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San Marcos Staycation/Vacation Ideas

This is a sponsored post partnered with San Marcos Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram. All opinions are honest and are my own.

When people think about vacationing in Texas, most will think of the coast, especially during the summer. But now that fall is almost here, it’s the perfect time of year to hop in the car and visit other places around the state. My first recommendation? San Marcos and the surrounding area. There are so many fun things to do beyond just floating the river and visiting Schlitterbahn. Here are some fun things to do on a fall getaway or staycation:

Wonder World Cave and Park. This attraction has something for everyone – a cave tour, a wildlife park, anti-gravity house, observation tower, and more. This is a great spot for families!

Three Dudes Winery. This winery has a tasting room and terrace, and is perfect to sit and relax with friends or your significant other.

Outlet Mall. If you like to shop ’til you drop, you will LOVE these outlets. There are two sections filled with tons and tons of stores, and there are great eating options in the area too. This would be perfect for a trip with your friends, and you could follow up your shopping excursion with a trip to the winery.

Meadows Center Glass-Bottom Boat Tours. Visitors on these tours will learn about the local ecosystem and will get a close look at turtles, prawns, various species of fish, and other aquatic animals. You can also add on to your boat tour and take a stroll through their floating boardwalk. This would be a fun outing for families with younger kiddos, or nature enthusiasts.

Beach Road Trip Options for the Perfect Texas Weekend Getaway

This is a sponsored post partnered with Cuero Dodge Chrysler Jeep Ram. All opinions are honest and are my own.

If you live in Texas, you know just how huge the state is. It can take forever to get from one part to another, but the benefit of such a large area is that there are lots of options for road trip vacations. And one of the best places to vacation? The beach, of course! 

Just hop in the car and hit the road to one of these great Texas beach towns, and you can kick your feet back in the sand before you know it.

Port Aransas/Mustang Island: With 18 miles of shoreline and wide, sandy beaches, it’s no wonder it’s been ranked one of the best beaches in Texas. There are great things to do year-round, including festivals and events like the annual BeachtoberFest, the Whooping Crane Festival and Texas SandFest. 

North Padre Island/Corpus Christi: North Padre doesn’t get as much attention as South Padre Island, but it’s a great beach destination and has the benefit of being incredibly close to Corpus Christi, which provides a lot of dining and entertainment activities. The island offers abundant nature, seashore breezes, scenic views, and a relaxing, laid back community of coastal homes and vacation spots nestled in the dunes and along the water’s edge.

Matagorda Bay: This area boasts 22 miles of beach accessible by vehicle. Tent camping is also allowed on Matagorda Beach, and for the “treasure hunters” out there, you’ll find a lot more than the customary seashells – people have found driftwood, bottles, sand dollars, and even old Spanish coins.  

Tips for Bargain Road Trips

This is a sponsored post partnered with Elliott Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram of Carthage. All opinions are honest and are my own.

We love to take road trips in our family. Yes, there’s something to be said for the ease of flying, but road trips are where memories are made. The random little stops you find along the way, the silly games you play as a family to pass the time, and the crazy stories that come about after hours together in the car on the road – they’re all a part of the charm, and they’re all things your family will talk about for years to come.

If you’re taking a road trip, you already know one major benefit – it’s typically so much cheaper than flying somewhere. This is especially the case if you have multiple children. The cost of driving two people somewhere (and even staying at a hotel) is pretty much exactly the same as the cost of driving four people.

There are lots of things we’ve discovered as a result of our many road trips that help save even more money, and I thought I’d share some of the tips with you in case they can help you too:

Buy travel-sized bottles at Dollar Tree: You can actually find travel-sized toiletries here, too (and everything is a dollar, so you know you won’t be overcharged), but if you have a pricey shampoo you just adore, package your own travel-sized items instead of shelling out more money to buy small sizes of your favorite products.

