A couple of hours gliding on clear waters, while enjoying delicious food and a beverage under clear blue skies, makes for one of our favorite ways to spend an afternoon.
When the lake is Gull Lake, one of the largest in the Brainerd, Minnesota area, with 38 miles of picturesque coastline and sparkling waters, and the boat it is the luxury Destiny Cruises yacht, the North Star, the experience is elevated to a superb afternoon of relaxation and leisure.
Destiny Cruises on Gull Lake
Our two-hour lunch excursion aboard the beautiful motor yacht began at the docks at Ernie’s on Gull, about six miles north of Brainerd. Welcomed aboard with a warm, Minnesota welcome, guests have the option of relaxing downstairs in the air-conditioned, glass-enclosed cabin, or opting for the open-air upstairs deck. We headed straight upstairs to bask in the Minnesota sunshine.
The yacht is large – 65 feet long and 22 feet wide – providing guests plenty of room to spread out, get comfortable and enjoy the captivating views.
Custom built by SkipperLiner in LaCrosse, WI for Destiny Cruises, the North Star took a year to build and was delivered in 2014. Now in her third season on Gull Lake, the North Star was the first public cruise vessel to operate on the lake for many years. The elegant boat’s public cruises, which include lunch, brunch, happy hour, dinner and sunset cruises, have been warmly welcomed by the community and visitors to the area. The yacht is also a popular venue for private chartered events and weddings.
With two cash bars, one upstairs and one down, guests can partake of a beverage, as we did, selecting a refreshing cocktail to enjoy as we pulled away from the dock and headed out on the sparkling waters of Gull Lake.
One of the largest lakes in the Brainerd area, Gull Lake is three miles wide and fifteen miles long. Along the way, our captain provided some of the area’s history and facts about the lake itself. Gull Lake is 70 – 85 feet deep in most places and contains most types of fish common to Minnesota’s waters.
As the relaxation and fun continued, we took turns “diving the boat” and I even donned the captain’s cap while at the helm.
Lunch was a delicious selection of BBQ chicken and salmon, baked beans, cole slaw, potato salad and turtle pudding for dessert.
We made our way around the lake, passing Hole in the Day Bay, where an ice fishing championship is held each winter with 20,000 pre-drilled holes created in advance for the competition. On this warm, sunny day as the lake sparkled in a thousand shades of blue, it was hard to imagine it being cold enough for ice fishing a few months earlier. The magic of Minnesota.
There are 19 resorts on Gull Lake, including Madden’s, where we stayed while visiting the Brainerd area, and which we highly recommend. A beautiful, sprawling resort, Madden’s has five restaurants, four pools, two lounges, three golf courses, spa, full-service marina and so much more. If you are staying at Madden’s and would like to schedule a private Destiny Cruise for your group, Destiny Cruise can even pick you up at the resort.
As our wonderful time aboard the North Star drew to a close, we savored the last moments of peaceful relaxation and stunning views on Gull Lake. The entire two-hour cruise was perfect thanks to the beautiful surroundings, the large, elegant yacht, and the excellent crew.
Know before you go
Prepare for changing weather. Except when severe weather conditions are present, cruises depart rain or shine. Wear sunscreen and a hat, and bring a light jacket, especially in the evening or on a cloudy day.
Cruises. Destiny Cruises offers public brunch, lunch, happy hour, dinner and sunset cruises. Private charters for events such as weddings, rehearsal dinners, family gatherings or corporate getaways are also available. Visit the Destiny Cruises website for more information and to book your cruise or private event.
Bring some cash. The crew provides excellent service and gratuity for the onboard staff is not included in the ticket price.
Disclosure & disclaimer: Special thanks to Explore Minnesota, Explore Brainerd Lakes and Destiny Cruises 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.
As you enter Paul Bunyan Land, the famous lumberjack sits directly in front of you, 26 feet tall with eyes that blink and a head that swivels, and he greets you by name. After that, he answers any questions you may have.
We had a few – check out Paul telling us how old he is and what his favorite food is…
Paul went on to tell us about how his dog, Sport, the Reversible Dog, who ended up with his legs upside down. Evidently, Sport accidentally got cut in half and when the nearby doctor sewed him back together he made the mistake. Now sport runs on his front legs, then flops over and runs on his hind legs when he gets tired.
