Blog 66: Things to do in Denver, Colorado

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Shannon and Gwen dreamed up this nwaMotherlode feature during a looong drive to a blogger conference in Nashville a few years ago. They interview bloggers across the U.S. (and beyond), looking for tips from the people who know their cities best. Most recently we chatted with bloggers a little closer to home in Little Rock. Twice!

This month, we head over to beautiful Denver with blogger Emily Vanek of Colorado Moms as our guide:

When you’re in Denver, you should definitely plan to eat at …

Casa Bonita! Where else can you see cliff divers and get endless sopapillas? Also Little Man Ice Cream or Sweet Cow Ice Cream are great places to beat the heat.

You do NOT want to miss seeing …

Denver-Mountain-Parks-Logo_smallRed Rocks. A park, hiking trails and the world famous amphitheater. Views of the city are just a hike away!

A few “hidden gems” that only the locals know about …

The splash pad at the Westminster Promenade. Hidden behind the hustle and bustle of the shopping area is a great wade pool area with tons of shade. There is also a great indoor play area at Cherry Creek Mall, perfect to let the kids run around when it’s cold or raining outside.

The most kid-friendly hotels are …

Omni Interlocken has a great kids program. Also the Curtis Hotel Downtown has themed floors and just steps away from the 16th Street Mall.

For couples-only excursions, stay here …

Cheyenne Mountain Resort just 90 minutes south in Colorado Springs. Great views, heated outdoor pool that can be enjoyed year round and great restaurants are nearby.

Cheyenne Mountain Resort

Cheyenne Mountain Resort

If you visit when it’s cold, you can enjoy …

Summit County. Just 90 minutes west to great Ski areas like Keystone, A-Basin, Copper Mountain and Breckenridge!

If you visit in the summer, you’ll like playing here …

water worldWaterWorld! A huge water park with tons of thrill rides, kiddie pools and fun for the whole family!

One of the most awesome things about Denver is …

You are only less than 90 min away from the best ski areas, great outlets malls and many other adventures!

I would describe the “vibe” in Denver as …

Laid back. Don’t be in a hurry, just find a great place to sit and stare at the Rocky Mountains.

Denver is a good vacation choice because …

There are tons of things to do all around Denver and into the mountains. Catch a game at Coors Field, visit the Museum of Nature & Science, take a hike around Bear Creek Lake.

emily vanek, blog 66Emily Vanek is the owner and editor-in-chief of ColoradoMoms.com. Her work is also featured on 5minutesforSpecialNeeds.com, SavvySource.com and TimetoPlayMag.com. She and her husband live with their three sons near Denver. Her youngest child is on the Autism Spectrum, so she is passionate about connecting with parents with special needs. In her spare time, she knits, shops, and reads. She is also a master tortoise wrangler and expert in getting water out of various electronics (don’t ask).

Be a tourist in your own town!

Many of you may have family or friends visiting this week to help celebrate the Fourth of July weekend. If that’s the case at your house, this is a perfect time to act like a tourist in your own town.

Below is a list of some of our readers’ favorite places to visit in Northwest Arkansas.  You’ll find some of their comments below. Most of these suggestions have links, so just click on the activity/location if you want to find out more.

These are also good suggestions if you’re planning a “staycation” this summer!

If we leave out your favorite things to do in Northwest Arkansas, write a comment below and share them with the rest of us!

Oodles of Outdoorsy Options:

Devil’s Den State Park – It’s a beautiful park with a built-in pool, picnic tables, great bridge, swimming pool and river and boat rentals. We brought a picnic and the Frisbee and football and had a blast! If you’re adventurous, you can also go caving. There are also cabins and camping options.

Withrow Springs State Park - (Near Huntsville) Great camping area, swimming pool, playground, hiking trails, fishing and tennis. Canoes, too!

Lake Fayetteville – There’s a lovely park with a playground and picnic tables as well as volley ball nets. It’s on the south side of the park off of Zion Rd – Veteran’s Memorial Park. The bike and frisbee.jpgwalking trails are great and, if you have an off road bicycle, you can ride along the Botanical Gardens. The other thing you MUST do there is a round of Frisbee golf! It’s a blast and takes you by the lake and through the park – although I find I really want to spend some time catching the Frisbee as well as throwing it once we’re done with the 18 baskets.

