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!
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?
I’ve brought Hondo along on road trips to Charleston, South Carolina a number of times. This beautiful, historic city is not only a great tourism spot, but also one of the most dog friendly places we’ve ever been. Everytime we go, there’s always a new dog friendly place to explore.
The downtown area is extremely walkable with great views of the harbor and historic houses. You can go from waterfront park, past the famous Rainbow Row, and all the way around the battery at the tip of the peninsula. The main shopping drag of King Street is lined with stores and restaurants, many of which have water bowls outside their doors for a thirsty pup. Many restaurants allow you and your little beast to on their outdoor patios. We recommend Kitchen 208, Taco Boy, Home Team BBQ, and 39 Rue De Jean. Outside of the down town area check out White Duck Taco, Parson Jack’s Cafe, Triangle Char & Bar, and The Dog and Duck. For more, see the links at the bottom of this post.
Many of the craft breweries around the city allow pets on their outdoor patios. We had an excellent time at Cooper River Brewing Company, sitting at one of the many picnic tables and listening to live music. Also check out Revelry Brewing Co, Ghost Monkey Brewery, and Frothy Beard Brewing. If you prefer wine or vodka, try Firefly Distillery (the original sweet tea vodka) and Deep Water Vineyard. Their dog friendly grounds and tasting room make a great afternoon on James Island.
The beautiful beaches allow your pets with seasonal rules on acceptable hours and leash regulations. Hondo’s not a fan of the beach (he doesn’t like the evil water chasing him) but we do enjoy walking along the sand when we have a chance.
- Folly Beach dog rules
- Isle of Palms dog rules
- Kiawah Beachwalker dog rules
- Charleston County dog parks
If you’re lucky enough to be in town on a Monday in the summer, catch a Charleston Riverdogs baseball game. “Bark at the Park” nights are dog friendly and some offer special prizes if your pooch comes in costume!
In August of 2014, Mum and I met for a week in the appalachian region of Virginia. Neither of us had been to the area or new what to expect and both of us left wanting to return and explore more of the area.
We stayed in the small town of Basye near Bryce ski resort. Being there in the off-season turned out to be a good idea, not only because it was significantly cheaper. The ski resort, like many others across the country, offered activities to make the best use of the green hills like golfing, mountain biking, and tubing. Mum jumped at the chance to go zip lining and fly down the mountain through the tree tops. The whole idea frightens the ba-jezes out of me, so I sat on the condo balcony and knitted, watching her slide in at the end.
Shenandoah County offers a number of state parks with excellent hiking trails. Hondo and I hiked in a few of the local offerings and enjoyed the great views. Of course, Shenandoah National Park is also a prime local destination. The winding Skyline Drive offers amazing views of the valley and connects different peaks, waterfall, and amenities. There are a great deal of hiking trails, but not all are dog friendly, so be sure to follow signs and check your map. Thankfully the trail to the highest peak, Hawksbill Mountain was, and we enjoyed a long look over the patch-work countryside.
Nearby small towns of Mt Jackson, Quicksburg, Edinburg, Woodstock, and Harrisonburg make for great side trips . We made our way around some of the antique and thrift stores, family owned restaurants, and I picked up some local alpaca yarn. We even stopped at local potato chip factory, Route 11. They have large windows to the production floor where you can watch the potatoes at every stage from washing and peeling to seasoning and bagging. Their shop offers tasting of their regular flavors as well as a few unique offerings.
The Appalachian region also happens to be Virginia’s wine region. The “Shenandoah Valley Wine Trail” connects 22 local vineyards and you could take over a week just traveling to all the different options. Our favorite nearby stop was the Cave Ridge Winery. This small, family owned winery has daily tastings and live music on weekends. They’re also dog friendly and we felt very welcome to sit and sip our bottle while Hondo lounged by the vines.
The Appalachian region of Virginia has so much to explore and we only got a taste of it. I can’t wait to go back and see what else we can discover among the hills.
On my quest to become a perfect packer (more at PackRat Will Travel), I have learned a few tricks. Below are the top ten items I will no longer travel without…
- Pitchable Ponchos
I pack a few disposable rain ponchos for travel during rainy season, or to locations like the amazing city of London, where rain seems to be a year-round ordeal. Visitors also underestimate the need for ponchos when vacationing in sunny Central Florida, where brief afternoon thundershowers are a daily occurrence. I typically find ponchos in the drug store for a couple of bucks each. They’re light, take up no room at all, and will prevent you from having to choose between overspending or modeling an unflattering-at-best plastic garbage bag. If your’re preparing to travel with a group, you can also order clear, disposable ponchos by the dozen for $19 at Uline.com.
*Tip – if you hike into the Costa Rican rainforest, do not leave your rain ponchos in your rental car. http://www.meetuatgate.com/2016/04/30/thats-why-its-called-a-rain-forest/
- Techie Tool Kit
A camera charger, a back-up battery, an extra SD chip, a cell phone charging cord, a Fitbit charging cord, a USB wall port and a USB car converter are my personal top tech needs. All tuck neatly in a transparent sandwich sized Ziplock. With three camera batteries and a cell phone to charge, I easily could employ three converters on an international trip. This summer, mistakenly packed only the converter I would need in Uruguay, South America. I neglected to research whether the same converter would work in Argentina. The answer was NO.
*Tip – Save yourself some angst. Pack the complete kit, and be done with it.