While you’re at Dollar Tree… if you’ve got kids, stock up on a few fun little surprises to unveil along the way. You can use these as prizes for road trip games, or as rewards for good behavior, or even just as something to break up the monotony of sitting in the car. Buy some candy (not chocolate! You don’t want it to melt in the heat of summer) to save, too – then, when you stop at gas stations you won’t have to pay higher prices for snacks and trinkets because you’ve already got your own! If you have room for a cooler, bring your own bottled water and other drinks, too.

Check travel sites for hotel deals: Many sites like Hotwire, Priceline, and even Expedia offer mystery hotels for drastically reduced prices. If you’re not super picky about what chain you stay at, you can end up getting a really nice hotel for a truly bargain price. We’ve stayed at hotels before that would typically be way out of our price range, but are totally affordable by taking advantage of these mystery deals.

Research gas prices: There are apps galore out there that let you know what gas prices are down the road so you can plan ahead where to stop and get the best deal in the vicinity. Don’t wait until you’re out in the middle of nowhere and are forced to pay a higher price because it’s your only option.

Plan ahead for activities: Don’t just wing it when you get to your destination city. Look up what activities there are to do, and more importantly, hunt for coupons online. You can typically find discounts for places and end up saving lots of money by buying tickets ahead of time rather than at the door/gate.

Five Great Texas Cities for Summer Road Trips

This is a sponsored post partnered with Lonestar Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram San Antonio. All opinions are honest and are my own.

If you live in Texas you know it’s pretty much big enough to be its own country. Did you know if you drive from El Paso to Texarkana it’d take you about 12 hours? It’s huge! Luckily, though, if you’re in the Hill Country, there are tons of great cities all within a few hours’ drive that make great vacation destinations. Here are a few you should add to your must-visit list:

San Marcos/New Braunfels: While these are two separate cities, we usually visit both when we visit one. San Marcos is a favorite for me because it’s got amazing outlet stores perfect for stocking up on back-to-school clothes, and our whole family loves New Braunfels because of Schlitterbahn water park. Gruene is another small town nearby – just hop in the car and take a short drive to get there – that has great live music and a restaurant called the Grist Mill that is a favorite.

Fredericksburg: This is a great town for a weekend visit. It’s small, so you can see it all in a day, but there’s a laid-back vibe that’s great for relaxing and enjoying time with your family or friends. Stay at one of the many B&Bs and you’ll have a place to visit after everything closes down for the day. There are tons of restaurants, stores, and wineries to visit.

Austin: It’s the state capital, so it’s kind of a given for places to visit in Texas, but this city is more than just the heart of downtown. The surrounding cities have a ton to offer, too, and you can avoid the traffic and crowds if you hit the outskirts. Georgetown, Leander, Round Rock (catch a Round Rock Express baseball game – they’re a blast!), and Cedar Park all have great local restaurants and opportunities galore for walking, biking, canoeing, fishing, and enjoying the outdoors.

• San Antonio: This is another city that many think of when planning a Texas vacation, but it’s for good reason – there is SO much to do. Whether you’re visiting the Alamo (it’s smaller than you think it is, so be prepared!), cruising down the river along the River Walk, or enjoying some amazing TexMex, it’s just a lot of fun all around. If you visit, get a hotel along the river and you won’t even need a vehicle – you can walk (or take a boat ride) to get to all sorts of shops and restaurants.

You might live in one of the cities/areas I mentioned above, and if you do, I encourage you to view your city like a tourist and enjoy a staycation!

Family Road Trip Destination: Portland, Oregon

This is a sponsored post partnered with Legacy Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram. All opinions are honest and are my own.

I’ve traveled to many states around the country, but have never made it to any along the west coast. Portland, Oregon is one city that I’ve always wanted to go to, and it would make a great long weekend road trip from anywhere in the northwest. Here are a few great ideas for things you can do in Portland for a fun, kid-friendly visit:

Pips & Bounce: You might think it’s odd to suggest a bar as a family destination, but this one is definitely a place the whole family will enjoy – and it’ll get you moving, too. How? Ping pong! This bar boasts 10 ping pong tables and a broad menu (kids meals, too) along with craft cocktails. There’s something for everyone and it would make a unique lunch stop, for sure.

