Oahu: Hawaii’s Happening Island

Oahu: Hawaii’s Happening Island

Oahu, Hawaii

Oahu, Hawaii’s third largest and most populated island may not always be a traveler’s first pick when island hopping around the 50th state, but it should be. Home to the state capital, (Honolulu), Oahu offers the perfect combination of big city amenities and idyllic hideaways. For some great visuals, catch a glimpse of the island in Hollywood hits like Jurassic Park, The Descendants, and Pearl Harbor, or classic films such as Tora! Tora! Tora! and From Here to Eternity.

Our recent trip to Hawaii included a stop on Oahu, and in four days, we managed to squeeze in all manner of sightseeing, snorkeling, sun, and surf.

HERE IS A LIST OF OUR ISLAND FAVORITES:

Pearl Harbor: The bombing of Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941) propelled the U.S. into WWII, destroyed twelve American warships and 188 aircraft and killed 2,335 American servicemen and 68 civilians. Explore on your own (go early or reserve a spot online) or hire a guide to escort you through memorable and moving sites like the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial.

Keawe Adventures: We used this company to give us a personal and educational day tour of Pearl Harbor (they will purchase entry tickets for you in advance). A Keawe guide can meet you at your hotel and escort you on a variety of other island tours—snorkeling, fly fishing, historic tours, and surfing lessons, to name just a few.

Byodo-In Temple Take scenic Pali Highway north and visit this Buddhist temple located at the foot of the Ko’olau Mountains in the Valley of the Temples Memorial Park. Built in 1968 to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the first Japanese immigrants to Hawaii, it’s actually a replica of a 950-year–old temple in Japan. Even on a rainy day, we enjoyed the lush grounds stopping to feed the 10,000 Japanese Koi, studying the (nine-foot) meditation Buddha, and taking a turn ringing the (three-ton) brass temple bell—it brings good luck!

Byodo-In Temple

The serene Byodo-In Temple was featured in an episode of ABC’s “Lost”

Kailua: After a visit to the temple, head east to Kailua Beach where you can rent a kayak or paddle board or just run your feet through the fine, white sand. Take a lunch break on the deck at local favorite, Buzz’s Original Steakhouse, right across the street. Afterwards, pick up Highway 72 and head south along the windward coast—it takes you on a dramatic and winding ride to the southern coast with views of Mānana Island, also known as Rabbit Island.

Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail: It may be a little narrow, but this one-hour trail hike can be handled by most people. The trail takes you around the 646-foot-high sea bluff on which the lighthouse is perched and offers you gorgeous views of the Pacific Ocean.

Kailua Beach, Oahu, Hawaii

The turquoise waters of Kailua Beach are a hub for water sports

Diamond Head State Monument: Hike to the summit for perfect 360-degree vistas of Honolulu and Waikiki. This .8-mile trip takes you to the top of this (750-ft.) volcanic cone, which once served as a military installation. The hike includes several switchbacks and some almost vertical steps; it’s steep but not too difficult. Wear rubber soled shoes and download a flashlight app to light the way through some dark tunnels. Get there early for a spot in the parking lot and allow an hour for the complete hike (plus extra time to stop and take gorgeous pictures from the bunkers and lookout points).

Kahala Hotel: This lovely beachside resort is a good place to stop for lunch after a rigorous hike up Diamond Head. Treat yourself to a Mai Tai, and sit outside on the terrace at Plumeria Beach House and enjoy the stunning coastal views and Pacific breezes.

Polynesian Cultural Center: We did not get a chance to go, but many recommended this destination, sort of a cross between a theme park and a living museum. If you are unfamiliar with Polynesian island culture, or have never been to a luau, this would be a good option.

Waikiki: Honolulu’s bustling oceanfront neighborhood is chock-a-block with resorts, hotels, shops, restaurants and nightlife. Click here to read my article on where to stay, where to eat, and what to do in Waikiki.

Diamond Head State Monument, Oahu, Hawaii

A view of the massive crater of Diamond Head State Monument

Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Hawaii

Take time to explore the Pacific Aviation Museum during a visit to Pearl Harbor

NORTH SHORE POINTS OF INTEREST:

Although Oahu’s North Shore has become synonymous with surfing, it offers so much more. It’s easy to spend a long day meandering along its coastal route, stopping to visit the tiny towns, coves, and beaches along the way. If you prefer an extended stay, check into tranquil Turtle Bay Resort.

