Thursday, May 19, 2011

Why Vacation Rental Homes Rock

This was the view from the dock in front of our vacation rental home in San Diego. We LOVE renting homes when we go away, especially with kids. We stayed here for almost two weeks, and when you stay that long, it gives you a little sense of home while you're away.

This home was particularly nice because the owner let us take out a kayak and let us use his fishing poles. We were greeted with a bottle of wine when we walked in the the door, and we felt very much at home there.

He also had a pontoon boat that he let us take out for a spin around the lake.

I tried catching a fish but no luck!

The kids really loved playing with the owners' dogs when we went across the street to their home. On our last day there, the owner stopped by and took pictures of our family. Now, most of the time the owners will not be there, but we've had wonderful experiences using  Another good site to check for rentals is

What's been your experience with vacation rentals?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

San Diego Beach Round-Up

After our four days in Las Vegas, we rented a car and drove down to San Diego for two weeks. Finally, we could relax and enjoy two whole weeks together. It was the longest amount of time we have been together since the kids were born.

We went to five different beaches during our two weeks there. Most of the days were very chilly, usually in the low to mid 60's, although it got into the lower 70's a few days. One of our favorite beaches was La Jolla Cove.  It was surrounded by higher cliffs so it blocked off most of the wind, making it more pleasant.

The kids and Steve went exploring a bit in a cave near the beach while I watched and took pictures. The funnest part of this beach is watching the nearby sea lions sunning themselves on the rocks. Parking can be difficult to find, though, so get there early.

We drove across the huge bridge off San Diego's mainland, to a jutting peninsula where we hung out at Coronado Beach.  Parking was great, just off the street across from the beach. The beach has a beautiful stretch of sand and is next to Hotel Coronado, a hotel built in the 1800's.

Since it was so windy, the kids spent most of their time running across the sand. Steve sculpted this Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle for them.

Closer to our rental house, we found the two Carlsbad beaches and spent an afternoon there. It was very, very windy at these beaches, but the kids still wanted to go in the water with Steve. They also loved being buried in sand.

We also checked out the beach in Oceanside. I wish I had pictures of it, but the thing I remember most about this day was climbing the rocks that lead out into the ocean as a natural pier.

I've saved my favorite beach for last. Although it was a 45 minute ride from where we stayed, it was so worth the trek out to Laguna Beach.  It was still pretty windy and cold, but it was really gorgeous and the kids loved, loved, loved climbing on the rocks. We're not a sit on the beach type of family. There always has to be some element of adventure there.

Have you ever been to San Diego?

Monday, May 9, 2011

Great Las Vegas Museums for Kids

We went to two museums while in Las Vegas. Both were really wonderful, especially for kids around the ages of 3-10.  During one of Steve's meetings we rented a car and I drove the kids to the Leid Discovery Children's Museum. We went for free since we have the Explorer's membership with the Chicago Children's Museum. If you haven't looked into a membership at your local children's museum, please do. Also, check out the Explorer's level or the level that gains you admission into children's and other museums across the USA and other countries, too. We saved over $150 using the pass during our trip.

We're used to going to a lot of different children's museums since we live in the Chicago area, but we were sufficiently pleased with this one. Although it's not very big, the museum had a lot of unique exhibits like the one above about how the piping system in your bathroom works.

There was shooting basketballs...

....and an awesome exhibit where you had to balance a round, metal object on a metallic spinning wheel. This enthralled the kids for at least 20 minutes. 

The kids also enjoyed playing car mechanics...

...and airplane pilots.  We only had a little over an hour to spend here and wish we could have stayed longer.

On our way back from San Diego, we drove back to Las Vegas to catch our flight back home. We stayed at a hotel the night before flying back and had time in the morning before our 3:00 flight. So, we stopped in for an hour at the Las Vegas Natural History Museum. The kids were SO disappointed when we had to leave. The museum was fabulous. It was small, but it had excellent hands-on exhibits.

