If you don’t want to venture too far from a slot machine two casinos have their own in-house microbreweries: Ellis Island Casino’s brewery of the same name and Mainstreet Station Casino’s Triple 7 Restaurant and Brewery. We didn’t make it here, but do let us know if you get to sample their wares!
There’s a movie called “Bad Day at Black Rock” from 1955 where one of my favorite actors of all time, Spencer Tracy, finds himself in a hostile western US town. If Tracy had only gotten his colors mixed up, he could have had a lovely day in the desert instead.
Red Rock Canyon, just outside of Las Vegas, is a national conservation area with ancient rust colored rock formations. It was one of the few “must dos” on my list for this trip: getting off the strip to see nature. The park’s small entry fee per vehicle is good for a full day and allows for re-entry if you want to take a second loop through (we did).
The one-way road is well paved making it highly accessible for all with a number of places along the way to pull off to soak in the views or for hiking. I usually ignore visitor centers, but this one was worth the stop. The building was a modern eco-friendly design containing family friendly hands-on educational activities and displays with a focus on the environment and nature conservation.
Winding around Red Rock the landscape continuously morphs and the rock formations are always captivating. Dog friendly walking, hiking, biking, and horse trails of various lengths and difficulties are everywhere for you to explore. At one location there was even a group of rock climbers repelling down the side of cliff face. For many though, the big draw of the park are the ancient petroglyphs tucked back along one of the trails, and we definitely agree this is one thing not to be missed.
For a good day outside the hustle of Las Vegas visit Red Rock.
The cost of travel can add up fast and Mum and I are always on the lookout for ways to save money on the road. In Las Vegas we used Groupon* (combined with Ebates*cash back) for food, drinks, and activities we would never had known about. In no particular order, here’s how our experience broke down:
Big Bus Hop-on Hop-off $28 for one full day, $47 value (2x bought): This was probably the most touristy thing we did the whole week. The buses picked up and dropped off at locations ranging from northern Fremont Street to the welcome sign in the south. The guides on each bus offered their own commentary and color (shout out to Big Bus Bruce!) to the open-top double-decker photo-rich experience.
Sangria Festival $100 value for $30, admission and sangria tastings for two: This ended up being one of the top highlights of our trip. The festival in nearby Henderson was full of local residents with proceeds going to local charities. There were generous samples of a variety of sangria flavors, beer, and some cocktails along with live music and flamenco dancing.
Hexx Chocolate bean-to-bar education for 2 people, $44 value for $22 : located in front of the Paris hotel and casino, this candy shop is more than meets the eye. The education was a short talk about their own chocolate making process and a tasting of 12 samples by country of cocoa bean origin. In the end we were excited to learn that the cost included 4 bars of chocolate to take home, with a discount on additional purchases.
Banger Brewing $26 for $50 value, beer experience for two : on upper Freemont Street, this brewery was a relaxing treat to the over-stimulus outside. The tasting included a flight of 4 tastes, two full pints, and a 32oz filled growler to take home. The growler was a nice treat a few days later when we had a day relaxing at the condo.
Hexx kitchen + bar $35 for bottle of wine and cheese plate for 2, $69 value : next to the chocolate shop of the same name at the Paris hotel, we enjoyed this wine and cheese plate as dinner before a show across the street at Ceaser’s Palace. There were three choices for the wine, and we opted for the house red. The cheese plate was quite large and included three varieties plus three meats, fruit, and toasted baguette.
SEA: Thai Experience $46 dinner for two, up to $78 value : located inside Bally’s Casino, we would never have known this restaurant existed. Two appetizers and two dinners were included in the price, with drinks and other ala carte items additional. The food was fresh and flavorful and the setting peaceful and friendly.
La Bella Napoli Pizzaria $15 for $25 worth of food and drinks : tucked away in a shopping center south of the airport, this was definitely a non-tourist establishment. The pizza was cooked to order in their wood fire oven and the scallop gnocchi with saffron sauce was something mum will remember and try to re-create at home.
Vince Niel’s Tatuado $26 for two 44oz Margaritas worth $50 : because a large alcoholic drink in a souvenir cup is a necessity in Las Vegas, we went to this restaurant inside Circus Circus. The drinks were large but contained proportionally little tequila. While we hadn’t originally planned on it, we ended up eating an underwhelming meal here. All in all, this was the one Groupon flop of the trip.
Total savings value: $254
There were a couple of things we learned: in Vegas you still pay sales tax on the item after the Groupon cost has been deducted and as a general rule we ended up spending additional money at a location. Overall we will definitely check Groupon again for possible savings on future travel and for discovering things we might not have known we could do.
