Bay Area Discovery Museum:: Sausalito, California

The kids were having a great time on our road trip, but after awhile they started missing their toys. At one point Cade said, “I miss my Legos.” The Bay Area Discovery Museum, located in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, came at the perfect time so the kids could just play. There were many places to explore outside. The kids started with giant blue blocks and spent forever building and making ramps.

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Another fun place was another outdoor area with a boat, a tree for climbing, and other areas to explore.

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BADM Collage 3.jpgAfter we explored the outdoors, it was time to head inside. The kids had just as much fun inside as they did outside. The favorite was building boats and watching the wind send them downstream. After a puppet show and a wave machine, the kids had a snack and we had our best view of the Golden Gate Bridge that we would end up getting (it was very foggy!). We spent nearly 4 hours at the Bay Area Discovery Museum and still didn’t see everything. There is so much to do there. It was a great choice for us on our long road trip. The kids loved having time to play and explore.

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We had a great time being guests at the museum and all thoughts about our visit are my own.


Broken Boot Gold Mine:: Deadwood, South Dakota

Another great stop on our road trip out west was at Broken Boot Gold Mine in Deadwood, South Dakota. Although we had the pleasure of being their guests, all thoughts are my own. After checking in and putting on our safety helmets, Sky led us into the mine. The Broken Boot Gold Mine is named after the nearly 100 year old boot that can be seen in the mine. Sky was very informative and funny. He was also patient while the kids picked up rocks off the ground to fill their bags and when we stopped to take pictures or adjust our helmets. The tour included good information that was interesting and there were plenty of things to look at in the mine. It was neat when Sky turned the lights off and showed us what the mine looked like in candlelight.

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After the tour of the mine, the kids got to pan for gold. Sky explained what to do and the kids were able to follow along. After all the rocks came out, each of the kids had flecks of gold, which they put into the little vile of water they gave them. The kids loved that!

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We had a great time at the Broken Boot Gold Mine. It is something we will all remember. If you are in the area, stop on by and check it out. Broken Boot Gold Mine Collage 2.jpg

Rushmore Cave:: Keystone, South Dakota

On our road trip out west, we had the pleasure of being guests at Rushmore Cave in Keystone, South Dakota. Although we were guests, all thoughts are my own. After visiting Mount Rushmore in the morning and having a picnic lunch, we made the short drive to Rushmore Cave, which is just outside of Keystone. When we arrived, everything looked very nice and clean. It was easy to see where to buy tickets and check in for the cave tour.

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We went on our tour with Mason. He was very enthusiastic about caves and made the tour interesting for all ages. Mason gave a nice history of the cave, answered questions, and threw in a few jokes. He talked about cave preservation and not touching the walls, which Cara took very seriously. That is why she is crossing her arms!

Rushmore Cave Collage.jpgThe cave tour was lots of fun and educational, too. The kids, Derek, and I really enjoyed it. After the cave tour, Abby and Cade got to go on the Soaring Eagle Zipline. Cara wasn’t quite tall enough, which she wasn’t very happy about…but safety first! I think Cade was a little nervous at first, but they loved it!

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After a visit to the gift shop, our visit was complete. Rushmore Cave also offers a Gunslinger 7-D Interactive Ride and panning for gold. I would highly recommend a visit if you are in the Keystone area. It helped complete the day with our visit to Mount Rushmore.


Rader Family Farms, Normal, Illinois

Since Abby was a baby, Derek and I have taken the kids to a pumpkin patch each Fall. We have been to Boggio’s, Tanner’s, and Edward’s. This year I read about one that we hadn’t tried before and we decided we would try it out. We went to Rader Family Farms at 1238 Ropp Road outside of Normal. The farm opens at 10 a.m. on the weekends, so we headed out at about 9 and made it there just as it was opening. It was a pretty easy drive down I39 and not too far from the exit. There was a large area for parking and lots of signs making it easy to know where to go. Image

Right away, I knew this was not going to be another Jollay Orchards mishap. There looked to be so much to do. The signs on the way in were beautifully done and so artistic.


I am not an easy going person. I get stressed out about things. If I go somewhere new and I don’t know where to go or how much things cost or what’s going on, I get nervous. I LoVeD all the signs. It made it so easy to know where to go, how much things cost, what was included, and what was going on.

