Dinosaurs and Rapids: Family Fun

Dinoland Nancy shares her family adventure in Dinoland and Flaming Gorge for a trip back in time and down a river.  Eastern Utah, near Wyoming and Colorado offers an amazing playground for families. Learn how we enjoyed three days of sun, river, fish, dinosaurs, native American history, culture, great food and accommodations in an amazingly beautiful part of the country. TroutCreek

Day 1: The Drive  Getting to Flaming Gorge and Vernal in Eastern Utah is easy.  We drove 3 hours east of Salt Lake City, Utah.  You can also access the area from Wyoming and Colorado.  We stayed at the Flaming Gorge Resort which is perfect for families.  The suites are essentially 1 bedroom apartments with a kitchen.  There were enough beds for every member of the family to get a great night sleep.  The resort has everything you need.

RiverDay 2: The River Flaming Gorge is an incredible playground.  The Flaming Gorge Dam on the Green River has created a beautiful background for boaters, fishermen and lazy river rafters.  We joined the later group and took three generations down the Green River thanks to help from Trout Creek Files Outfitters who hooked us up with a boat and even taught my son how to tie on a lour and how to cast. Thank you to the great staff for helping us have a wonderful experience! The Green River is an easy adventure for families to take on their own. I was a bit worried since I had three generations with me, but the river had many families and lots of helpful people who got us going.  We had a very enjoyable time on the river looking down to see huge trout (lots of award-winning fish are caught here–up to 35 pounds) and looking up to see the rugged canyon walls circled by hawks and eagles.  The rapids are just enough to be fun without being scary fDinoTracksor the very young and the very old.

Day 3: The Reservoir Thanks to the great ladies at the Uintah County Travel and Tourism office, we learned about Red Fleet State Park, an incredible reservoir located just north of Vernal, Utah. The reservoir is an incredible boating destination but if you don’t have a boat, you can still enjoy its wonders.  We were shown around by Park Ranger Jeff and enjoyed paddle boarding and swimming during our stay.  One highlight of our Red Fleet experience was seeing ancient dino tracks in the rocks (check out the dino track next to my daughter’s hand). You can IMG_0952hike to them or rent a paddle board or kayak to make the trek to the tracks easier.  The water was a wonderful 70 degrees and fun to swim in! We will come back to this water wonderland again.

After our great day on the water, we returned to Vernal to our great hotel Springhill Suites for some  relaxation before heading out to McConkie Ranch to see ancient petroglyphs make by the Freemont Indians.  Located just north of Vernal on private property, the rock carvings are incredible. My kids McConkiewere pooped from the day’s adventures but perked up when they saw the first petroglyph.  The hike is not hard but is not for people with difficulty climbing so we left Grandma at the hotel. Seeing the ancient art and discussing what they could mean was so much fun for the kids.  They also loved seeing the lizards and bugs along the trail.  For city kids, it was a great adventure.

DinoNationalDay 4: The Dinosaurs The Vernal Area is the richest dinosaur destination in the U.S. with more dinosaur digs and bones than anywhere else.  A great place to start your dino-sized adventure is Dinosaur National Monument, located outside of Vernal, where an incredible wall of bones has been preserved and housed for easy exploration. The monument is not very large and not overwhelming so for a family not overly interested in dinosaurs, it was the perfect size. Check out our Al-osaurus with the state dinosaur of Utah Allosaurus.  They have the same temperament and look strikingly similar.

AlosaurusWe returned to Vernal and visited the Utah Field House, the perfect museum for kids and families who want to learn about dinosaurs.  With many hands-on learning exhibits, the museum teaches kids and parents how dinosaur bones are located and why the Vernal area is one of the richest locations in the world for dinosaur bones.  Don’t miss the movie–it is very educational and quite engaging.  Even my IMG_0936pre-teen sat through it with interest.  And remember to go out to the gardens and see the to-scale dinosaur sculptures.  You will know what it would be like to be chased by a T-rex or by the imaginary dinosaurs from Jurassic Park (see the first picture above).

We highly recommend the Uintah County and Dagget County areas for a wonderful unplugged family adventure.

IMG_0951Links to the Great Resources and Locations on our Trip:



Roaring in Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz offers some unique experiences. For our inter-generational travel in California, we chose to see the Redwoods on the Roaring Camp Railroad and enjoy a quintessential beach boardwalk experience on the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.

