The center point of north central Minnesota, Park Rapids is abundant with natural beauty, outdoor adventures, and a relaxed charm.
With over 400 lakes in the region, hiking, cycling, numerous events to explore, and its close proximity to Itasca State Park, Park Rapids is a perfect retreat for a few hours or a few days. Add to that an inviting small town ambiance and the good eats found in the area, and you may want to stay even longer.
Things to do in and around Park Rapids
Go shopping in Downtown Park Rapids
Small town America is alive and well in Park Rapids. With a downtown district filled with cute shops and an abundance of friendly locals, Park Rapids is a great spot to spend an afternoon browsing the specialty shops and boutiques filled with gifts, fashion, antiques and more.
One foot in the door at Molly Poppin’s and you know you won’t be leaving anytime soon. The aroma is, well – I bet I gained weight just inhaling. Then you taste the samples and it’s all over, as bags of deliciousness fly into your arms and out the door with you.
Moving down the street, we spent the rest of our time in the quaint town exploring all the shops and dining options, having a throughly entertaining and casual afternoon on one of America’s classic main streets.
Visit Dorset, the “Restaurant Capital of the World”
Every visit to the Park Rapids area must include a lunch or dinner at the nearby “Restaurant Capital of the World,” Dorset, Minnesota. Home to 22 people and 5 restaurants, Dorset lays claim to the title, with the restaurants per capita ratio being 1 restaurant to 5 people.
We dined at Dorset’s Italian option, La Pasta – a lovely lunch and the breadsticks were out of this world.
But, before lunch we had a tour of the town with the mayor, James Tufts, and his older brother and former two-term mayor, Bobby Tufts, who now serves as the town’s ambassador (you may have seen them on the Today Show and in other national news).
While in Dorset, we noticed an awesome bike and hiking path passing through the town.
The Heartland State Trail is a 49 mile, paved multi-use trail reaching between Park Rapids and Cass Lake and was one of the first rail to trail conversions in the United States. The flat trail runs along the abandoned railroad the entire distance except for a four mile segment that uses a roadway north of Walker. 49 miles of paved bikeway? Sweet – we’ll be back.
Cross the headwaters of the Mississippi at Itasca State Park
Itasca State Park is a nature paradise just 26 miles from Park Rapids. The 32,000 acres of soaring pines and over 100 lakes are reason enough to visit, but it is also home to the Mississippi Headwaters. Truly a cool adventure – learn more about Itasca State Park »
Attend Legends & Logging Days each August
Get your plaid shirt ready and head to Legends and Logging Days each August in Park Rapids. A summer festival that includes Lumberjack action, Water Wars, Chainsaw sculptors, music, food and much more, it’s fun in the summer and a celebration of the rich heritage of the region.
Spend some time on one the area’s 400 lakes
No time in Minnesota, the land of 10,000 lakes (which I hear is actually 11,842), is complete without some time on the water and there are plenty of opportunities near Park Rapids. A wonderful spot for family vacations, the Park Rapids Lakes area offers a chance to explore the pristine lakes of Minnesota and engage in the water sports that abound in the region. Climb aboard a speedboat, kayak, paddleboat or pontoon for a sunset cruise or a spend the day on the water fishing for your own aquatic adventure.
Know before you go
Park Rapids, Minnesota is 186 miles northwest of Minneapolis-St Paul and 85 miles east of Fargo, North Dakota.
July is the warmest month in Park Rapids with average daytime highs of 82°F / 28°C and average lows of 56°F / 13.5°C. January is the coldest month with average daytime highs of 17°F / -8°C and average lows of -21°F / -6°C.
Disclosure & disclaimer: Special thanks to Explore Minnesota and the Park Rapids Chamber of Commerce for hosting us as their guests. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
Home to a wide variety of outdoor activities, events, festivals, shopping, and dining, Detroit Lakes is the place to be for year-round fun in Minnesota.
As one would anticipate, a city with “Lakes” in their name is the center of water pursuits and Detroit Lakes definitely delivers in this category. Outdoor splendor awaits on the sparkling waters for boating, fishing and water sports enthusiasts, with over 400 lakes within 25 miles of the city.
For those that prefer their water activities in the city, Detroit Lake’s pristine mile long beach is perfect for beach fun, while also providing access for launching boats and water activities.
Things to do in and around Detroit Lakes Minnesota
When you manage to tear yourself away from the clear blue waters of the Detroit Lakes region, so many activities await on land. From shopping to mountain biking to events, Detroit Lakes has something for everyone from sunrise to sunset.
Downtown Detroit Lakes
A stroll through downtown Detroit Lakes is a perfect way to spend an afternoon. Offerings range from antiques to boutiques and everything in between, with lots to see and explore. Stop for a bite, find a place for a beer, or just enjoy viewing the historic buildings and chatting with friendly locals.
Along the way, swing by the library and check out the cool sculpture of a child reading a book out front, which was created by local artist, Hans Gilsdorf.
Then, head down to the Washington Square Mall for more shopping and dining options, perhaps to take in a movie and to snap a shot with your catch of the day.
What’s the deal with those pretty fish around town?
In 2002-2003, 50 sunfish were created and designed by local artists, with several of the fish auctioned to cover the artist’s expenses. All 50 were then placed around Detroit Lakes in public places and have since become a favorite of locals and visitors alike.
Want to see them all? Detroit Lakes has created a Sunny in Detroit Lakes map with locations of all of the fish statues – which assists with locating them, as the fish are moved from summer to winter locations and back each year.
Festivals & events
Detroit Lakes hosts numerous festivals and events throughout the year ranging from markets to sporting events to concerts – so many that, according to the mayor, Detroit Lakes averages one event per week. Check the Detroit Lakes events calendar for a full list of things to do throughout the year.
Street Faire at the Lakes
Summer in Detroit Lakes kicks off with Street Faire at the Lakes and we were in town for the 2016 edition.
Located across six blocks of downtown Detroit Lakes, the Street Faire includes 125 juried artists, live music, a food court, and children’s activities. Free to attendees, Street Faire at the Lakes is held annually in early June.
WE Fest Country Music Festival
Each August since 1983, country music fans gather in Detroit Lakes for one of the top events of the year in the genre, the WE Fest Country Music Festival on the shores of Lake Salle. Held at Soo Pass Ranch, the natural amphitheater, which has a permanent stage and sound towers, holds over 50,000 people. Adjacent to the facility are 10 campgrounds that can accommodate up to 35,000. Past performers have included Vince Gill, Faith Hill, Brooks & Dunn, Carrie Underwood, Rascal Flatts and many more.
Other things to do in Detroit Lakes
Here’s a really cool story. Detroit Mountain was the local ski hill for half a century until it fell into disrepair and closed in 2004. Missing the swoosh of the slopes, the local community pulled together, formed a non-profit, the Detroit Mountain Recreation Area, Inc., and began raising funds to bring skiing back to their community.
After raising $8.5 million dollars in private donations, the new lifts outside the all new lodge began to turn a decade later in 2014. Now a year-round facility, Detroit Mountain offers skiing, snowboarding, tubing, a terrain park, cross-country ski trails in the winter and summer mountain biking with flow and downhill trails and a skills course.
Lace up your hiking boots and get ready to hit the trail because Detroit Lakes has multiple state parks and hiking options nearby. Maplewood State Park, Buffalo River State Park, and Smoky Hills State Forest are all within a 30-minute drive and Itaska State Park, where you can cross the headwaters of the Mississippi, is only an hour away.
Or how about a hike through Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge’s 43,000 acres? Located about 18 miles from Detroit Lakes, the refuge provides a chance to explore 20 lakes and three rivers, view 250 bird species, including bald eagles, and includes a segment of North America’s longest scenic trail, the North Country National Scenic Trail.
Let’s Go Fishing
Of course, fishing is huge in Minnesota and now that I’m an expert fisherwoman (I caught my first on our very first fishing excursion earlier in the week in Minnesota), I can tell you – I get it. Fishing in Minnesota is super fun and I am hooked (pun intended).
But, for our evening in Detroit Lakes, “Let’s Go Fishing” had a different meaning and we met some people who are the definition of “Minnesota nice.”
“Let’s Go Fishing” offers lake adventures to seniors, veterans, youth and the physically challenged free of charge and we were fortunate to explore Little Detroit Lake by pontoon as their guest. Fully staffed by volunteers, our hosts for the evening were captain Dave Hochhalter, first mate Betty Hochhalter, and city council member, lake historian and comedian, Ron Zeman.
In addition to learning about the history of the area and their organization on our spectacular sunset ride, we saw a momma loon with her baby on her back, found a very talented SUP fisherman, and, of course, waved at everyone we passed by along the way.
Such a beautiful way to end the day in Minnesota! Learn more about Let’s Go Fishing in Detroit Lakes Minnesota on their website.
Where to stay
Detroit Lakes has a wide variety of accommodation options to suit all preferences and budgets. For our visit, we stayed at the beautiful, lakeside Best Western Premier Lodge on Lake Detroit.
The Lodge has an upscale feel with rustic accents and a relaxing atmosphere. Our spa suite was fabulous, with spectacular lake views, a jacuzzi, and a fireplace. The Lodge also has a day spa, fitness center, comfortable seating areas both inside and out, a delicious complimentary breakfast, and a friendly, helpful staff.
Places to dine and enjoy a beverage in Detroit Lakes
There’z nothing like a cazual evening zipping Bobbin’ Blue Margaritaz while chowing down on nachoz and pizza as you gaze out at the beautiful blue waterz of Detroit Lakez at Zorbaz.
Zince 1969, gueztz have flocked to the eclectic bar and reztaurant that substitutez every “s” for a “z.” Arriving by boat, car, foot and bike, people pack the iconic beach bar acrozz from Detroit Lakez beach. Zpecializing in Mexican food and pizza, Zorbaz haz a huge azzortment of tap beerz, live muzic on the weekendz, and a great patio. On the way out, head to the zhop next door and grab a t-zhirt. Not to be mizzed.
Just a couple of blocks down from Zorbaz, Lakeside Tavern serves 24 tap beers, burgers, pizza and other fare. And, if you feel someone brush against you as you sip your beer but, when you turn, no one is there – no worries, that may be just one of six reported ghosts that hang out at the Tavern as well.
Located in the former Lakeside Hotel, which was built in 1891 and has a colorful past filled with stories of bank robber owners, vanishing patrons, and ghosts, the present day Lakeside Tavern is reportedly haunted by a little girl, two men and three women. When we stopped by, no hauntings to report – just quite a few patrons enjoying some late evening sun, cold beer, pizza and stunning lake views.
Know before you go
Detroit Lakes is about 205 miles northwest of the Twin Cities of Minneapolis-St Paul and 45 miles east of Fargo-Moorhead.