• Playdate PDX: This is a family-owned indoor playground and café meant for adults and kids to both enjoy. They boast a three-level jungle gym, ball cannon room, two interactive dance floors, and a toddler room for ages 3 & under. Their cafe serves pizza, salads, paninis, wraps, kombucha, craft beer, local Oregon wine, and espresso drinks – perfect for adults to relax while the kids burn off some energy. 

Oaks Amusement Park: This park has been running since 1905, and is located in a historic neighborhood in Portland. There are 20 rides, a roller skating rink, miniature golf, arcade games, concessions, and more.

Family Road Trip Destination: Philadelphia

This is a sponsored post partnered with Reedman Toll Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram of Springfield. All opinions are honest and are my own.

It’s summer, and that means vacation time for many families. Sometimes that means jetting across the country – or across the world – and sometimes it means hopping in the car for a road trip. If you’re in the northeast, Philadelphia is a great road trip destination for families. Here are a few of the best kid-friendly activities in Philadelphia to make your road trip a great one:

Please Touch Museum: This museum is just what it sounds like – a place where kids are encouraged to touch and interact with everything inside. There’s a miniature supermarket, a hedge maze that feels like you’re in a fairy tale, a STEAM-friendly water area with lots of opportunities for experimenting, a car room, a rocket room, a camping room, a garden, and much more.

• Franklin Square: This is one of Philadelphia’s five original squares, so there’s a definite historic element to it that’s very cool, but it’s also a super-fun place filled with kid-friendly options. The center of the square is the fountain, which is being updated this summer to include lights, music, and “dancing” water. There’s also a miniature golf course with 18 holes, and there are all sorts of fun nods to history like the Ben Franklin Bridge and the Liberty Bell. The classic carousel is always a hit, and SquareBurger is a place any kid would love to eat, with burgers, hot dogs and more.

• Treetop Quest Philly: This aerial adventure park lets you maneuver from tree to tree through obstacles and zip-lines. There are over 60 to choose from, and safety is a priority so you and your kids (ages 4 and up) can have a blast without worry.

Las Ramblas Restaurant – Delicious Dining on the RiverWalk

We received meals at Las Ramblas to facilitate our review. This post was not compensated monetarily. All opinions are honest and are our own.

Earlier this month we went on a mini-vacation to San Antonio. We loved it, and will probably go back again next year – the Riverwalk area is a fun, laid-back, very  walkable place to be, with all sorts of attractions nearby. We stayed at the Hotel Contessa & I wrote about our great experience here

When I planned our trip I thought about three things – lodging, entertainment, and meals. When we’re on vacation I love trying new places, but when we’re traveling with kids we have to also think about places that have kid-friendly environments and kid-friendly food offerings!

Our first night in town we kept things incredibly easy and ate in the Hotel Contessa’s restaurant, Las Ramblas. It was really nice to be able to just take the elevator down to river level and be at the restaurant within minutes of leaving our hotel room.

Las Ramblas’ aesthetic feels modern and elegant. My favorite touch in the whole space is their beautiful black & white floors, and the kids thought the spiraling column was amazing. You can see both in the photo below.

LasRamblas-Decor

And of course since Las Ramblas is a part of Hotel Contessa it’s located right on the Riverwalk. We had great views out the windows by our table. You can’t really see the view in the photo below, but you can see there was a whole wall of windows & doors along the river. There’s also a patio area for eating outdoors if you prefer.

Boys-LasRamblas

Las Ramblas feels very upscale so I was a little concerned about kids’ options before we went. I was pleasantly surprised to see they had many choices for our kids to pick from! E & C both had mini corn dogs and J picked (as always) chicken tenders. Our waiter was great (the service at Las Ramblas was consistently helpful, happy, and friendly each time we ate there) and put their food orders in at the same time as our appetizer so they didn’t have to wait as long to get started eating.

Speaking of appetizers… we had their spinach artichoke dip, and OH MY GOODNESS it was seriously, no joke, the best spinach artichoke dip I’ve ever had. It had caramelized onions, goat cheese, and bacon in it, which elevated it to a whole new level from other dips we’ve had before.