As much as we loved it, children are mesmerized. Watching from a short distance, nostalgia is in the air as parents and grandparents relive their own childhood memories with the plaid-shirted animated giant.
A local attraction and tradition in the Brainerd Lakes Area since the 1950s, Paul and his friends’ futures were looking bleak when the original amusement park, Paul Bunyan Amusement Center, closed in 2002 to make way for a Kohl’s department store. Hoping to obtain a few items from the park as it was sold off, the owners of Pioneer Village, located about 6 miles away, ended up purchasing the entire amusement park. Combining the two attractions, they relocated the rides, buildings, Paul, Sport, and Paul’s ox, Babe the Blue Ox, to their new home on 23 acres, which is now Paul Bunyan Land and This Old Farm Pioneer Village.
The park now has something for everyone, offering a day of fun and exploration for the entire family. Paul Bunyan Land has 40 rides and attractions, a petting barn, and the Pioneer Village is home to 30 buildings filled with the largest one man collection of antiques from the late 1800’s to early 1900’s in Minnesota.
The amusement park
With 40 amusement rides and attractions, the kiddos will be entertained all day – and they can be because all rides are included in the admission price.
There are rides like the Flight Commander and Mini Roller Coaster for the little ones.
For the older family members, the Tilt-A-Whirl, Dodge-em-Cars and Flying Cages provide whirls and thrills. And, for everyone in the family, climb on the ferris wheel or explore the Magnetic Mine.
In addition to the amusement park, Paul Bunyan Land has a candy store and jail, which are conveniently, oh I mean curiously, next door to each other.
Paul’s petting barn
Paul’s petting barn is between the amusement park and the Pioneer Village and a chance to stop by and see the horses, chickens and pigs up close.
This Old Farm Pioneer Village
Thirty buildings await exploration in The Pioneer Village, including a train depot, blacksmith, saw mill, fire station, church, sweet shoppe, log house, fire station and many more.
Each of the buildings are filled with antiques primarily from the collection of Dick and Marian Rademacher, who started the Village, and from other donors who wanted to see their collections enjoyed by the many visitors to the park.
Great care in preserving history is visible throughout Pioneer Village. The Rad’s Groceries building was the actual structure of the store operated about six miles away by Rademacher’s parents. The building was moved from its original location to the Village and then filled with period pieces from the Rademacher antique collection.
The train depot building was actually used in the making of the 1994 movie Iron Will starring Mackenzie Astin and Kevin Spacey. Following the movie, the structure was moved to Brainerd and re-constructed in the Pioneer Village.
Current owners, Lois Moon and Alan Rademacher, work to preserve the massive collection their father built over the years and to share it with the many park visitors. The collection is vast, with thousands and thousands of items ranging from glassware to antique cars to farm equipment.
Donations of items, such as a huge camera collection and the cannon shown below, have made their way to Pioneer Village, with the understanding that, once donated, the items will stay in the Village permanently.
Where to stay
There are a variety of lodging choices in and around Brainerd, but we recommend Madden’s on Gull Lake. A beautiful, luxury resort, Madden’s has stunning water views, two golf courses, a spa, fabulous dining, a beach and so much more.
Know before you go
Admissions. Here’s one parents should love. Admission includes unlimited rides for the day, and entry to the petting barn and Pioneer Village. Season passes are also available and children under 2 are free.
Park hours. The park is open daily 10 am to 6 pm from Memorial Day Weekend to Labor Day. Additionally, the park operates Brainerd Lakes’ largest haunted attraction in October and free admission to the Enchanted Holiday Pioneer Village during the holiday season in December. Visit the Paul Bunyan Land website for hours and dates.
Disclosure & Disclaimer: Special thanks to Explore Minnesota, Explore Brainerd Lakes and Paul Bunyan Land 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. Some posts on this website may contain links to our partners’ websites and Chasing Light Media may be compensated by those partners.
It’s not every day that you visit a town and, upon arriving, the mayor and the former mayor meet you and take you on a tour. But then, not every town is Dorset, Minnesota.
