13 Secret Beach Towns Perfect for Your Next Vacation


Holden Beach in the Brunswick Islands of North Carolina has small-town charm, but plenty of activities (check out the North Carolina Festival by the Sea) to keep your family busy. You can take the kids crabbing and fishing, and explore the island by foot, by bike, or by kayak or canoe excursion along the Intracoastal Waterway. And, there’s plenty of wildlife to spot: dolphins swimming offshore, endangered (and protected) loggerhead turtles making their journey from the nest to the ocean, and ghost crabs that make their way along the beach at night.

Good to know: All of New Brunswick Islands’ beaches are dog-friendly!

Online: ncbrunswick.com/holdenbeach

photo: courtesy Brunswick County Tourism Development Authority



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6 Amazing Road Trips


What to See

This stretch along Highway 49 isn’t as long as some of the other road trips, but with lots of twists and turns and plenty of places to stop it’s a great trip for kids. In Sutter Creek check out the Amador Flower Farm—a commercial grower that allows the public free access to their 13 acres including picnic grounds and demonstration gardens. The nearby (8 miles east of Sutter Creek) Chaw’se Indian Grinding Rock State Park features limestone rock outcroppings with more than 1,000 mortar holes (the largest collection of bedrock mortars in North America). Hop back on the highway for a few and make your next stop at Coloma—where gold was first discovered in California. Learn to pan for it yourself at Marshall Gold Discovery Park where you’ll also find a variety of activities for kids and tons of historic sites to explore on foot. Make a pit stop in Auburn to explore the courthouse and then head up to Grass Valley and Nevada City where you’ll find two of Norcal’s quaintest towns. Don’t miss the Nevada City Firehouse Museum—it’s not too big and there’s plenty of cool stuff to look at before you explore the rest of downtown on foot. Summertime boasts farmer’s markets (including one at the Julia Morgan-designed North Star House) and downtown festivals galore.

Good to Know: Most locals will tell you not to leave Nevada County without a dip in the Yuba River. Bridgeport is your best bet with littles for not needing to hike too far and wide, shallow areas for wading. Exercise caution this year, because massive snow runoff has caused stronger-than-usual currents. Check with locals for feedback, but having lifejackets on hand is always a smart idea.

Where to Eat

In Nevada City, get a heaping plate from Ike’s Quarter Cafe, a New Orleans-meets-Cali restaurant with an extensive kids menu, colorful decor, gorgeous food and a small outdoor patio. Grab a couple of pasties from Marshall’s in Grass Valley before you hit the road or head to the Yuba. For sweet stuff, check out  Lazy Dog Chocolateria in Grass Valley or the Nevada City Chocolate Shop—an old fashioned candy store right in historic downtown.

Where to Stay

Grass Valley and Nevada City have no shortage of lodging. In Grass Valley, try the historic Holbrooke Hotel for reasonably priced rooms right in the middle of the downtown. In Nevada City, we love the recently opened Inn Town Campground, offering everything from camping to glamping.

photo: Erin Johnson via flickr



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5 ‘Awesome’ New Reasons to Visit LEGOLAND This Summer


As if LEGOLAND’s Water Park wasn’t epic enough, now there’s even more reason to put on those swimsuits and make a splash! The Park’s California beach-themed Surfer’s Cove opens on June 30th and it boasts six Riptide Racer 100-foot water slides that kids and parents can race down to see who’s the fastest one to reach the bottom. No one will doubt who the winner is because the victor gets to have their photo taken with the LEGO winner’s trophy! Surfer’s Cove will also feature a spray ground called Wipeout Lagoon where multiple water jets create a wave effect. Kids will also dig the new LEGO models strewn throughout the area, including a surfing dog, surfers, seagulls, crabs and a lifeguard––all comprised of the colorful bricks.

Good to know: Bring a credit card to rent a locker for the day to store your personal belongings. Large lockers are $14/day and medium-sized lockers are $10/day. There are family-sized changing rooms located in the locker area. You should also bring your own towels and consider wearing water shoes so you don’t have to worry about taking flip flops on and off all day. Lifejackets are available free of charge for use at the Park and no outside floatation devices are allowed.



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How to Train for a Race with Kids


You are probably already running after your kids every day, but have you ever considered making it official and signing up for a family-friendly race? Depending on their age and skill level, kids can make the perfect running buddies, whether in the stroller, on the sidelines cheering up a storm, or even running along right beside you. We’ve collected some training tips whether you want to run solo or with kids, and have also rounded up some of our favorite family-friendly races across the country. There’s nothing better than crossing the finish line as a family!