Summer time is ideal in Detroit Lakes, with average daytime highs reaching just under 80 F (27 C) then cooling off in the evenings to the 50s F (13 C).
Winter daily highs average in the teens and 20s F (-7 C), perfect for skiing and winter sports. At night, ramp up the fireplace and grab some hot chocolate, when temperatures hover around 0 F (-18 C).
Prepare for the outdoors and changing weather
As many summer activities in and around Detroit Lakes are outside, remember to bring sunscreen, mosquito repellent, good walking or hiking shoes, a rain jacket and a sweater or jacket for the evenings when the day begins to cool.
Disclosure & disclaimer: Special thanks to Explore Minnesota and the Detroit Lakes Chamber of Commerce for hosting us as their guests. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
For half a century, locals, and visitors to the Detroit Lakes area had a local ski hill, Detroit Mountain, for winter fun on the slopes. Sadly, the resort fell into disrepair and shut down in 2004 and for a decade remained closed.
With no place to ski, the community formed a plan – to reopen Detroit Mountain as a year-round resort, with skiing, biking, and even hiking trails. They pulled together and formed a non-profit, Detroit Mountain Recreation Area, Inc., and began fund raising efforts to transform the idea into reality.
In 2014, after raising $8.5 million dollars in private donations, Detroit Mountain once again opened. Gone was the old lodge and in its place was a beautiful new facility. True to their vision, the resort has since offered year round activities with skiing, snowboarding, tubing, a terrain park, and cross-country ski trails, and in the summer, mountain biking with flow and downhill trails, a skills course, a Strider Adventure Zone for the little ones and hiking.
Now in its second summer season, the resort is hosting events such as the Detroit Mountain Shakedown mountain bike race. We stopped by Detroit Mountain the day before the race to learn a bit more and get a tour of the resort with General Manager, Jeff Staley.
Detroit Mountain turned to Progressive Trail Design out of Arkansas, who has built bike parks in bike-crazy locations like Park City, Utah; Aspen, Colorado; and Castle Rock, Colorado, to build their bike trails. With trails designed for all rider levels, the Detroit Mountain trails include lift accessed downhill flow trails, contour flow trails with some nice rolling terrain, and a skills course.
For the kiddos 18 months to 5 years, Detroit Mountain has a Strider Adventure Zone to get them learning balance, handling skills and the fundamentals of riding without the complication of moving pedals.
Detroit Mountain operates a comprehensive bike rental shop with standard, premium and fat tire bikes rentals available with full day, half day and twilight options.
Skiing and snowboarding
As a ski bum, I can only imagine how happy Detroit Lakes skiers were when the lifts on those brand new triple chairs began to turn in 2014.
With the capability for snowmaking on 100% of the terrain, as long as it is cold enough, Detroit Mountain can keep smiles on the faces of those skiers and boarders throughout the winter months regardless of snowfall amounts. Offering day and night skiing, the resort has skiable terrain ranging from a bunny hill to black runs, and the Scheel’s Terrain Park, with tricks, jumps, and rails. The resort has a full-service ski rental facility and offers lessons as well.
Just outside the lodge, a warming hut provides additional space for resting, eating and group events in a warm and cozy atmosphere.
Tubing and Cross Country Skiing
In addition to downhill skiing and boarding, the Landslide Tubing Park, served by a Magic Carpet, provides fun on the snow with no special skills or equipment needed.
For those preferring Nordic skiing, Detroit Mountain’s 7 km of groomed cross country ski trails wind through the beautiful Minnesota countryside. In the summer, the trails are used for hiking.
Dining & drinking
All days on the hill require a bit of après time and Detroit Mountain has just the spot with the beautiful Horses Neck Saloon where you can hop on a saddle and enjoy a beer or glass of wine with fabulous mountain views.
Should hunger pangs arise, The Mountain Café offers a variety of tasty lodge fare with plenty of indoor seating or head outside to catch some sun on the deck and dine with a slopeside view.
Detroit Mountain’s address is 29409 170th St, Detroit Lakes, MN 56501.
Detroit Mountain is about 3 miles from Detroit Lakes, approximately 49 miles from Fargo, ND and 214 miles from the Minneapolis-St Paul airport. Be sure and check road conditions before heading to the resort. Free parking is available at the resort.
While we were in Detroit Lakes, we stayed at the beautiful Best Western Premier Lodge on the Lake, which is only about 3 miles from Detroit Mountain. Located along the shores of Detroit Lake, The Lodge has an indoor pool, day spa, fitness center, complimentary breakfast, spacious fireplace lounge, and a private beach.
Disclosure & disclaimer: Special thanks to Explore Minnesota and the Detroit Lakes Chamber of Commerce for hosting us as their guests. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
Steps from the sparkling waters of Detroit Lake, the Best Western Premier The Lodge on Lake Detroit in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota is an upscale rustic retreat and the perfect spot for a getaway to rejuvenate and recharge.
An indoor pool, day spa, fitness center, complimentary breakfast, spacious fireplace lounge, and a private beach provide the amenities for an enjoyable stay – but it’s the little details that make it a memorable one.
Arriving at the Lodge, we were greeted by the friendly staff and welcoming Minnesota hospitality. A bowl of chilled, lemongrass-scented towels on the front desk offered a chance for a quick freshening up, infused water and fresh fruit are provided in the lobby around the clock, and s’mores are available each evening.
Moving on into the Lodge’s common area, sunlight from the two-story wall of windows overlooking the lake filtered into the large room in the late afternoon hours. Several guests quietly read in the bent willow rockers by the windows and a couple sat talking near the big stone fireplace.
As we made our way to our room, we stopped along the way to view some of the photos and the rustic decor that create the authentic relaxed, atmosphere of the Lodge.
The rooms and suites
The Lodge has 54 rooms and 13 suites, all with breathtaking views of Detroit Lake that can be enjoyed from either a large private balcony or a walk-out patio.
Our room was a beautiful Renewal Spa Suite and how appropriately named it is with a two-person aroma-therapy whirlpool, fireplace and private balcony overlooking Detroit Lake!
Two luxurious terry spa robes were waiting on the bed when we arrived, just beckoning us to jump into the whirlpool. We stashed a bottle of white wine in the mini-fridge to chill while we unpacked and decided to relax a bit before dinner.
Rounding out the amenities in our room were a large bath with a free-standing, glass enclosed shower, Bee Kind Toiletries, loads of white fluffy towels, a flat panel TV, desk, overstuffed rocker, and, in addition to the refrigerator, a microwave, wet bar sink and coffee maker. The plush king size bed was super comfortable with a pile of pillows and high quality bedding.
Returning to the hotel after dinner and a beautiful pontoon boat ride on Detroit Lake, we headed to Lola D’s for a glass of wine.
After a quick game of tic tac toe, we sank into the leather chairs as the grand piano played softly and the last hint of daylight disappeared.
While The Lodge is located just minutes from Detroit Lakes’ many restaurant options, for those preferring to have lunch at the pool or beach, spend a quiet evening in, or enjoy a quick snack, Lola D’s offers salads, sandwiches, appetizers and light entrees.
A delicious complimentary breakfast that includes frittatas, a waffle bar, pastries, oatmeal, yogurt, cereals, a great selection of fresh fruit and an assortment of coffees is served each morning in the Lake Reflections Room.
Guests can enjoy a refreshing dip in the large indoor heated swimming pool and whirlpool, equipped with plenty of lounge chairs and social seating areas.
The beach and lakefront
Fun at the lake is mere steps from the Lodge, with 550 feet of lakefront that includes a private sand beach, a swim area, and access to a private dock, boat slips, and complimentary use of paddle boats and kayaks (seasonal).
A workout is just down the hall with the complimentary 24 hour fitness center at the Lodge. Workout options include an elliptical trainer, treadmills, dumbbells, and additional fitness equipment.
When it’s time to wind down, there’s no better way than a visit to the spa. The Spa Within at the Lodge on Lake Detroit offers spa treatments, massages, facials, nail services, and more.
Visiting the Best Western Premier Lodge on the Lake
The Lodge on Lake Detroit is a beautiful, relaxing hotel and we only wished we could have stayed longer.
A wonderful spot for a respite with stunning views of Lake Detroit, the hotel is inviting and cozy, the staff friendly and helpful, and the spa suite was sublime.
Mention you are headed to San Antonio and nearly always the reaction is, “Oh, you can visit the Alamo.” Yes, the famous fortress is a mainstay on all “San Antonio things to do” lists, but there is so much more.
In addition to a rich historic past, San Antonio has museums, lively districts, shopping, great dining, outdoor activities and the beautiful River Walk. The second most populated city in Texas is also one the cleanest and most well-cared for cities you’ll find, with fountains, waterfalls, flowers and massive cypress trees around every turn.
San Antonio: Where to stay
When in San Antonio, you, of course, want to stay on the River Walk, but not all locations along the river are the same. A hotel with a perfect spot, close to everywhere you want to be, but also in a quiet segment of River Walk, is Hotel Contessa. An all-suite hotel, Hotel Contessa is a beautiful hotel with large contemporary suites, a rooftop pool and hot tub, spa, a fabulous restaurant and bar, and a stellar staff.
There’s so much to love about the River Walk. Also known as Paseo del Rio, the River Walk is 15 miles of walkways lined with restaurants, bars, hotels, and boutiques, that wind through San Antonio next to the San Antonio River.
A stroll along the River Walk is a visual delight, with bright colors accenting the way as the paths lead to different areas of the city, looping through the downtown and beyond. With towering cypress trees overhead, the paths meander through arched stone bridges and lush gardens as squirrels and birds play in the heart of the city.
Rio River Cruises
A guided cruise down the San Antonio River is a wonderful way to experience the River Walk while also learning about San Antonio’s history and landmarks.
The narrated boat tours are about 40 minutes and allow visitors to relax and take in the beautiful scenery as they glide along the river in San Antonio’s downtown district. In addition to the tours, Rio Taxi service stops at 39 spots continuously throughout the day. Taxi boats are identified by the checkered flags displayed on the back of the boats.
La Villita Historic Arts Village
One of San Antonio’s first neighborhoods, La Villita was transformed in 1939 and today is a charming arts community located in downtown San Antonio.
Adjacent to the River Walk and the Arneson River Theatre, La Villita is home to galleries, boutiques, restaurants, plazas and courtyards and hosts many events, festivals and concerts.
San Antonio has a diverse food scene, with culinary options to satisfy every palate. As no visit to Texas is ever complete without at least one Tex-Mex fix, a stop by long time standouts like Mi Tierra is always on the agenda (be sure and get take home pastries from the bakery).
But, far from just great Tex-Mex and barbecue, San Antonio’s restaurants are gaining widespread notoriety for their farm to table offerings using fresh local ingredients. Innovative eateries abound in the city, from the growing number of restaurants at Pearl, to the countless River Walk options that deliver creative cuisine against one of the most beautiful dining backdrops around.