There’s a lot happening in this unique little town in north central Minnesota with a population of 22. The self-proclaimed “Restaurant Capital of the World,” Dorset has a newspaper that is published once a year “whether there’s unbelievable news or not” and has elected a three-year old mayor – twice.
The Youngest Mayor in America
When James Tufts became mayor of Dorset in 2015 at the age of three, he stole the record as Dorset’s youngest mayor from his older brother. Two-term former mayor, Robert “Bobby” Tufts, was also elected at the age of three but, with his win, James edged him out as the youngest by two days.
How did a three-year old become mayor, you may ask? In unincorporated Dorset, the mayor is drawn from the ballots cast during the annual Taste of Dorset festival. It’s a buck a ballot and anyone can enter their selection during the process, with the proceeds going to charity.
During their time in office, the Tufts brothers have gained international fame, appearing on the Today Show and Good Morning America and having made headlines in the NY Daily News, the Daily Mirror and countless other news outlets.
After a tour through several of James’ favorite haunts around town, such as the toy section of a local store and the miniature golf course, we stopped to catch some words of wisdom from the pint-sized politician who is quick to dispense sage advice.
And, it appears we are in good company – well, at least famous company. According to the local paper, the Dorset Daily Bugle, all of the presidential candidates have sought the mayor’s advice. James, now at the wise old age of four, provided these words of wisdom, “Be nice and no poopy talk.”
Older brother Bobby, now a Dorset ambassador, seems happy to assist his younger sibling with his mayoral duties. But, if you think he’s completely retired from politics, you may want to think otherwise. It appears from his hat he’s already exploring a 2048 presidential bid.
Finishing up our time with the Tuft political dynasty, we moved on to investigate Dorset’s other claim to fame as the Restaurant Capital of the World.
The Restaurant Capital of the World
With five restaurants serving the 22 residents of Dorset, it does seem the tiny town is worthy of the title of Restaurant Capital of the World.
This actually follows a two-year period when the town was down to only three restaurants. In September 2014, Campaneros and the Dorset House were destroyed by fire after being struck by lightning. Both restaurants were rebuilt and reopened in 2016, restoring the town’s assortment of dining options to five. While in town, we dined at La Pasta, which in addition to a wide selection of Italian delicacies, has ridiculously good breadsticks.
Obviously, most visitors come to the Restaurant Capital of the World to eat but, when visiting, be sure to allow some time in your schedule for shopping as well.
A stroll down Dorset’s main street is a must and will undoubtedly result in a few finds that must make their way home with you. From souvenirs, to home decor to antiques to yes, James’ favorite, candy and toys await.
Things to do near Dorset
Shop Downtown Park Rapids. Only 6 miles from Dorset, Park Rapids has a charming downtown area with numerous shops, boutiques, and restaurants.
Visit Detroit Lakes. Only about an hour away from Dorset, Detroit Lakes is has a wide variety of outdoor activities, events, festivals, shopping, and dining.
We loved visiting Dorset and applaud the 22 residents and the nearby town of Park Rapids for their creativity in promoting this unique little place on the planet. Thank you to everyone who came out to meet us, to La Pasta for hosting us for lunch, and to James and Bobby for our tour of the town.
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.
Cover: Mississippi Headwaters, Itasca State Park, Park Rapids, Minnesota
Photo: Caitlin Rick
Article by Kim Hull
Home to the beginning of the Mississippi River, Itasca State Park is a wonderful 32,000 acre park with towering pines, more than 100 lakes, hiking and biking trails, the largest pine tree in Minnesota, the historic Douglas Lodge and much more.
Established in 1891, Itasca is the oldest state park in Minnesota and the second oldest in the United States. It is also the most popular in Minnesota, with over a half million visitors each year. Most come to cross the rocks at the headwaters of the Mississippi, but discover an outdoor paradise and return to park to explore and enjoy it further, with 70% of Itasca visitors being return visitors.
A good place to begin a visit to Itasca State Park is at the Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center.
Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center
We always start a park visit with a stop at the visitors center, so we’ve been to quite a few across the country and the Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center is one of the nicest we’ve visited. Bright and spacious, it is well laid-out, with interpretive and hands-on exhibits, photographs, videos, maps of the area and a gift shop.