Haleiwa: This famous North Shore rustic beach town, 34 miles from Waikiki, features a honkytonk main street lined with boutiques, cafes, crafts, and Hawaiian shaved ice stands. There’s also plenty of fishing charter boats and tackle shops. Stop at one of the famous retro shrimp trucks for a plate of succulent garlic and butter shrimp. Our favorite truck? “Big Wave” on Kamehameha Highway.

Sharks Cove: Rated by Scuba Diving Magazine as one of the “Top Twelve Shore Dives in the World,” this small, rocky bay’s blue waters host an impressive amount of sea life. Make sure to wear sturdy water shoes since the bottom is lined with large smooth boulders and coral, which form small caves making perfect habitats for fish. Just to the south of the cove is Pupukea with its child-friendly tide pools. Go EARLY to beat the crowds. Across the way is Sharks Cove Grill, a “no-frills roadside food truck.” Order a plate of tasty shrimp skewers and rice and take a seat at their outdoor picnic tables.

Waimea Beach Park: This expansive and deep, bowl-shaped beach features gentle waves in the summer, great for little kids, and good for snorkeling near the reefs. In the winter, when the waves are rough, it attracts big wave surfing. Make a day of it and explore the nearby botanical gardens and Waimea Falls.

Dole Pineapple Plantation: On the way up to the North Shore or on your way back to Waikiki, stop here for a tour and a bit of island heritage and savor what fresh pineapple really tastes like.

Haleiwa, Oahu, Hawaii

A visit to Haleiwa is not complete without a stop at its famous shrimp trucks

Sharks Cove, Oahu, Hawaii

Catch a glimpse of butterfly fish, parrot fish, tang, and trigger fish at Sharks Cove

Sharks Cove Grill, Oahu, Hawaii

After a morning snorkel, Sharks Cove Grill’s steaming grilled shrimp hits the spot

Spending time in Waikiki? Click here to read my article on where to stay, where to eat, and what to do in Waikiki.

Herricks Travel American ExpressReady to plan a unique trip for you or your family? Contact me at mollie@herrickstravel.com. For more information on my trip planning services, please click here.

EMAIL SUBSCRIBERS: to view my previous posts, and my ENTIRE blog, please click here: uniquefamilytraveler.com. To become a SUBSCRIBER, please enter your email address in the box on the upper right hand side of the blog, or scroll all the way to the bottom, and then make sure to respond to the follow-up email (check spam folder).

Laguna Beach: California’s Pacific Pearl

Although it ranks third (behind Alaska and Florida) in miles of state coastline, California is world renowned for its beautiful beaches that stretch all the way from its border with Oregon in the north to Mexico in the south. Perched halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego, Laguna Beach (Orange County) ranks as one of the state’s “Top Ten Beaches” by the Travel Channel. With the blue Pacific to the west and majestic canyons to the east, Laguna’s seven miles of sand and surf have become a magnet for nature lovers, beach goers, and culture hounds.

Originally a small art enclave, Laguna Beach has developed into a top resort city and destination for world-class artists, yet still preserves its laid-back charm. Its mild, year-round, Mediterranean-like climate attracts surfers, paddle boarders and boogie boarders. A walkable downtown area with an eclectic mix of stores and restaurants is a delightful place to cool off after a day of “hangin’ ten” or simply soaking up the rays. Over the course of many summer-time visits to see family and friends, Laguna has also provided us with the perfect jumping off point for day trips to popular tourist attractions in San Diego (SeaWorld and San Diego Zoo) and Los Angeles (Venice Beach and Universal Studios).

Salt Creek Beach, Dana Point, Laguna NIgel, California

Stunning Salt Creek Beach as viewed from the Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel

Planning a trip to Laguna Beach? Here are a few of unique family traveler’s top picks:

Forest Avenue: Extending east from Laguna’s popular Main Beach on North Coast Highway (Route 1), this pleasant street is lined with boutiques, ice cream shops, restaurants and galleries—many filled with locally-made crafts and artwork. Make a reservation at 230 Forest Avenue for delicious bistro cuisine.

Gelato Paradiso: More than 30 handcrafted flavors of gelato and sorbetto await you at this tiny shop tucked into Peppertree Lane off of Route 1. My favorite—chocolate hazelnut!

Wahoo’s Fish Tacos: This self-described, “eclectic Mexican/Brazilian/Asian” eatery with a “Hawaiian north-shore vibe,” has the casual surfer culture down to a tee.

