Charleston & Surrounding Beaches

Well known for the exceptional charm and incredible foodie scene, Charleston SC and her beaches have been a token destination for couples, girlfriends, and families alike. The Southern character oozes from the colorful homes, lush gardens with ornate gates, and towering church steeples. The Holy City welcomes visitors from all over the world who amble down the historic streets or ride in one of the old horse drawn carriage tours. 

There are a variety of places to stay downtown that are perfect for a long weekend. If you want to stay longer, I recommend staying near one of the surrounding beaches and choose a day or two to drive into the downtown area for day trips. In this post I will highlight the many activities of downtown, but also the wonders of the Charleston beaches. 

What’s so Great About Charleston?

People flock to Charleston for different reasons, but this little peninsula is so walkable and so compact that eventually you will end up doing most of the things on this list, of course depending on the amount of time you have. The airport sits just northwest of downtown. If you plan to visit/spend time out at the beaches you will want a rental car, but if you are just there for a long weekend for downtown activities Uber or a taxi would be best. A few ideas of where to stay include The Vendue near Waterfront Park, The Indigo Inn or The Mills House Wyndham, both in the heart of the city or The Hyatt Place near the airport.

What to do Downtown

Fall in Charleston at the Pineapple Fountain

⇒Shopping: The first place you will read about shopping in downtown is on King Street. The long, historic street offers both chain retail stores as well as unique boutique shops. Here are a few of my favorite local spots…

⇒Carriage tour: If there is any activity you spend money on, definitely take a carriage tour. We do this nearly every time we venture downtown, which is at least once a year. Every tour guide is different and you can have a different experience each time. At times we’ve had a very local perspective, one time a humorous guide, and some are super detailed with their history and factoids. Accept that you cannot choose which type you get and enjoy the experience you are given. This is a great activity to do the first day you are in town so you can get an overview of the peninsula and get your bearings. 

⇒Ghost tour: These tours are a fabulous nighttime activity, especially if you are uninterested in the typical nightlife. This is probably not a good activity for littles, but older kids (above age 12) would likely enjoy this a lot. As a small group, you will trek along on foot and listen to ghost stories that coordinate with certain homes and locations. Don’t forget your bug spray.

⇒Garden/Home tour: Another walking guided tour that is one of the most sought after activities, but are typically only offered in Spring (March) and fall (October/November). The Charleston Garden Club and the Preservation Society both offer tours. If you are a garden lover, we also recommend Middleton Place.

⇒Fort Sumter: If you have a history buff in the family the boat ride and self guided tour out to Fort Sumter will give a wealth of Civil War history, not to mention give you wonderful harbor views of the Holy City.

⇒For kids, there will be plenty of fun to be found at the Pineapple Fountain near Waterfront Park, The SC Aquarium, and the City Market. You can take a drive out to John’s Island to visit the famous Angel Oak Tree, too! There are also harbor tours and sunset cruises the kids would enjoy.

Surrounding Beaches

∞Isle of Palms & Beach

Isle of Palms is a an easy drive from downtown, through the town of Mount Pleasant, SC and across the IOP connector. This Charleston beach is a classic destination. The island is made up of predominantly rental homes, some with beach access and some with intercostal waterway access. There is a marina and a wonderful golf course located at a development named Wild Dunes. Our family has vacationed here a multitude of summers and we love the vacation feel and close proximity to Charleston. There are a few restaurants here, but not much of a selection.

∞Sullivan’s Island & Beach

Sullivan’s is adjacent to Isle of Palms and there is a bridge/connector between the two. Sullivan’s is much smaller and is filled predominantly year-round or semi-year round residents. There are rentals available, but most are for month long stays. We love Sullivan’s for day trips because it is much quieter and less touristy feeling. You can make a stop at Fort Moultrie, as well, for a history lesson and sweeping views of the ocean. There are several restaurants on the island, but not a huge selection.