Image courtesy of Giant Race Facebook Page

TRAIN

1. Pick a race date far enough in advance to give yourself time to achieve your goals. It could be a 5K, 10K, Half Marathon, Marathon or more! You’ll be surprised with what you can accomplish with time and planning.

2. Build up miles slowly. The hardest thing to do while training is avoiding getting injured. You need to progress very slowly, and add 1 mile to your long run per week tops.

3. Run at least 3 times per week and leave the long run for Saturday or Sunday mornings. The other two runs can be done when your schedule allows. Get up extra early during the week, or fit in that run while your kids eat dinner, watch a movie, or after they fall asleep.

4. If you plan to race with a stroller, train with a stroller. Plan your short runs to they end at a playground where the kids can get out and do their own running around while you stretch it out. (check out our list of stroller-friendly routes right here.) Long weekend runs can coincide with nap time. Don’t stop running until they wake up!

5. Stock your smart phone. Prepare a fun playlist to keep you pumped and motivated and download an app like Runkeeper, Nike Running or Strava to track your progress.

6. For your little running buddies, bring snacks they can much on the go and plenty of water for both of you. Get a small portable speaker so you can all jam out!

7. Plan your routes ahead of time. Run through parks or neighborhoods you enjoy, or maybe end the run at a special café or bookstore.

8. Reward yourself after every run; a piece of dark chocolate or perhaps a nice scrub in the shower.

9. Talk with your kids about your runs and milestones. They will be so proud of you! And it may inspire them to skip the stroller and run right along side you. Many races have mini versions for kids.

10. If you are running solo (sans kids), make sure they come and cheer you on from the sidelines. Besides giving you the push you’ll need to keep going, they will never look at mom or dad the same again: Super hero status for life!

 

Image courtesy of Koloa Plantation Family Run

 

RUN!

Now it’s time to pick a race (or two!). These are some of our faves from all around the country:

Splash Dash 5K in Mansfield, TX

When: July 22, 2017

Where: Mansfield, TX

Details: This water-themed run for kids of all ages combines running with a water balloon fight at the end. A prize also goes to the best costume in 3 categories…Adult, Group, and Child.

Online: splashdash5k.com/

Koloa Plantation Family Run & Walk

When: July 30, 2017

Where: Kauai, Hawaii

Details: Run or walk along four different course lengths for you to choose from while enjoying some of the most beautiful ocean views on Kauai’s South Shore. Special awards will be given to all youth 12 years and under who participate!

Online: koloaplantationdays.com/

 

Kids Race/Family Relay in San Francisco

When: August 26, 2017

Where: San Francisco AT&T Park

Details: A max of four relay members will be allowed per Family Relay (all ages), and the Kids Race is for children from 4 to 12 years old

Online: race-sfgiants.com/kidsrace

Image from Spartan Kids Facebook Page

Spartan Kids

When: Various Dates

Where: Many locations

Details: The Spartan Kids Race is where kids as young as 4 are encouraged to jump, run, get muddy, help each other, and have a good time while conquering obstacles.

Online: spartan.com

Image courtesy of Double Bubble

Double Bubble Run

When: September 10-11, 2017

Where: Frederick, Maryland

Details: This awesome race is specifically designed for families. You will be running through more than 13 stations which include Bubbles, Foam, Slides, Colors and Obstacles! A fun event for the whole family ages 2 and up.

Online: doublebubblerun.com/

Image courtesy of Color Run

The Color Run

When: Various Dates

Where: Many locations

Details: The most colorful run you’ll ever see! Dress in white and get ready to be splashed by every color of the rainbow in this happy race for everyone in the family.

Online: thecolorrun.com/

 

Mini Mudder

When: Various Dates

Where: Many Locations

Details: Mini Mudder is a 1 mile obstacle course mud run designed specifically for adventure-seeking kids. The course gives kids the chance to work as a team, get muddy, and experience the thrill of adventure. Kids must be between 7-12 years old.

Online: toughmudder.com/

Image courtesy of Kids Rock

Rock ‘N’ Roll Nashville Marathon and Half Marathon

When: April 29, 2018

Where: Nashville, Tennessee

Details: This race includes KiDS ROCK, a training program for elementary- and middle-school runners that culminates with a one-mile race at Nissan Stadium and mini-cupcakes at the finish line.