LasRamblas-SpinachArtichokeDip-Plate

I had to slide the plate over by Brian or I seriously could’ve eaten the whole thing.

LasRamblas-SpinachArtichokeDip-Single

For my meal I ordered the beef filet. It came with charred tomatoes, cipollini,  onions, potatoes, and Texas mushrooms. The plate also had a red wine jus that perfectly complimented everything in the dish. I was really impressed with my food. I am the rare Texan that likes my steak cooked medium-well, and that can be a challenge when it comes to filets. My steak from Las Ramblas was cooked perfectly. It was tender and juicy (even my medium-rare-steak-loving husband agreed). I’ve been to many steakhouses having lived in Texas my whole life, and this steak made my top three, for sure.

LasRamblas-Steak

Brian had the Texas striped bass with English peas, summer squash, sweet corn, and was topped off with corn butter. His dish was plated beautifully and really felt summery.

LasRamblas-Fish

For dessert the kids had ice cream and Brian and I split the molten chocolate cake.

E-IceCream-LasRamblas

LasRamblas-Dessert

The cake was rich with a fruit sauce, chocolate sauce, and fresh berries accompanying it. It was a great end to a really decadent meal!

We ate at Las Ramblas for breakfast both mornings of our trip. Their breakfast buffet is the perfect choice for families because there’s something for everyone. They had plenty of hot food items like scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, and oatmeal along with pastries, fresh fruit, yogurt, and cereal.

LasRamblas-BreakfastBuffet

LasRamblas-Fruit

LasRamblas-Breakfast

We loved it because we were all able to get plenty of fuel to energize our day with a big, hearty breakfast!

If you’re visiting the Riverwalk and are looking for a special spot, be sure and check out Las Ramblas. You can view their menu – and make reservations – online here

Our Stay at Hotel Contessa on the San Antonio Riverwalk

We received one free night & one media-rate night to facilitate our review. This post was not compensated monetarily. All opinions are honest and are our own.

We have been on the road a LOT the past year – we traveled to Mississippi and Florida in November, and to Alabama and Illinois in April. After all these long drives, we knew we wanted to vacation somewhere fairly close and keep things laid-back. San Antonio was the perfect place – we hadn’t been there in several years (E had never been) and the whole vibe of the Riverwalk is just relaxing.

I researched hotels before we traveled, because I’ll fully admit up front that I’m kind of a hotel snob. I want the place we stay to be high-quality and feel like a treat… but with three kids, we also need someplace that is family friendly. That can be a hard balance to strike! My internet search quickly revealed an ideal option – the Hotel Contessa.

Photo courtesy of hotelcontessa.com

Photo courtesy of hotelcontessa.com

The location is perfect. It’s right on the Riverwalk, and it’s near to a lot of attractions (we walked over to the Alamo our first night and it was just a 10-minute walk). You can see where it’s located on the map below – it’s marked with a red circle.

RiverwalkMap

The hotel is beautiful. The lobby is bright, modern, elegant, and welcoming – and you’re greeted with a painting of Contessa herself.

E-ContessaPainting

There’s a lounge area on the river level with a bar and Las Ramblas restaurant (I’ll be doing another post about that soon, so keep an eye out!). Here’s a view of the lounge area:

Contessa-Lounge

There are great views from the hotel, too:

ViewFromWindow-Contessa

The kids loved that the hotel is equipped with glass elevators – you’d almost think they were an attraction themselves!

Here’s E super excited and ready to go up to our room:

E-Suitcase

Now let’s talk rooms. Location is key, but you also want a room that has enough space, right? Our room was perfect for a family of five. It was actually a suite with a living area and bedroom separated by the bathroom and a snack area with mini-fridge. And the decor is just perfect. It’s modern and urban feeling, but the art provides a Texas touch. I especially loved the exposed brick wall!

Couch-Contessa

GreenChair-Contessa

This chair was the coveted spot in our suite. The kids LOVED it and took turns spinning each other in it (and, let’s be real, they totally fought over who got to sit in it)!