Speaking of Veteran’s Memorial Park, Northwest Arkansas has an abundance of small, fabulous parks with walking trails, play equipment, and picnic areas. Some of our favorites in Fayetteville are Wilson (you’ll love the rock castle, fish pond and beautiful landscaping), Gulley and Gordon Long (many trees protect the kids on hot summer days).

Lawrence Plaza, just north of the Bentonville Square (at the corner of NE A and Blake streets) features a 7,000 square-foot, multi-use facility that transforms into a splash pad in the summer and an outdoor ice rink in the winter!

index2.jpgGator Golf on College Avenue offers two courses and a free game if you get a hole in one on the 18th hole. You can see a great sunset from there if you catch it right and the course offers some interesting variations.

Farmers Markets! Fayetteville, Rogers, Bentonville. We finally made it last weekend and I can’t believe we waited so long! There is something for everyone there including music, cookies and coffee, breakfast burritos and lots of puppy.jpgamazing produce and flowers. There are even a few crafts. Just be forewarned that in Fayetteville, the animal shelter will be showing their adorable dogs that need to be adopted. It might be too much to resist. I came very close to adopting one myself.

Pea Ridge Battlefield – Walking trails and step back in time. Take a guided tour via tape/CD and hear the battle come to life.

Prairie Grove Battlefield Park – Bring your hand-held GPS, stop by the gift shop for the first set of coordinates and find answers to a sheet of clues they provide. Beautiful walking trails, stroller-ready.

bgo_logo_290x.gifBotanical Gardens of the Ozarks in Fayetteville - Lots of events for both adults and kids. The firefly festival in summer is a great kid event. They also have evening events for adults like “Chefs in the Garden” and a Holiday Farmers’ Market. While the farmers’ market continues, we like to just go on Sunday mornings and walk around when admission is free.

Fayetteville bike trails - These are great for a family outing or couples only.

Tanyard Creek trail in Bella Vista - Great walking trail with streams, a swinging bridge and a waterfall!

Terra Studios in Durham – The kids loved walking around the gardens and paths and looking at all of the strange and unique pottery creatures. You can also watch pottery and bluebirds of happiness being made. Before you leave have a snack in the coffee shop and sit in a really cool booth.

Corn mazes, pumpkin patches and u-pick! There are three corn maze-focused attractions (they all have lots more than the maze) in the area, including Ozark Corn Maze in Cave Springs, Farmland Adventures in Springdale, McGarrah Farms in Pea Ridge, Dickey Farms in Springdale, Vanzant Fruit Farms in Lowell and Lost Corn Maze in Siloam Springs.

Attend a Northwest Arkansas Naturals baseball game!

Modern Mission Outdoor Laser Tag is similar to paintball, but without the projectiles. Off Joyce Avenue in Fayetteville.

The Pinnacle Hills Promenade Mall is an outdoor mall in Rogers. Lots of shopping, restaurants and a movie theatre.

Baby, it’s cold (or hot) outside:

Ozark Bowling Lanes in Fayetteville might fool you from the outside, but they have redone the inside and it is really a very nice bowling alley. There are also pool tables if you need a little variety or for your friends who aren’t as fond of bowling as you might be. My husband and the two boys and I just went for pool one day. I even managed to hit a couple of balls in the pockets!bowling.jpg

Fast Lane Entertainment on N. Dixieland in Lowell is also lots of fun when you’re looking for arcade games, bowling and lazer tag. They’ve got ginormous pizzas, a varied menu for adults and glow-in-the-dark bowling.

Fun City Pizza in Springdale (next to Babies ‘n Beyond) is another great place to let the kiddos play — and it’s brand new. They have arcade games, big slides and tunnels for the kids to play on, indoor mini golf, pizza and salad bar for guests. No admission fee!

The Starlight Skatium is a brand new skating rink on College Avenue in Fayetteville. It’s a great place for birthday parties and for taking the parents wayyyy back.