*Note: We were not paid by Groupon, Ebates, or any other entity for this post. It is entirely our opinions and experiences.
If it isn’t already, the city of Decatur should be on your list of places to visit in Georgia. Within the perimeter of Interstate 285 and along the MARTA subway line, its as easy to get to as it is charming. Enjoy the restaurants and maybe a stroll around the square before trying one of the three local craft breweries.
Three Taverns Brewery – the largest in the immediate area with an intimate tasting room and outside picnic space. They specialize in sours, so get ready to pucker on any available Sour Asylum option and calm it down with the ubiquitous Night on Ponce IPA. They’re quite popular, so be prepared to wait in line for your next taster.
BlueTarp Brewing Co – small brewery with local distribution. The tap room is open for tasting and tours with a dog-friendly outdoor space. They specialize in IPAs and we definitely recommend the Tropic Thunder. (Pro-Tip: check Groupon for their regularly available special)
Wild Heaven Beer – technically located in next-door Avondale, this brewery is a low-key hangout. Mum’s favorite is the Funkenrach smoked wild ale and I go for the White Blackbird Saison. There are special events every weekend and dogs are always welcome both inside and on the large outdoor patio.
Also check out…
Independent Distilling – ok, they don’t do beer, but they do have some sweet southern corn whiskey that’s worth a stop. They also make a delicious bourbon and rum, so make a tiny detour, enjoy the short tour and get ready to take a bottle home!
Cat cafes , which originated in Taiwan and reached its height of popularity in Japan, offer the chance for paying visitors to play with or be ignored by felines who roam free in the space. The concept has spread to some major cities in Europe and the United States, but is still a rare novelty.
In Charleston, South Carolina the Pounce Cat Cafe offers a twist on the original. Entirely populated by adoptable felines from the Charleston Animal Society, visitors have the opportunity make a well socialized kitty part of their family after they finish their coffee or glass of wine. The number of hourly visitors are limited so as not to overwhelm the cats and reservations must be made in advance through their website.
Additionally, Pounce offers yoga classes on Sunday mornings and its this that brought mum and I to their door, mats in hand. The class is run by a certified teacher who conducts an hour long vinyasa style session. The big difference from a traditional yoga class is that as you’re in downward dog or warrior two, a furry tail may teasingly brush your leg or indifferently saunter by. Afterwards, you can spend some time with the residents while sipping a mimosa or cold brew. Now that’s my idea of a good morning!
Traveling during the off season can cost a lot less than peak, but it does come with its risks. Off season in most places means a risk (or certainty) of inclement weather: snow, rain, extreme temperature, etc. In the northern Atlantic, this equals hurricanes.
Mum and I travel during hurricane season all the time. Fall temperatures that are still warm without being too hot and fewer tourists due to families working within the confines of school schedules are extremely enticing. In all the times we’ve been traveling together, weather has not derailed our plans. In fact, NOAA has calculated the the probability of a hurricane eye hitting Miami in any given year as 4%. With a risk that low, why not?
2017 is abnormal, to say the least, with a record number of category 3 or higher storms in the Atlantic. We have been planning an October trip to Puerto Rico since May and are watching all of the activity closely. The eye of category 3 Hurricane Irma passed off shore, but the impact of the winds caused damage. With Hurricane Maria’s category 4 eye passing right over the island (the strongest to hit in nearly a century), the extent is currently unknown but certainly significant. Like much of the Caribbean, tourism is integral to the economy of Puerto Rico. After Irma, our plan was to still visit the island bringing both our tourism dollars and some supplies for local residents that may assist with everyday life. Maria has changed that. Of utmost importance is the lives of the people who call Puerto Rico home. Necessities of everyday life and infrastructure repairs must be the focus for residents; tourism cannot distract from that.
With all of this in mind, Mum and I are currently considering changing our plans. Is it better to continue on and bring our tourism dollars and donations to the island, or are we more of a hinderance than a help? What’s the best course of action as a potential visitor to an area that had a recent weather disaster?
All we can do is keep watching the storms and hoping that those who call these beautiful islands home are safe and well.
The Shenandoah Valley of Virginia is known for both the beauty of the mountains and its many wineries.
Fans of hops don’t despair, the Shenandoah Beerwerks Trail runs along nearly the same route and offers a variety of craft breweries for any palate. One spot along the way with a concentration of stops is the city of Harrisonburg, VA. There are four breweries within walking distance of each other, allowing for a full day of touring the tastes in the historic downtown area. The big bonus for my visit was that all of these options had outdoor dog-friendly patios!
Three Notch’d Brewing – one of three tap room locations of the Charlottesville based brewery. The Minute Man IPA was smooth and citrusy and the Watermelon Gose was refreshing, salty, and sweet. They also had dog biscuits available for purchase made from the grain left after the brewing process!
