July 21, 2016

Room With A View: South Shore Inn In Iowa

The longest stop of the Great Iowa Road Trip was Clear Lake, a charming beach town in northern Iowa.

There are several lodging options around Clear Lake, but very few have a lakeside view. We lucked out with South Shore Inn, though. You couldn’t get much closer than our room!

Here's the view from our room at South Shore Inn. Why hello, Clear Lake!

Here’s the view from our room at South Shore Inn. Why hello, Clear Lake!

Our stay was hosted by Clear Lake Chamber of Commerce. Let me tell you about the place!

What to expect at South Shore Inn

I’ll be honest with you, when you pull up to the inn’s parking lot, you’re not going to be impressed. Don’t turn around. Go in, walk through your room, and check out the view. This is what you came for.

Sunset from the table right outside our room at South Shore Inn in Clear Lake.

Sunset from the table right outside our room at South Shore Inn in Clear Lake.

One of our neighbors walked by one morning and said to me “This is God’s country.”

All rooms face the lake, and you either have a walkout door to the patio or a balcony. It’s not exactly private on the ground level, as you share the view and area with The Landing Patio Bar & Grill, a popular restaurant, and your neighbors. I’m not complaining – I was smitten with the view.

I think my son was smitten with the view and private dock at South Shore Inn, too.

I think my son was smitten with the view and private dock at South Shore Inn, too.

We used the patio frequently, bringing the inn’s complimentary breakfast outside.

We let our son stay up late one night to watch the sunset.

And one quiet morning, I walked out with my son to just sit on the dock. It was one of those moments you wish for when planning a vacation but never actually plan on happening.

Nothing beats comfy jammies and being lakeside in the morning.

Nothing beats comfy jammies and being lakeside in the morning.

The inn has its own dock. Here’s a sweet video we took from that dock.

South Shore Inn amenities

The rooms come with the standard inn items: Flatscreen TV, desk, mini refrigerator, that sort of thing. But the big selling point (besides the view) was the huge whirl pool tub.

There’s also a complimentary breakfast each morning, featuring a favorite of my kids’, the waffle maker. There was also fresh fruit, which is a nice score when on vacation. You’re going to want to eat breakfast outdoors.

Waffles for breakfast at South Shore Inn.

Waffles for breakfast at South Shore Inn.

One downside to the inn is the parking lot. Inn guests share it with diners at The Landing. It’s not a problem during the day, but if you go out for dinner and return later in the evening, you might not find a spot. There’s overflow parking across the street, though, so you’re not totally out of luck.

I take it back, there’s a second downside, at least, if you ask a kid: There’s no pool. But there’s a gigantic lake and a couple beaches nearby, so if this is a complaint coming from your kid, point that out.

The owners also keep a fridge stocked with bottled water, which is super helpful when you’re on the go. There’s also coffee that’s always available in the lobby.

What’s near South Shore Inn

You can see The Landing crowd at the right of the photo with South Shore Inn guests seated on the right side of the photo.

You can see The Landing crowd under the green awning and the South Shore Inn guests seated to the right side of it.

The Landing Patio Bar & Grill is on the premise. It was literally 10 steps from our bedroom. The waitstaff is friendly and the burgers are great. There’s also a kids menu.

There’s a playground across the street to tire your kids out.

But you’re there for the lake, right? You want a beach. There are three beaches around Clear Lake. The two closest are City Beach and the Clear Lake State Park beach. They’re not far away at all.

Playing at City Beach in downtown Clear Lake, a short drive from South Shore Inn.

Playing at City Beach in downtown Clear Lake, a short drive from South Shore Inn.

If you go

South Shore Inn

Where: 1603 South Shore Drive, Clear Lake, Iowa

Website

* * * * *

Plan your own Great Iowa Road Trip!

Iowa Collage

Here’s an itinerary to plan your own Great Iowa Road Trip! To learn more about some of the destinations on this trip, check out these posts:

Rustic charm in suburban Iowa at Wildwood Lodge in Des Moines, Iowa

Upscale Casual Dining at SIPS North Shore Kitchen & Bar in Clear Lake, Iowa

Adventure in a Yurt in Clear Lake, Iowa

Fun on the rails with Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad

Get even more inspiration from my bucket lists for Des Moines and Clear Lake!