Arkadia Retrocade in Fayetteville (Evelyn Hills Shopping Center) is a place where parents can go way back! These video games are vintage. $5 cash admission at the door for all-day, old-school video game play. Check out the Facebook page for hours.

Jump Zone in Bentonville is the perfect place for letting the kids blow off steam on humongo inflatables. Also a great birthday place and loads of fun. They often have parents’ nights out and the kids love this place.

Books! Of course the Fayetteville Public Library is world class! It has two floors of books, materials and movies for the whole family. There is a whole section dedicated to the children and a coffee shop where mom can take a break and relax. There’s are also great libraries in Rogers, Springdale (just outside this library’s windows there’s a wonderful park and duck pond for kids to enjoy!) and Bentonville.

The Jones Center for Families in Springdale is absolutely amazing! It has a small water park and pool along with other activities like indoor ice skating, and a playground, basketball, volley ball and 9-hole disc golf. Year-round fun.

Shiloh Museum of Ozark History in Springdale – My kids would spend an hour in the museum. They love the hands-on exhibits. They also have a great history camp in the summer for kids.

Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville opened 11-11-11. There are beautiful trails to wander along, art to enjoy, a library and even a cafe. The 120-acre site of the Museum complex is located within walking distance of the Bentonville town square. Admission is free.

Northwest Arkansas Mall in Fayetteville.

Got any fun ideas we missed and you’d like to share? Click on the comment button below and let us know! For other suggestions by NWA mamas, click here to read our 5 Minutes with a Mom feature. The featured moms usually mention their favorite places to play here. Plus you might just meet a new friend!

Blog 66: Things to do in Little Rock, part 2

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Last month, we mixed it up a little and brought you Blog 66 — the Natural State version.

Sarabeth Jones of thedramatic.com for shared some insider tips and pics with us about her hometown of Little Rock. She told us all about the downtown/Argenta section of the city.

pdcoverToday is Part 2 about Little Rock, focusing on other areas of the city. These recommendations come from Kyran Pittman, a Newfoundland native, author and Little Rock transplant.

When you’re in Little Rock, you should definitely plan to eat at …

Sushi Cafe on Kavanaugh. It’s our favorite date spot, and besides great sushi, they mix a good Manhattan. Try the wok-seared edamame and the Spice Girls roll.

You do NOT want to miss seeing …

Little Rock Central High School. Central High is a perpetual selection on “most beautiful buildings” lists, and deservedly so. The architecture is spectacular. But its history as a battleground in the civil rights movement is even more dramatic. The site is a National Park, as well as an active high school (one of my sons is a student there), so there are guides and interpretative material to enhance your appreciation for this historic monument.

A few “hidden gems” that only the locals know about …

The Arkansas River Trail, our extensive scenic route for cyclists, runners, and walkers. Our favorite part of the trail is Two Rivers Park Bridge at the western end, but it’s all wonderful.

The most kid-friendly hotels are …

My boys have attended a lot of kids sleepover birthday parties at the Embassy Suites in west Little Rock, and they love it. If a hotel can roll with a suite full of sugar-charged 10-year-old boys playing video games all night, they win at kid-friendly.

For couples-only excursions, stay here …

Anywhere I can get breakfast in bed, and someone else cleans the bathroom is a luxury retreat in my book. But if I could choose from any place in town, it would be the Capital Hotel. I’ve never slept there, but I’ve been in the restaurant, bar, and lobby enough to expect sumptuous bed linens and impeccable room service. When celebrities come to town, they stay at the Capital. If it’s good enough for Johnny Depp, I guess it’s good enough for me.

If you visit when it’s cold, try …

If you visit Little Rock when it’s cold, it’s fun to: shop and eat. The Heights neighborhood is a great place to do both, with lots of indie shops to poke around in. Have warm pastry from Boulevard Bakery for breakfast, and a hot bowl of soup at Cheers for lunch. I hardly leave the 72207 zip code unless I’m in a jet plane, but the Promenade at Chenal also has great shopping and dining, especially if you’re coming from a place without an Anthropologie store or J. Crew.

boulevard

If you visit in the summer, try …

The Cajun Sno-cone shack on Kavanaugh Boulevard in Hillcrest. It takes a long time for them to shave the ice, and the asphalt parking lot will be like the surface of the sun, but it will be worth it. “Homemade Ice Cream” is my favorite, with an extra shot of sweetened condensed milk.