Online: runrocknroll.com/nashville/

Have we missed any of your favorite family-friendly races? Please tell us in the comments section!

—Sonia Gandiaga

featured photo: jona263d via pixabay



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10 Resorts with Epic Water Features


If everything’s bigger in Texas, this resort is no exception and we promise you won’t mind that one bit. Not only will you find a 36-hole golf course and adults-only infinity pool, you can go wild with the kiddos at the on-site 9-acre water park that includes an 1100-foot long lazy river, wate slides,  a 650-foot rapid river ride, a children’s pool with toddler-sized slides, fountains and splashy fun, a beach-entry swimming pool which includes a sandy spot to build sandcastles and playver. When you’re all tired out from playing all day, fill up on some Texas BBQ and make s’mores a t the fire pit before passing out in your deluxe room and then waking up to do it all over again.

JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa
23808 Resort Pkwy.
San Antonio, Tx 78261
Online: marriott.com

photo: JW Marriott



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4 Autism-Friendly Amusement Parks Everyone Will Love


Going on rides and chomping on cotton candy might seem like the perfect fit for summer fun, but for families with kids on the autism-spectrum, it can be overwhelming to navigate a big park. While many places offer special nights or events catering to kids on the spectrum, the following big amusement parks have taken the extra step to make a permanently inclusive environment for all. Read on for the scoop.

photo: Benjamin Peacock courtesy LEGOLAND Florida Resort

1. LEGOLAND Florida Resort in Winter Haven, Florida 

In early 2017 the park announced an initiative to create sensory-friendly experiences for all children and their families with provisions in place for guests on the autism spectrum. This includes a no-cost “Hero Pass” that allows groups to bypass the standby line at popular attractions (check in at Guest Services), quiet rooms equipped with noise-cancelling headphones, weighted blankets, squishy toys and tables where kids can build with LEGO bricks as well as illustrated, step-by-step walkthroughs of rides and shows to give kids and caregivers an advance warning about loud noises, periods of darkness, bright lights or other overwhelming or potentially frightening aspects. All new hires to the park receive special training to learn how to interact with guests on the spectrum. Read more here.

Online: legoland.com 

 

photo of Quiet Car at Thomas Land courtesy Thomas Land 

2. Thomas Land in Edaville, Massachusetts

This year Thomas Land’s opening day welcomed families around the world, and it included autism-spectrum friendly experiences as part of that re-opening. Permanent additions to Thomas Land include a quiet car on the Thomas train that includes bench seating, table and chairs, soft toys and a safe space for kids to decompress; sensory-friendly bathroom in Thomas Land with a manual flush toilet (parents with kids on the spectrum know exactly why this is such a big deal!)l fidget toys and stress balls for longer waits in line (grab them at Guest Services); weighted blankets; fenced in areas and train tables set aside for quiet play.

Online: edaville.com/thomas-land 

photo courtesy Morgan’s Wonderland 

3. Morgan’s Wonderland in San Antonio

If you haven’t heard about Morgan’s Wonderland, it’s the world’s first amusement park that was build specifically to be all-inclusive for children (and adults) of all abilities and ages. Named after the founder’s own daughter, who has severe cognitive delays and physical disabilities, Maggie and Gordon Hartman wanted a place where families could be together on vacation, no matter their abilities. The park features a carousel that allows people in wheelchairs to float up and down and off-road adventures where they can sit in the same car with family members, wheelchair accessible sandboxes and more. For kids on the autism spectrum, there’s an entire Sensory Village: it’s free of bright lights and loud noises. There’s tons of imagination stations, a Saddle-Up Stable with an (electronic) horse ride, places to paint, make movies and build, a Village Market grocery store, a Fix-It Shop and so much more.

Online: morganswonderland.com

photo: Jen via flickr 

4. Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennesse

In 2016 Dollywood announced the park’s addition of a Calming Room: a quiet place designed for kids with sensory overload. The park’s employees noticed an increase in children with autism attending and that parents were using bathrooms to try and calm overstimulated kids. That’s when they realized it was important to create a haven for families to take that needed break. Dollywood consulted with Autism Speaks to outfit the room with gentle lighting, a cozy teepee, soft toys and more. Hooray for Dollywood!

Online: dollywood.com

Know of any other big parks that offer specific autism-friendly initiatives? Tells us in the comments below and we’ll add to the story. 