May 18, 2016

Exploring Shoal Creek Living History Museum With Kids

My family and I recently found a place in Kansas City that’s all about wide open spaces and a quiet stroll, and history mixed with nature: Shoal Creek Living History Museum.

Shoal Creek Living History Museum is in Kansas City, Missouri.

Shoal Creek Living History Museum is in Kansas City, Missouri.

We visited this new-to-us place during a super fun weekend trip and it was a welcome change from the go-go-go adventures we’d had the day before at Worlds of Fun.

Let me tell you about the museum.

Located on 80 acres within Hodge Park in Northern Kansas City, Shoal Creek Living History Museum is a FREE attractions takes families on a walk through Missouri’s past as told through architecture.

Farley loved taking pictures of the buildings at Shoal Creek.

Farley loved taking pictures of the buildings at Shoal Creek. I may be raising a mini blogger.

Grab a brochure at the entrance to learn a bit more about the buildings on the grounds: There are 21 structures, 17 of which are authentic buildings dating from 1807-1885.  

Some of the more interesting structures included the Blacksmith barn built in the 1800s and was originally on a farm next to Hodge Park; the 1868 City Hall and Jail; and the 1880 Eldorado School. There’s also a carpenter shop, doctor’s office, church and several homes that I imagine are interesting to visit during re-enactment events.

On a regular day, you won't find any re-enactors at Shoal Creek Living History Museum. Plan to visit during a special event to see sites like the blacksmith barn come to life.

On a regular day, you won’t find any re-enactors at Shoal Creek Living History Museum. Plan to visit during a special event to see sites like the blacksmith barn come to life.

Just a handful of people were there when we visited.

Given the wide-open feel of it, it felt like we had the place to ourselves.

 

What we liked

I loved the space it provided for the kids to run, but even more so, I liked how relaxing it was.

Shoal Creek is such a photogenic place.

Shoal Creek is such a photogenic place.

My favorite building was the Grist Mill. It’s the first thing that caught my eye and it just stood out from the rest of the buildings. It’s actually the lone structure there that was built on site and is a replica of an 1824 mill. Figures.

The kids?

They loved the American Bison herd kept on the land.

Bison at Shoal Creek Living History Museum in Kansas City.

Bison at Shoal Creek Living History Museum in Kansas City.

While they did seem pretty peaceful, one reminded us that they are still wild animals.

It charged the fence. Even standing back a few feet from the fence didn’t feel like a good idea.

See that guy in the background? That's what a charging bison looks like. Don't worry, the photographer was behind a fence.

Thank goodness for zoom lenses. The one on the right was headed our way.

Perhaps a lesson learned here: Stand further back from the fence. 

 

American Bison herd in Kansas City, Missouri.

American Bison herd in Kansas City, Missouri.

Special Events At Shoal Creek

On a given day, there isn’t programming in place, and you can only see the buildings from the outside.

Re-enactors are at special events throughout the year at Shoal Creek Living History Museum, helping bring history to life for visiting families.

Re-enactors are at special events throughout the year at Shoal Creek Living History Museum, helping bring history to life for visiting families.

But there are special events throughout the year where you may find re-enactors and perhaps enter some of the buildings.

2016 Events

* Always check ahead of your visit to make sure an event is still happening. Things can be rescheduled!

First Saturdays – June 4, July 2, August 6, and September 3, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. FREE family fun event with re-enactors bring the village to life, food and craft vendors, family activities and demonstrations, and shop at the mercantile. Some activities do charge for their services, cash only.

Amateur Radio and Field Day – June 25, noon to dusk, and June 26, dawn to noon. FREE. ARRL is the most popular on-the-air event held annually in the U.S. and Canada.

12 Annual Harvest Festival – October 8, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. $5 per person, FREE for ages 5 and younger. Old-fashioned county fair with a puppet show, historical games, re-enactors, pony rides and more.  $1 horse-drawn wagon rides from noon to 4 p.m.

Fright Night at Shoal Creek – October 22, 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. $8 per person. Must be 18 years or older. I.D. required.

Kids Safe Halloween – October 29, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. FREE with donations accepted. Trick or treat event is for infants and elementary aged children.