We got our wristbands for $8/each and Cara (age 2 and under) was free. The large corn maze was not included in that, but the Kid’s Maze was difficult enough for us so that was actually a good thing. There were so many neat activities for the kids to do. The kids climbed the haystack, rode in the mower pulled caterpillar, climbed on a spider web, ran across the tire track, raced ducks, played in the little village, tried to lasso a steer, climbed a mountain and slid down, rode big trikes, played in the tire sand box, played in the corn, saw and pet farm animals, jumped on a pillow, rode on horse swings, navigated the kids’ corn maze, and rolled in giant rollers like hamsters.



After all the activities, we worked up an appetite and decided to head into the gift shop area to find some lunch.

IMG_8014I was really impressed with the selection. The prices weren’t bad either. I had the BBQ pulled pork farm hand meal. The sandwich wasn’t big but it was enough. The kids’ meals were a great deal. Abby and Cara had the mac & cheese. It was Kraft-ish but not. Abby could tell and didn’t love it but it was fine. Cade had a hot dog. All the kids’ meals came with apples, a cookie, a bottle of water and a pumpkin sippy cup (which sells for $1 in the gift shop).  We ate at a picnic table under a tent and everything was very clean and even decorated with little pumpkins and gourds.

After we ate we did a few more activities and then it was time to head home. We were at the farm for about 3 1/2 hours and it was a great fall day.

Starved Rock State Park, Utica, Illinois

Summer vacation is winding down and I decided I needed to do something fun with the kids before school starts back up again next week. I decided to pack a picnic lunch in a backpack and drive the whole 5 minutes over to Starved Rock for a hike. I usually like to go to Matthiessen but decided we would head to Starved Rock this time. I went to my usual place, St. Louis Canyon, but the small parking lot was full. The entrance to St. Louis Canyon is right across the street from Grizzly Jack’s Grand Bear Lodge. It has a nice trail and neat waterfalls. I had to go to my backup though. I parked at the back of the Starved Rock Lodge public parking lot and went in by the bald eagles totem pole. It is closest to French Canyon. We hiked in through French Canyon and a little further up the trail before we found a spot next to the trail to lay out our blanket and have a picnic.


After lunch, we hiked some more. We went past Pontiac Canyon and stopped at Lover’s Leap Overlook by the dam.


Then we turned and headed back toward the parking lot. The trail was easy. It was just me with three kids ages 7, 5, and 2 and I didn’t feel unsafe at all. Even my two-year-old hiked the whole way. Living by Starved Rock, we often hear emergency vehicles headed toward the state parks and know that often that means someone has wandered off the trail and gotten hurt. People need to remember that this isn’t a manmade amusement park. It is nature. We stayed on the trail and were fine. There are even signs there to remind you to do just that.


If you are looking for a trail to hike at Starved Rock with minimal stairs and some nice overlooks, I’d recommend the path we took. It is still a hike, but I would say it is pretty easy. The kids proclaimed it: “The best day ever!” It was a fun time and a good way to end summer vacation.

Lakeside, Michigan

We just returned from a week at the beach in Michigan. We rented a house with our good friends and tried (mostly successfully) to entertain 6 kids aged 7 and under for a 24/7 playdate. Almost every day was a beach day. It was a short (ish) walk to a private entrance to the beach from our house. The beach in southwest Michigan is beautiful. The water can be a bit cool but on a hot day, it felt great.


We brought sand toys to build sand castles and some cars to drive around the castles. We had watering cans and boats to play in the water. We also brought a football and floaties. There was a sandbar not very far off shore that the bigger kids and the adults (except for me) liked to swim out to.

The water is quite clear there and really very nice. After playing and swimming and building, the kids were glad to have juice boxes to get refreshed. We froze them before we left and they were perfect and cold for a hot summer day. Lakeside, Michigan and the surrounding area is a great place for a beach vacation, especially if you don’t live close to the ocean.

Silver Beach Carousel and Whirlpool Compass Fountain, Michigan

Last week when we were staying in Lakeside, Michigan with the Weitls, we were looking for something to do other than our usual visit to the beach. We decided to head north up Red Arrow Highway (Hwy 12) and make a few stops. First we went to Harbert Swedish Bakery for breakfast, then cherry picking at Jollay Orchards, and then to the Silver Beach area in St. Joseph. We parked right behind the Silver Beach Center ($2/hr) and went  in to ride the Silver Beach Carousel. There were some neat different carousel figures for the kids to ride and the music was classic. The kids and adults enjoyed the ride.