One of the most awesome things about Little Rock is …

The many talented and accomplished people who live here. I’m constantly learning about local residents who are doing extraordinary things. I think Little Rock is a perfect home base for people with high profile careers, who want to be able to live quiet personal lives. It’s a place where achievement is appreciated, but not fussed over. Maybe living with the Clintons for years has something to do with that. I don’t what it would take to make Little Rockers lose their cool and forget their manners over somebody who’s a Somebody. Maybe Johnny Depp.

I would describe the “vibe” in Little Rock as ..

“A big small town.” It’s large enough to have the perks of an urban environment, but small enough to feel neighborly. It’s not a place to disappear…I see somebody I know nearly everywhere I go. It’s a wonderful place to feel at home.

kyransittingfenceMORE ABOUT KRYAN: I come from the near-mythical island of Newfoundland, where I grew up as a poet’s daughter–the child of a crazy bohemian tribe of artists, musicians, writers and absent-minded professors. I thought I would live there all my life, until I fell in love with Patrick, when we met online in early 1995. That’s right, back before chat and pictures, when people online weren’t believed to be real. O pioneers! That story is told in my book, Planting Dandelions. It was quite an adventure. But the real adventure has been everything that happened since: coming to Little Rock, getting married, having three kids (all boys), buying a house, trying to keep a house, staying married, and gradually falling in love with America.

Blog 66: Things to do in Little Rock!

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So many times we visit other states and countries, but forget about the great options in our own backyard. We’ll continue to bring you info about travel destinations outside Arkansas, but thought we’d also set the GPS for navigating some of the cities in the Natural State, too.

Today we focus on the downtown/Argenta section of Little Rock. Watch for another Little Rock things-to-do tour next month focusing on other areas of the city.

Thanks to Sarabeth Jones of thedramatic.com for sharing insider tips — and pics — with us today about her hometown (see more about hilarious Sarabeth at the bottom of this post):

When you’re in Little Rock, you should definitely plan to eat at …

Oh my goodness, there are so many wonderful places to eat in Little Rock! Here are a few of my favorites that combine fabulous food with wonderful atmosphere:

Local Lime: lovely fresh Mexican food and margaritas

sarabeth, capital hotelBig Orange: yummy specialty burgers, milkshakes, cocktails. Don’t miss the homemade potato chips!

Capital Bar & Grill: located in the gorgeous Capital Hotel, this place feels like you’re in the middle of everything. The food is delicious & the bar is extensive and excellent.

Mugs Café: Cross the river and come to Argenta for breakfast at Mugs; you’ll love the interesting and beautiful space, coffee and treats.

You do NOT want to miss seeing …

The bridges: The Arkansas River is gorgeous, spend some time with it by crossing one of several pedestrian bridges – Two Rivers takes you out to a peninsula and is short enough for family members of all ages, or the Big Dam Bridge has breathtaking views high above the lock & dam. If you’re downtown, park at Riverfront Park to cross the Junction Bridge, or head down to the Clinton Presidential Library and explore the walkway down by the river, then cross the Clinton Presidential Park Bridge. All 4 of these bridges are open to cyclists as well as pedestrians. At night, the river bridges come alive with beautiful colored lighting.

Downtown: On the Little Rock side of the river, the River Market anchors a vibrant downtown full of shops & restaurants. Wander around, there’s something for everyone here. The North Little Rock downtown area (called Argenta) is much smaller but is home to some great spots, including kitchy Galaxy Furniture, Starving Artist Café, Ristorante Capeo, Crush Wine Bar, and Mugs.