Briscoe Western Art Museum
Named in honor of the late Texas Governor, Dolph Briscoe, Jr., the Briscoe Western Art Museum is a beautiful museum focused on the art, history and culture of the American West.
Located in the former San Antonio Public Library building along the River Walk, the museum has nine galleries on three levels. Highlights of the collection include Pancho Villa’s saddle, an Alamo diorama, a Wells Fargo Stagecoach and works by Frederic Remington.
Buckhorn Saloon & Museum and Texas Ranger Museum
Seventeen-year-old Albert Friedrich first opened the Buckhorn Saloon in 1881 and soon discovered that patrons liked to partake of a beverage even when their pockets were empty. Coming up with a creative solution, Friedrich began accepting horns and antlers in exchange for drinks in the saloon. Albert married and his bride, Emile, decided jars of rattlesnake rattles would also be a good form of barter for a whiskey or beer. Interesting couple.
So, the collection grew and grew and grew. Legend has it the Buckhorn is where Teddy Roosevelt recruited Rough Riders and where Pancho Villa planned the Mexican Revolution. Today, the Buckhorn Saloon features over 520 species of wildlife from around the world, displayed in over 40,000 square feet, with multiple museums and attractions under one roof including a Carnival of Curiosities, the American Sideshow and the Texas Ranger Museum.
At the Carnival of Curiosities, Dr. Phineas Phiasco welcomes visitors to the attraction, where curiosities await ranging from a mystery mine where water flows upwards to an elephant the size of a tiny peanut. PT Barnum and Buffalo Bill holograms shares stories at the American Sideshow, which features shrunken heads and two-headed calves.
The newest of the exhibits, the Texas Ranger Museum is home to hundreds of Texas Ranger artifacts, a recreation of San Antonio in 1900 called Ranger Town, and a Bonnie and Clyde exhibit with a replica of the couple’s getaway car.
Shopping San Antonio style
For those seeking some retail therapy, San Antonio has a vast array of shopping options from boutiques, to galleries, to malls. While large shopping malls can be found throughout sprawling San Antonio, if visiting downtown, Rivercenter Mall is a prime shopping spot, located along the River Walk with over 100 retailers including major department stores, restaurants, a comedy club and an IMAX® theater.
Market Square – El Mercado
El Mercado, or Market Square, is the largest Mexican market in the U.S., with over three blocks of restaurants, shops, and produce stands.
The place to find everything from decorative items to leather goods to toys, Market Square is a vibrant center celebrating the sights, sounds and flavors of Mexico. In addition to the shops, Market Square has several restaurants and is home to numerous working artists that set up along the plazas creating pottery, jewelry, paintings and other works of art.
San Fernando Cathedral
The seat of the archbishop, Cathedral of San Fernando is one of the oldest cathedrals in the United States and the oldest continuously functioning religious community in the State of Texas.
Founded in 1731, the church is located on the west side of the San Antonio’s Main Plaza. The walls of the original church form the sanctuary of the cathedral as it stands today.
The cathedral has played an important part throughout San Antonio’s history. At the Battle of the Alamo, the Mexican army’s General Santa Ana flew a red flag from the church tower to signal no mercy to the Texas Army. The cathedral has also been reported to house the remains of some of the men who died at the Alamo.
A beautiful cathedral, San Fernando is especially brilliant in the twilight just following sunset. For those seeking a bit more modern adaptation, a multimedia video show, involving light being projected onto the structure, is held after dark a few days of the week. The Main Plaza is also home to periodic events, festivals and evenings of music.
Home to a weekend farmers market, dining, shopping and the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) San Antonio, Pearl is a vibrant neighborhood community located in the area that formerly was the sight of the Pearl Brewing Company. While at Pearl, be sure and stop by Local Coffee, a hot spot in the trendy urban district that serves up premium coffee creations using beans from their own roasting facility, Merit Roasting Co.
King Williams Historic District
Meandering the tree-lined historic streets of the King Williams District provides a glimpse into San Antonio’s elegant past. Built by affluent German immigrants who originally settled in the area in the 19th century, today the elaborately designed homes of the area are used for cafes, art galleries, and museums, as well as many remain occupied as residences.
While visiting the area, the Edward Steves Homestead, an elegant three story Victorian home built in 1876, is open for tours, allowing a glimpse into life in the late 1800s.
Also located in the King Williams Historic District, Guenther House is a popular restaurant, museum and store in the former home of Pioneer Flour Mills founder Carl Hilmar Guenther. Built in 1859 as Guenther’s private residence, the Guenther House sits along the San Antonio River in the shadow of the Pioneer Flour Mills and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places in Bexar County, Texas.
Blue Star Arts Complex
Home to the Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum, art galleries, shops, studios, restaurants and a micro-brewery, the Blue Star Arts Complex is a mixed-use development in former warehouse buildings on the edge of the King Williams Historic District. With over 20 exhibitions each year, featuring both emerging and established artists, Blue Star is the city’s creative hub, enriching and inspiring visitors to explore San Antonio’s contemporary art scene.
Tower of the Americas
Panoramic views of San Antonio await at the 750-foot tall Tower of the Americas in downtown San Antonio. Built in 1968 for the World’s Fair, the Tower of Americas is home to the revolving Chart House Restaurant, an Observation Deck, and a 4D Theater ride.
On February 23, 1836, General Antonio López de Santa Anna arrived in San Antonio with his Mexican army, launching an assault on the Alamo Mission. The siege continued for the next 13 days, with the Texians and Tejanos willing to give their lives rather than surrender in a battle they considered to be critical to the defense of not just the Alamo, but the State of Texas.
On March 6, the Mexican army scaled the walls of the Alamo and the defenders were unable to fend off the final attack. According to historical accounts, nearly all of the estimated 189 to 250 men died in defense of the Alamo. The nearly 20 women and children in the Alamo during the siege were spared.
Today, the Alamo remains hallowed ground serving as a memorial to those who died in their fight for freedom.
Over 2.5 million people visit the Alamo each year. The complex covers 4.2 acres with a variety of exhibits covering the Texas Revolution and Texas history in addition to the tours of the Shrine. Photography is not permitted inside the buildings and admission is free.
Know before you go
Getting around. We rented a car, drove it to the hotel, and never used it again until we returned to the airport. The River Walk makes the city highly walkable, so bring a pair of comfortable shoes and get out and enjoy San Antonio at your own pace. To get to locations a bit further out, such as Kings Williams District or Pearl Brewery, several hop-on, hop-off buses depart from Alamo Plaza. We used City Sightseeing San Antonio, which covers all the major sites in downtown area and nearby districts.
Other transportation options include water taxis and Bcycle bike sharing, where you can rent a bike at various kiosks throughout downtown and the surrounding neighborhoods to explore the city. Horse drawn carriages are also available in the downtown area.
In the winter months (December-February), days average in the 60s (62°-67°F/17°-19°C) with lows averaging around 40°F/4°C.
The spring months (March-May) are wonderful, with average highs ranging from 74°F-86°F/23°C-30°C and lows normally getting down to 50°F-65°F/10°C-18°C.
The summer (June-August) is hot. Highs average 91°F-95°F/33°C-35°C and lows are typically around 73°F/23°C.
Fall is beautiful (September-November). While summer tends to hang around in September with highs averaging 90°F/32°C and lows around 69°F/21°C, it soon cools off and by November highs average 71°F/22°C and lows run around 49°F/10°C.
Disclosure & disclaimer: Special thanks to the San Antonio Convention and Visitors Bureau and Hotel Contessa San Antonio for hosting us as their guest. Additional thanks to City Sightseeing Tours San Antonio, Rio San Antonio Cruises, and Tower of the Americas. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
My father grew up on the south side of Chicago during the depression and loved telling stories of his Chicago adventures – from falling through the ice while skating on Lake Michigan and hurrying to the Field Museum to warm up, to going a few rounds with Joe Louis on the Midway, to marching into the Stevens Hotel during World War II, and many more that probably shouldn’t make print. All true? In Chicago style – hardly. All great? Absolutely.
As a little girl, we’d travel to Chicago from the small town where we lived in Kansas to visit my uncle and aunt – and it was magical. Uncle Phil and Aunt Hazel would take me to Marshall Field’s and spoil me with treasures, followed by a stop at their favorite bakery, where we’d pick up a huge layer cake. As we’d drive through the city in Phil’s big sedan with the windows down, all the sounds, colors, sights and energy of the city would mesmerize me.
Has the magic worn off for me over the years? Not in the least. Always one of our favorite places to return to, we recently spent a weekend in the Windy City visiting a few of our favorite spots along the way.
An afternoon stroll
Soon after arriving, we headed out for a walk under bright blue spring skies.
Roaming Chicago’s bustling downtown area provides an up close view of Chicago’s beautiful buildings and stunning architecture. As much of Chicago was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire in 1871, the rebuilding resulted in innovative designs not mired in historical tradition and made Chicago home to some of the first modern skyscrapers.
Today, Chicago is widely recognized for its landmark buildings of varying styles, with the city frequently voted in polls as having the nation’s best skyline.
Finding ourselves on the iconic Wacker Drive, we turned to walk along the famous street that runs along the Chicago River.
Unique in several ways, Wacker Drive is the only street in Chicago that runs in all directions – winding along the river, it has addresses east, north, south, and west. Wacker Drive is also a multi-level street, with Upper Wacker Drive, Lower Wacker Drive and, in a short portion, Lower Lower Wacker Drive.
By mid-afternoon on this Friday, the streets that earlier had been filled with those rushing from lunch in business attire began to relax, transitioning to a more casual environment filled with those seeking a stroll in the sunshine or an afternoon jog.
As pleasurable as simply wandering amongst the bridges and buildings was, we decided it was time to visit a few attractions and shortly found ourselves at Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower).
Travel tip: Get a CityPASS
Arriving at Willis Tower, we were met with a line that was estimated to be a 3-hour wait before getting access to the Skydeck. Ugh! I spotted a Fast Pass entrance area for those with a CityPASS with no line, so I went to the CityPASS website on my iPhone, bought two passes, and received the confirmation email within one minute. We headed over to the Fast Pass entrance, bypassed the main line, and were on our way to the Skydeck.
In addition to the Skydeck, the Chicago CityPASS allowed us VIP/Fast Pass entry to Shedd Aquarium, The Field Museum, a choice of the Art Institute or the Adler Planetarium, and a choice between 360 Chicago at the John Hancock Tower or the Museum of Science and Industry for $98 per adult, which would have been $208 in regular admission fees. What a sweet deal!