The 13,000 square foot center is named after Jacob V. Brower, a writer, historian and land surveyor, who came to the Lake Itasca area in the 1800’s to settle a dispute over the location of the start of the Mississippi. Brower remained in the area and his conservation work to save the pine forests, which were being threatened from logging, ultimately resulted in the establishment of the state park in April of 1891.
Park naturalists and staff are on hand at the center to answer questions and provide recommendations on exploring the park. Maps and information are also available at the center, including an Itasca State Park overview pamphlet.
When planning a visit to Itasca State Park, the park has several lodging and camping options available for your stay, including a hostel, the historic Douglas Lodge, or, of course, camping under the stars.
The historic Douglas Lodge opened in 1905 and has since hosted guests for over 110 years. While having been updated through the years with modern conveniences, the quiet, peaceful lodge retains its historic feel with period furnishings and rustic decor.
Douglas Lodge has three suites that include a bathroom with a shower and four single rooms that share hallway baths. The common area is a warm, cozy living room with a large stone fireplace. The Lodge also has a full-service restaurant available for both hotel guests and park visitors that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Hiking & biking trails
With 50 miles of hiking and biking trails, Itasca has a wide variety of treks ranging from short, easy hikes to longer, more adventurous trails.
The Headwaters Loop Trail & Doctor Roberts Trail near Douglas Lodge are both wheelchair accessible, boardwalk trails that wind through nature. The Headwaters Loop Trail runs from the Mary Gibbs Headwater Center along the Mississippi River to the Headwaters and the boardwalk section of the Roberts Trail runs to Old Timer’s Cabin.
The Itasca State Park Summer Map has a full listing of the park’s hiking trails. Bicycling on hiking trails is prohibited, but 16 miles of bicycle routes run through from the visitor center to the Mary Gibbs Headwaters Center, while also connecting to Douglas Lodge.
One thing we weren’t going to miss when visiting Minnesota was crossing the beginning of the mighty Mississippi River.
Sure we’ve crossed the Mississippi countless times through the years by car in the 10 states it passes through on its journey from Minnesota to the Gulf Of Mexico, but Itasca State Park is the only place on earth where you can walk across it as it begins that path downstream.
If you want to say hi to someone while you are there, give them a call and tell them to go to Mississippi headwaters webcam and they can watch as you make your crossing. Definitely a cool adventure!
Get the book: The Best of Itasca
The Park Rapids Chamber of Commerce provided us with a copy of Deanne Johnson’s book, The Best of Itasca prior to our visit. It is a beautiful, comprehensive book, filled with everything you need to know whether visiting for a few hours or a week.
Itasca State Park location
Itasca State Park is in north central Minnesota a little over 200 miles from Minneapolis-St Paul and 26 miles from Park Rapids.
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.
While there are a vast amount of things to do in New York City, there are certain attractions that really need to be experienced every so often by anyone visiting New York. Lady Liberty. The 9/11 Memorial. The Met. They’re iconic. They’re historic. They’re so New York.
As with everything in the Big Apple, they can be expensive to visit. The solution: New York CityPASS, offering discounts to the most visited attractions in the city.
Save with New York CityPASS
New York CityPASS can really save you a lot of money and, in some locations, quite a bit of time. The CityPASS attractions include:
Empire State Building Experience – Adult 86th floor admission $32 + late night re-entry (re-entry package not priced by Empire State Building Experience – CityPASS places a total value of ticket at $47)
American Museum of Natural History – Adult Plus 1 package admission $27
Metropolitan Museum of Art – Adult admission $25
Choice of Top of the Rock Observation Deck – Adult admission $32 or the Guggenheim Museum – Adult admission $25
Choice of Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island – Adult admission $18 or Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises – Adult admission $37
Choice of Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum – Adult admission $24 or 9/11 Memorial Museum – Adult admission $24
For the optional tickets, we selected Top of The Rock Observation Deck, Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island, and Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum, which placed a value of the attractions admissions we visited in New York City at $173.
With New York CityPASS priced at $116 – that’s a 33% savings from purchasing the tickets individually from the attractions. Making CityPASS even more enticing, at some locations you speed through the fast lane, bypassing the general admission line. The result – you save time and money.
New York CityPASS Attractions
Empire State Building Experience
The Empire State Building Experience is a chance to step into history while enjoying 360° unobstructed views of New York City and beyond.