∞Folly Beach

Folly Beach is also a quick drive across the area of Charleston known as James Island. Folly Beach has mostly rental properties and is fairly well built up with a lot of tourists attractions and restaurants, ice cream places, etc. On the far end of the beach is a county park that is beloved. We have never vacationed here, but my parents have and enjoyed it as another, cheaper option for a beach vacation.

∞Seabrook Island

Seabrook is a private island community that hosts beautiful homes that are typically semi year-round residents, a few year rounders reside as well. This island is perfect for those who like to ride bikes, paddle kayaks through the marshes or spend quiet days on the beach. There is no public access to the beach here and you can really tell the difference. If you enjoy the private club and golf feel and want to be in a home to relax and get away from it all, this is a great spot. Getting to downtown Charleston is not nearly as convenient as the above mentioned beaches, but you could make a day trip there. There are a few restaurants available in the community and you can make a quick hop over to Kiawah’s restaurants, but going into downtown Charleston would be a challenge.

∞Kiawah Island Resort & Beach

Kiawah is another larger resort island community that boasts an incredible golf course, a top notch hotel (The Sanctuary) and spa with the most amazing brunch buffet as well as world class tennis facilities. There are some year rounders here, but there are quite a few rentals here. The beach does not accommodate many rentals that are beachfront, but many of the rentals come with a golf cart to get you to the beach. Biking is a huge part of the lifestyle here so bring your bikes or rent some! The restaurants on the island are fabulous and you may not even care to make your way downtown. This resort island is truly like a paradise and is especially wonderful as a romantic getaway for a long weekend OR an incredibly week for a memorable family vacation.

Jones Gap State Park Mini Adventure

Jones Gap State Park

After we spent months at home we were ready for a mini adventure. The South Carolina State parks system proved, once again, to be a wonderful outlet for our family. Even during the strange quarantine/lockdown time of the global pandemic we were afforded the opportunity for a mini adventure at Jones Gap State Park. IT is life giving to get outside and enjoy nature together as a family. It is who we are.

Jones Gap State Park is located in the upstate of South Carolina, approximately 25 miles North West of Greenville, SC. We planned this particular daytrip with NO stops and we packed a picnic lunch and snacks to take with us. If there is not a global pandemic  you should plan a wonderful morning or afternoon inside the park and lunch or dinner in downtown Greenville, which would be ideal. There are campsites available via reservation, but not every campsite allows fires so research accordingly.

Boys Rainbow Falls hike

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The Best Hike In Jones Gap State Park

Jones Gap State Park is an incredibly well maintained park with beautiful shaded trails alongside the ambling Middle Saluda river. If you have the legs and the time we highly encourage you to do the 4 mile roundtrip hike up to Rainbow Falls. You will be in the forest with shade the entire time. It is a beautiful hike, but rated moderate as you will traverse some steep sections with steps. We had our pup with us and he was leading the way with such excitement that we made it to the top in less than 2 hours.

The falls were running really good due to recent rains so we weren’t able to go across them to the other side. We spent about 30 minutes at the falls taking pictures, eating snacks and climbing around reveling in the beauty of the nature around us. We had the falls to ourselves because the park system was regulating entrance into the park, but this is a very popular hike with lots of visitor traffic.

Kids Rainbow Falls

The Jones Gap State Park Visitor Center

The visitors center is a lovely log cabin where you can get trail information, check in for your campsite or get a souvenir from your mini adventure. Here are a few quick facts for your reference, but check out their fabulous website for more thorough information.

  • 18 Campsites
  • 60 miles of trails
  • $6 entry for adults, $3.75 for seniors, $3.50 for children 6-15, FREE for children under 5
  • pets allowed ON a leash at all times
  • under COVID regulations, parking reservations are required Friday, Saturday, Sunday for $5
  • under COVID regulations, park hours are limited to 9 am – 6 pm.

Rainbow Falls

Whirlwind Adventure in France

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Why France?

To make a long story short, John lost his dad very unexpectedly in January of 2016 and had a deep need to travel to France. You know how that feeling comes over you when you realize that life is both short and completely out of our control? Well it hit John like a ton of bricks and thankfully he wanted to work out that emotion in a healthy way-travel. France had always been at the very top of his bucket list. A love of wine and history combined to make France a top destination in his mind. So, in less than 60 days I planned a trip for the two of us.