Wilderness Run – November 5, 9 a.m.

An American Girl Doll Tea – TBD

20th Annual Visit From St. Nicholas – December 3, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. $5 per person, FREE for ages 5 and younger. Homes will be decorated and e-enactors will bring 19th century Christmas to life. Take a brief horse drawn sleigh ride through the countryside from noon to 4 p.m.

 

If you go

Shoal Creek Living History Museum

Where: Located in Hodge Park at 7000 Northeast Barry Road, Kansas City, Mo.

When: Open all year, seven days a week, dawn to dusk

Cost: FREE to view the exterior of the buildings; buildings are open during special events with an admission fee or donation.

Website 

 

March 29, 2016

10 Outdoor Adventures Near Omaha

Great outdoor adventures are less than an two hours away from Omaha.

Here are my 10 favorite spots to go and why they’re so fun:

Outdoor adventures near Omaha

Glenn Cunningham Lake

Standup paddleboards on the shore of Lake Cunningham in Omaha.

Standup paddleboards on the shore of Lake Cunningham in Omaha.

Where: Omaha

Distance from Omaha: In the city limits

Cost: Free to go to the park; $12/hour to rent a paddleboard or $40 for the day

What’s not to miss: Rent standup paddleboards from The Neighborhood Offshore Outfitters and have fun exploring the lake with your older children. Younger kids can stay with an adult and play at the small beach.

More about standup paddleboarding at Cunningham

 

Fontenelle Forest

Playing at Fontenelle Forest.

Playing at Fontenelle Forest.

Where: Bellevue, Neb.

Distance from Omaha: 9 miles

Cost: $7 for adults, $6 for seniors, $5 for children (ages 2-17), and FREE for children younger than 2 and members

What’s not to miss: If you’re hiking with small kids, make sure you include plenty of time to play at Acorn Acres.

More about the forest

 

Lake Manawa State Park

Where: Council Bluffs, Iowa

Distance from Omaha: 14 miles

Cost: $3 per person enter the beach area, plus extra cash for renting a canoe or kayak.

What’s not to miss: This is one of the closest lakes to Omaha that has a swimming area roped off from the rest of the lake, which is busy place in the summer with boats. You can rent a canoe or kayak there, as well. I steer my kids to Dreamland Park, though. It was pretty much designed by engineers who asked kids what they’d love to have in a park and then they built it. It looks like a giant splinter waiting to happen, but the kids survive and love it.

 

Hitchcock Nature Center

The tower at Hitchcock Nature Center in Honey Creek, Iowa.

The tower at Hitchcock Nature Center in Honey Creek, Iowa.

Where: Honey Creek, Iowa

Distance from Omaha: 21 miles

Cost: $2 for a daily pass or you can buy a year pass for Pottawattamie County Parks

What’s not to miss: Check out a free backpack from the nature center. It provides kid-friendly supplies like a magnifying glass and animal ID chart to enhance your kids’ adventure in nature.

More about Hitchcock

Side note: If you have older children, plan a stop at nearby Mt. Crescent Ski Area, which has a zipline for the truly adventurous.

 

Schramm State Recreation Area

Distance from Omaha: 25 miles

Cost: A Nebraska State Park Permit is required to enter this park area (an annual permit is $25).

What’s not to miss: Find the trail that takes you to the suspension bridge. Kids love crossing it.

 

Mahoney State Park

One of the lakes at Mahoney State Park.

One of the lakes at Mahoney State Park. It’s pretty even in the dead of winter.

Where: Ashland, Neb.

Distance from Omaha: 27 miles

Cost: A Nebraska State Park Permit is required to enter this park area (an annual permit is $25).

What’s not to miss: Horseback trail rides for 6 and older (pony rides for the youngins); train-loving kiddos will like the short hike near the lookout tower that gives them a decent view of passing trains.

More about going to Mahoney State Park with kids

 

Platte River State Park

A short hike at Platte River State Park is all it takes to find one of the few natural waterfalls close to Omaha.

A short hike at Platte River State Park is all it takes to find one of the few natural waterfalls close to Omaha.

Distance from Omaha: 28 miles

Cost: A Nebraska State Park Permit is required to enter this park area (an annual permit is $25).