Willis Tower (Sear Tower) Skydeck
Located on the western edge of Chicago’s Loop, the Sears Tower was completed in 1973, topping out at 1,451 feet (442 meters), making it the tallest building in the world at the time – a title it held for 25 years.
In 2009, the tower was renamed to Willis Tower, but is still commonly referred to as Sears Tower. Now the 8th tallest building in the world, Willis Tower is the second tallest building in the western hemisphere and offers amazing views of Chicago from the Skydeck on the 103rd floor.
The Ledge at the Skydeck offers visitors the chance to stand in a glass box 1,353 feet over Wacker Drive. Each of the four clear glass boxes extends out 4.3 feet from the Skydeck, providing unobstructed views of the city and the streets below.
Originally opened in 1916 for shipping and recreation along the shores of Lake Michigan, Navy Pier is a 3,300 foot (1,010 meters) pier that has grown into the #1 leisure destination spot in the Midwest, with nearly nine million visitors annually.
Home to a variety of restaurants ranging from sit-down dining to food court fare, Navy Pier also has parks, gardens, shops, and other attractions and entertainment options including the Navy Pier Ferris Wheel, sightseeing tours, dinner cruises, Crystal Gardens and an IMAX theater.
We stopped by for a beer and a bite at Harry Caray’s Tavern Navy Pier, one of the seven popular dining spots around the city bearing the name of the famous Chicago Cubs announcer.
Water Tower Place and The Magnificent Mile
Luxury is ever apparent on the Magnificent Mile. One of the most opulent 13 blocks on the planet, the Magnificent Mile is a stretch of North Michigan Avenue from the Chicago River to the Oaks Street on the north, filled with 460 stores, 275 restaurants, 60 hotels and a wide variety of entertainment options.
Anchoring the north end of the Mag Mile is the Water Tower Place shopping mall, named after the nearby Old Chicago Water Tower District. Built in 1869 to conceal a standpipe that held water, the Chicago Water Tower was one of the few buildings to survive the Great Chicago Fire – and is still standing today.
The Field Museum
One of the largest natural history museums in the world, The Field Museum was established in 1893 to house the exhibits and collections from the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.
Originally called The Columbian Museum of Chicago, the name was soon changed to recognize its major benefactor, Marshall Field, founder of the Chicago-based department store chain Marshall Field’s.
Throughout its history, The Field Museum has brought a view of the world and its peoples to the museum to enable visitors to explore the past and present world and its cultural diversity.
A highlight of the museum is Sue, the largest Tyrannosaurus rex ever discovered. Measuring 42 feet long, she has 58 teeth and holds court front and center in the museum’s atrium.
Known as “The World’s Aquarium,” the John G. Shedd Aquarium opened in 1930 and, to this day, is one of the largest indoor aquariums in the world.
The Shedd has more than doubled in size since its inception, growing to 480,500 square feet with the addition of the Abbott Oceanarium and Wild Reef.
Home to 32,000 animals representing more than 1,500 species of fish, reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates, birds and mammals from waters around the world, the Shedd is a not-to-be-missed spot, especially for families with children.
Art Institute of Chicago
Founded as both a museum and school for the fine arts in 1879, the Art Institute of Chicago has grown to house nearly 300,000 works of art, with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum of the Art Institute of Chicago internationally recognized leading fine-arts institutions in the United States.
Well-known for its fabulous Impressionist and Post-Impressionist collection, the Art Institute also has a broad selection of American art, Old Masters, and contemporary art.
One of the most visited museums in the world, the Art Institute welcomes 1.5 million visitors each year to its one million square feet of space spanning eight buildings.
In addition to housing one of the finest collections in the country, the museum regularly hosts guest exhibitions. On our most recent visit, the museum presented Van Gogh’s Bedroom exhibition, which brings together all three versions of The Bedroom for the first time in North America.
Morning stroll along the lake
A walk or run along Lake Michigan is the perfect start to any day in Chicago.
With spectacular views of the city and the sound of the lake splashing against the shore, the 18-mile multi-use path running along the eastern edge of Grant Park and continuing along the Lake Michigan shoreline, is a beautiful way to start your day.
360 Chicago at John Hancock Center
We ended our Chicago visit at 360 Chicago on the 94th floor of John Hancock Center.
It had started to rain and we questioned if we should go or not. We decided yes. We were rewarded with a nearly vacant Sunday night experience observing the city as it wound down from the weekend under the cover of clouds.
We wandered over to Tilt and watched as about half of the evening’s visitors decided to try out the glass and steel moveable platform that tilts visitors to an angle, with downward-facing views of Chicago and the Magnificent Mile.
Wandering over to the bar, we grabbed a couple of vodka sodas, selected a table (they all have stunning views), and relaxed as we enjoyed our elevated happy hour above the windy, and tonight rainy, city.
Know before you go
Fly into Midway if you can. Located on the southwest side of Chicago, Midway is smaller than O’Hare, is closer to the city, and sees far fewer delays than busier O’Hare.
Bring your walking shoes. Chicago is very walkable, so put on some comfortable shoes, get some exercise, and enjoy the view.
Don’t put ketchup on your hotdog. A Chicago dog (and yes, veggie dogs are widely available) includes mustard, onions, slices of tomato, relish, peppers and a dill pickle slice. Chicagoans have strong feelings about ketchup and hotdogs – just don’t go there.
There’s wind chill and then there’s Chicago’s wind chill. Chicago didn’t earn the nickname “The Windy City” by accident. When the wind blows across Lake Michigan, it feels much colder than the actual temperature. If visiting any time other than summer, be prepared to bundle up.
Cover: “The Strip” Las Vegas Blvd at night, Las Vegas, Nevada
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures @Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull
If ever there was a city designed to make only 24 hours for a visit not only doable but also enjoyable, it’s Las Vegas.
With 15 of the world’s largest 25 hotels located on the 4 miles of Las Vegas Boulevard known as the Strip, a vast array of restaurants, casinos, shopping, and entertainment options are available for non-stop amusement.
While the average visitor to Sin City stays about three days, sometimes one night in the city where the party never ends is all the schedule allows, requiring some prioritization to make the most of the adventure. How would we spend our time between touchdown and wheels up – almost exactly 24 hours in Las Vegas? We turned to some tried and true favorites from our many previous visits, while still working in some time for our favorite activity in any city – wandering.
Here’s how it went…
1:00 pm Lunch at Mon Ami Gabi
After a quick cab ride to the hotel, we checked in and dropped our bags in the room. Most hotels have a 4:00pm check in time in Vegas, but hotels will either hold your bags in storage or some offer an early check-in option for a fee, which ours offered. We decided we didn’t want to have to worry about coming back to the hotel to deal with checking in later and opted for early check-in.
Bags settled in the room, we were hungry and headed out for lunch at one of our favorite patios, Mon Ami Gabi at Paris Las Vegas. A great spot for people watching and viewing the fountains across the street at Bellagio, Mon Ami Gabi also delivers some fine French bistro fare.
2:30 pm Shopping at Bellagio
Deciding we needed to do some walking to work off lunch, we headed over to Bellagio for a stroll.
Built in 1998 at an original cost of $1.6 billion, Bellagio is an exquisite hotel inspired by Italy’s village of Bellagio near Lake Como. Elegance abounds at the resort with art collections and stunning décor throughout, including over 2,000 hand blown glass flowers by Dale Chihuly that cover the ceiling of the lobby.
On the north side of the hotel, Bellagio offers the finest in shopping with elaborate hallways lined with luxury brands such as Tiffany, Valentino, Prada, Louis Vuitton, Hermès, Giorgio Armani, Gucci, and many more.
After some intense decision making (black or brown?), we left with a new bag in tow, then headed to Caesar’s for a spin around the casino.
3:30 A visit to Caesars Palace
A classic that continues to update itself, Caesars has been located on the corner of Flamingo and Las Vegas Blvd in the heart of the Las Vegas Strip since 1966. Built by Jay Sarno, who wanted to have guests experience life as Caesar would have, the hotel is complete with palaces, statues, and opulence.
Having stayed at Caesars multiple times over the years, one of our favorite memories was staying in one of the round room suites in the old Roman Tower just before it was remodeled. Complete with a round bed and lots of red velvet, we jokingly checked the room to make sure the ghost of Elvis wasn’t hiding in one of the closets.
Still one of our favorite hotels in Las Vegas, Caesars has grown to a massive resort with nearly 4,000 rooms and suites in six towers, a wide variety of restaurants and bars, a 166,000 square foot casino, The Coliseum at Caesars Palace, and The Forum Shops. All that shopping and walking left us parched, and it was 5:00, so that meant… cocktail time.
5:00 pm Martinis at Gordon Ramsay’s Steak
Vegas has no shortage of beautiful bars offering delightful libations. With only one night in town, selection of our happy hour destination deserved careful consideration. Should we unwind at the captivating Seahorse Bar at Caesars, which boasts actual sea horses in their aquarium?
Mesa Grill, Bobby Flay’s first restaurant outside of New York which opened in 2004, has a beautiful bar and serves up some incredible southwestern cuisine.
Or, perhaps some chill time at the sleek bar at Martorano’s?
So many tantalizing options, but the winner tonight – the lounge at Gordon Ramsay’s Steak at Paris.
Sipping lemon drop martinis under the neon-lit ceiling adorned with a rendition of the Union Jack Flag brought back fond memories of celebrating a milestone birthday with the tasting menu in the restaurant a few years earlier, just after it had opened.
Ramsay’s chic London invasion of Vegas in Paris specializes in Ramsay’s classics, including the legendary Sticky Toffee Pudding.
6:30 pm A twilight stroll down the Strip
Heading toward the south end of The Strip just as the sun began to set, we joined the crowds taking in the sights and sounds on the wide sidewalks lining the boulevard. Magicians entertained, singers performed, and thousands of people roamed between the casinos, shops, restaurants, and bars.
While the Las Vegas mega-resorts are impressive against the brilliant blue Nevada skies of the day, Vegas doesn’t really come alive until those millions of lights begin to twinkle. As we approached the Monte Carlo, which has occupied its place on Las Vegas Boulevard since 1996, the sun quietly disappeared leaving a brilliant blue hue in its wake.
Like many of the hotels, which have expanded their presence in front of the hotels toward the Strip in recent years, Monte Carlo added BLVD Plaza in 2014, with multiple casual restaurant and bars.
Next door, New York New York recreates the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, the CBS Building, and nine other of New York City’s most famous skyscrapers, with each hotel tower reaching a height approximately one-third the size of its inspiration. A replica of the Brooklyn Bridge leads into the hotel, casino, and shops.
And, of course, Lady Liberty welcomes visitors from around the world at the entrance.
Near the southern end of the Strip, King Arthur holds Court at the Camelot-themed Excalibur, which glows magically each night.