How We Did (parts of) France in 8 Days

Day 1: We flew an overnight flight into Paris, landing torturously early in the morning. As you may know, the airport is rather distant from the city center so we freshened ourselves up and hopped on the train to head into the city. We took the train from the airport all the way to one of the many train stations, Gare de Lyon, where we stored our luggage for the day and we could pick them up before our train out of the city later that night.

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From there we made our way to Notre Dame and sat in on a very early Good Friday mass, then made our way on foot to Sainte-Chapelle. Two big sights and all before 10:00 am! We managed the subway to the Musee d’ Orsay and spent about 2 hours absorbing some of the most incredible and famous artwork ever known. We lunched at a lovely little cafe we had researched ahead of time across from the gardens and walked across one of the many bridges lined with lovers locks. After a leisurely lunch we trounced over to the Montmartre neighborhood to visit the Sacre Coeur with great vistas of the city. Our final endeavor in the city was to visit the Musee Rodin and wow what a joy for us! Our feet dragging and our eyes drooping we made our way back to the train station for a quick snack, pick up our luggage and to get on the train to Lyon!

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Day 2: Lyon, the gastronomy capital of the world. I know that’s a strong statement, but our experience made it so true. We loved walking through Vieux Lyon and the UNESCO World Heritage areas, getting lost in all the silk traboules (secret tunnels) and climbing up to the Roman amphitheater for a good dose of history and wonderful views of the city.   Our day consisted of an amazing lunch at Daniel et Denise and walking off all the calories afterward. We had made reservations there a month in advance and I’m glad we did because it was Easter weekend. One thing we were surprised by was the beauty of Lyon at night. Apparently the city is well known for their lighting expertise. Most of the buildings and fountains have professional lighting features that make the city just gorgeous.

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Day 3: Easter Sunday! We attended a wonderful church that offered English translation and it was a beautiful thing to worship in another country and culture with other followers of Jesus. After church we had made reservations for a special lunch at Burgundy by Matthieu that knocked our socks off and absolutely solidified our love for French food and the event of eating in France. After lunch we hopped on the TGV to Nice. We arrived a bit late on a Sunday holiday, so we had a little trouble finding a restaurant that was open, but after a little calling around we dined on seafood pasta at a lovely place near our hotel, Hotel Suisse Nice.

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Day 4: We enjoyed a self-guided walking tour of Nice that we followed from Rick Steves guide to France, which took us to many areas of the quaint coastal city. We adored the cobblestone side streets of the old city where we ate mussels outside in one of the courtyards. We walked up and down the promenade soaking in the sunshine and people watching. After that we hiked up to Castle Hill where there were countless families enjoying time outside on a beautiful holiday. As the sun began to go down, we hopped back on the train to Avignon.

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Day 5 & 6: Our time in this area was all about experiencing the wine and the food and the countryside. While we enjoyed the city of Avignon, we spent the bulk of our time visiting wineries and restaurants tasting and indulging in the flavors of the region. Some of the highlights of our time in the area were Gigondas and Chateauneuf du Pape, learning all about the history of the area and understanding the lifestyle of the wine makers.

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Day 7: We decided on a day trip to Arles because we had read about a wonderful walking tour that encompasses the actual sites of many famous paintings by Vincent Van Gogh. Each stop on the walking tour coincides with location of a well known work by the artist and a plaque showing the work. It’s so great because you can stand there and see for yourself what Van Gogh saw and interpreted into a beautiful piece including Le Jardin de la Maison de Santa A Arles, and Le Cafe. Arles is a bit dumpy and dirty, but there is an impressive Roman theater and  Roman arena there as well.

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Day 8: Back to Paris on the TGV. We had tickets to go up in the Eiffel Tower on this last evening to enjoy the sunset, but the mechanics that operate the elevators were on strike so the tower was closed to tourists. What a total bummer! It ended up being a rainy evening anyway so we didn’t miss the sunset views we had wanted so badly. Our last goal was to eat at a wonderful French brasserie for roasted chicken, French onion soup, and the MOST delicious profiteroles you could ever imagine. It was the perfect end to our whirlwind trip.