What’s not to miss: The little waterfall that you can usually walk across and the teepee.

More about exploring Platte River State Park with kids

 

Great Tree Adventure

The Great Tree Adventure has a trail lined with bird cutouts. You can make a game looking them for with kids during your hike.

The Great Tree Adventure has a trail with two bridges, some climbing structures and lots of areas to explore.

Where: Nebraska City, Neb.

Distance from Omaha: 45 miles

Cost: Adults are $7, kids 3-12 are $5 and kids 2 and younger are FREE. Hayrack ride is extra.

What’s not to miss: Take the hike into the woods and try to find all 50 wooden bird (and one squirrel) cutouts, and enjoy the foot bridges over the creek.

More about the Great Tree Adventure and other fun things to do in Nebraska City

 

Branched Oak State Recreation Area

Playing on the beach at Branched Oak Lake.

Playing on the beach at Branched Oak Lake.

Where: Raymond, Neb.

Distance from Omaha: 68 miles

Cost: A Nebraska State Park Permit is required to enter this park area (an annual permit is $25).

What’s not to miss: The sand beach and boating

Details on planning a camping trip to Branched Oak

 

Indian Cave State Park

Indian Cave, one of the attractions of this Nebraska state park.

As close as you’ll get to the cave at Indian Cave State Park.

Where: Shubert, Neb.

Distance from Omaha: 92 miles

Cost: A Nebraska State Park Permit is required to enter this park area (an annual permit is $25).

What’s not to miss: You thought I was going to say Indian Cave, but that “cave” isn’t what you’re expecting. Hit the trails and the living history cabins for a more memorable experience.

More about exploring Indian Cave State Park with kids

 

Your turn: What are your favorite outdoor activities near Omaha? What will you drive two hours away to do?

March 28, 2016

Couples Getaway: Sioux City

It’s pretty easy to get stuck in a rut as parents. To recharge yourself, you need a break. Sometimes, it has to be a quick one.

Mr. Wonderful and I took a kid-free overnight trip to Sioux City, Iowa. It was a lot of food, drink, comedy and music. Sounds good, right?

SiouxCity

 

Sioux City was picked because it was just far enough to feel like a getaway – about an hour and a half north of Omaha. Our stay was coordinated by the Sioux City Visitor & Convention Bureau and the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.

The second reason I wanted to go there was the entertainment. I was looking for a good concert or show to catch within two hours of Omaha. And at the Hard Rock I found a goodie: Jon Lovitz! Yes!

So, we dropped the kids off with my brother and his family and off we went.

We arrived in Sioux City around lunch time, so I was determined to try one of the tavern sandwiches I’d read about.

Taverns are a loose meat sandwich, akin to the sloppy joe without the sloppy part (no tomato). We headed straight for Miles Inn, the bar recommended by several friends (and winner of the Sioux City Journal tavern showdown a few years ago).

Smiling at Miles Inn.

Smiling at Miles Inn.

It was March Madness time so the place was packed and full of lively regulars. We got our cheap taverns ($3.25 each), and two schooners because…when in Rome.

The schooners of domestic beer were only $3.25 and by all appearances, the one only glass beer is served in. Bottoms up!

They're on to something up in Sioux City. A tavern pairs well with cold beer in a schooner.

They’re on to something up in Sioux City. A tavern pairs well with cold beer in a schooner.

 

The taverns there had American cheese added and were quite peppery. I liked it, but it wasn’t a favorite of my husband’s.

We were still hungry, so we drove down the street to another recommended Sioux City original: Tastee Inn & Out.

An iconic sign in front of Tastee Inn & Out in Sioux City.

An iconic sign in front of Tastee Inn & Out in Sioux City.

There, we ordered their famous tastee sandwich (a tavern, but without the cheese) and the onion fries and dip.

Onion fries in a cup.

Onion fries in a cup.

Tastee is a drive-thru, so we pulled into the parking lot to eat and compare the two taverns.

(Miles Inn wins)

We headed to downtown Sioux City next. The plan was to walk around but it was a colder day than anticipated. So, we planned two stops: The Sioux City Public Museum and Jackson Street Brewing. The Sioux City Art Museum is super nearby and if we had another hour and a bit more sunshine, we would’ve walked down there too.