Junction Bridge

Junction Bridge

A few “hidden gems” that only the locals know about …

Tales from the South: This is one of my absolute favorite things – a weekly event that combines great food and drink with music and storytelling. Every Tuesday, Starving Artist Café in Argenta hosts a live reading that’s recorded for Public Radio International. Before the stories, you can eat dinner while local musicians play live music. (pic, below, is of local author Lela Davidson reading one of her essays)

sarabeth, tales from the south, Lela

SOMA (Southside Main Street): Downtown and west Little Rock are well-known, as are the quirkier neighborhoods of Hillcrest and the Heights – but this area is really coming into it’s own as a great place to eat and shop. Grab breakfast or lunch at the The Root, enjoy upscale southern food and drink at South On Main (better yet, make sure you catch one of their live music events), and sit for a few moments and enjoy Bernice Garden. Finish it all off with a treat from Community Bakery or ice cream from Loblolly Creamery.

Stone’s Throw Brewing: stop into this cozy spot for a freshly brewed beer; if you’re hungry, order something yummy from the food truck parked out front.

Be sure to take your kids to (little kids/big kids):

Museum of Discovery: This place is fantastic. My kids loved it when they were little and they still love it now (as middle and high schoolers).

Box Sledding on the Clinton Library Lawn: Get an empty box and head over the Clinton Library, where the landscaped hills make for perfect sledding. Yes, I’m serious – you won’t believe how much fun your kids will have. Best part? It’s free!

Box sledding!

Box sledding!

Central High National Park Site, Mosaic Templars Cultural Center: take your older kids to learn some of the history of desegregation – both of these places feature fascinating exhibits that will draw in even non-history buffs. A bonus is the beautiful architecture of Central High School and the Mosaic Templars building.

Central Arkansas Main Library, Cox Creative Center: If you need a break from lots of activity, take your kids to the main library, where they will find a whole floor built just for them. There’s a separate floor for teens, too. They can get a snack, play a video game, look out at downtown through the giant windows, or you know, relax in a comfy chair with a book. Be sure to head across the parking lot and stop into the Cox Center, which sells used books and lots of other interesting gifts. My youngest son loves to rifle through the vintage comic books bin.

Heifer Village: On the grounds of Heifer International, kids can tour Heifer Village – it’s full of hands-on interactive exhibits that help kids imagine life in other parts of the world. You’ll love the shop featuring fair-trade items from across the globe.

The most kid-friendly hotels are …

Probably the chain hotels that are good for kids wherever you go, like Embassy Suites in west LR or the courtyard Marriot downtown.

For couples-only excursions, stay here …

The Capital Hotel! This historic, 4-star rated hotel is truly gorgeous, with lovely rooms and incredible service. In all honesty, I would say stay here, for any kind of trip, any time you can. However, I know what it’s like to travel with kids who want a pool. Still, if you can, stay here. Order a Southern Comfortable and enjoy it on the large balcony above the front doors. You can thank me later.

If you visit Little Rock when it’s cold, it’s fun to:

Stay inside! Catch some live music, see a show at The Joint, wander through the current exhibit at the Arkansas Arts Center, or connect with nature indoors at the Witt Stephens Nature Center (great for kids and free!).

If you visit in the summer, try:

Visit one of our farmer’s markets for food, art, flowers, handmade items, and people watching! You can find almost anything at the biggest one housed in the River Market; for a smaller scene where you’ll have more chance to sample wares and visit with farmers, cross the river to the Argenta Farmer’s Market.

One of the most awesome things about Little Rock is …

sarabeth, the repThe Rep (Arkansas Repertory Theater) is an amazing theater, bringing in all types of musicals and plays. It’s truly a favorite; I hate to miss anything they are doing. Seriously, the shows I’ve seen there are every bit as good as ones I’ve seen in New York City – The Rep is a treasure.

I would describe the “vibe” in Little Rock as …

I’ve always thought that Little Rock has the best of both worlds in a lot of ways: it has the amenities of a city without really being big. You can shop at an upscale boutique or hike a trail, buy veggies from a market table or enjoy fine dining.  You can drive from one end to the other in 30 minutes, and anywhere you go, you are probably about to run into someone you know. It’s the perfect combination of small town & big city – I love it here.