Anyone who loves dinosaurs would be captivated by the great dinosaur exhibits they have at this museum. The funnest part about the exhibit?  Pressing buttons and making each dinosaur move and make sounds. Very, very cool!

There is a special section for younger kids that drew our kids like a magnet. They enjoyed the pretend submarine....

.....but they enjoyed digging for fossils even more. This museum is worth at least three or four hours of your time. If you're in the area, check it out!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

What We Did Love in Las Vegas

Last post I wrote about what we didn't like about Las Vegas, but to be fair, there were quite a few things we did like. For one, we had a great afternoon at the pool at the hotel. I'm pretty much a baby about cold water, so I didn't go in too far, but the kids loved, loved, loved swimming with Steve. We all went into the hot tub afterwards, which I had no problem with!

I personally loved eating out all the time. Steve's work gave us a very generous stipend for food, so we went to the Rainforest Cafe at MGM grand (where we also were able to see the lions), Outback Steakhouse, ordered pizza with room service, and a few other places.

While Steve was in one of his meetings, the kids and I walked over to the Bellagio to check out the indoor botanic gardens. It was pretty small, and the kids were whiny that day and wanted to be carried most of the time, but we did have fun taking silly pictures together.

I think Jared's highlight of Las Vegas was seeing Batman walking down the street and taking a picture with him. We also thought it was pretty cool to see Spiderman walking down the street, by himself, at 9:00 on a Sunday morning.

But the greatest part of Las Vegas was going to Red Rock Canyon. We LOVE the outdoors and this was a gorgeous place to hike. It's kinda crazy how Jared will whine to be held when we walk down the sidewalk, yet he hiked for three hours straight and didn't complain once.

We found a man made pond and had a relaxing time dipping our feet in the water and just chilling out. We had wanted to spot some animals, so it was a little disappointing to only see a beetle and lizard, but the scenery was breathtaking. I highly, highly recommend visiting this great get-away from it all just twenty minutes away from the Strip.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Leaving for Las Vegas

Well, it's May 6th in real time and our big trip has passed, Easter has passed and the kid's birthday has passed, too, and I still need to write about it! I also will share the big project I've been working on the past few months, which has made it hard to stay current with what we've been up to.

So, on March 30th at 7:15 at night, we boarded a plane heading for Las Vegas. To make a long story short, we were planning a trip to Europe this year, but Steve's work had a convention in Las Vegas and was going to fly out every one's families, too, so we decided to take advantage of the free airfare and extend the trip to include two weeks in San Diego, too.

Even though it was late when we landed (11:00 p.m. our time) the kids were raring to go. They climbed on some sculptures in the airport. Jared was in such a good mood that he actually let Steve take this picture with me.  Believe me, we don't get to see this sweet smile in pictures too often; he usually has to be very silly.

We stayed at the hotel Aria which was a nice hotel, I guess. We just were not impressed at all with Las Vegas. It's just not who we are. The hotels are more like mini-cities in themselves. It took us 40 minutes to leave our room, walk through the casino, out through all the complexes outside and across the street to a McDonald's for breakfast. Of course, some of that had to do with the kids wanting to stop every five minutes, but still, it takes a LONG time to get anywhere. Plus, all the hotels smelled like smoke, filtered air, and incense.

Still, it was interesting, at least for the first day, to walk up and down the strip in the morning, looking at all the other hotels and buildings.

If it hadn't been for Steve's work we wouldn't have gone there. And for sure it's not a place to take the kids. I thought things would be fine going out in the morning, but as we were walking down the street, there were people at every corner handing out pictures of topless women. We know because they'd also scatter them all across the sidewalk. And then we walked past an open bar restaurant, butted all the way up to the sidewalk, where some woman with a skirt barely covering her butt and wearing a bra was dancing away on a table with lots of dollar bills sticking out the top of the skirt.

Needless to say, we had to have a few conversations with the kids (Why do people like to take naked pictures of other people, Mommy?), but I guess the conversation would have come anyways. But I am very thankful we were able to travel with Steve rather than be separated from him for a week.