Across the intersection, the MGM Grand has been attracting visitors worldwide since 1993.
The third largest hotel in the world based on the number of rooms, MGM Grand has over 5000 rooms and suites and is home to the largest casino in Clark County, the county where Las Vegas is located. Originally built with a Wizard of Oz theme, which included the yellow brick road, Dorothy and the rest of the Oz characters, the resort has evolved over the years to a more old-Hollywood, deco vibe.
Heading back toward the north, the frenzy of Las Vegas was all around us. From flips flops to stilettos, from wedding dresses to pajamas, the crowds converge in search of lady luck along the famous boulevard. To that note, Vegas is a town that is best to walk if possible – even the hotel next door is always quite a distance away – so, bring your walking shoes, stop at each hotel for a bit of rest.
Arriving back at Bellagio, we gazed at Bally’s and Paris shimmering against a sky complete with a full moon and decided we should go check out the Eiffel Tower’s observation deck.
30 minutes later Vegas was at our feet.
8:30 pm Eiffel Tour Experience
A half-scale replica of the famous Paris landmark, the Vegas version of the La Tour Eiffel offers the opportunity to see the city from a bird’s eye view, 46 stories above the Strip. Following a glass-elevator ride to the top, the Eiffel Tour Experience offers amazing 360-degree views of the city.
An open-air, caged deck, the platform has holes approximately the size of a camera lens placed at intervals around the platform for capturing stunning images of Las Vegas in all directions.
9:30 pm Dinner at Spago
Arriving back down to the casino floor, we considered a bit of blackjack, but opted for dinner instead, with pizza definitely on the evening’s agenda.
One of our favorite pizza places has long been Spago’s, so off we went to Caesars Palace. Located in the Forum Shops, we asked for a spot on the patio for some late evening people watching and mushroom pizza. As we enjoyed our Italian pie and some vino, we discussed spots we hadn’t been in a while and decided that a bit of blackjack was now definitely in order and we should pay Rio and their Carnival in the Sky a visit in the process.
11:00 pm Games of chance at Rio
Grabbing a cab, we arrived at Rio just after 11:00 pm and quickly headed over to the Masquerade Tower casino in hopes we weren’t too late to catch the last show of the night.
The Carnival in the Sky began in 1997, with Mardi Gras-style floats circulating above the casino floor hourly, as dancers would toss beads to those below and to crowds on the balconies surrounding the casino.
Arriving, it seemed oddly quiet in the casino. The tracks where the floats circulated were still on the ceiling, but that was about it. A quick Google search and – oh no! We were late – by more than a few years. The show had stopped in March 2013.
Bummer! We went back over to the more lively main casino to try our hand at a few table games, and then called it a night.
8:30 am Starbucks & a morning walk
Since we’d covered the southern end of the Strip the previous night, a hike up north was on the morning’s agenda. After grabbing a chai and muffin, we began our urban trek.
The Venetian is an all-suites hotel, with over 4,000 luxury suites in the main building and another 3,000 in the Palazzo wing of the hotel.
Complete with a replica of St Marks Tower and a restaurant and boutique-lined Grand Canal, gondoliers offer rides both inside and outside the hotel.
Further north, Wynn, Encore, the Stratosphere and the Fashion Show Mall awaited, but our time was running short.
10:00 am Last stop – The Forum Shops
Arriving back at The Forum Shops entrance, we had a choice – continue down the street or take a “shortcut” through the mall and Caesars.
Home to more 636,000 square feet/59,100 square meters) of retail shops, restaurants, and a large collection of luxury boutiques ranging from Cartier to Channel to Versace, it is reported to be the highest grossing mall in the United States – with sales per square foot exceeding Rodeo Drive and the Magnificent Mile in Chicago.
Following a couple of stops to watch the fountains and talking statues and a quick swing through the Apple store, we made our way to the hotel, retrieved the bags and grabbed a cab.
Getting to the airport early in Vegas is a must – even with TSA Pre√ the lines can be excruciating at times – and it left us enough time to stop by Sammy’s.
11:30 am Lunch at Sammy’s Beach Bar at the airport
While some may know that Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, Sammy Hagar owns the Cabo Wabo Cantinas and a popular tequila company, many may have not made the connection when they walked by Sammy’s Beach Bar & Grill in Terminal C at McCarran.
With fresh, tasty food and friendly, quick service, Sammy’s is a good choice for lunch at the airport. Add in that, as the menu states, “Sammy has dedicated his profits from this restaurant to local community children’s charities. Sammy wants you to enjoy a great meal, great drink and know that together we can make a difference!”
After a beer, some fabulous nachos, and a huge salad, we grabbed our bags and walked back over to our terminal, ready for our next adventure.
Until next time – Viva Las Vegas!
Disclaimer: The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. We received no compensation for this article. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
When it’s time to relax and recharge, JW Marriott Desert Ridge in Phoenix delivers the ultimate resort and spa experience.
Combining approachable luxury and an idyllic setting, delightful indulgences and stunning views await around each corner of the resort’s 316 acres.
With unparalleled hospitality, four acres of sparkling pools and waterways, two championship golf courses, an amazing array of family activities, an award-winning spa, and fabulous restaurants, the resort is a perfect destination for those looking for adventure, relaxation – or both.
Always a fan of JW Marriott hotels, we were especially looking forward to visiting the resort during spring training, which is always an exciting time in Phoenix. So, when invited, we booked flights and were on our way to enjoy some relaxation and baseball.
Checking into our beautiful room overlooking the Isle of Capri, we resisted the urge to just fall into the beautiful bed with its crisp white linens, loads of fluffy pillows, and a comfy duvet. A loveseat and an overstuffed chair provided plenty of space to both relax and get a bit of work done. A desk, flat-panel TV, mini-fridge and large safe rounded out the room’s amenities.
A large, free-standing shower, soaking tub, and large vanity, along with bathrobes, stacks of thick towels and Aromatherapy Associates toiletries, created a relaxing, well-designed bath environment.
Set against the backdrop of the McDowell Mountains and the Sonoran Desert, JW Marriott embraces the resort’s peaceful, natural setting with a creative blend of design that reflects the elements of fire, water, earth, and sky.
Sunrises in Arizona are phenomenal.
Ironically, the only time we set an alarm clock is when we are traveling – for early morning flights and sunrises. When visiting the resort – set the alarm at least one of the days, stop off at Starbucks for a coffee or tea, find a spot by one of the many fire pits at Desert Ridge, and simply enjoy the majestic rising of the sun.
Colorful gardens, vibrant landscaping and the natural beauty of the arid Arizona landscape unify to create an exceptional environment that soothes the senses at Desert Ridge.
An area not to be missed – the beautiful desert botanical garden – an ideal spot for relaxing amongst the trees, plants, and cacti native to Arizona.
One of our favorite activities while at the resort was the Chef’s garden tour. Located near the spa, the garden produces some of the fruits and vegetables served at the Spa Bistro and contributes the herbs for Revive Spa’s signature product line. One of the resort’s horticulturists, Candace, gave us a tour of the gardens, which was both educational and tasty, with fruit and vegetable samples as we went. Nasturtium tastes remarkably like wasabi – who knew? And the creosote bush, it smells like rain. Such a fun morning and tours are available to all hotel guests.
Water is abundant at this oasis in the desert.
Four acres of sparkling pools and waterways wind their way through the resort, providing guests countless opportunities to bask in the gorgeous Arizona sun alongside cooling waters.
Everyone enjoys a plunge into the lazy river for a tranquil, relaxing time floating along through the courtyard and the kids delight in slip-sliding down the serpentine water slide.
Natural water features are also abundant throughout. From the incredibly beautiful lake near the golf course to the meandering streams and falls, the soothing sound of water provides a relaxing background to life at the resort.
Fire pits are abundant at Desert Ridge and provide a wonderful place to end the day and meet new friends.
After dinner at Stonegrill, we brought our bottle of Twenty6 Pinot over to enjoy under the incredible Phoenix stars and were soon joined by four new friends from an old spot – Dallas! As one of our new acquaintances later said, “New friends are wonderful, especially when discovered in such a beautiful atmosphere.”
I couldn’t have said it better.
The restaurants and bars
We enjoyed dinner at stonegrill the first night we arrived and it set the tone for our entire stay. The food was superb, the service was stellar, and the atmosphere was comfortable and inviting.
We started with lemon drop martinis and calamari, then moved on to our main courses of salmon and shrimp and grits – yep, the south ventured to the southwest in a delicious transition. We loved it! Seriously good food in a relaxed, upscale environment.
The Twenty6 lounge is located in the center of the hotel overlooking the expanse of the pools and terraces, and features hand-crafted cocktails, wines, beers, and other beverages, and a selection of tasty small plates.
So, the obvious question about Twenty6 is – why is it called Twenty6? Desert Ridge was the 26th JW Marriott and, hence, they have christened their bar and casual restaurant with the title of Twenty6.
While the signature prickly pear margarita is an absolute must, Twenty6 also has a very cool beverage endeavor underway.
Desert Ridge has partnered with a local brewery in Flagstaff to create the Twenty6 ale and with the renowned Paul Hobbs Wines from Sonoma County to deliver the Twenty6 chardonnay, pinot noir, and cabernet.
We had both the pinot and the cab – absolutely delightful wines and such a very cool program celebrating their unique part of the JW Marriott brand.
In addition to the lively interior of Twenty6, the terrace provides a fabulous vantage point to experience the vibrancy of Desert Ridge.
Sharing a bottle of wine on the Twenty6 patio late afternoon on a Sunday while watching the resort in full swing, it was as if experiencing a modern day version of Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.
Music from Roy’s Aloha Hour filled the air as children played games on the lawn, couples quietly shared conversations, people strolled in from the pools, and large groups laughed and conversed around the fire pits – a colorful blend of guests and activities sharing and enjoying their day.
Revive Spa Bistro
Revive Spa Bistro hits the spot for a healthy, organic breakfast or lunch. After touring the Chef’s garden, we stopped by for smoothies, a salad and a sandwich for lunch on the the patio near the pool. The food was fresh and delicious and the atmosphere was tranquil.
Meritage Steakhouse at Wildfire Golf Club
Located at Wildfire Golf Club, Meritage Steakhouse specializes in steaks, fresh seafood and fine wines with a country-club like atmosphere. Open for lunch or dinner, Meritage also has an outdoor patio that overlooks the botanical garden and ballroom lawn areas.
Roy’s Pacific Rim
Well-known for their Hawaiian fusion cuisine, Roy’s outdoor patio is the place to be early evening for Aloha Hour specials and live music. On into the evening, Roy’s delivers dishes crafted from fresh local ingredients with signature cocktails and fine wines.
Just a Splash Bar & Grill
Salads, sandwiches, burgers and a full bar conveniently located poolside.