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Jones Gap State Park Mini Adventure

Jones Gap State Park

After spending months at home we were ready for a mini adventure. The South Carolina State parks system has proven, once again, to be a wonderful outlet for our family. Even during this strange quarantine/lockdown time of the global pandemic we have been afforded the opportunity for a mini adventure. Getting outdoors and enjoying nature together as a family is who we are.

Located about 2.5 hours drive from our home is Jones Gap State Park in the upstate of South Carolina, approximately 25 miles North West of Greenville, SC. We planned this particular daytrip with NO stops and we packed a picnic lunch and snacks to take with us. If there is not a global pandemic causing everything to be shut down you should plan a wonderful morning or afternoon inside the park and lunch or dinner in downtown Greenville, which would be ideal. There are campsites available via reservation, but not every campsite allows fires so plan accordingly.

Boys Rainbow Falls hike

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Jones Gap State Park is an incredibly well maintained park with beautiful shaded trails alongside the ambling Middle Saluda river. If you have the legs and the time we highly encourage you to do the 4 mile roundtrip hike up to Rainbow Falls. You will be in the forest with shade the entire time, although you will traverse some steep sections with steps. We had our pup with us and he was leading the way with such excitement that we made it to the top in less than 2 hours. We were huffing and puffing all the way up, but were able to relax and snack a the falls. The falls were running really good due to recent rains so we weren’t able to go across them to the other side which was a bummer for our oldest who loves to explore on his own in nature. We spent about 30 minutes at the falls taking pictures, eating snacks and climbing around reveling in the beauty of the nature around us. We had the falls to ourselves because the park system was regulating entrance into the park, but this is a very popular hike typically with lots of visitors enjoying the outdoors.

Kids Rainbow Falls

The visitors center is a lovely log cabin where you can get trail information, check in for your campsite or get a souvenir from your mini adventure. Here are a few quick facts for your reference, but we highly recommend you checking out their fabulous website for more thorough information.

  • 18 Campsites
  • 60 miles of trails
  • $6 entry for adults, $3.75 for seniors, $3.50 for children 6-15, FREE for children under 5
  • pets allowed ON a leash at all times
  • under COVID regulations, parking reservations are required Friday, Saturday, Sunday for $5
  • under COVID regulations, park hours are limited to 9 am – 6 pm.

Rainbow Falls

How to Make a Whirlwind Adventure Memorable

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Get to know the Destination Before You Go

In order to get the most out of your time you can get to know your destination before you land there. Look through maps, and read up a little on the history. This will give you a good overview of your destination and ensure you are prepared. You want to get yourself acquainted with the layout and feel of the location so you can hit the ground running when you arrive.

Accept that you Cannot Do it All

A time crunch means you won’t be able to see/do everything. Make a loose plan of the highlights you don’t want to miss. Do what YOU want to do. Just because the guide books list the most popular activities or sights doesn’t mean that’s what YOU must do. Remember that this is your adventure and you are creating your own memories. I often map out which highlights are close to one another so we maximize the time between highlights. If your time is limited to just one day it’s best to choose 3 “must do’s” and 2 “if possible’s”. Depending on your destination, you may need to pre-purchase timed entry into museums or shows, etc. This can help you structure your day accordingly.

Food

Make sure to plan ahead where you will eat so you don’t waste time wandering around looking for what fits your budget and tastes. Again, preparing ahead of time by checking Yelp or another app for the best eats will save you a lot of time and possibly some money.

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Transportation

Whether you are on a road trip or a trip where you are relying on public transport, we think it’s best to do your travel between locations before a late dinner or after an early supper. We have found that those evening hours can often be dead hours so we fill them with travel. Especially for families who may have tired little ones or irritable teens, it’s a good idea to build in some down time. If you are early risers, it may be best to get that travel time in after a good night’s sleep and before beginning your day. Make this work for you and maximize your time well. We love the high speed trains in Europe and their reduced rates after typical commute times!