 

—Amber Guetebier



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11 Secrets of LEGOLAND Florida Resort You Probably Don’t Know Yet


It’s no surprise that you will find rides, a waterpark and stunning sculptures made of bricks, but we bet you didn’t know all of these secrets. We went to LEGOLAND’s top secret headquarters to get the scoop on surprising things you may not know about this epic brick playground. Scroll down to learn more.

photo: Amber Guetebier

1. Minifigure Trading

When you’re packing your sunscreen and shorts, don’t forget to tuck in a few LEGO minifigures into your luggage. You can swap your guys with any of the ones that LEGOLAND Model Citizens (employees) have stuck to their brickplate name tags. Just be sure your figs are complete: they must have legs, body, both hands, heads and either a hair or hat. (Peglegs, hooks and robo-arms are acceptable). Just approach any Model Citizen and ask to trade!

photo: Chip Litherland Photography courtesy LEGOLAND Florida

2. Package Pick Up

The stores at LEGOLAND have one of the largest seleciton of LEGO and LEGOLAND Florida products in the world! There are a couple of bigger stores closer to the entrance of the park, but you can purchase from any of the shops throughout LEGOLAND and they will have your item(s) waiting for you when you are ready to leave. So you can buy that mega-awesome epic Death Star and not have to carry it around all day!

photo: Chip Litherland Photography courtesy LEGOLAND Florida

3. LEGO Dollars

Speaking of purchases, give the kids a set allowance and experience some cool tender by swapping out your boring old cash for LEGO Dollars at Guest Services. They are an even trade (dollar to dollar ratio) and it’s a cool way to make sure kids don’t blow all their birthday money on sodas and giant lollipops or other sweets.

photo:  Chip Litherland Photography courtesy LEGOLAND Florida

4. LEGOLAND Resort Was Cypress Gardens

The site that became the LEGOLAND Florida Resort in 2011 was once a place called Cypress Gardens, Florida’s first theme park. Rather than just build over it, LEGOLAND has integrated the historic landmark into the resort’s design. Not only does it have impressive botany like an 80 year-old banyan tree and a vintage gazebo, it makes a great, shady retreat from the rest of the park. You can see some of old-world Florida charm, and it’s like you are miles away from the rollercoasters and waterslides next door.

photo: Sean O’Shaugnessy via flickr 

5. The Pirate Show Is Upholding a Tradition

If you catch the performance in Pirate’s Cove, you’ll not only see a cool battle scene between LEGO soldiers and swarthy giant LEGO pirates, you’ll also be witnessing a time-honored tradition. Waterski shows, especially with tricks and jumps, have been held in this cover sine the 1940s. In fact, it’s the birthplace of many exciting jet ski tricks. 

photo: Benjamin Peacock courtesy LEGOLAND Florida 

6. LEGOLAND Is Autism Friendly

In early 2017 the park announced an initiative to create sensory-friendly experiences for all children and their families with provisions in place for guests on the autism spectrum. This includes a no-cost “Hero Pass” that allows groups to bypass the standby line at popular attractions, quiet rooms equipped with noise-cancelling headphones, weighted blankets, squishy toys and tables where kids can build with LEGO bricks as well as illustrated, step-by-step walkthroughs of rides and shows to give kids and caregivers an advance warning about loud noises, periods of darkness, bright lights or other overwhelming or potentially frightening aspects. All new hires to the park receive special training to learn how to interact with guests on the spectrum. Read more here.

 photo: Amber Guetebier 

7. Tot Spots

LEGOLAND has roller coasters and rides for big kids and plenty for the younger kids, too (like DUPLO Valley!) but sometimes you don’t want to “divide and conquer” the park. You want family time together! So LEGOLAND came up with a way to make that easier for families: right by the major big kid rides you’ll find tot spots: scaled down versions with the same theme for younger kids. 

photo: Chip Litherland Photography courtesy LEGOLAND

8. LEGOLAND Is Green

As you walk up to LEGOLAND Florida you’ll find a sea of shade structures: look closer! They are actually solar panels, 2-megawatts of them. In addition, park benches and garbage cans are made from recycled materials and they have a water-conservation initiative throughout the park.

9. Read All About It

Guests of the LEGOLAND Hotel and LEGOLAND Beach Resort are greeted with a newspaper made just for the kids: in the tradition of high-end hotels, the paper is delivered to your doorstep but this one—The LEGOLAND Times—is full of news the kids can use!

photo: Russell James courtesy LEGOLAND Florida 

10. Eat at the Hotel

Even if you are staying off site, any guest of LEGOLAND can eat at the LEGOLAND Hotel’s restaurant, Bricks. If you’re craving something more sit down than grab-and-go,  schedule time for a family meal!