The Sioux City Public Museum is a free attraction and worth visiting with or without kids.

Plan to spend about an hour checking out exhibits at the Sioux City Public Museum, as well as 12 minutes watching the intro video.

Plan to spend about an hour checking out exhibits at the Sioux City Public Museum, as well as 12 minutes watching the intro video.

They have a 12-minute movie that gives a good account of the city’s origin and features a neat immersive experience with lighting and projections around the room synced with the movie.

Afterward, you could spend about an hour walking around the colorful museum. There is a lot of interactive areas that kids will like.

A block from the museum is the new Jackson Brewing Company, which opened July 2015.

We picked out four beers to sample in a flight.

You choose the four beers to sample on a beer flight at Jackson Street Brewing Co.

You choose the four beers to sample on a beer flight at Jackson Street Brewing Co.

Flights start at $8.50 and go up if you get high alcohol content beers. Of the four I tried, the maibock was my favorite.

We talked with the bartender and two locals while we were there and got the lowdown on breakfast spots for the next day. Super friendly people.

We checked into the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, located within walking distance of the brewery and museums mentioned above.

The hotel has a music theme (obviously) that’s goal is to make you feel like a rock star. To that end, once you check in, you get a complimentary drink.

You get the choice of a beer or house cocktail at check-in at the Hard Rock Casino & Hotel Sioux City.

You get the choice of a beer or house cocktail at check-in at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City.

Yes please.

If you’re not ready to hit the ground running rock star-style, you can get a drink ticket for later.

We settled into our room – again, feeling all rock star with the décor and music playing in your room as you enter. The exposed brick in the rooms creates a great look when paired with modern touches and concert posters.

I kinda wished we were in the Prince room at the end of the hall. Check out that door. There's always next time.

I kinda wished we were in the Prince room at the end of the hall. Check out that door. There’s always next time.

Then we headed downstairs for dinner, with a short stop at the casino. I’m not a gambler, so not a lot of time or money was spent there. If you’re the same, you can easily spend your hotel stay without entering the casino…unless you’re going to show there, then you’ll have to walk through the casino to get to Anthem, the concert venue.

The hall connecting the hotel to the casino and restaurants is lined with music memorabilia.

The hall connecting the hotel to the casino and restaurants is lined with music memorabilia.

You have a couple dinner options at the hotel, but we wanted a date night experience and had made reservations at Main + Abbey. The restaurant is ranked No. 1 on Trip Adviser, and perusing the gastropub’s menu, it seemed like mine kind of place.

Rather than order entrees, the two of us split several appetizers and order drinks. Wondering what to order? The pierogies were so good, and the poitine while heavy, was very flavorful. And if you’re an Instagrammy kind of person, order the pretzel appetizer – you’ll want to take pictures of it for sure.

We had complimentary tickets to Jon Lovitz’s second show, and were invited to a meet & greet with him. It was the very definition of meet & greet – we met him, greeted him, posed for a picture and moved on.

Funny. The only photo I took with my husband on the trip includes Jon Lovitz.

Funny. The only photo I took with my husband on the trip includes Jon Lovitz.

The show was at Anthem within the casino part of the hotel. From the outside, it looks deceptively small, but this pace can fit more than 900 people. There’s a bar inside Anthem to grab drinks before the show starts.

Lovitz had an opener, and then he entertained the crowd. It was a fun night, and the best part was that we didn’t have to head to our car to get back to our hotel. It was great to leave the show, walk to the hotel part of the building and be back in the room in no time.

Breakfast the next day was up in the air until we had that chat at Jackson Street Brewing. They were quick to recommend the Hard Rock’s buffet, but we asked for where locals would go and they steered us to what they referred to as a great greasy spoon: Horizon Family Restaurant.

So Horizon is was for us. Outward appearances weren’t much, but with a packed parking lot, we figured it couldn’t be too bad.

Not much of an exterior, Horizons is the greasy spoon you seek after a night at the casino.

Not much of an exterior, Horizon Restaurant is the greasy spoon you seek after a late night.

It’s a no-frills diner that was hopping on the Sunday we went. Offerings were pretty typical for diners, and the coffee was great.