Know Your Why

Years ago John really wanted to go to a specific region of southern France to visit the wineries there and eat the food. Everything else we did was icing on the cake. We took a whirlwind 8 day trip through Paris, Lyon, Avignon, and Nice. We stayed focused on Lyon for gastronomy and the Cote du Rhone region for wines. We added on Nice for one night-it was crazy, but such a fun experience. We did a walking tour in Nice, ate mussels in the old town courtyards, wandered through the markets and soaked in the sun on the promenade and that was enough. We spent almost no time in Paris because it was not the focus of the trip and we knew we would go back in the future.

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Don’t Underestimate the Impact of a Whirlwind Adventure

It is easy to dismiss the idea of ONLY spending a short time in a destination that warrants a slow pace, but the reality is that most of us often have limited time. Go. Soak up what you can and enjoy what makes your heart sing. You CAN make a whirlwind trip memorable even if you come back a little bit tired. After all, not every adventure is a vacation.

Sailing Adventure Preparations

We have compiled a list of the 12 most valuable items to pack for sailing. Be prepared to have the best experience by having the right gear. Whether you charter with a hired captain or you captain yourself, you will want to make sure you have these valuable items packed for your next sailing adventure.

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Sunsail charter in the BVI

  1. Soft Sided Suitcase – you will find it incredibly difficult to find storage for hard-sided suitcases on a sailboat. With limited storage, most of it in the floor containers, you will not have space to store large suitcases.
  2. Polarized sunglasses – there’s no way to escape the glaring sun while you’re out on the water.
  3. Clothespins – out on the water it’s difficult to get things dry so you’ll want these for hanging towels, swimwear, and clothing to dry out in the winds while you sail.
  4. Snorkel mask – unless you want to use the ones the boat provides (ick), but don’t bother bringing your own fins.
  5. Reef safe sunscreen
  6. Quick dry microfibers towels
  7. Dry bag/Dry phone case for clothing, shoes, camera and phone
  8. GoPro or other underwater camera
  9. Sweatshirt for when the sun goes down and the breezes blow
  10. Water sandals or water shoes
  11. Powerbank to charge all of your electronics
  12. Biodegradable body wipes because you may not be able to shower every day
preparing the sails for adventure

Pack Well to be Prepared

Your sailing adventure will be so much more fun if you have packed the right gear. Whether you are out on the seas for just a few days or you’re blessed enough to spend long-term time on the boat, you will want to be prepared. It is easy to forget things or need to replenish, but purchasing items at marinas can get pretty expensive and supplies are limited.

Worry free fun sailing

Worry Free Sailing

Space is limited so you want to keep things simple when you’re packing for your sailing adventure. However, you want to make sure you have these top 12 items so you sail, snorkel, and soak up the sun completely worry free!

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The 2 Best Ways to See Chicago

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See the City From the River

The Chicago River is actually a system of rivers and canals that run through the heart of the city. The river is both natural and a feat of human engineered innovation. by reversing the flow and implanting a series of locks, the river could handle the growing sewage issues as well as meet the needs of the growing city life. The bridges across the river are a beautiful way to walk above the river amongst the cityscape and most have stairs leading down to riverfront walkways with cafes, bars and resting points to enjoy the riverfront.

One of the most exceptional ways to truly see the magnificence of the city is from an archictectural boat tour that cruises down the river. The tours run from May-November nearly all day long, but the best tours are the evening cruise when you can experience the transition from day to night, from sunlight to city lights. It is truly an unforgettable experience that everyone should have. Tourists and locals alike enjoy these tours!


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See The City From Above

When you are amidst the sea of skyscrapers it is often difficult to get a feel for the whole city. Taking your view from the top changes your perspective and gives you a grand scope of Chicago from above. You have two options for viewing city this way. First, the observation deck from the John Hancock building on Michigan Avenue, which puts you closer to the lakefront, or the Willis Tower “skydeck” which puts you smack dab in the middle of the Chicago loop. Both do a great job in getting you up really high for fabulous views. Do your research and plan your itinerary according to which part of the city you will be in and what works for your family best. I have done both and find them equally satisfying.