- Pre-Packed Toiletries
Since traveling intermittently for business in the ’80s, I have kept a grab-and-go toiletry bag packed at all times. When I return home, I refill what’s needed (like a fresh mosquito repellent bracelet) or add an item to my shopping list while it’s fresh on my mind. Among other necessities, I always have antibacterial wipes, my mini sewing kit, a magnifying mirror, a personal heating pad to fend off chills or sore muscles, and a small rubber door stop to wedge under my door for added security while in my room. My fully-packed catch-all bag resides in my small rolling carry on, providing a speedy way to skip town!
*Tip – Hang a few safety pins from the bag’s zipper pull.
- Pretty Pill Box
Ditch the bulky bottles. I photograph each bottle label with one easily identifiable pill, to ensure I have accurate documentation for two purposes; to verify my prescription while traveling, and to assist in case of a medical emergency. I take a full week in a pretty little pill sorter, with a few extras of my most important medications in case of a delay.
*Tip – If you are prone to motion sickness, be sure to have your doctor prescribe Transderm patches for behind your ear. Each works for three days – but the protection WILL wear off if you do not replace it by the end of day three. They fit right in the bottom of my pill case.
- Bubble Wrap
I somehow gravitate towards bringing home “breakables.” So I pack a small roll of bubble wrap. I’ve carried home a vintage vase and a set of beautiful stoneware plates from England. I lugged a treasured pitcher from Paris, wrapped in a layer of bubble wrap, and padded with soft clothing. And I recently transported glass jars of goodies from South America. Yet, due to bubble wrap, I have yet to discover a broken artifact in my bags upon my return.
*Tip – Consider shipping when you can; you’ll already have the bubble wrap!
- A Reusable Tote
My favorite bags easily cover all bases, transforming between shopping bag, beach bag and “technology undercover bag” to deter thieves. I have very different preferences, depending upon mode of travel and destination. For international travel this inexpensive IKEA pocket-pouch converts into a generous sized backpack. For domestic air travel, I prefer a “personal item” that zips closed, like the duffel style bag available in our MeetUatGate online store. When driving, I prefer an open beach tote stuffed with easy-to-reach road trip snacks.
*Tip – The IKEA pocket bags come in two sizes/styles and make great thank you gifts for travel hosts or new friends who you connect with during your travels. Take a few extra!
- Empty Ziplock Bags
Ziplock bags ensure liquids like local sauces, liqueurs and perfumes do not leak onto your belongings. These also protect your fabrics from absorbing the scents of culinary herbs and seasonings you may want to take to or from your own home kitchen. I collect shells from each beach I visit, and the shells stay divided until I can display them. They also keep the tekkie tools listed above in one place. Quart and gallon sized ziplocks have a perpetual home in my rolling carry-on.
*Tip – Pack a sharpie and clearly label your bubble wrapped and bagged items. I have this bag of beautiful, unlabeled stones…
- Wine Protectors
I must admit that I own both versions of these padded wine bags, and use them on nearly every trip. I carry wine, liquor or even olive oils to and fro in these great bags. My brief review: The WineSkin Wine Bag is more durable and a bit more attractive, but I like the heavy cotton absorbent padding in the Jetbag. I once carried a bottle of vino that sprung a slight leak – and the potential mess was absorbed in my Jetbag, shielding my clothing and new treasures from red wine..
*Tip – The Jetbag accommodates BOTH a bottle of wine and a small bottle of sauce or olive oil (upside down and adorned in bubble wrap, of course. )
- Camera and Journal: With watercolor pencils and a waterbrush
A few years ago I started creating a journal page depicting each trip. I often have to finish them when I arrive home, but I have photos that spark vivid memories, allowing me to re-live sights, sounds and experiences. I write random things like names of kind waiters and foreign language snafus, sketch odd things like road signs and objects, and write descriptive entries about what I hear, see, and feel. The proportions of my scribbles are most times off, but my pages make me smile nonetheless. A waterbrush pen is a great tool for quick sketching on the move. The body of the pen is a water receptacle, so it stays moist without a cup of water nearby.
*Tip – If you are unsure of your sketching skills, a small pad of tracing paper is your friend. Take rubbings of signs, portions of historic markers, foliage or textures and hand write your notes around them. Photograph or scan your “travel art” once home.
- Packing Cubes
Last but not least, this year I became a packing cube convert! There are more expensive options, but the IKEA four-pack is an easy, inexpensive favorite as a start. For Li, packing cubes are about organization. For me it’s all about compression. When I traveled to South America for three weeks during their winter, I packed heavy sweaters, a sweatshirt, jeans and boots – and could not believe how much could be rolled and stuffed into a single packing cube. The mesh allows the air to escape while you compress (sit on?) and zip the cube.
This spring, I traveled to Cabo San Lucas with just a rolling carry-on and my clothing in just the three cubes pictured. The small cube contained five pairs of panties (hidden from view, thanks) and two swim suits, because what sane woman could go to Mexico with only one? The mid-size cube contains a knit sundress, a pair of leggings, a casual knit dress that doubles as a beach cover-up, and a long sleeved tee. The largest cube is double-sided, with one side containing long cotton pants, a long knit skirt, two tanks, a men’s white linen shirt, a cotton pashmina, and a strapless bra. The reverse side contained non-clothing items listed above like tech items, rain ponchos and journaling supplies. When I travel internationally, I pack clothing that I plan to leave behind. I plan for for the bubble wrapped treasures and of course, the wine bags full of goodies!
Serial travelers may want to check out http://bestreviews.com/best-packing-cubes.
*Tip – A clothing-packed cube doubles as a nice, firm travel pillow. Just pack it into a pillow case. I’ve even carried mine on my flight, as pillows count as neither a personal item nor a piece of luggage.