The Roaring Camp Railroad is located just outside Santa Cruz.  In the summer, you can take the railroad from the Boardwalk to the mountains. The railroad is magical, set in a mountainous redwood forest.  On the day we rode the railroad, it was raining lightly with a fog and it was easy to imagine prehistoric creatures roaming the landscape.  When our 1917 Steam Engine appeared, it was like something out of a movie with steam billowing from it like a snorting dragon.  For Harry Potter fans, the experience was just like stepping on to Platform 9 3/4.

The ride itself was interesting to all generations.  Seeing the Redwoods by train is a great experience for younger children who cannot walk far and for grandparents not up to the hike.  The added excitement of experiencing the train made them all the more magical.  Watching the engineer switch the tracks and hearing the horn blow brought smiles to my pre-teens face (a rare sighting).  Everyone was happy with the experience.  The Camp is clean and makes a great place for lunch with many kid-friendly options.  The staff was very nice and the entire experience was amazing.  Roaring Camp Railroad sponsors fun events on holidays like an Easter Egg Hunt, Halloween Ghost train, Day out With Thomas and much more.  As difficult as it is to find something that everyone enjoys, this makes our list of the most fun California activities!

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is truly the quintessential beach boardwalk experience.  It brought back childhood memories to Grandma and gave great new experiences to our children. With a roller coaster on the National Registry along with many modern rides, an arcade and midway, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk has fun for everyone.  Don’t pass up the best lollipops in the nation–created by Kendon’s in San Jose, CA, these lollipops are divine!  We were there on a rainy day so we did not get to ride too many rides, but it was still a fun time and my kids only wanted to stay longer.

We had lunch at the Picnic Basket, a local sandwich shop dedicated to simple, delicious food and treats, seasoned with lots of love. Local farmers, foragers, and artisans, including the famous Penny Ice Creamery, are the cornerstone of their seasonal menu. Lunch was a HIT with Mom and Grandma but not as much with the kids since the food is a bit upscale for their taste.  However, the ice cream, which is handmade by the owner, was a surefire hit with the kids.  We recommend this place for lunch to our friends whose kids’ palate is more developed or to adults wanting a quick delicious bite.  Ice Cream for Everyone!

San Francisco from the Top

San Francisco: an enchanting city and with a stay at the Mark Hopkins on Nob Hill, who wouldn’t be enchanted. We discuss our inter-generational travel to the city by the Bay and how to make it work for every generation along with our exciting adventures.

The City Is the Adventure

You would think that a city without a large amusement park would be the last place to take children.  San Francisco is an amazing place because it is the city itself that provides the amusement.  There is something about it from the hilly streets, cable cars, winding roads, bridges, fog and rain, and of course Nob Hill and the Mark Hopkins hotel that makes this city enjoyable for all generations.  This city holds extra charm for us because it is the city where my mother and I started our journey together–where my mom had lived as a single woman and then taken me as her baby and young daughter to enjoy city life.

During our 3 days in San Francisco, we took in the city’s sites using our San Francisco City Pass. From other shows, you know we are a fan of checking for City Passes that include multiple attractions and rides on local transport services–this was a great deal since it included museums, cable cars, muni-bus service, and a ride on the Blue and Gold Fleet.

The Escape from the Rock cruise around the bay plus Alcatraz was fabulous and well worth the extra money. Alex, who never stays still, listened to the narration intently.  He had read a few books that featured Alcatraz and was surprised to learn that Al Capone was just a short, fat Italian who he never would have recognized as a criminal mastermind. The view of Alcatraz was incredible.  We opted not to go to the island because the climb up is very steep and Grandma would not be able to make it.  Sometimes, with inter-generational travel, you have to make these decisions.

Another thing we are fans of are hop-on hop-off bus tours because they allow you to see the sites in major cities the way you want to in an efficient manner.  The City Sight Seeing San Francisco double decker bus was just perfect for this.  We opted for the 4-tour pack but only were able to do two of the tours–the downtown loop and Golden Gate to Sausalito. It was still a bargain and I would do it again (we ran out of time and it was raining in the evening so the night tour would not have been that much fun). The tour guides on both were lively and entertaining with great stories and information to help.

Because the weather can be very unpredictable in San Francisco and we dealt with a great amount of rain while we were there (houses in the city were flooding), we had to plan around it a bit. Remember to bring rain gear and warm clothes even in the summer.  The sweat shirt shops do huge business in July when tourists expect summer temps and get rain and cold.