Always fans of a hotel with a Starbucks, we stopped by frequently to grab a beverage or snack and would sit on the patio viewing the botanical garden and watching the golfers come and go at Wildfire Golf Club.
We waited in line one morning for our chai lattes next to pro golfers, Cheyenne Woods and Sadena Parks, who’d pulled in for a breakfast on their way to the links. Both would be playing the following week in the fifth edition of the JTBC Founders Cup, an LPGA event held each March at the resort.
When it’s time to relax, it’s time to head to Revive Spa for a bit of pampering.
The 28,000 square foot spa includes 41 treatment rooms, private locker rooms, showers, steam rooms, a sauna, a fitness center, the spa bistro, and a full-service salon – making it easy to schedule a full day of relaxation and rejuvenation at Revive.
However, even if you can only fit an hour or two in, check out the pedicures. I opted for the Gingerita pedicure and it was heavenly!
While sipping white ambrosia and coconut tea with honey pearls, my pedicure began with an exfoliating watermelon-basil vodka infused sugar scrub, followed by a warm citrus cilantro vitamin soak with grapeseed and olive fruit oils. Next up, a silky ginger body milk application, and finally, a finish of red polish. Spectacular!
Wildfire Golf Club
Home to two 18-hole championship golf courses designed by Arnold Palmer and Nick Faldo, Wildfire Golf Club also offers a chipping green, two putting greens, a driving range, golf carts with GPS, Meritage restaurant, and a spectacular pro shop.
The 18 hole, 7,145 yard Palmer course winds around the resort and through the picturesque Sonoran desert, featuring expansive fairways and average green sizes of 7,000 square feet.
The 6,846 yard Faldo course, meanders over 174 acres with large greens, multiple tee boxes, and features 108 sand bunkers.
The practice facilities at Wildfire include an all-grass driving range, and putting & chipping greens and bunkers.
If swinging a racquet is more your game, the Tennis Center offers eight lighted tennis courts and a full-service pro shop. Group and one-on-one instruction is available.
Additionally, bikes can be rented at the tennis shop.
Desert Ridge has two fitness centers, with the primary center located near the pool courtyard and lazy river and the second at Revive Spa. Both fitness centers include cardio equipment and free weights, with the spa fitness center also offering fitness classes for an additional fee.
For those that think shopping is a form of cardio, the retail shops at Desert Ridge have a great selection of offerings ranging from forgotten necessities to local artisan creations, to clothing and much more (including a great selection of Moleskins, of which several now call my backpack home).
Top 5 things we loved about JW Marriott Desert Ridge
A culture of hospitality. Desert Ridge has a friendly, helpful staff that make you feel truly welcome – and that is something considering the size of the resort. Special thanks to Joshua, Candace, Owen, Leah, Karyn and the entire Desert Ridge team who made our stay so awesome!
Fabulous location woven into the natural beauty of the desert. It’s easy to forget you’re so close to the city when at Desert Ridge, with its amazing mountain and desert views. Yet, when you want to get to an attraction or event in Phoenix, it is just minutes away.
A resort fee that provides tons of value. The daily resort fee includes self parking, use of the Revive Spa fitness center, a complimentary dinner appetizer per entree purchased (2 per room max), unlimited balls and use of clubs on the driving range at Wildfire Golf Club, free golf bag storage, complimentary use of the tennis facilities and use of four racquets, and a free two hour bike rental for up to four bikes.
A resort for golfers and non-golfers. While golfers can enjoy two championship golf courses, there are so many activities at the resort that non-golfers can fill their days with adventures or relaxation, never giving thought to fairways and greens.
Superb dining and drinking options. The food at all the restaurants was delicious and fresh and the creative Twenty6 beverage programs added a fun, local spin while delivering high-quality wines and beers.
Disclosure & disclaimer: Special thanks to JW Marriott Desert Ridge Phoenix for hosting us as their guest. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
Sierra at Tahoe is a resort that covers both ends of the skiing continuum, from beginner to expert and everything in between.
Gentle green runs, a great ski school, over 100 acres of terrain dedicated to beginners, and four beginner-only surface lifts make Sierra at Tahoe Ski Resort a popular destination for those just getting started on the hill.
Top notch tree skiing and 320 acres of expert level backcountry terrain at Huckleberry Canyon have accomplished riders and skiers heading to the resort with frequency.
Anything for intermediates? Half the trails are rated blue, with a wide selection of groomers of varying grades and plenty of fresh corduroy.
Sierra at Tahoe: Skiing and snowboarding
With 2,000 acres and a 2,212 ft vertical drop, Sierra at Tahoe’s 46 trails cover some ground across the mountain.
Three high-speed quads, five cozy doubles, and one triple whisk skiers and boarders up the mountain, with several separate areas on the mountain primarily defined by how they are accessed: Grandview, Huckleberry Canyon, Backside, Nob Hill and the West Bowl.
The Grand View Express lift, located behind the ski school, serves the east side of the mountain, delivering skiers and riders to spectacular views of Lake Tahoe.
At the top of the lift, 360 Smokehouse BBQ is a great spot to grab lunch, head up to the rooftop deck for a photo opp of the lake, and check out Huckleberry Canyon.
On the front side of the hill, skiers and riders will find a wide variety of terrain including bumps, groomers, and glades.
Just under the Grand View lift are some nice advanced runs or for a gliding groomer, head off toward the west to tackle the longest run on the mountain, Sugar n’ Spice, a 2.5 mile green run that winds down from the top of Grand View Express all the way to the lodge.
The Huckleberry Gates
A short hike from the top of the Grandview lift, the Huckleberry Canyon backcountry terrain can be accessed from five gates.
The 320 acres of Huckleberry Canyon delivers some of the most challenging inbounds backcountry skiing and boarding at Lake Tahoe.
With cliff drops, chutes, bowls, glades, and cornices, it’s steep, it’s deep, and it’s definitely an experts-only adventure.
For two days, more than 50 of the top freeride skiers and snowboarders from around the world competed for Freeride World Tour qualifying points and a share of $5000 in prize money. It was an awesome display of tricks, thrills, and spills on the natural, rugged terrain. Be sure and mark your calendars for the annual event!
Heading off the back of the mountain from the Grandview lift, the Backside has some fun trails and is home to Sierra at Tahoe’s boarder cross features. Located on the south side of the mountain, the sunny Backside is best skied in the morning once spring rolls around.
Popular with riders of all levels, Nob Hill departs near the base area and delivers skiers and riders to a variety of challenges, including access to the very wide and somewhat steep intermediate run, Lower Main, that ends in the base area.
Moving to the west side of the mountain, West Bowl is a great place for intermediate and advanced skiers to play.
The high speed quad, West Bowl Express, accesses terrain ranging from long, fast cruisers to beautiful glade runs amidst the magnificent Red Fir trees for which Sierra at Tahoe is so well known.
Sierra at Tahoe has six terrain parks, the Smokey BoarderX course, and a halfpipe.
Designed with an emphasis on advancing skill levels in appropriate conditions, Sierra’s Burton Progression Park was created with first-timers in mind. From there, freestylers can tackle jumps, boxes, rails and build their trick repertoire at the various parks located throughout the resort.
The kiddos love Sierra at Tahoe’s on-mountain themed adventure zones. With animated characters, educational signs and pint-sized terrain features, children are entertained as they learn their way around the snow.
Sierra at Tahoe Ski school
Along with a highly-friendly environment for those just finding their way around the slopes, Sierra at Tahoe has a great ski and snowboard school for riders of all ages and all abilities.
Parents rave about the Wild Mountain children’s program, which both gets kids on skis and entertains them at the same time. Located next to the Main Lodge, programs are grouped by age and ability and are designed to encourage children’s love of the sport and their progression through skill levels.
Sierra at Tahoe: Dining & drinking
Sierra has some tasty options for dining and drinking, both on-mountain and at the lodge…
At the Main Lodge & Solstice Plaza
Java Junction – Serving a wide variety of coffee selections, as well as breakfast and lunch items
Mama’s Kitchen – With fare from breakfast burritos to soups, sandwiches, pizza and mac and cheese
Aspen Café – Grilled items and a variety of lunch options served with one hour of free WiFi access
Golden Bear Terrace – Located outside the Main Lodge, specializing in burgers, sandwiches, craft beers and goggle tans
Solstice Eatery – Specializing in tasty wraps, salads and whole wheat and gluten-free pizzas
Sierra Pub & Deli – Serving sandwiches, nachos, and pizza – a great spot for après with live music, happy hour specials and “local bar” atmosphere.
And perhaps the best beer bargain around – join the Sierra Pub Club and get happy hour prices all day long.
Baja Grill – At the foot of the West Bowl Express, the spot for fresh fish tacos, quesadillas, burritos, and tacos
360° Smokehouse BBQ – Located at the top of the Grandview lift at 8,852 feet, specializing in soups, BBQ and stunning Tahoe views (they have a veggie burger as well)
Where to stay
A wide variety of hotels and resorts are available in South Lake Tahoe which is about 17 miles from Sierra at Tahoe.
The complimentary South Shore Shuttle provides transportation from South Lake Tahoe to Sierra at Tahoe – shuttle times and information can be found on the Sierra at Tahoe website or by calling 530-659-7453.
Getting to Sierra at Tahoe Ski Resort
Sierra at Tahoe’s address is 1111 Sierra at Tahoe Road, Twin Bridges, CA 95735.
Sierra at Tahoe is located 74 miles, or about 1 hour 45 minutes, from the Reno Tahoe airport. From Sacramento, Sierra at Tahoe is 91 miles, or about 1 hour 45 minutes, on Highway 50.
From the San Francisco airport (SFO), Sierra at Tahoe is 188 miles or about 3 1/2 hours.
Know before you go
Check on the Sierra at Tahoe website for discounts before you head to Sierra at Tahoe – the resort is known year after year for affordable lift tickets and great discounts on first timer lessons.
Reserve lessons and day care in advance. The kids programs are very popular, so reserve a spot for the little ones in advance. On the day of the lesson, drop off parking is available directly in front of the school.
Plan on traffic on the weekends and holidays. Sierra at Tahoe draws a big Sacramento and Bay area crowd, so arrive early to spend more time on the slopes and less in your car. Or, better yet, come midweek for no lift lines and plenty of untouched pow.
The content & opinions expressed in our Sierra at Tahoe Ski Resort review are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
It’s not every day you hit the slopes for a day and ski from Nevada to California.
With the state line between Nevada and California running down the middle of Heavenly Ski Resort at South Lake Tahoe, you’ll do just that – ski in two states on one day. It may take you awhile though, considering the fact that Heavenly is massive.