After riding the carousel, we walked out the front door and across the street to the Whirlpool Compass Fountain. It was a hot day and the kids enjoyed cooling off in the water fountains. It took them a few minutes to get started, but once they got going they were all soaking wet. There were fountains that came up from the ground and others that sprayed from above. It alternated between the two which was a fun change.


Whirlpool Compass Fountain CollageThere were many other things to do in the Silver Beach area. There is a children’s museum and a discovery zone as well as beach access. When we were there, there was an art fair as well. You could easily spend a day there and still have more to do. After the fountain, we walked back to the parking lot and headed back to our vacation house.

Jollay Orchards, Coloma, Michigan

After stopping for breakfast at Harbert Swedish Bakery on Red Arrow Highway, we headed north toward Jollay Orchards. We had found some information online and it seemed like a kid friendly place so we gave it a try. As soon as we pulled into the parking lot, we knew the information we had wasn’t exactly accurate. The ferris wheel was an antique and did not run and the Western town was not really anything the kids could do. We decided quickly to just go for the u-pick cherries and hope that was enough to do.

We got 2 small buckets and climbed on the hay rack ride to head out into the orchard. The kids were excited and ready to start picking right when we climbed off. We were picking sour cherries and planned to make pies with them when we got back to the house.


Everyone enjoyed picking the cherries and some of us enjoyed eating them too. I think if everyone had been eating them that we could have had a pit spitting contest! Cara may or may not have eaten a few cherry pits along the way.

Jollay OrchardsAfter we filled the two buckets, we gathered the kids to take some pictures. The sun was shining in their faces but they still look pretty cute anyway!

Six Kids Cherry PickingWe rode the hay rack back to the Farm Market and paid the extra $.30/lb to have our cherries pitted with the pitting machine. They were still only $1.29/lb which I thought was a pretty good deal. The kids had fun and we got our main ingredient for the amazing pies that Jamie would bake for us!

New Buffalo Township Memorial Park

Sometimes when on a beach vacation, I need a little break from the beach. I want to have a place for the kids to have fun and not have to deal with the sand being everywhere when we are done. In southwest Michigan just north of New Buffalo along Red Arrow Highway, there is a neat little park that was just perfect for the kids. We went on a super hot day and were glad to have the splash pad to cool off in. If you come prepared with swimsuits (we decided to just go with clothes since we were doing other things before), be aware that on a sunny day that the ground is super hot. I left Cara’s socks on so she wouldn’t burn her feet. I sat on one of the benches  and it was VERY hot. Image

There is also a regular playground directly next to the spray park. It had a lot of climbing things and the kids really liked it. The adults liked the shelter as that was the only shade we could find. It really was a very hot day. If it had been a bit cooler, I think we would have stayed there for a long time. The entire park and shelter area was very clean and well maintained. It would be a great place for a picnic too as there were many picnic tables in the shelter. So next time you are in southwest Michigan, cruising along on Red Arrow Highway, make a stop at New Buffalo Township Memorial Park and cool off at the splash park. The kids loved it!

Rotary Park, LaSalle, Illinois

How many times have you been on a long road trip and wished you had a great place to stop and let the kids run around and burn off some energy? This has happened to me more times than I could count. Usually we are stuck with a fast food play land or a rest stop. But how great would it be to have a wonderful park with an amazing playground, walking trails, and a pond that is easy on and off from the interstate? Well, if you are traveling on Interstate 39 in north central Illinois, you are in luck. Just a minute off the interstate is just that park you have been looking for.

Take Exit 57 on I39 (Route 6) and head west. If you were traveling south on 39, turn right off the interstate. If you were traveling north on 39, turn left off the interstate. Turn right on East 5th road. You will see a sign for Rockwell Cemetery and the park will be just up on the left side of the road. You can see I39 from the park. It is that close.Image

There is an amazing playground there. It is castle themed with lots of slides, climbing obstacles, and bridges. There are different kinds of swings and some spinning and rocking equipment.

There are walking/bike trails and a nice pond. When we visited, the park hadn’t been open very long and there are still a lot of things that are going to be worked on. There were places where shelters will go in. Image

So next time you are traveling on Interstate 39 and need to make a stop, or if you live in the Illinois Valley, make a visit to Rotary Park (aka Castle Park) and your kids will thank you.