaway has a waterslide, lazy river, splash pads, hot tubs, and two separate and distinct sparkling pools for when sharing a large body of water with your little sister Chaedynne is Just. Not. Happening.

 

 

OutdoorsMiscellaneousGood eatin'My kids and I aren’t into shopping much, probably because so many shops are boring corporate clones of one another no matter where you go.  Fortunately, Tucson is blessed with an edgy yet historic district of unique shopping and dining experiences, easily accessed by taking the tram from either downtown or the University of Arizona Main Gate area.  This easy to amble shopping district is known as Fourth Avenue.   The people watching here is amazing.  There is no better place in town to play a rousing game of Who can count the most facial piercings?  Reward the winner with a delicious Italian meal from Caruso’s.  It’s been around since forever.  Dine on the patio if the weather is at all amenable!

 

IndoorsCultureIf arts & crafts is your bag, or ever was your bag, or you wish it were your bag, or you just think little things are cute no matter what –  I heartily suggest you stop by the blessedly air conditioned Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures.   It seems that a cadre of dedicated folks have made a hobby of decorating miniature doll houses and figurines.  Sounds like fun, but what’s truly remarkable is how the museum visitor is encouraged to examine these small structures up close, thereby essentially immersing him or herself in another place — or time — in 3D.  A room that especially enchants young children features a magical array of miniature fairies and folk tale characters.

 

OutdoorsTranspoBordering Saguaro National Park East, you’ll giddy up in style at Houston’s Horseback Riding.  Trail rides with Houston’s are available no matter your horseback riding skill or experience.  The vistas out here are simply phenomenal, and you’ll surely see incredible wildlife that doesn’t venture beyond the sticks.  If you’re staying in Tucson for at least a week or so in the summer, why not sign up for one of their horsemanship camps?   Whatever you do at Houston’s, you’ll learn a lot and have fun riding their sweet horses.

 

OutdoorsOne of the most awesome day trips you’ll ever take lies right on the edge of suburbia within the northeast side of Tucson.  Sabino Canyon is here, in the Coronado National Forest; it’s absolutely gorgeous, easy to get to and features hikes in levels anywhere from challenging to easy enough for your little brother.  Stop first at the Visitor’s Center to learn more about the local flora and fauna, grab a tram into the belly of the beast if you like and get ready for an exhilarating adventure into a sublime desert panorama.  Cool off with a dip in a refreshing, natural pool.

 

OutdoorsMiscellaneousGet out of bed super early and head towards the most amazing outdoor museum in the southwest.  We love visiting the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum, part zoo, part aquarium, part natural history gallery and part botanical garden, for its comprehensive array of desert critters and beautiful desert flora.  If you get here too late, especially on a warm summer day, the critters will probably be asleep out of sight.  Even if this is the case you can still see the creepy lizards, snakes and spiders in the indoors exhibits, and the hummingbirds in their own covered walk-through aviary.  Careful though: if you’re wearing red, you’re lunch!

 

OutdoorsDay trips are agreeable enough, but why not grab a tent and some s’mores supplies and rough it for an evening somewhere in the Coronado National Forest along the Catalina Highway, also known as the Mt Lemmon Scenic Byway?  This incredible road up the Catalina Foothills (the most imposing peaks you see when you’re within the city limits) traverses through several natural biomes on your way towards the summit, culminating in alpine forest at the top.  Get this: the southernmost ski area of the country is right here, above the sweltering desert valley!  Even if you don’t hit the slopes, there is plenty to do, such as ride the ski lift or admire the sky island vegetation during a long hike.  Future astronomers need to check out the University of Arizona’s mountaintop SkyCenter; everyone should find an appealing spot on the Byway to pull over and enjoy a night under the desert stars.


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And a word about Cincinnati Chili

Adventurous-minded travelers only!  Do try our world-famous Cincinnati-style chili.
Gold Star Chili logo
One of Cincinnati’s largest chili parlor chains – dare to try it!

But be forewarned!  This is not the stuff you load up with chili peppers or serve in a bowl with cornbread.  “Cincinnati style chili” should really be renamed “Cincinnati-style meat sauce” for proper accuracy.  The thin, ground-beef based concoction is really quite tasty.  You’ll find the chili to be ever-so-slightly sweet, with hints of exotic spices

Cincinnati chili
Care for some chili with that cheese?

that together blend magnificently with cheddar cheese and, in my opinion, minced onions.

 

HOW IT’S SERVED

Most commonly served on spaghetti or “cheese coneys,” the sauce (the chili) is the one thing Cincinnatians miss the most when they travel.

 

A simple, kid-friendly combination of ingredients is known as a “three way” and consists of spaghetti, chili and mounds of cheddar cheese.  A “four way” adds your choice of beans or onions.  For a “five way” add both.  If you want a hotdog with just chili and cheese, simply request a “cheese coney.”  You can ask for it to be served with mustard and/or onions.  A common alternative to the above is the coney without the dog, known as a “chili cheese sandwich.”