To burn off the big breakfast, we headed to Stone State Park located within Sioux City’s city limits. Our timing wasn’t great since everything was leafless from winter, and being Sunday, the Dorothy Picaut Nature Center wasn’t open (it’s open from 1 to 4 p.m. on Sundays).

A late winter/early spring hike near the Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center at Stone State Park in Sioux City.

A late winter/early spring hike near the Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center at Stone State Park in Sioux City.

Still, we took a nice hike near the nature center and discovered a cool nature playscape. The kids would love this place!

Nature play structures at Stone State Park.

Nature play structures at Stone State Park.

The park and nature center are FREE.

The short getaway over, we headed back to Omaha. Rather than take the quick route via Interstate 29, we drove along the Loess Hills Scenic Biway. If you have time, try it out, especially if you’re itching to take some pretty photos.

If time permits, always take the route with the dirt road.

If time permits, always take the route with the dirt road.

We tried two of the scenic loops – Stagecoach Trail and Wilderness Trail.

It was picturesque in spite of the time of year. We resolved to drive it again when the scenery’s lusher – fall would be perfect.

Fall would be a great time to drive the Loess Hill Scenic Biway, but that's not to say the vistas are bad in early spring.

Fall would be a great time to drive the Loess Hill Scenic Biway, but that’s not to say the vistas are bad in early spring.

 

Thinking about a getaway? Read more Sioux City stories:

My Sioux City Bucket List (for visits with and without kids)

Rock Star Status At the Sioux City Hard Rock Hotel & Casino

Exploring History At The Sioux City Public Museum

March 11, 2016

My Sioux City Bucket List

Just off Interstate 29, 100 miles north of Omaha, is Sioux City, Iowa. For me, it’s only been a stopping point on the way to Valentine, Neb., where we can stretch our legs, and fill up on hot dogs at Milwaukee Wiener House or pick up road trip goodies at Palmer Candy Co.

Perhaps for others, it’s seen as a good stopping point on the way to Sioux Falls, S.D.

But what about staying a while? I started to wonder what more I could do there than eat. After scoping the city’s offering, I decided it makes a nice destination for a quick kid-free getaway (though the mom in me made note of what’s there in case we return with the kids… there’s some good stuff!). I only have 24 hours to spend there, so this list below of my Sioux City must-see stuff is not bound by that timeframe or money.

Sioux City Bucket List

My Sioux City Bucket List

Check Out Fourth Street District – This is historic part of the city with brewpubs, breweries and restaurants, all things I love. One that stood out is Jackson Street Brewing.

Forth Street District in Sioux City is known for its restaurants and bars. Photo courtesy Visit Sioux City

Forth Street District in Sioux City is known for its restaurants and bars. Photo courtesy Visit Sioux City

 

Dine at Main + Abbey – My lists always seem to include a lot of eating, so why hold back now? When I looked into the hotel we’d be staying at – Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City – I noticed they had a gastropub. Nice. It has a great beer list, poutine and locally sourced steaks. You can count on casinos in the Midwest having a restaurant that serves good steaks (it’s like a law or something).

Go to Saturday in the Park – This annual music festival sponsored by the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino has been going strong for close to three decades and with powerhouse acts (Aretha Franklin and Foster the People were two acts from last year’s lineup). Did I mention this was FREE? I’d love to go without the kids just because an all-day music festival with kids sounds like I’d hear a lot more complaining from the kiddos them than the good music. However, they have a kids zone with live entertainment of their own, inflatables, carnival rides and a ton of other things to keep them occupied, so this sounds like a totally manageable festival with kiddos in tow.

The mega music festival, Concert in the Park, is an annual free event at Battery Park. Photo courtesy Visit Sioux City

The mega music festival, Concert in the Park, is an annual free event at Battery Park. Photo courtesy Visit Sioux City

Try a Tavern – In my research, I found out that there’s a famous loose meat sandwich called the tavern that originated at Ye Olde Tavern back in the ‘20s (a couple years later, Maid-Rite followed suit). This is not to be confused with a sloppy joe, apparently. Anyway, there’ are a couple places to find a tavern in town, including a bar called Miles Inn, Tastee Inn and Out (a place that’s been called “iconic” on Reddit), and Gus’ Family Restaurant. The Garden Cafe’s tavern made the cut to represent Iowa in Food Network Magazine’s list “50 States, 50 Sandwiches” in 2012.