Brothers Craft Brewing – probably the most well known brewery in the area. The seasonal Hallelujah IPA has a mid-level bitterness and citrus note, but my personal favorite is the Hoptimization. If you can’t make it to the tap room, a number of local restaurants offer their brews on draft.
Pale Fire Brewing Co. – known for their IPAs, they also have a good variety of other styles. I personally loved the Salad Days Saison and the Electric Sheep Belgian Amber.
Wolfe Street Brewing – located in an old garage, this is the smallest and most intimate tap room location. They tend toward more ambers and stouts, but definitely try the Citra Tonic Pale.
If you’re more of a cider person, try nearby Old Hill Hard Cider in Timberville. Located at the Showalter Orchard, Old Hill offers tastings made from 10 varieties of apples grown specifically for cider making. Try their special mead blend and whisky barrel aged options for unique flavors (I bought a bottle for home).
If you’re planning on taking a trip to a U.S. city, to take part in the once-in-a-lifetime total solar eclipse experience, consider communities surrounding larger cities. Charleston is awesome. But, several communities surrounding Charleston, SC may be an easier bet to reach, to hunker in, and to explore. Among the sweetest is the Town of Summerville.
It’s estimated that, conservatively, the greater Charleston area will host between 60,000-80,000 visitors. Yet there have been several reports estimating over a million. According to College of Charleston Physics Professor, Dr. Chris Fragile, “This will be the most viewed eclipse in human history.” The South Carolina coast is the final place to view the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse before it heads out to cast the moon’s shadow onto the Atlantic Ocean.
The last coast-to-coast total eclipse to traverse North America was 99 years ago, in 1918. The next time the phenomonen of a total eclipse crossing our continent will occur is 35 years from now, in 2052. Why so seldom? The moon orbits at a five degree tilt. The earth and sun each spin on a separate axis. And, let’s face it; 70% of the earth is ocean, so our waters are much more likely to experience a total eclipse than we are.
HOW TO PREPARE:
Get Special Eye Protection
One cannot look directly into the sun on any occasion, and partial blockage of the sun does not affect its intensity, nor affect the ability to prevent eye damage. Sunglasses with UV protection will simply not cut it this time. Unless you have a welder’s shield collecting dust in your garage, you’ll need to invest a buck or two in a pair of eclipse glasses. When you wear a pair of eclipse glasses in a lit room, they will block out all light. Put them on to watch the sun and moon converge. Wear them, looking directly at the sun safely, to view the eclipse until totality. Only then, will you be able to remove the glasses briefly, to see the outer glow. Once the sun begins to once again emerge, you’ll need to don the glasses until you’re ready to, again, view the rest of the world around you.
You may also be fortunate enough to see “shadow bands,” explains Dr. Fragile. “They’re similar to the funny, squiggly shadows that appear at the bottom of the swimming pool,” he says. He suggests laying a white bedsheet on the ground to best view shadow bands.
Defer to your iPhone Camera
The amount of heat entering the lens and body of your 35mm SLR camera may be damaging. But iPhone cameras are designed to adjust to the amount of ambient light, making it safe to use. It may be time to purchase an iPhone tripod, or determine how to securely attach your selfie stick to your tripod.
Even through a telescope, a dense mylar filer is a necessity.
Plan for Chilly Weather
Yes, on August 21st, you are heading directly into the scorching summer heat of South Carolina. But you will need to pack a few items to keep you warm. During a total eclipse, the temperature will drop and the winds may pick up. Charleston Southern University Professor of math and physics, Dr. Fred Worthy, says that he experienced a partial eclipse during which the temperature plummeted by 30 degrees.
Escape the Crowded Interstate by Checking Out a Surrounding Community
I’m biased, because I lived in Summerville, S.C. for 12 years, and it remains my “home,” whether or not I live there. Totality in Summerville will be experienced for between one minute and 40 seconds to two minutes. For additional eclipse stats, check out this link. Summerville Dream has a great microsite highlighting the Eclipse happenings around Summerville. And, Colonial Dorchester State Historic Site will host events throught the weekend preceding the Eclipse. Check out the lineup at… http://southcarolinaparks.com/products/10004632
Summerville, S.C., The Birthplace of Sweet Tea, may be easier to access, because of its proximity to I-26, the main conduit into Charleston. One you’re settled in Summerville, check out the many things to do in the area both before and after the eclipse. Go to VisitSummerville.com to research and pre-plan your extra time. Visit private merchants in and around the quaint town square reminiscent of small southern towns, indulge in a game of golf, or take a walking tour of the town’s permanent sculpture collection – plus find Sculpture in the South’s more than twenty life-sized bronzes of birds perched on balconies, windowsills, shop signs and rooftops.