 

Again – be forewarned – most (okay, pretty much all) of the non-natives I’ve met here do not care for it.  Born and bred Cincinnatians, however, would happily hook themselves up to a chili IV.  The two most ubiquitous chili chains in the city are Skyline  and Gold Star.  You seriously can’t sling a hot dog more than a few yards in any direction within greater Cincinnati without hitting one or the other.

 

Try a four-way today, and let me know your thoughts!

 

-Maggie

Columbus – Ohio’s Capital of Fun

“The Ohio State University… and the insignificant environs over which it forever reigns” would probably be an apt moniker for Columbus, the capital of Ohio.  With a population of over 850,000, there’s a lot going on within the city and off campus, even though die-hard Buckeye fans might think otherwise.  Cee-bus, as we like to call it in Ohio, will entertain you even if you don’t bleed OSU’s famous crimson and gray.  The good stuff can be a little difficult to find, but that’s what I’m here for.

IndoorsColumbus’ own science museum is called the Center of Science and Industry, or COSI (pronounced “Co-Sigh”).  Much of it is geared towards younger folks, but there are cool exhibits for all ages of both permanent and temporary varieties.   My favorite is the “Progress” exhibit, which entices the visitor on a fun pathway of technology from the years 1898 and 1962.   Movies on the Giant Screen Theatre and multiple live shows are available multiple times per day.  We recommend visiting as early in the day as possible.  On weekends the cavernous hall fills up rapidly with families; weekdays see the usual school groups.   Buy your tickets online and avoid the line!

 

Zoombezi Bay, Columbus
Zoombezi Bay fun

OutdoorsSeasonalI’m seriously not sure that any visit to Ohio’s capital city would be complete without a stop at its world famous Columbus Zoo.  Its famous former director, Jack Hanna, still films here and greets guests as his schedule permits!  Plan on a full day of walking and enjoying the magnificent animal exhibits and aquarium.  Summertime, and the animals would rather snooze in the summer heat than entertain you?  No worries!  Take the time – and extra expense – to chill out at the water park adjacent to the zoo, Zoombezi Bay.

 

TranspoOutdoorsNow that you’ve sampled the animal delights at the zoo grounds, why not take an afternoon experiencing life up in the air the way the monkeys do?  Columbus offers a magnificent opportunity to do just that at the ZipZone.  According to the attraction’s website, “The (ZipZone) adventure park is a series of platforms in the trees connected by ladders, bridges, ropes, ziplines and obstacles of every kind, all situated in a beautiful forest on the edge of the city.”   Be sure to carefully peruse the park’s website for more information on making reservations, what happens during inclement weather, what to do if you’re afraid of heights, etc.

 

OutdoorsLooking for a casual, inexpensive day out?  An outstanding, partially forested lake and park facility is located within the city of Columbus itself at Sharon Woods Metro Park.  Locals and tourists alike come here to marvel at the great outdoors along its many paved and unpaved trails, perfect for biking, jogging, hiking, picnicking and strolling.  Fishing in the lake is encouraged if you are 15 or younger.  If you’re visiting the capital city with Fido, he is more than welcome here (on a leash, natch).

 

CultureIndoorsWould it be a shocker to admit that my intellectually remarkable kids get tired of cultural museums when we travel?  As their Mom, I get tired of trying to keep them entertained while simultaneously helping them glean an appreciation of the exhibits.  The Columbus Museum of Art to the rescue!  Many of the permanent displays in this compact museum hail from world-famous artists of modern eras.  If that weren’t enough to warm the cockles of your art sophisticate self, the museum overflows with interactive displays and miniature hands-on art endeavors for kids of all ages to get into.   Our family had a lot of fun building pipe cleaner sculptures on a particularly memorable Sunday.  Kudos to this fabulous place for truly having something for everyone and working tirelessly (!) to intensify kids’ creativity. [Read more here about my artistic daughter and me roadtripping to the museum in January, 2018!]

 

Good eatin'CultureIt’s a huge stretch to denote German Village as a Columbus cultural must-see.  But Imma do it anyway, at least if you promise to visit Schmidt’s Sausage Haus.  Splurge on their buffet, which they call the “German Autobahn Buffet,” when you’re super hungry, and sample the multitudes of German wursts begging for a taste.  The so-called “Bahama Mama” is an especially delectable version, which you can enjoy while pondering its mysteriously-nicknamed Caribbean island moniker.  Another challenge: saving enough room to split a half-pound cream puff!  Ja, das ist sehr gut!

 

OutdoorsOnce you’ve busted a gut at the ‘Haus, do shop for German candies and knickknacks at the gift shop across the parking lot in front of the restaurant.  Then, be sure to stroll through German Village and enjoy its historic architecture and atmosphere.  The neighborhood, while lovely, seems to have little other than Schmidt’s that reminds one visually, or viscerally, of any past travels to Deutschland.  Nevertheless, the area is unique, and a welcome diversion from the monochromatic, cookie-cutter McMansions so popular in today’s exurbia.  Which kind of neighborhood would you prefer to live in?