Try a Burrito At La Juanita – This restaurant’s burritos are apparently so good, they rank in the top 5…according to Esquire Magazine readers a couple years ago. The readers poll released in February 2013 included the Iowa burrito – the only one in the midwest – as one of the 10 “most life-changing burrito in America.”

There are several things I’d like to take the kids to in Sioux City:

Launch Pad – This is the city’s brand new children’s museum – so new, it just opened this year.

Launch Pad, Sioux City's children's museum, just opened in early 2016. Photo courtesy Visit Sioux City

Launch Pad, Sioux City’s children’s museum, just opened in early 2016. Photo courtesy Visit Sioux City

Sioux City Arts Center – This arts center consistently pops up on travelers’ posts about the city. First off, it’s FREE. But, there’s a room there that features all sorts of hands-on activities for children. My kids would love this. Plus, if you visit before May 8, 2016, you can see the temporary exhibition “The Art of the Brick®” featuring large-scale sculptures constructed out of LEGO bricks.

"Art of the Brick" is on display at Sioux City Art Center through May. Photo courtesy brickartist.com

“Art of the Brick” is on display at Sioux City Art Center through May 8, 2016. Photo courtesy brickartist.com

The MIlwaukee Railroad Shops (AKA, the Railroad Museum) – Trains are always a hit with the kids, and this place sounds pretty interesting. If you time your trip right, you can go during a special event – such as Touch a Truck or Train Day, the Halloween event, or Santa’s Whistle Stop Tour at Christmas time. 

Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center – I’m always on the lookout for a good hike or place to explore while on vacation, and this place sounds like I’ve found Sioux City’s best. The nature center has a lot of hands-on ways for kids to explore the Loess Hills’ natural history. It’s located in Stone State Park with hiking trails (note to self: Avoid the trail with the bat house; find the trail that has the Playscape Area).

Get out into nature at the Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center at State Park. Photo courtesy Visit Sioux City

Get out into nature at Stone State Park, and don’t forget to check out the Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center while there. Photo courtesy Visit Sioux City

Sioux City Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center & the Betty Strong Encounter Center – This looks like a good place to explore a little of our region’s history, and I hear it has hands-on exhibits, which is always good when visiting with kids.

Try a Twin Bing – And we return back to eating. It’s what I do best on vacation. Twin Bing was created in 1923 Sioux City at Palmer Candy Co. While I’ve been to this cool candy shop – you’ll be tempted to take a lot of pictures there – I haven’t tried a Twin Bing, which consists of cherry nougat covered in roasted peanuts and chocolate. I’ll give it a try, even though I hate fruity flavors added to my chocolate.

Everyone finds something they like at Palmer Candy Co. Photo courtesy Visit Sioux City

There are Twin Bings and other goodies in the basket at Palmer Candy Co. Photo courtesy Visit Sioux City

 

Your turn: What’s missing from this list? Share your favorite restaurants, bars, foods and things to do in Sioux City, Iowa? Never been? Then what on this list would you visit?

January 18, 2016

Downtown Kansas City Hotel Review – Sheraton

Disclaimer: Our stay in Kansas City was hosted by the Kansas City Convention and Visitors Bureau.

There’s no shortage of hotel options in Kansas City – I’ve tried many of them. Our last couple of overnight stays have been at the Sheraton Kansas City at Crown Center. We’ve stayed there for a Radiohead concert at the Sprint Center; and this time around, we stayed there because it was centrally located near several of the family-friendly attractions we planned on seeing.

The Sheraton at Crown Center is totally decked out for the holidays. It's quite a sight to walk into.

Our most recent stay at the Sheraton Kansas City at Crown Center was in December – how’s that for holiday decorations?

And by centrally-located, I mean we could walk to them! How’s that for convenience? Park once and see it all.

The Hotel

The Sheraton is quite tall – 40+ floors. The elevator ride impressed the kids.

The view from the top floor of the Sheraton...on a rainy day.

The view from the top floor of the Sheraton…on a rainy day.