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Chicago is awesome no matter how you do it, but these two unique ways of seeing the city are sure to make your experience memorable and that’s what traveling is all about-creating memories.

 

Chicago 15 Year Old Adventure

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Celebrating our Kids with their Very Own Adventures

We love to celebrate the various milestones of our kids. They each look forward to choosing their own adventure with mom and dad at 10, 15, and 20. Sometimes we throw in others, too, if the opportunity presents itself. Family adventures are always going to happen, but we like to celebrate the uniqueness of each kid. We encourage you to enjoy time relating to each of your kids individually. In 2018 Rowan chose Chicago for his 15 year old adventure!


Why 15 Is a Great Time to Adventure

The jump from age 10 to age 15 is enormous. So much happens during those years and it gives us as parents a good launchpad to connecting with our teens. A successful adventure with a teen looks surprisingly similar to one as a 10 year old.  I can’t emphasize enough how far it goes to reaching your teen’s heart by being interested in what he/she is interested in. For our family, these adventures are about going and doing what that child/teen wants to do.


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A Weekend Adventure Through Chicago

I know we all live on a budget, but I implore you to splurge in a way that makes your kid feel special. After all, these are memories you are creating. You’re not just throwing this away after a few months. In Chicago we bought good seats to watch Ro’s favorite MLB team. We had to spend time in the most iconic ballpark ever-Wrigley Field! Make sure to add the fun ride on the Red Line to the game with all the other Cubs fans.

Rowan is a foodie with an extremely mature palate so we ate our way through the city at restaurants he requested. Of course one of his favorites was the hot dog at Wrigley-gotta get that Chicago dog! We had a swing and a miss with a restaurant we TRIED for 2 hours to get get a table at and ended up with a late night stop at Portillo’s for an Italian beef sandwich. We walked along the lakefront to get a glimpse of all the sailboats, saw Millennium Park, finally we made a stop at the Art Institute.


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The Best Ways to See Chicago

One of the best ways to see Chicago is from the riverfront and from ON the river. If you spend any time walking downtown in the loop you will cross over one of the many bridges. The city has done so much to clean up the riverfront walkways. When the weather is pleasant you will find a lot of people down there enjoying the restaurants, bars, and boat life. The other splurge we indulged in was the sunset evening cruise on the architectural boat tour. Don’t miss this!!! Learning about the different buildings in the city from the different eras is super interesting and you get to do it all while cruising down the river. Spend the extra few bucks to do it as the sun begins to go down so you can see the changes from light to dark. It is an unforgettable experience.


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The other best way to really see the city is from the top. There are two locations you can do this from: The Hancock building on Michigan Ave and Willis Tower on State St. Either way, you will get fantastic views of the lake and the city from up above and you can’t help but feel so small up there.


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Ways to Adventure Through Chicago

There are a host of other activities to do as adults or with children. We focused on what Rowan wanted to do for the weekend. Here is a list of other ideas for your time in the Windy City.

Shopping on Michigan Ave for the popular retail stores or look in the Wicker Park area for more boutique shopping.

♠ Every museum is awesome: The Field Museum to see Sue the dinosaur, The Museum of Science & Industry, The Art Insitute of Chicago, the Adler Planetarium, the Chicago Children’s Museum, the  Chicago Sports Museum, the Richard H. Driehaus Musuem, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House and more.

♠ Chicago Bears Soldier Field, The United Center, Wrigley Field sports venues

♠ Chicago pizza options include Lou Malnati’s, Pizzeria Uno, Pizzeria Due, Giordano’s, and Gino’s East to name a few. That deep dish pizza is special! Every Chicagoan has their favorite spot-mine is definitely Lou Malnati’s!

Navy Pier is great for kids with all kinds of arcades, outside games, beer gardens for parents while kids play, and the big Ferris wheel.