Contessa-Bedroom

The bedroom was bright and airy – and we had a river view.

FrenchDoors-Contessa

There were beautiful wooden French doors leading into the bathroom. And seriously, whoever did the lighting design in this bathroom was genius. It was cozy and warm, and the whole space felt like a spa.

Bathroom-Contessa

There were two beds in the bedroom, but our kids all ended up sleeping out in the living area. The couch had a fold-out bed and the other portion of the sectional worked perfect for our daughter to sleep on. They thought it was really cool to have their own sleeping space (and we liked being able to watch TV late at night without accidentally waking them up).

KidsSleeping_Contessa

I’ve saved the best for last – the rooftop pool. If that doesn’t sound luxurious, I don’t know what does! The views from the pool were spectacular, especially at night when we could see the lights of downtown. We spent time in the pool both nights and had the best time.

Contessa-Pool

One thing to know when staying at Hotel Contessa is that valet parking is the way to go. It does cost $36 a night, but the convenience in the middle of downtown San Antonio is worth it (there are parking garages nearby if you prefer not to do valet, though).

We will definitely stay at the Hotel Contessa again. The kids have already been asking when we can go back! Find out more & book your stay on the Hotel Contessa site here.

ICE! at Gaylord Texan is the Perfect Family Getaway

We received tickets to ICE! to facilitate our review. All opinions are honest and are our own.

We, like most other families, feel like we’re busy all the time – and especially so during the holidays. It seemed, then, like the perfect idea to get away and do something fun for the whole family. The Gaylord Texan is less than three hours away, and we set our sights on going to the ICE! exhibit.

We stayed one night at the Gaylord as part of our trip, and I can’t recommend enough adding this to your itinerary. It was so nice getting back to our room at the end of a busy day and just relax. I’ll tell you more about our room in a bit (spoiler alert: it was amazing), but first let’s talk about the whole reason we went – ICE! The theme this year is Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, a classic theme that was nostalgic for the adults and charming for the kids.

If you’ve never been to ICE! before, you should know that there are lines to get in – as with anything that’s immensely popular, there are a lot of people that want to go. We knew this ahead of time and were prepared, which made the waiting much more pleasant. Our solution? We bought a huge bag of popcorn and a big bag of cotton candy for the 5 kids to share. This worked great! You might also want to bring along a book for each child (something Christmas-themed would be perfect) to read while you’re waiting.

The Gaylord does a wonderful job of decorating the areas so that it feels magical and fun. In one waiting area, you’re surrounded by what looks like various machines for toy making. In another, there’s a giant rotating ice mountain and mist floating down with snowflakes shining on it.

waiting-gaylord

Once you get very close to entering the exhibit, everyone receives a thick blue parka to wear. Another tip is to bring along your own gloves, hats, and scarves – this helps keep everyone warmer! The kids looked adorable in their parkas.

bluecoats-gaylord

Brian and his mom looked pretty cute, too!

michelle-brian-gaylord

Once we got into the exhibit area I was really pleased with how easy it was to see each exhibit. It didn’t seem crowded at all, and we were able to go through at our own pace without feeling rushed. We could stop and look at all the details, and could take as many photos as we wanted – and trust me, there are so many things to take photos of! The attention to every aspect of the experience is beyond what you’d even expect. It was utterly impressive, and we were all wowed by the artists’ work.

clauses-gaylord-ice

ice-dungeon-gaylord

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icetunnel-gaylord

family-ice-gaylord

Check out the beautiful nativity, too:

nativity-ice-gaylord

At the end of the exhibit there is a whole room filled with ice slides the whole family can go down – the kids thought this was a lot of fun and wanted to go down several times!

iceslide

If you want to check on tickets or get more info on ICE! click here – it’s running through January 1!