With CityPASS, visit during the 86th-floor observatory during the day, then return for a late night view as the city sparkles against the night sky (May-August between 10pm-closing, September-April between 8pm-closing). A complimentary audio tour can be obtained by presenting the CityPASS booklet on at the 2nd-floor kiosk. While there is a CityPASS fast lane, it wasn’t open when we visited. However, the regular admission line wasn’t too long of a wait and we reached the top in about 30 minutes.
American Museum of Natural History
The museum the world fell in love with after the movie Night at the Museum was released, the American Museum of Natural History is an incredible opportunity to explore over 32 million specimens of nature. Highlights include a 94-foot-long blue whale model, one of the greatest dinosaur fossil collections in the world, and one of the museum’s most popular annual seasonal exhibitions, The Butterfly Conservatory.
New York CityPASS includes general admission to the museum and admission to a 3D movie in the LeFrak IMAX theater.
Metropolitan Museum of Art
The largest museum in the United States, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, generally referred to as The Met, has over two million works of art spanning more than 5,000 years. With collections ranging from Arms and Armor, to one of the largest compilations of American art in existence, to an entire wing devoted to Asian art, it has something for every interest.
A clearly-marked CityPASS line is available at the entrance, which enabled us to skip the main ticket line, which was long. Our New York CityPASS admission included general admission and entry to all exhibitions at The Met. Be sure and grab a floor plan on the way in and download The Met’s audio guide app on your smartphone (and take your earbuds). It’s free and very well done.
Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island or Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises
For the first of our attraction options, we had to decide between the Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island or the Circle Line Cruise. The Circle Line Cruise looked like fun, but it had been years since we’d been out to visit Lady Liberty, so we decided to pay her a call.
The CityPASS booklet contains all of the attraction vouchers and they don’t have to be used in any specific order, just sometime within 9 days of their first use. The Statue of Liberty is a good example of why this is important. The weather forecast for the three days we were in New York City was rainy on day 1, sunny on day 2 and partly sunny on day 3. So, we visited the museums on day 1 while it rained and, as the blue sky in the image above illustrates, our day 2 began with the Statue of Liberty under gorgeous New York skies.
Leaving from Battery Park in Lower Manhattan, our CityPASS included a Statue Cruises ferry ride with stops at Liberty Island and Ellis Island, plus an audio tour on each island and Ellis Island Immigration Museum admission.
Top of the Rock Observation Deck or the Guggenheim Museum
The next option was Top of Rock Observation Deck or the Guggenheim Museum. After visiting The Empire State Building from late afternoon to twilight, we considered using the same-day late-entry pass to re-enter the Empire State Building for night photos and then visiting the Guggenheim the following day. Instead, we opted for Top of the Rock Observation Deck to photograph at night getting a different vantage point. That said, if you haven’t ever been to Guggenheim, it is a fabulous museum.
Showing the CityPASS booklet as we approached on the street, the man at the door waved us through, telling us to skip the upstairs line and proceed downstairs to the ticket counter. There you exchange your CityPASS ticket for the next time-available Top of the Rock general admission ticket which, in our case, was a couple of hours later. We wanted to do the experience at night, so that worked fine for us. At the scheduled time, you return and head through security.
The Top of Rock Observation Deck is actually three floors of 360º viewing at the top of Rockefeller Center. On the 67th & 69th floors, views are through glass panels that have small gaps, which is why the people in the photo below are spaced out as they are. The 70th floor is open, with unobstructed views.
Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum or 9/11 Memorial Museum
We were staying in Lower Manhattan during our visit and walked over to the 9/11 Memorial the first night after dinner. It is truly stunning.
We’d already discussed which attractions we’d visit during dinner and decided on the Intrepid, so we were actually going to purchase tickets to the 9/11 Museum so we could visit both, but we arrived too late and the museum was closing. It is definitely on our “next time” list.
Our day 3 agenda included a tour of the Intrepid. There was no wait in the CityPASS line and we received general admission tickets and quickly made our way to the ship. Launched in 1943, the former aircraft carrier survived five kamikaze attacks and one torpedo strike during World War II, then went on to serve throughout the Vietnam War. Decommissioned in 1974, the ship nows serves as the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum, with numerous exhibits and one of the most varied aircraft collections on the east coast. In addition to the Intrepid, the museum is also home to the American guided missile submarine Growler.