8 Tips to Planning a Multi-Family Adventure

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Multi-family adventures can be an incredible way to experience a new place or perhaps enhance a re-visit destination. However, there are also some major differences in the way you plan and do this type of vacation. After all, compounding the number of people involved is sure to add a layer of logistics. I have come up with a few tips on how to plan a multi-family adventure so that everyone walks away with lasting memories and continued relationships in tact.

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The first hurdle in planning a multi-family adventure is choosing a location. Often times this step happens organically, coming out of an excited and shared desire amongst family or friends. In our case, longtime friends asked me to help them plan a trip to Yellowstone National Park and jokingly said she just wanted to take us along so we could show them everything ourselves. Crazy thing is that we had already marked summer of 2018 to take our kids back to celebrate. Twenty years before, John and I met while working in Yellowstone National Park and wanted to introduce our kids to our magical place. Other friends overheard our conversation and wanted to join in. What started as a casual conversation quickly became the beginning of a plan. If you are starting from scratch and already have in mind who you want to travel with, I recommend starting the conversation with a few destination ideas and see how they are received.

Tip 1: Choose a destination that everyone is (mostly) equally excited about.

You cannot start off with a compromise right from the beginning so make sure all family units WANT this. Consider the variety of activities that are offered and if there is enough for everyone to be satisfied. Think about the group and the things you have in common and will enjoy doing together.

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Tip 2: Begin your planning 3 months earlier than you typically would.

Planning amongst multiple families takes extra time because many parties need to weigh in on many decisions. Now that we have all become accustomed to using video conferencing platforms, that would be a great way to get everyone together to discuss the planning. Start off with a list of MUST DO activities and make sure everyone has time to process their decisions.

Tip 3: Delegate the areas of planning based on who has specific gifts and/or interests.

Our good friend Matt is a wizard at finding the best flights and airline deals and knows the best way to use airline miles/points. I immediately put him in charge of that aspect of the planning. John and I know Yellowstone really well and so we planned our route and where we should stay on which nights. If you have a foodie in your group, that person needs to research restaurants and reservations for large groups. Work with your strengths and more will get done in a shorter amount of time with less frustration.

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Tip 4: Create a shareable document to add new information and keep everyone organized.

Sharing information and keeping everyone updated is crucial. This also allows for edits and changes that everyone can see with their own eyes. In a few instances we had to split up on accommodations-it could not be avoided, but at least we had that document to keep track of where everyone was on which night. This also helps to make sure all bases are covered and that there are no holes in the agenda. If we booked an activity we included confirmation numbers and details about who was doing that activity. Breaking things up by each day keeps it well organized.

Tip 5: Poll your people about what they want out of the adventure.

We found that taking a quick survey of our own individual families would have been a good thing to do ahead of time. We did not do this and wish we had. Getting an idea of what is desired from the vacation (lounging on a beach for a week OR hiking 15 miles a day through rough terrain) before you leave can help in the plans. Asking each family member one thing that was on their bucket list for the trip would have helped to divide up into groups better (6 go horseback riding while 5 go hiking and 4 go fishing) in advance. Instead we were left winging it on the fly and it was tough and at times we may have hurt feelings or not heard the quieter in the group. Polling ahead would ensure that no one’s number one desire gets left out. *Sidenote: sometimes this can’t be helped. We had planned an entire afternoon for the older boys to fish, but the weather was awful with very cool temps, whipping wind and spitting rain. You can’t always plan around the weather. Sadly this was a big desire for the boys, but we just couldn’t make it happen.

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Tip 6: Leave room/space for down time

Not every family travels at the same pace. Some families like to milk every moment out of their vacation because they only take one trip every two years. Other families like to travel at a slower pace and enjoy each activity and not feel rushed on to the next one. You must allow for each family to have some time just to themselves. You don’t want to make the others tired of you and vice versa. It’s important to leave some space from each other in order to preserve the relationship for the long term. It’s also important to acknowledge that not everyone’s need for downtime will happen at the same time. Be flexible with this and try to come up with a schedule that meets most of the needs.