Once we left the exhibit we went and got hot chocolate – the perfect treat to warm up with after being SO cold! Afterward we went over to the adjacent area, which had all sorts of activities to choose from. We got to meet some characters:

character-meetup-gaylord

We also did the snow tubing, which was a hit with everyone. We got to go down the slopes 12 times, and the lines moved pretty quickly for this attraction. Living in Texas our chances for tubing down a snowy hill are pretty slim, so this was especially fun for all of us!

j-tubing-gaylord

c-tubing-gaylord

There are so many activities to choose from! We already decided we want to go back next year and try out some of the other options, like cookies & milk with Mrs. Claus, an elf scavenger hunt, and throwing real snowballs!

santas-snowballs-gaylord

We really enjoyed walking around the vast atrium of the Gaylord and looking at all the different decorations. It is absolutely beautiful, and we had fun taking photos at various settings.

reindeerpic-c-gaylord

large-gift-gaylord

kids-wreath-gaylord

kids-fountain-gaylord

wine-trees-gaylord

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kids-sign-gaylord

We did photos with Santa, too!

santapic-gaylord

I’ve got to talk about our room a bit, too, because it was honestly a huge highlight of the trip for the kids too. We walked into the suite and all three of them said “Wow!!!” – I decided to do a little video tour so you can see for yourself what a perfect setup this is for families:

j-roomview-gaylord

e-roomwindow-gaylord

The kids loved the view outside our room and spent a ton of time hanging out on the balcony, looking at lights and watching people walk by. This was our view at night – so pretty, isn’t it?

nightview-snowflakes-gaylord

This was an absolutely wonderful getaway for our family – the kids loved it and didn’t want to leave! They shared their favorite parts of our stay:

We can’t wait to go back and stay at the Gaylord again – they have fun things all throughout the year so we’ll be looking for opportunities to go and have another wonderful weekend getaway!

Ski Trip Tips

I’ve been on a bit of a travel-related post kick lately, with posts on Texas road trips, a Hurst, Texas staycation… and now tips for taking the perfect ski trip.

The Ken Garff dealership had a promo recently for getting ski passes, so I was inspired to write about ski trip planning – I hope these tips will be helpful for you as you plan any spring getaways!

  • Make a list (and check it twice). There’s gear you need for skiing, and you want to make sure you come equipped. You’ll need skis, poles, goggle, a helmet, boots, gloves, a ski jacket, pants, and more.
  • Be an early bird. If you’re renting gear instead of bringing your own, reserve everything ahead of time online or  be sure and get to the store as early as possible to beat the lines and get first dibs on what you need. Get to the slopes early, too, and avoid fighting for a parking spot.

For more tips on planning your perfect ski trip, visit my guest post on the Ken Garff dealership blog.

Staycation: Hurst, Texas

I wrote yesterday about road trip ideas for Texas – there are so many places you can go around the state that make for a great weekend or week-long trip. Of course, you don’t always even have to leave your city to have a great vacation! I wrote a guest post for the Holt Fiat of Hurst dealership blog all about how to have a staycation in Hurst. If you live in the DFW (Dallas/Fort Worth) area, I hope these ideas can help you have a fun weekend with your family:

  • Get in some culture and see a play at the Artisan Center Theater – this is a great spot for couples and families to enjoy.

For more ideas of things to do, check out my post on the Holt Fiat of Hurst blog!

Three Texas Road Trip Ideas

My family and I love to take road trips – and living in Texas, we have a lot of options as far as places to go. Texas is a huge state, of course; you could go to west to El Paso or east to Tyler, north to Amarillo or south to Houston.

If you’re one of my Texas readers, or if you’d like to do some Texas travel, you’re in luck – here are some ideas for places to go and things to do:

  • Waco: Roughly 90 minutes away from Dallas/Fort Worth, this city has gained popularity recently due to a popular show on HGTV. People are flocking to Magnolia Market, and it’s a fun stop for shopping – and dining, too. The store sits alongside a plot of land that houses food trucks and benches with tables, and a big patch of faux grass for kids to run and play. You can visit the Cameron Park Zoo for a less-crowded animal-viewing experience, stop by the Dr. Pepper museum, enjoy a stroll across the suspension bridge, and even take the kids to see a real mammoth excavation site.

Read more about Texas road trip destinations in my guest post on the Holt Fiat of Fort Worth dealership blog.