Is CityPASS New York right for you?
If you plan to visit more than two museums and/or attractions while visiting New York City, you should definitely look into getting a CityPASS. It’s easy to obtain, saves you money and time, and includes the must-visit attractions.
Disclosure & disclaimer: We received complimentary New York CityPASS booklets for this review. 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 San Antonio’s River Walk, the four-diamond Hotel Contessa is a chic all-suite hotel that successfully mixes contemporary décor with Texas charm to create an upscale, relaxed experience.
Built around a soaring atrium, the lobby overlooks the beautiful bar area with palm trees, a water feature, abundant seating and serene views of the River Walk.
While we’ve stayed in many great hotels around the world, it is the staff that makes a stay memorable and the Hotel Contessa staff was exceptional. From the moment we arrived and throughout our entire stay, everyone we met at the hotel was friendly, helpful and welcoming – which truly made our visit special.
We were excited to visit this cool hotel when they asked us to pay them a visit in San Antonio. Hotel Contessa is an all-suite hotel, with 265 fashionable suites that deliver a loft-like feel.
The eclectic décor, vibrant accents, contemporary artwork, exposed cement columns and brick lined walls interject a sense of happiness into the space. A relaxing spot to retreat from the River Walk crowds, the living area features a large couch, coffee table, a flat-screen TV and a desk with one of the best power supplies we’ve found.
We instantly put the high-top table and chairs to use as we enjoyed a glass of wine and the afternoon indulgences of a cheese and fruit plate and dessert selection sent by the hotel soon after our arrival!
A granite counter area with a mini-fridge, coffee maker, large laptop safe and snack basket separates the living area and bedroom.
Floor-to-ceiling windows with views of downtown San Antonio and/or the River Walk (ours had both) serve as a backdrop to the bedroom. Interesting textiles, a bright throw pillo, and clever lamps pop against the crisp white linens of the king size bed. Two robes in the closet and a second flat screen TV round out the bedroom comforts.
The bath has a shower/tub combo, granite counter, a make-up mirror, hair dryer and Zero Percent toiletries by Gilchrist & Soames, which I really liked. With a fresh scent, they have no sulfates, parabens, artificial colors or other bad-for-you ingredients.
Even though the hotel is located on the River Walk, it was remarkably quiet. To use the real estate saying, it all comes down to location, location, location. Hotel Contessa is situated on a very quiet (and exceptionally beautiful) section of the River Walk and the result – a peaceful spot to retreat and relax.
Time to head down and check out the rest of the hotel.
I like atriums and the openness and natural light they provide. Combined with the contemporary styling at Hotel Contessa, the atrium creates a comfortable, modern-day courtyard where people continuously gathered.
The contemporary styling and cool vibe is carried throughout with interesting accents, art and lighting.
The lobby level overlooks the open area surrounding the bar and restaurant, creating an inviting meeting place for guests.
The wall of glass brings the River Walk experience inside, where couples can find a quiet spot for two or large groups can gather around larger tables or relax in one of the plentiful couch seating areas. For those preferring the outdoors, a large patio sits just off the River Walk.
Dining and libations
Combine Cork Bar’s great selection of wines, beers and handcrafted cocktails and its prime location on the River Walk, and it’s pretty obvious why Hotel Contessa’s watering hole is a hotspot for locals and visitors alike.
Then, we met master mixologist Hector and things got really interesting! Hector simply asked our liquor of choice, which of course was vodka, and offered up one of his award-winning creations – the Cavender Martini.
A beautiful blend of Cinco Vodka, rosé sparkling wine, a bit of St. Germain and a few accents, the Cavender is a perfectly balanced cocktail – not too sweet, crisp, pretty look at, and exceptionally tasty!
Las Ramblas Restaurant
Taking full of advantage of Hotel Contessa’s prime location, Las Ramblas offers breakfast, lunch and dinner with scenic River Walk views.