Also check out Summerville DREAM, the Summerville Visitor’s Center and Greater Summerville/Dorchester County Chamber of Commerce at 402 N. Main Street for recommendations on events, restaurants, or even that emergency auto mechanic you are not pre-planning to meet.
Buy the T-Shirt! The Greater Summerville/Dorchester Chamber of Commerce is selling a “totality awesome” glow-in-the dark T-Shirt. And a portion of the proceeds benefit the organization’s scholarship fund. You can pre-order your shirt and pick up at the Chamber – or stop in to purchase in person.
Need more information on visiting South Carolina? Check out http://discoversouthcarolina.com/products/52.
Send Letters to the Universe
Consider something like this….
Dear Mother Nature,
Please do not send cloud cover on August 21, 2017!
With all due respect,
Atlanta tends to be associated with zombies, southern belles, and pig-on-a-spit but the city is so much more. As headquarters for a number of international companies, people from around the world have moved here to start a new life, bringing with them their culture and cuisine. No matter what you have a taste for, you can find it somewhere in Atlanta area.
For a taste of Ethiopia, we go to Desta Kitchen. Their authentic dishes are served in a modern presentation and there’s live music on weekend evenings. You can order everything ala carte, but I always get the vegetarian plate with plenty of injera.
Thai is available throughout the city, but our favorite is Panita Thai Kitchen in the Virginia Highlands neighborhood. The converted house is primarily open air and has an eclectic design which comes from 20 years of perfection. The food is layered, flavorful, and served in a presentation fit for a king.
If you’re craving authentic Italian pizza, Varuni Napoli is the only place to go. Classic combinations with no gimmicks are prepared to-order in their wood fire ovens. Be sure to save room for a cannoli – trust me.
Buford Highway runs in the north east part of the city and is the place to go for authentic Mexican or South Korean food. El Taco Veloz has no-nonsense authentic tacos that take us right back to our trip to Cabo San Lucas. Sokongdong Tofu House offers classics with plenty of heat and even a few vegetarian options. Also, be sure to make a stop at the Buford Highway Farmers Market. The former shopping center is now one large grocery story with hard to find products from every part of the world and a rather tasty tiny food court.
In the city of Decatur, a community of immigrants from India has brought flavors from all parts of the country. There are specialized markets, shops, and restaurants with unique dishes, but our favorite is Zyka. Order your dishes at the front counter, listen for your number to be called, then dig in to addicting veggie and halal dishes.
Of course there’s more, and each new trip in the city a chance to try something new!
Not far from the city of Charlotte, North Carolina, the 1,300 acre U. S. National Whitewater Center provides family-friendly fun for all ages and fitness levels. This amazing outdoor facility offers whitewater rafting, kayaking, paddle boarding, rock climbing, ropes courses, zip lines, and more than 30 miles of mountain biking trails. On a Thanksgiving weekend, my family embarked on a family endeavor to mitigate the potentially damaging intake of holiday food.
Our quest began as a desire to zipline, but after comparing ticket bundle options, my brother, sister-in-law, nephew and myself all opted to encompass the precursory adventure of a ropes course. Learning the ropes always means embracing a new adventure, but re-learning how to walk again, afterward, was not on our agenda.
Although you have an a la carte choice to zipline only, my family chose to heed the advice of Johnny Cash and “walk the line.” The first time stepping from a solid platform to unstable rope lines is intimidating, but there’s a lot to hang onto on that first pass across the treetops. What lie ahead – a single line with a single overhead rope – was a true test of balance, muscle, and confidence. I did well at the start, but on the final stretch, I faced failure. And had to laugh.
As I hung there dangling in the trees, awaiting rescue by a muscular, fair-haired knight, I grinned, shook my head and silently kicked myself for listening to the advice change my footing to side step. While this was the way THEY successfully navigated the tightrope, I took a spill to oblivion. In retrospect, I should have walked that line the way this aged-out gymnast would conquer a painted-on parking lot line; with previously trained turned-out feet, and shoulders held high. Why did I not do that?
The camaraderie and encouragement felt through a day of ropes course teamwork is something all families should take a moment to experience. And, our inability to walk up and down steps the following day proved to be an unexpected secondary team-building experience.But laughter ensued. We endured both the challenges and the aftermath – together.
Whether you are near Charlotte, North Carolina or plan a visit to the area, I highly recommend an excursion to this fabulous family playground. And, check out their calendar of special events. Why not challenge your family to a fun run or watch a competition from the water’s edge?