The top floor of the tower is the lounge for Starwood Preferred Guests. If you are one, you can enjoy complimentary continental breakfast with a view.

…which my kids ignored because, TV!

Seriously, kids, avert your eyes from the TV for one second.

Seriously, kids, avert your eyes from the TV for one second.

There are a couple other dining options there, including a bar & grill kind of restaurant and a cafe.

The hotel is designed for large gatherings and meetings, so several floors are taken up by those spaces. It’s kinda awkward taking the elevator down from the tower with all the rooms, scrambling across the mezzanine to find the other elevator that will take you to the pool area. Pack a good swimsuit cover, is all I have to say about that.

Speaking of the pool. You guys. It’s a heated roof-top pool.

Sheraton Kansas City at Crown Center's rooftop pool.

Sheraton Kansas City at Crown Center’s rooftop pool. It was an unusually warm December weekend for us – no snow!

So you could be swimming in the middle of a snow storm, if things timed out right. Or a rain shower, as was the case for us.

In case you’re wondering, it’s not that heated (by my wimpy standards). While my crazy family swam in the December rain, I was in the hot tub, thank you very much.

The short tunnel amused the kids too.

OK, I'll admit, the tunnel was fun for me to swim through too.

OK, I’ll admit, the tunnel was fun for me to swim through too.

You can order food to be delivered to the pool area, which sounds like a good idea if it’s summer and you’re in the mood to lounge around all afternoon.

The rooms are pretty comfy – we had two double beds. We lucked out with a partial view of Crown Center and the Ice Terrace skating rink. It’s a charming scene at nighttime.

 

Nearby attractions

Sheraton is connected to being connected to Crown Center and Union Station attractions by the climate-controlled Link system.

Sheraton Crown Center is an easy walk from Crown Center attractions thanks to the Link system over the streets.

Sheraton Crown Center is an easy walk from Crown Center attractions thanks to the Link system over the streets.

Use it! Parking can get pricey, so if you just pay for your hotel parking ($17-$24/day), you can go to attractions like SEA LIFE Kansas City Aquarium and Science City.

Here’s a roundup of what’s walkable from the Sheraton – walking with two kids under 7, with a pit stop for lunch at Crown Center.

–  SEA LIFE Kansas City Aquarium (Crown Center district)

LEGOLAND® Discovery Center (Crown Center district)

– The FREE Hallmark Visitors Center and Kaleidoscope (Crown Center district)

Ice Terrace (seasonal outdoor ice skating rink at Crown Center)

Coterie Theatre (Crown Center district)

Musical Theater Heritage (Crown Center district)

Union Station – Be sure to check what traveling exhibition is there!

Science City (located inside Union Station) 

Arvin Gottlieb Planetarium (located inside Union Station) 

Model Railroad Experience (located inside Union Station) 

Regnier Extreme Screen Theatre (located inside Union Station) 

H&R Block Stage (located inside Union Station) 

The National World War I Museum and Memorial

The Money Museum at the Federal Reserve Bank (you receive a complimentary bag of shredded currency there as a souvenir – worth $165).

– City Market is 2 miles away

– Country Club Plaza is about 3.5 miles away

– Crossroads Arts District is less than a mile away

Restaurants

One of the best breakfasts I had in KC was at the Blue Bird Bistro, a little more than a mile from the hotel. Another good and quirky choice for breakfast is You Say Tomato, also a little more than a mile from the Sheraton.

You’ll find a handful of restaurants at Crown Center, which is a mix of chains like Panera and unique kid-friendly spots like Fritz’s Railroad Restaurant and, on the other end of the spectrum, the upscale The American.

Union Station has a couple restaurant choices, including Harvey’s at Union Station (I hear brunch is good there).

If you head to Crossroads Arts District, you’ll find some unique places to eat including Lidia’s KC (if you’re a big PBS fan, you know who she is). The Sundry and Cafe Gratitude were recommended to me, but I don’t know if any of those are kid-friendly. When it was just me and Mr. Wonderful in Kansas City, Crossroads was a fun place to visit, and if we get another couples-only vacation to KC, we’ll go back there.

 

If you go

Sheraton Kansas City at Crown Center

Where: 2345 McGee St., Kansas City, Mo.

Website 

 

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