Heavenly is without a doubt one of the most appropriately named ski resorts in the world. With many runs providing sweeping views of the sapphire blue waters of Lake Tahoe, the experience is simply… Heavenly. While most all of the Tahoe resorts have beautiful lake views, Heavenly’s are the most expansive, with a photo opportunity around every bend. So, grab your skis or board and your camera phone, and plan on an incredible day on the snow.
Heavenly Lake Tahoe: Lay of the land
A giant of a resort, Heavenly’s 4,800 skiable acres make it the largest ski resort at Lake Tahoe and the fourth largest in the United States. Understanding how to access all that terrain is important for making the most of your time at the resort.
Gondola/Heavenly Village area: The gondola departs from the Heavenly Village area at Stateline, where numerous hotels, casinos, restaurants, equipment rental shops, and retail stores are located. The Tamarack Lodge is at the top of the gondola and all levels of skiing can be accessed from this point. However, parking is limited near the gondola area so one of the other lodges may provide a better starting point for those arriving by car.
The California Lodge, Heavenly’s original mountain base, is located and about two miles from the Heavenly Village gondola area.
Located at the bottom of the Gunbarrel run (a very long, double black, mogul run – don’t freak out, there are other ways down), the California Lodge has free & premium parking, an equipment rental shop, The California Bar, a ski school and the Aerial Tram.
The World Cup ski area, where race events are frequently held, is also near the California Lodge.
Oh, and, that way to get back down without tackling the Gunbarrel bumps – near the base of the Powderbowl Express and Patsy’s take the intermediate Round-a-Bout down, or just simply download on the Tram or Gunbarrel Express.
Nevada side lodges: Boulder Lodge and Stagecoach Lodge are located on the Nevada side of the mountain about 4-6 miles from the Heavenly Village gondola area. Both have free parking and offer equipment rental. Boulder has an adult and children ski school and provides access to the entire mountain for all levels of skiers and riders. Stage Coach also provides access to all of Heavenly but is only appropriate for intermediate and advanced skiers.
Heavenly Lake Tahoe: Skiing and snowboarding
How big is Heavenly? 97 trails, two terrain parks, 28 lifts (14 in California & 14 in Nevada), a gondola, a tram, and great skiing and boarding for all skill levels.
The base elevation on the California side is 6,540 feet/1,995 meters and 7,200 feet/2,195 meters on the Nevada side.
If you think the sights are great on the lower trails, head to the summit where you’ll feel like you just stepped into a Heavenly ad with its panoramic views. Reached via the Sky Express lift (not suitable for beginners as trails are blue and black), the summit sits at 10,067 feet/3,069 meters, the highest at Lake Tahoe.
While at the summit, be sure to stop by the Ski Patrol, pick up a Heavenly Avalanche Rescue Dogs t-shirt, and say hi to the friendliest group of Ski Patrollers you’ll meet on a mountain and their fabulous four legged companions – who by the way, star in their own Heavenly video…
Now, that we have the sightseeing finished, it’s time to get down to business with 3,500 feet/1,067 meters of vertical to explore.
Well-known for their wide-open, blue cruisers, 45% of Heavenly’s trails are intermediate.
From the top, you have two choices – ski toward Nevada along the spectacular Skyline Trail, linking to the Big Dipper which lands you in an assortment of tree-lined intermediates serviced by Dipper Express and Comet Express.
Or, continue to play in California, heading out on Ridge Run, then taking Liz’s or High Five, both which are pure fun.
Experts and advanced skiers have 35% of the terrain to navigate with steeps, chutes, moguls, and some of the best tree skiing in North America. The expert areas of Mott Canyon and Killebrew Canyon on the Nevada side, really are expert, so don’t attempt these double blacks unless you have the skills to pull it off. Last, but not least, the above mentioned Gunbarrel is a huge mogul hill leading down to the California Lodge.
For the beginners, 20% of Heavenly’s runs are gentle green groomers. Near Powderbowl Express, Mombo and Maggies are enjoyable runs and Easy Street can be accessed close to the Tamarack Lodge at the top of the gonodola. For those just starting out, Boulder at the Boulder Lodge is a good option.
But, an even better choice is to spend some time with the Heavenly Ski and Snowboard School. With schools located across the mountain for children and adults, including a First Timer option at the California Lodge, a few lessons will greatly improve both your skill and enjoyment of snow sports.
Heavenly Lake Tahoe: On mountain dining and drinking
From microbrews & burgers to pizza & paninis, to snacks & warm beverages, the multiple dining options spread across the mountain offer something for all tastes.
Our favorites: The Sky Deck at the foot of the Sky Express lift, with grilled fare (try the black bean burger), a bar and plenty of space to catch a few rays and relax during your lunch break.
Steins, near the Patsy’s and Powderbowl Express lifts – also a great place to grab a beer and a soup and soak up the sun.
Heavenly Lake Tahoe: Additional mountain activities
For skiers and non-skiers alike, a wide variety of mountain activities are just a 2.4 mile, breathtaking gondola ride up to the Tamarack Lodge.
Observation deck. Take the Observation Deck stop on the gondola ride and take in the panoramic views of Lake Tahoe and grab a drink or bite to eat at Café Blue.
Tubing and sledding at Adventure Peak. With five lanes of tubing and sledding fun on a 500-foot long course with a 65-foot vertical drop, Adventure Peak offers great family fun.
Unbuckle après ski party. A perfect spot for skiers and non-skiers to meet and share some on mountain fun. Located at the Tamarack Lodge at the top of the gondola with drink specials, live DJs, and dancing.
Ice skating. Near the base of the gondola in the village, the Heavenly Village Ice Rink is an open-air ice skating rink which is open daily throughout the ski season.
Heavenly Lake Tahoe: Where to stay
From luxury hotels to casino hotels to rustic cabins, South Lake Tahoe has a wide variety of lodging options. Hotels located in Heavenly Village, nearest to the gondola, include Grand Residences by Marriott, Marriott’s Timber Lodge, and Lake Tahoe Resort Hotel.
Heavenly Lake Tahoe: Getting there and parking
Heavenly Lake Tahoe’s address is 4080 Lake Tahoe Blvd, South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150.
Heavenly Ski Resort is located 58 miles or about 1 hour, 8 minutes from the Reno Tahoe airport or about 200 miles from SFO airport in San Francisco. From Reno, take I-580 south to Carson City, then take US-50 W in South Lake Tahoe.
Heavenly offers a complimentary ski shuttle service throughout South Lake Tahoe and Stateline, making stops at most major facilities, from 8:00am-5:00pm.
Heavenly Lake Tahoe: Know before you go
Bring the sunscreen. While you may want to go home with a goggle tan, you don’t want a sunburn. With over 300 days of sunshine and the highest elevation of all the Tahoe resorts, sunscreen should be applied often.
Drink lots of water. According to experts, you lose water through respiration at high altitude twice as quickly as you do at sea level. Whether you’re skiing on the hill all day, shopping in Heavenly Village or out for an evening in the casinos, you need to drink extra water to combat the effects of higher altitude.
Dress in layers. Conditions change quickly on the mountain and what starts out as a warm, bluebird day on the mountain, can quickly change to cold and snowy conditions. We ski with a small backpack for different gloves, hand warmers, and other items.
Consider hiring transportation to the mountain. Weather and road conditions change quickly in the Sierra and chains are frequently required. Check out the road conditions at the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) before heading to Heavenly or better, hire transportation, so you can relax and enjoy the trip.
Disclaimer: The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. We received no compensation for this article. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
Well-known as one of the top surfing spots in the world, Santa Cruz is also a vibrant community along the California central coast with great hotels and resorts, restaurants featuring dishes crafted from fresh local ingredients, fabulous hiking trails amidst the area’s natural beauty, amazing wildlife viewing, and beautiful beaches.
Situated along scenic Highway 1 just 70 miles/112 km south of San Francisco, Santa Cruz is the perfect spot for a quick getaway or a longer retreat. The warm sun, low humidity, and plentiful activities attract visitors from both the region and the world to the scenic destination.
Santa Cruz: Where to stay
With a wide selection of lodging options from quaint coastal lodges to luxury resorts, Santa Cruz has something for every vacation style and budget.
Our choice when visiting the area is Chaminade Resort & Spa. Recently renovated, Chaminade is the perfect combination of quiet retreat, with top amenities, numerous on-site activities, a full-service spa, great food, a super staff, and gorgeous views of the Santa Cruz Mountains and the Monterey Bay. Learn more about Chaminade Resort & Spa »
Santa Cruz: Things to do
1. Stroll the Santa Cruz Wharf
Located between Santa Cruz Main Beach in front of the Boardwalk and the popular surfing spot, Cowell Beach, Santa Cruz Wharf is the longest wharf on the west coast of the United States at a length of 2,745 feet /836.68 meters.
Built in 1914, the Wharf today is a hub of activity with shops, restaurants, boat tours, kayak rentals, fishing, and a great spot for watching sea lions.
2. Play at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk
The famous seaside amusement park, the Santa Cruz Boardwalk, is just down the beach from the Wharf and is home to the Looff Carousel built in 1911 and the Giant Dipper wooden roller coaster, which dates back to 1924. Both are National Historic Landmarks, as is the entire Santa Cruz Boardwalk, which has been operating since 1907.
Admission to the amusement park is free, with small fees charged for rides. In addition to the rides, the Boardwalk has the largest selection of games in Northern California and a wide variety of food choices ranging from corn dogs to deep-fried artichokes.
3. Shop or take in a movie in downtown Santa Cruz
An eclectic shopping area centered around Pacific Avenue, downtown Santa Cruz has over 100 boutiques, restaurants, movie theaters, and art galleries, attracting a diverse mix of patrons in an outdoor mall atmosphere. The pedestrian-friendly small town is a great place to grab a coffee or ice cream and people watch, visit the weekly farmer’s market, or browse the monthly Santa Cruz Antique Faire.
4. Visit the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Exploration Center
Established in 1992, the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary stretches along the coastline from San Francisco to Cambria and is one of the United States’ largest marine sanctuaries, with a vast array of wildlife including seals, sea lions, sea otters, and whales.
Located near the Santa Cruz Wharf, the Sanctuary Exploration Center features a variety of displays and interactive exhibits for visitors to explore to gain a better understanding of the marine sanctuary and how they can help protect this underwater treasure.
5. Explore the Santa Cruz Harbor area
The Santa Cruz Harbor area is a great spot to take a walk along the beach, have lunch, visit the Walton Lighthouse and watch the boating activity in the harbor.
With over 800 permanent slips, the Santa Cruz Harbor also serves as a launching point for kayaks and paddleboards. Bring a camera and stroll along the harbor area as a kaleidoscope of colorful boats and pleasure craft navigate the harbor.
Adjacent to the harbor on the east side of the water, is Santa Cruz Harbor Beach, a popular spot with volleyball courts, kayak rentals, restaurants, and shops.