 

photo: Amber Guetebier

11. Soft Brick Exclusive

You’ll see them in the pools, you’ll find them all over the water park: the flexible giant LEGO bricks that float. LEGOLAND is the only place you’ll find these babies, and no you can’t buy one to take home. Not unless you want to order them in bulk!! They are an exclusive, so enjoy them while you can!

 

Ready to take on LEGOLAND Florida Resort this summer? Click here to read all about our review of the cool new beach bungalows

LEGOLAND Florida Resort
1 Legoland Way
Winter Haven, Fl
Online: legoland.com 

 

 

 



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10 Tips for Reluctant Hikers


Your ideal: a day spent hiking, reaching a view your kids will never forget and bonding in nature (while getting a nice little work out in). The reality: kids whose legs/feet/arms/nose hurt, constant calls of “I’m thirsty” ––and that’s if you can get the whole gang actually out the door. But don’t worry, we’ve all been there. That’s why we’ve come up with a few tips to get less-than-enthusiastic hikers to hit the trails (or the sidewalk) in stride. Read on to help make it a day you’ll never forget, for all the right reasons!

photo: Ben_Kirkcx via pixabay

1. Call it Macaroni

You don’t have to go on an epic hike up to the top of Half Dome to get that “hikey” feeling. For kids, especially little ones, a walk in the park or even around the neighborhood can be a hike enough. But if your kids groan at the mention of hike, try just calling it something else: a walk, Adventure Steps, or Explorer’s Session. Once you create a less-challenging habit, you can move up to something more strenuous.

 

2. Walk Like an Egyptian (or a Princess  or a Superhero)

Kids love pretend play and there’s no reason a hike has to be any different. Unless the costume poses a major hazard, let the kids dress however they want. Get out capes, princess dresses, robo-arms: whatever it takes to get them psyched. Plus then you can call it a Superhero Stride or Princess Prance (see above).

photo: cherryholt via pixabay

3. Pal Around

Let the kids each bring along a favorite “friend” from their stuffed animal, doll or action figure collection. While you don’t want it to be too big, letting them tote along a companion can add to the fun-factor. Plus be sure and photograph the companions along the way: Teddy at the base of a tree; Elsa hiding with the fairies, etc.

4. Make it a Playdate

Instead of, or in addition to, faux friends, see if you can invite a couple of their besties along. It’s like a playdate, but you get to move, be outside and have an adventure they’ll beg to repeat.

photo: Pexels via pixabay

5. Make It a Hunt

Two words: scavenger hunt. You can do a nature hunt, or a nature photography walk: check out the printable we’ve created here for a checklist of “natural” items to snap a photo of. Or go for a bird watching checklist, like this one. For more tips on turning your walks into scavenger hunts, click here.

6. Document It

Along the way, be sure and let the kids have a chance to take some photos. Toting along a few notepads and letting the kids take a break for a snack and some observations along the way will give them a much-need break and a treasure to remember late on.

7. Dress to Carry

With younger kids, especially, be sure you are dressed to carry them a little ways if you have to. Don’t expect a 3-year-old to keep up with an older 6-year-old sibling. Having a baby pack or backpack is standard for families with littles but if you’re going for a more epic distance, check out the Piggyback Rider, a carrier designed for parents to give older kids a ride without the aching back or shoulders that come along with it.

photo:  Brad Kleinkirchheim via flickr

8. Play Games

Pit stops don’t have to be just for bathroom breaks or snacks. Take a spontaneous play break: we promise your kids will love it. Check out this list of 15 ad-hoc ideas for outdoor play.

9. Snacks! Snacks! Snacks!

Having the right snacks can make all the difference: you want a balance of healthy and energy-sustaining and treats they’ll look forward to. Get the best of both worlds with these energizing bites that are tasty enough to meet the criteria. Get the kids even more excited by having them help make the food the night before. Letting each child pick one special food for the walk can help too! (We’re not above bribery.)

10. Get Creative

Save a few twigs or leaves gathered along your way and use them to create something beautiful later that day or the next day, or even on the hike itself! You can make a crown of leaves or simple creatures, or weave sticks together to form a lovely work of art for your wall. Find out how, here.

 

 

 



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