Sarabeth JonesSarabeth is a creative at Fellowship North who enjoys all kinds of artistic work: writing, directing, acting, design, photography, and the occasional flash mob. She grew up in central Arkansas and now lives there with her husband, Bryan, and 3 kids, Elizabeth, Jonathan, and Will – she loves the way make her laugh. She blogs at thedramatic.com and her latest Little Rock adventure is bringing the national phenomenon Listen To Your Mother to the stage of The Rep on Mother’s Day, 2014.

Blog 66: San Antonio from a native mama’s point of view

blog66Thanks to Debi Pfitzenmaier of San Antonio Busy Kids for sharing her thoughts about her hometown of San Antonio.

This great city review is making us want to visit SA — ASAP!

When I’m in San Antonio, I should definitely plan to eat at …

Order street tacos at one of the small hole-in-a-wall taquerias. My favorite is in the Deco District. And then be sure to stop by Lulu’s Bakery and Café for one of their monster-sized, three-pound cinnamon rolls.

The best shopping can be found at

Depends on what you are shopping for. We have some phenomenal local artisans. But, if I’m just browsing, my favorite places to wander are The Shops at La Cantera and Pearl (the fabulous redevelopment of the Pearl Brewery into a true urban space).

You do NOT want to miss seeing …

The Bracken Bat Flight guided tour during the summer months for an up-close view of Bracken Cave as the largest colony of bats in the world (20 million) head out for dinner.

The Alamo.

And the big cowboy boots at North Star Mall.

San Antonio boots

A few “hidden gems” that only the locals know about …

Pearl Farmers Market on Saturdays and the Scobee Planetarium (which is scheduled to reopen in 2014 after extensive renovations). A little north of San Antonio is the Animal World and Snake Farm Zoo.

Be sure to take your kids to …

SA kiddie parkKiddie Park on Broadway. Generations of San Antonians have fond memories of this historic park. Built in 1925 and renovated in 2009, San Antonio’s Kiddie Park is the oldest children’s amusement park in the country. For an extra dose of fun, ride the San Antonio Zoo’s Eagle Train to the park.

The most kid-friendly hotels are …

The Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort right across the highway from Sea World, the Westin La Cantera Hill Country Resort right next to Fiesta Texas, or the JW Marriott Resort with its spectacular 1,100-foot lazy river.

For couples-only excursions, stay here …

Downtown at the historic Menger Hotel or the (supposedly haunted) Emily Morgan Hotel next door to the Alamo.

Even though it’s a big tourist draw, you can probably skip visiting ….

The Riverwalk Mall as an entrance to explore the Riverwalk itself. Opt instead to explore the Museum Reach of the Riverwalk, which is far more beautiful and relaxing.

If we want to stay warm in the winter, we should ….

It rarely gets too cold, so head outside and experience the holidays in true San Antonio style with Merry Mariachis at SeaWorld and at the Mariachi Vargas Extravaganza. Enjoy an unbelievably beautifully lit Riverwalk with millions of lights in the trees and more than 6,000 Luminarias along the walkways. Savor tamales – a holiday tradition – at any of the local tamales shops or at the annual tamale festival at the Pearl.

If we visit in the summer and want to stay cool, we should ….

morgan's wonderlandGet in the water. Take a lazy ride down the Guadalupe River, head to Aquatica at Sea World or spend a day at Schlitterbahn. Or, head underground. It’s a steady 70 degrees or lower inside Cave Without A Name or Natural Bridge Caverns.

One of the most awesome things about San Antonio is …

San Antonio is home to the world’s first ultra-accessible theme park, Morgan’s Wonderland. Designed specifically with special needs individuals of all ages and abilities, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.

Boots photo courtesy of Kimble Young via Flickr

Debi crownAbout SA Busy Kids: Everything you wanted to know about where to go and what to do with your kids in and around San Antonio, Texas. SA Busy Kids was started by San Antonio mom and writer Debi Pfitzenmaier who was told by her husband to go find a hobby. In her day job, she is a media relations pro and consultant. 

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