If visiting on a Saturday morning, grab a coffee at the Java Junction and enjoy the music of the Ukulele Club of Santa Cruz, a talented group of locals that have a great time playing tunes on the beach.
Time your visit near mid-day, then head to The Crow’s Nest for lunch. Located on Harbor Beach and frequented by locals and visitors alike, The Crow’s Nest has been serving great food with spectacular views since 1969.
Across the harbor are Walton Lighthouse and Seabright Beach.
A paved walking path leads out to the Walton Lighthouse, also known as Santa Cruz Breakwater Lighthouse, built in 2002 on a jetty at the harbor entrance has been the site of a light station of some form since 1964.
Huge waves crash along the jetty, which is lined with tetrapods, structures that look like giant concrete jacks. Tetrapods, which in Greek means four-legged, dissipate the force of the waves, allowing water to flow around the structures, rather than against it.
The view from the lighthouse back to the coastline is beautiful in both directions, with great views of Santa Cruz Harbor, Harbor Beach, Seabright Beach, Santa Cruz Main Beach, Santa Cruz Boardwalk, and the Santa Cruz Wharf in the distance.
6. Watch the surfers
Nicknamed “Surf City,” Santa Cruz consistently nears the top of all surfing destinations lists.
While donning a wet suit and grabbing a board may not be on your to-do list, heading to one of the popular spots around Santa Cruz County to watch the skilled surfers is an activity not to be missed.
Top spots to check out the surfing action are Pleasure Point, Manresa State Park, Steamer Lane, Waddell Creek, and 26th Avenue.
7. Kick back at the beach
29 miles of coastline along Santa Cruz County provides a wide selection of beaches to choose from.
Whether you are looking for a quiet place for a picnic, a dog-friendly beach, or the perfect spot for some volleyball or water sports, there’s a beach in Santa Cruz County that will fill the bill.
8. Sip some wine
Home to over 70 wineries and tasting rooms, the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA is mostly well-known for Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon varietals.
One of the oldest wine growing regions in the United States, wineries range from small, boutique locations to larger operations including David Bruce Winery in Los Gatos, Ridge Vineyards’ Monte Bello Estate in Cupertino, Bonny Doon Vineyard in Davenport, Byington Vineyard in Los Gatos, and Bargetto Winery, which has a tasting room in Soquel. Many wineries in the region offer visits by appointment only or only on specific days of the week, so call ahead before visiting.
9. Take a hike
The abundant natural beauty of Santa Cruz beckons one to get out and hit the hiking trail. The only question in Santa Cruz County is which one.
From the popular Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park with its giant Redwoods to California’s oldest state park, Big Basin Redwoods where you’ll find the largest continuous stand of Ancient Coast Redwoods south of San Francisco, Santa Cruz County’s 14 state parks has a hike for everyone. Find yours by visiting the California State Parks website – just select “Find by County” and choose “Santa Cruz” for a great list of options.
10. Pay a visit to Capitola Village
Founded in 1869, charming Capitola Village sits beside the sea, drawing visitors with its colorful buildings, beach, boutiques, antique stores, galleries, restaurants, and wharf.
The oldest seaside resort town in California, Capitola Village is home to outdoor movies in the summer, numerous festivals throughout the year and the Capitola Historical Museum.
Know before you go
Climate: Average daily high temperatures in the winter and early spring months (November – March) range in the neighborhood of 60°F, with daily highs from April to October reaching into the 70s. Nighttime temperatures drop into the 40s in the winter and 50s in the summer, so a sweater or light jacket is a good idea for evenings year round.
Driving: In northern and coastal areas of California, it normally takes longer than in other areas due to winding rows and heavy traffic. Allow extra time. Upon arrival, do not leave any valuables in your car and watch out for pedestrians.
Poison oak. When hiking, be aware that poison oak is prevalent in the Santa Cruz mountains.
Conserve water. California is in a historic drought, so re-use hotel towels and conserve water whenever possible. Restaurants generally do not bring water to tables without it being requested, so don’t think its bad service – simply ask the server for a glass.
Disclaimer: The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. We received no compensation for this article. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
Nestled amidst towering Redwood and Eucalyptus trees, the Chaminade Resort and Spa sits atop a mountain overlooking the Santa Cruz Mountains and the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.
As we drove up the tree-lined road to the resort, we anticipated a rustic lodge – the typical upscale resort in the woods with dark woods and lots of leather furniture. Boy, were we wrong.
The rooms & suites
The Spanish mission style resort is spread across 300 acres, with 156 rooms and suites in 11 buildings, and has recently undergone a huge renovation. Arriving at the door of our junior suite in building 11, a smile crossed our faces as we were greeted with a room number plate created from dominos.
Opening the door…warm colors and an eclectic sense of playfulness filled the room – so appropriate for a community well-known for its vibrant lifestyle.
The clever, bohemian decor ranged from a cabinet styled like an antique refrigerator that housed the mini-fridge to the measuring stick inspired coat rack. But the pièce de résistance was the headboard – an abacus!
Each item in the spacious room seemed to have been carefully selected for both form and function. Underneath the coat rack was a bench with built-in cubbies – perfect for storing backpacks and shoes, as well as providing extra seating.
No matchy-matchy nightstands here. Each side of the bed had different tables – both with a cool factor, plenty of built-in power, and bright red lighting accents.
In one corner, an oversized leather chair with a stylish reading lamp and a laptop table provided a comfortable spot for catching up on email or watch the huge flat panel TV. On the opposite side of the room, a nook with a sectional couch & rustic coffee table was the perfect place for enjoying a glass of wine.
The bath was sleek with a clean, fresh feel, natural wood accent pieces, BeeKind – Gilchrist & Soames toiletries, and fluffy white towels.
Industrial-inspired shelving, drawers, and racks in an alcove outside the bath provide plenty of storage and a full-length mirror turns it into a great dressing area. An oversized safe, bathrobe, hair dryer and coffee/tea maker rounded out the amenities.
Our first-floor room had a private patio overlooking the forest – a tranquil spot to relax and enjoy nature.
Paths meander throughout the resort, leading from each of the guest room buildings to the main building, spa, pool and other amenities. We thoroughly enjoyed the short strolls to dine in the main building, but for those not desiring to do so, the hotel has a van to shuttle guests back and forth.
Each morning, we headed over to the main building where coffee was available in the lobby. Numerous seating areas are scattered throughout the main building, from small intimate tables for two to larger sections for groups.
After coffee, we’d wander out to the back of the resort to watch the day come to life and take in those stunning views of the Santa Cruz hillside and Monterey Bay in the distance.
Things to do
With a wide variety of activities available throughout the resort, it’s easy to understand why Chaminade is well-known as a great getaway spot. Guests can choose between hiking trails, a spa, a heated outdoor pool, hot tubs, tennis courts, a volleyball court, and a great fitness center to create their own special retreat.
3 miles of private hiking trails
Chaminade has three hiking trails on the resort’s 200+ acres: the short half-mile green loop near the main building, the 1 1/4 mile red trail or the 1 3/4 mile blue trail, which was our selection. The hiking trail map can be downloaded on the Chaminade’s website and one is provided at check-in as well.
The red and blue trails wind through soaring Eucalyptus & Redwood trees, a babbling stream, miles of lush greenery and past the Lindwood Lodge where Judge Curtis Lindley built a summer home in the early 1900s on the property.
There’s no excuse for missing a workout at Chaminade. The fitness center is large, with a great selection of top of the line equipment and machines including treadmills, ellipticals, stair machines, and bikes. If group sessions are more your style, yoga, Zumba, Pilates, or circuit training classes are offered most mornings and some evenings.
Spa at Chaminade
No retreat is complete without a visit to the spa and Chaminade’s is 1,700 square feet of luxury and serenity.
Alluring aromas, tranquil sounds, and beautiful artwork await at The Spa at Chaminade – which definitely is a splurge-worthy way to relax and recharge the senses and deserves a spot on your retreat agenda.
Featuring handmade, all organic products, The Spa at Chaminade offers a full menu of innovative services administered in rooms named after essential oils like Jasmine, Rosemary, Sage. Following treatments, spa guests are invited to relax on the private spa patio next to the koi pond overlooking the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Chaminade has four lighted tennis courts and equipment is available by loan at the fitness center.
Swimming pools and hot tubs
Whether you want to soak up some California sun or go for a swim, Chaminade’s heated 50-foot outdoor pool and hot tub are available daily from 7am to 11pm. For a special day at the pool, cabanas and poolside food and beverages are also available seasonally.
Dining & beverages
While at Chaminade Resort & Spa, we had drinks and appetizers at the bar, dined at Linwood’s Bar & Grill, attended a special event, and experienced Sunday brunch at the Sunset Restaurant – and the food and the service were spectacular.
Linwood’s Bar & Grill
With a menu featuring local, seasonal fare, Linwood’s Bar & Grill is a casual meeting place popular with hotel guests and locals alike. At the bar, the sautéed prawns stole the show, accompanied by a mean lemon drop martini. For the main course, the scallops were seared to perfection and the grilled eggplant in a fig reduction was sublime.
Chaminade special events
Throughout the year, Chaminade hosts special food & beverage events ranging from their popular Farm to Table Wine dinners in the summer, to holiday dinners, to events featuring a specific beverage like… tequila!
We were fortunate to make the Patrón Tequila tasting party while visiting, where Chaminade unveiled their own bespoke barrel (about 27 cases) of aged Patron tequila unique to the resort. The Reposado had been aged for 9 months in a Hungarian Oak barrel and was featured throughout the event in specialty cocktail flights.
Sunday brunch at Sunset Restaurant
Always a fan of a Sunday that begins with bubbles, the Chaminade Sunday brunch is an indulgence extraordinaire.
As with Linwood’s, Sunday brunch at Sunset Restaurant was once again a blend of locals and guests, which is always a good indication of great food and service.
The food was superb and plentiful doesn’t quite describe the multitude of offerings. Raviolis smoked salmon, eggs Benedict, a carving station, custom omelets, waffles, an array of vegetables – and the list goes on, and on, and on.
My personal favorites – the raviolis in an arrabbiata sauce and the stuffed french toast. Oh my – heavenly.
The top 5 things we loved most about Chaminade
The staff at Chaminade was exceptional – helpful and friendly from morning to night, throughout every area of the hotel.
The guest rooms are large, well-appointed, creative, and functional with plenty of seating room.
The food is outstanding and the Sunday brunch was one of the best we’ve experienced.
The on-site, private hiking trails are beautiful and convenient.
The resort reflects Santa Cruz’ casual charm in a beautiful, tranquil setting – the atmosphere is upscale, yet comfortable.
Disclosure & disclaimer: Special thanks to Chaminade Resort & Spa for hosting us as their guest. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.