 

IndoorsI don’t want to hear how much you hate to read.  You only think so because your ELA teacher forces you to read a particular classic instead of whatever graphic novel series is currently in vogue.  Luckily, you WILL find graphic novels, classic tomes, and more than you ever dreamed of at the fabulous Book Loft located in the heart of the German Village.  It has, I kid you not, 32 (yes, 32) actual ROOMS of every kind of book imaginable.  It’s just an amazing place to “get lost” – in a book – in a bookstore.

Cincinnati – Awesome Places to Check Out

Home of almost a million folks, the “Queen City” enthralls visitors with its major league sports teams, unique food treats and special place in history.  This is the town that put the Underground Railroad on the map, nestled as it is for many miles against the mighty Ohio River.  Noteworthy is the city’s orientation on “Seven Hills,” many of which recall San Francisco due to the steepness and architectural history.  Cincinnati does love its Victorian houses!

Adult visitors will no doubt appreciate Cincinnati’s ever popular food and drink scene.  Never fear, though, my teenaged friends.  Here are some really rad things to do here:

 

Outdoors

Purple People Bridge:

Purple People Bridge
The Enquirer/Anna Bentley

The most interesting passage between northern Kentucky and the Central Business District (downtown) of Cincinnati picturesquely traverses the mighty Ohio River.  Pedestrian only, and only a half mile long, the officially named “Newport Southbank Bridge” is outfitted with park benches, wrought-iron handrails, gooseneck streetlights, security cameras, call boxes for emergencies, and the always-there-when-you-need-’em trashcans.  What a fabulous way to introduce yourself to the city at your own pace and enjoy its glamorous panorama!

 

Good eatin'Graeter’s Ice Cream:  Folks, this is very likely the most incredible ice cream you will ever experience.  The proprietors use old-fashioned ice cream-making procedures, which, combined with the old-fashioned, pure ingredients, make a modern mouth as happy as could be!  Especially recommended are any flavors with chocolate chips.  If you do nothing else in Cincinnati, you cannot leave without experiencing truly remarkable Graeter’s.

 

Good eatin'Good (if pricy) eatin’ along the Ohio River:  Beg, borrow and plead with your folks to take you to one or all, which share gorgeous river views, remarkable food and terrific service:

A special treat that Cincinnatians are happy to indulge in is Montgomery Inn.  It’s most famous entrée is barbecued ribs (well, boiled ribs… served with barbecue sauce) that fall off the bone.  The sauce may be a bit sweeter than most people are used to.  It’s still very much worth trying; just hie to the bathroom after the meal’s over and brush your teeth right away.  The best thing about this Montgomery Inn location is its orientation right on the Ohio River.  There is good seating here with fabulous views of the river and beyond.

The Yard House is an upscale eatery with truly unique entrees, rock music to please your fuddy duddy parents and a fabulous vibe for the young and young-at-heart.  It’s a chain restaurant that’s perfect for splurging on very good food and enjoying all that the Cincinnati riverfront has to offer.

Continuing with the upscale eatery on the river theme, I had the pleasure of dining at Moerlein Lager House around the holidays when the extended family came to visit.  The convivial atmosphere and terrific views over the river were both conducive to good conversation, and the food was as good as any I’ve tried in the area.  It’s evident that a love of sports permeates the place, given its primo location between Paul Brown Stadium and the Great American Ballpark.  Highly recommended!

 

CultureIndoorsCincinnati Music Hall:

View of the Music Hall from the park

I am positively giddy, because my mother-in-law has invited the kids and me to a chorale event in this freshly renovated, late nineteenth century architectural treasure next month.  It’s a given that the music will be phenomenal.  As to the building, and the source of my excitement?   To quote Otto M Budig, Jr: “This renovation will affirm Music Hall as one of the world’s greatest performance venues, celebrate the hall’s remarkable history, breathe new life and accessibility into the Music Hall experience and lay the foundation for a bright future. People from all over the country will look to Music Hall as one of the greatest renovations and restorations of this century.”

 

CultureIndoorsCincinnati Art Museum:   In May 1886, a permanent art museum was completed in Cincinnati and heralded worldwide as “The Art Palace of the West.”

Cincinnati Art Museum. Cavernous

Another really cool building, this one is nestled within the embrace of the aptly-named Eden Park.  This treasure trove houses thousands of pieces of fine art spanning centuries.  For lovers of art of all sorts, this is a must-see venue, which you can top off with a stroll around the gorgeous park.  There is no cost for general admission, and the museum strives to bust out of any stuffy mcstuffiness by appealing through its events and programs to teens and families.

 

SeasonalKing’s Island:   Is there a teenager anywhere in the tri-state area who hasn’t heard of all the delights on offer at this ginormous theme park just north of Cincinnati?   I’ve seriously lost count of the number of roller coasters on hand.  The Beast, my favorite, looms both very large… and very wooden.  When you are old enough to have witnessed the way wood deteriorates over time, well… let’s just say the fright engendered by this coaster is severely underrated.  The park is an easy drive from anywhere in the city, or plan a stay at a nearby motel.  Great Wolf Lodge, a magical treat for your little brother or sister, lies adjacent to the park.

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