We also enjoyed walking through Chinatown and going to the Chinatown Kite Shop.  Alex bought a Dragon Kite that we have since found is impossible for him to fly (the woman at the store was very knowledgeable and tried to help him find a kite that was easy to fly but he chose looks over function and how we have a nice kite hanging in his room).  We went to Japantown as well, but it is not comparable to Chinatown in size.  We did get some great Bento Lunchbox items and Origami papers there though.

Being in the city itself is the fun.  We rode the cable cars up and down California Avenue enjoying the feel of the wind in our faces and the fun of the ride.  Our HUGE tip is do not wait in line at Fisherman’s Wharf for the cable car ride–you can wait up to 2 hours to ride a cable car if you do on any of the three lines.  Walk, drive or take public transportation to any where down to the middle or other end one of the three lines and you can get right on.  At the end of the California line, there were only 10 passengers boarding and we got to take pictures while the gripman took a quick break.

Even though the city itself is the attraction, we did go to two museums: the Cable Car Museum and the Exploratorium. The Cable Car Museum sits on Nob Hill and can be accessed by the California line or the Powell-Mason line. It is the actual working hub of the cable car system and allows you to see how the cables run through the city and what employees need to do to keep the cars running.  It is incredibly educational and fun, especially after a few rides on the cable cars.  We left Grandma behind for this museum because the trek from the California line was too steep for her.  However, we could have taken her on the Powell-Mason line which drops you off right in front of the museum.

The Exploratorium is a uniquely educational and fun museum for kids and parents. It is filled with experiments and displays that, if the time is taken, can teach principles of science, physics, geology, meteorology and more.  My kids were less interested in active learning and opted for the “let’s have fun” approach and just played in the Exploratorium.  That has its value too.  Mom and Grandma got some needed time to relax while the kids entertained themselves. The Exploratorium is included in the San Francisco City Pass and the pass even gets you past the very long line to get in–you go to a separate window and get right in–a real plus for us since we were there on a day where the line had over 100 people waiting in it.  If you are taking the Golden Gate to Sausalito hop-on hop-off bus tour, you can stop at the Exploratorium before going to Golden Gate. Even though parking at this museum is free, it is difficult so if you have the tour, use it first as transportation to the museum and then join a tour a few hours later to go across the Golden Gate Bridge. Tip: The food at the Exploratorium is great.  Like most food in the Bay area, it is a step up from the common fare at museums.  We had the hand-tossed pizza and nachos which used REAL cheese and not sauce. It was very delicious.

Reaching the Top

The most enchanting part of our entire stay in San Francisco was the Intercontinental Mark Hopkins on Nob Hill.  I cannot say enough about this hotel.  People may shy away from it because of its prestige and location, but it is a fabulous family destination.  The service is incredible and the hotel is enchanting.  My kids ask everyday if they can go back to the Mark Hopkins again.  When we made our reservations, the staff asked the ages of our party members and if any members of our party had any special needs.  When we arrived, there were cookies and milk in our room for our kids and even a plate of gluten free cookies for me (WHOOO HOOOO!) The pastry chef at the Mark Hopkins has to be a cookie fairy.  These were the best cookies ever.  My kids and Grandma ate cookies day and night.

We had asked for a room that accommodated roll-away beds if possible–a rarity in a city hotel because the rooms are generally quite small. When we arrived and were shown our room, the manager called up and said that he was afraid that our room was too small for a roll-away but that he could move us to a room where one was available.  We agreed and the staff moved our luggage while we were at dinner.  When we arrived at our new hotel room, we found that we had been moved to a room on the 16th floor that looked exactly the same as our other room with one exception–it had a sun room where the staff had placed a roll-away bed with a teddy bear on it!  We had a 3/4 view of San Francisco to enjoy as well.  My son thoroughly enjoyed his stay in the sun room and did not want to leave.  The magic of older hotels is that there are small gems like this room tucked away in them.  We are so lucky we got to experience it.  After one of the staff told us that we were staying on one of the floors where the Saudi princes stay when they come, we had fun imagining who might have stayed in the room we were in.

The Mark Hopkins is truly a luxurious hotel but is also very accessible for families.  We met a family earlier in our travels (see our show on Monterey) and they were also staying at the Mark Hopkins.  The rack room rate is very reasonable and the rooms are quite luxurious.  Of course, the hotel has a wonderful set of suites if you need the extra space and have the money to spend.  These are very luxurious and include rooms that bring the charm of old San Francisco with a feel of staying in a library to a modern suite that feels like an apartment for a hip DotCom mogul.  But, you don’t have to splurge to take advantage of the amazing staff (that is the REAL difference in a good hotel and an amazing hotel).  The staff treated us like royalty.  They parked our Hundai rental car right next to a Rolls Royce and a Lexus happily and were there to open doors, give advice, and make our stay amazing.