Tip 7: Prepare your people that there will be compromises

There is no perfect travel world even on the best days, but when you are dealing with a large group and multiple families with lots of dynamics you need to know that you will make more compromises than usual. It’s best to prepare everyone for this before you even leave on your trip. Keep it positive by showing them that their number one activity is on the agenda and that while they may not love everything the group does, they will get their adventure during the trip.

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Tip 8: Be sensitive to budgets

It goes without saying that not every family is in the same financial situation, but beyond that each family values things differently. Perhaps one family prefers to eat all meals self-cooked so they can put that money toward experiences while another family looks forward to a vacation without any cooking at all. Either way, everyone can still have a good time together while being respectful of each other. Having those discussions up front is best and communicating what’s important in the budget will only help keep things light.

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These are the best tips to get you planning a memorable multi-family adventure. In the end, you want an adventure that brings joy to everyone and keeps the relationships in tact for the future. A little extra logistical push can help preserve all of that. Looking back through these photos makes me ready to plan the next time we can get together with lifelong friends and create memories.

24 Hours: Rocky Mountain National Park

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When to Go

This amazing U.S. National Park is one that can be revisited multiple times and can be enjoyed throughout the seasons. We visited in early June on a beautiful, clear and sunny day with perfect hiking temperatures in the 60-70 degree range. If you are visiting in the busy season (May-September) you will be forced to park in a lot and then take a shuttle to the popular trailheads. It was very busy the day we were there and lots of people were on the trail with us. We even had to wait in line for a shuttle, so be patient and enjoy meeting others.

Most Popular Hike

We chose the Emerald Lake hike for its length (just under 4 miles roundtrip) and popularity for fantastic scenery. It was a perfectly gorgeous day and we wanted to see the beauty of the park. It’s not a difficult hike at all and you get so much reward for your work. It was a challenge for us, though, coming straight from sea level. The start of the Bear Lake trailhead is at about 9500 ft. elevation and you’ll end up over 10,000 ft. so it’s not a big gain, but our bodies just weren’t used to being up that high! We took our time and enjoyed stopping at the two other lakes on the trail. Both Nymph Lake and Dream Lake have beautiful vistas and the sunny blue skies cast a shimmer on the surfaces.

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Wildlife Story

Despite the crowds, we did get some wildlife sightings. In fact, on the way back we came across a spot where a mama elk had bedded down her new calf about 50 yards from the trail. We were well aware of the situation and used caution as we approached. John and I have both been on dozens of trails both populated and backcountry with years of experience. The kids not so much at this point, so this day was a great learning experience. John was out ahead and I was at the end with the three kids in between us. John began to walk the trail into an open area where the mama elk was eating and keeping an eye out. John got about 1/2 through the open space when the mama CHARGED him. The kids and I, with stopped hearts, retreated in a panicked silence. John ran. He ran. What??? He knows better than to turn his back on a wild animal, but his instincts took over. She was just showing him who was boss and stopped short, but Lord I almost lost my lunch. The kids and I opted to climb up and embankment off trail and found the trail and John after circumventing the scene. It was so surprising that she charged John of all people with so many on the trail that day.

We all experienced firsthand our place in the wild, which is to say that WE are the visitors. That mama elk had every right to be there and to protect her baby. We were the ones interrupting and invading her space. The rest of the hike went off without a hitch and I would say the entirety of the hike took about 3.5 hours. You could certainly do this more quickly, but we took our time and enjoyed the views and being together and taking photos. 

Trail Ridge Road

When we got back to the car we took the drive up to the Alpine Visitor Center via the Trail Ridge Road. Wow! The views were incredible, the wind was fierce and John drove like his family’s life was in his hands. It was a really neat way to see the park, but know that the road is narrow and has steep drop offs. If you aren’t a fan of heights, this may be too exciting for you! You will climb all the way to 11,760 ft above sea level and it is magnificent! Be certain to check road conditions and to see if the road is open all the way through or at least to the Alpine Visitor Center-the road is NOT open year-round.

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