A perfect place to start the day, Las Ramblas offers an a la carte menu or breakfast buffet with a huge spread of hot and cold selections. Standouts – the fruit was incredibly fresh, the pancakes were spectacular, and our server was friendly and helpful, answering our questions as we sought some local input as we planned our day of adventures.
We headed back to Las Ramblas in the evening for dinner on the patio. The evening menu includes innovative dishes created with fresh, local ingredients.
We started with shrimp and grits, which was spectacular and the sauce was amazing. Next up, our main courses. I had the grouper, which was prepared with an English pea succotash, sweet Corn, heirloom tomatoes, and topped with a prawn – it was divine! Greg opted for the salmon, which was accompanied with a ratatouille, shaved radish, arugula and a smoked almond pesto butter. It was prepared to perfection and mouth-watering delicious.
We still had part of the amazing chocolate cake and cheesecake from our room delivery in the mini-fridge, so we opted to skip desert and finish off our sweet delicacies a little later.
Heated rooftop pool
With sweeping downtown San Antonio views, the rooftop pool and hot tub are a perfect spot to take a dip in the heated waters or simply relax and enjoy their tranquil perch above the city.
Ample comfortable seating surrounds the pool, which is open from 6AM to 11PM, and should the urge for a beverage or bite occur while poolside, guests can order room service delivered directly to the pool.
Also located on the top floor of the hotel, the well-equipped 24 hour fitness center has everything needed for an inspirational workout including cardio and strength equipment, free weights and amazing views of downtown San Antonio.
Woodhouse Day Spa
Taking time out for a bit of rejuvenation and recharging is only an elevator ride away at the full-service Woodhouse Day Spa.
Offering massages, body treatments and skin care services, the Woodhouse Day Spa adds a bit of pampering to your visit, whether visiting for business or pleasure. Chatting with someone on the rental car bus that had also stayed at Hotel Contessa while on business, he raved about his massage at the spa and what a great value it was.
Nearby on the River Walk
While the majority of the River Walk, and all it has to offer, is within walking distance of Hotel Contessa, several top San Antonio attractions are mere steps from the hotel.
A 100 year old cypress tree is situated between Hotel Contessa and the river and, over time, the tree’s roots have formed a small island, which has become known as Marriage Island. A popular destination for wedding ceremonies, it is also a beautiful spot to sit and read or watch the River Walk activity.
Briscoe Western Art Museum
The Briscoe Museum is located next door to Hotel Contessa. Named in honor of the late Texas Governor, Dolph Briscoe, Jr., the Briscoe houses a wide variety of American Western art and artifacts.
La Villita Historic Arts Village
Originally settled 300 years ago as one of the city’s first neighborhoods, La Villita was transformed into a historical arts district in 1939. Today, La Villita is home to shops, art galleries, restaurants, statues, and beautiful walkways and plazas.
Rio San Antonio River Cruises
One of the best ways to experience the River Walk is on a scenic cruise along the river. Along the way, you learn facts and historical information from the guides, while enjoying incredible views of the beautiful city of San Antonio.
Top 5 things we loved about Hotel Contessa
1. Stellar Staff. In a time when many hotels have standardized to a near robotic state, the Hotel Contessa staff, while incredibly efficient, still takes the time to treat guests like guests, with a true focus on hospitality. Everyone we met seemed very proud of their hotel and their city – which is really cool.
2.Unbeatable Location. The hotel is located in a quiet section of the River Walk, just steps away from the shops, restaurants, bars and attractions. We rented a car – and never drove it once. We walked around the River Walk and took a hop-on, hop-off bus to get to further locations around San Antonio.
3. Inviting design. Hotel Contessa is a super cool boutique hotel with clever décor that warmly welcomes visitors into upscale luxury that is doesn’t take itself too seriously. It works.
4. Fabulous food and drinks. Cork Bar is fun and lively and Las Ramblas has one of the best dining locations on the River Walk. But, it really comes down to delivering on the food and drink and everything we sampled was top notch and the best we had while in San Antonio.
5. Spacious accommodations. We love rooms with space to work, have a glass of wine or watch TV, without requiring sitting on the bed while doing so. Hotel Contessa goes way beyond with a comfortable one bedroom apartment-size suite.
Disclosure & disclaimer: Special thanks to Hotel Contessa San Antonio 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.
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.