The Mark Hopkins has a famous restaurant called the Top of the Mark.  It is a great place to have tea with the kids and enjoy the amazing view of the city.  It is one of the highest points in the city and the view cannot be matched.  The Top of the Mark has been the sight of many impressive parties and was a true in-spot in the 1960s.  In her younger days, my mom met Liberace at the Top of the Mark.

One option the hotel offers that I would suggest is the Club Intercontinental Lounge.  If you are not a member, you can purchase a membership while you are staying at the hotel.  Located on the Lobby floor, the Club offers 5 food and beverage services a day including a spectacular continental breakfast with smoked salmon, cheese, cold cuts, cereal, yogurt, fruit, pastries and much more. Grandma and the kids LOVED the last service called Sweet Dreams because they served their favorite cookies which we cannot say enough about! The food services are also very convenient if you are dropping in to the hotel during your activities.  The kids were able to get a soda and some fruit in between sight seeing and riding the cable car.  We were in no rush and did not have to sit with other diners while we just had a quick sip and then were off again.  It is a perfect option with kids who need to eat frequently but don’t eat too much each time.  As we enjoyed ourselves, we could hear the cable car bell outside which added to the charm. The Club also includes a game area where families can play games in the evening as well as a tv with DVDs and a Office area with computers, internet, printers and so forth needed to make travel plans easily. Members are also enjoy a later check out time–2pm–and a guest relations staff member there to help arrange anything needed.

My heart and the hearts of my children have been left in this beautiful city. They ask daily if we can return to the Mark Hopkins and to the wonderful city of San Francisco. The trip was a magical experience for all generations with my mom and I reliving our past experiences while making new memories with my children.  San Francisco is a place we will return to again and again.

Magical Monterey

Nancy and her family share their inter-generational trip to Monterey, CA including their stay at the Hyatt Monterey Hotel and Spa and their experience at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and a delicious meal at Abalonetti.

Hyatt Monterey Hotel and Spa is the perfect place for families with members with different interests.  With an amazing golf course with an onsite pro, tennis center with an onsite pro, world-class spa with couples rooms and full beauty salon as well as two swimming pools, outside board games and Camp Hyatt for the kids, there is something for every generation to enjoy. The cozy nature of the property is incredible even though it is the largest hotel in Monterey.  It is very kid-friendly and the staff is amazing.  Dining at TusCA was fabulous and Knuckles Sports Bar fit the bill for a less formal meal.  Listen to the Podcast for more details. The Monterey Suite with two separate rooms was fabulous for a family or for our inter-generational group.  With two bath rooms and two TVs, it was easy to please everyone.  The bedroom had a king size bed and two roll-aways fit easily into the sitting room without taking up all the living space.  We were served a different evening appetizer based on locally grown ingredients each night we were there.   The pool was a wonderful break for the children and warm enough to enjoy even in springtime.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is an amazing place to take multiple generations for an educational and exciting experience. From the simplicity of picking up tickets to the great staff who fixed a problem with our behind-the-scenes tour and gave us a private tour, everyone in the staff was amazing. Thanks Scott and Andrea! The Aquarium focuses on the local sea life right outside the Aquarium in Monterey Bay.  As a scuba diver, it was easy to appreciate the quality of the exhibits.  However, grandmother and kids who have never seen these creatures in the wild also were amazed by the exhibits and the opportunities to interact with stingrays, star fish and so forth. The Aquarium exhibits are easy to access for all ages and abilities.  With frequent feeding displays and interactive demonstrations, you could spend several hours at the Aquarium.

Lunch at Abalonetti was a incredible.  The Chippino is literally the best ever. The calamari is world-famous for a reason–it is tender and tasty. No rubber here. Every dish that passed our table was enticing.  The children’s menu is also very extensive and according to our pint-sized tasters, the chicken nuggets were the best on our trip. Just please tell me who thought a child would order liver and brussel sprouts?  However, it probably was still the best liver and brussel sprouts the kid ever had.  The service was incredible and I will be back.

The food in Monterey was absolutely wonderful–both at the Hyatt and at Abalonetti.  This is a foodie paradise.