Wahoo's Fish Tacos, Laguna Beach, California

[Great place for a quick bite on North Coast Highway]

Cultural Triple Threat: These sizeable annual summer events: Festival of the Arts, Pageants of the Masters, Art-a-fair & Sawdust Art Festivals showcase works of art by local and international artists.

Salt Creek Beach Park: Located just south of Laguna Beach in Dana Point, this is a popular surfing spot due to its offshore reef. Swimming, bodysurfing, boogie boarding and tidal pool exploration are a big draw. Bring a bike and take a ride on the path that leads up and around scenic Monarch Beach Recreational Area.

Dana Point Harbor Pier: Spend an evening exploring the boutiques, seafood restaurants, and the panoramic water views. Or, you might charter a sport fishing boat or better yet, take a whale watching tour.

Ocean Institute: Also on the pier in Dana Point and open to the public on weekends, this is a unique educational experience with hands-on marine science, environment, and maritime history programs.

Mastro’s Ocean Club: Just 20 minutes north in Newport Beach, this excellent seafood restaurant has gorgeous décor, top-notch service, and the ultimate dessert—signature, warm butter cake.

Pelican Grill: For a special occasion, book a table on the ocean-view terrace of the restaurant at Newport’s Pelican Hill Resort and enjoy delicious Napa-inspired cuisine.

Pelican Grill, Pelican Hill Resort, Newport Beach, California

[Superb sunset views from the veranda at the Pelican Grill]

Raya: Located in the Ritz Carlton Laguna Nigel and perched a staggering 150 feet above sea level, it features dramatic ocean views and “Pan-Latin Coastal Cuisine.” Or, come for the hearty American breakfast and watch the early-morning surfers catch the waves and the seagulls fly below you.

Balboa Island: Looking for a quick day trip? Cross the bridge from Pacific Coast highway in Newport Beach or take the car ferry to this lovely little place. Make sure to stop at Dad’s Original for a homemade, fresh, frozen banana – pick your own dips and toppings.

Las Brisas: This indoor/outdoor Mexican restaurant has unmatched views over the Laguna Beach coastline. Grab a seat on the patio (no reservations allowed) and order the mouth-watering fresh guacamole made with Hass avocado, cilantro and serrano chile, garnished with red onion, tomatoes and cotja cheese — and wash it down with a margarita.

Heisler Park: A walk along the cliffs amongst sculptures and grassy knolls offers breathtaking views of the waves and coves below.  Climb down the stairways or ramps to explore the sea life in the tide pools and gaze out to the horizon to catch a glimpse of seals and pelicans passing by.  The gazebo near Las Brisas makes an excellent photo opportunity, especially at sunset!

LEGOLAND: For a longer day trip, head about one hour south to Carlsbad and enjoy this tribute to the famous, colorful Danish construction toy. There are plenty of rides and attractions including a waterpark and aquarium for kids (and adults) of all ages. LEGO enthusiasts, check out my recent post, “Art of the Brick.”

Ritz Carlton Laguna Nigel: Perched high on a 150-foot ocean front bluff, this Mediterranean-style hotel offers stunning views of the Pacific and all the amenities for a stress free vacation: shuttle service to Salt Creek Beach, pools, spa, restaurants, kids club, and easy access to the Monarch Beach Golf course.

Dad's Original Frozen Banana, Balboa Island, California

[Balboa Island Dad’s Original frozen bananas do not disappoint]

LEGOLAND California

[Our first visit to LEGOLAND brings back great memories]

Herricks Travel American ExpressReady to plan a unique trip for you or your family? Contact me at mollie@herrickstravel.com. For more information on my trip planning services, please click here.

EMAIL SUBSCRIBERS: to view my previous posts, and my ENTIRE blog, please click here: uniquefamilytraveler.com. To become a SUBSCRIBER of unique family traveler, please enter your email address in the box on the upper right hand side of the blog (or scroll ALL the way to the bottom), and then make sure to respond to the follow-up email (check spam folder). Thank you!

Journey Through Alaska’s Inside Passage

Although it is rarely represented properly on a U.S. map, Alaska looms large over North America – it’s actually twice the size of Texas. For the traveler, this means you could spend months exploring “The Last Frontier”—mountain climbing in Denali National Park, biking in Fairbanks, fishing for Sockeye, and exploring Juneau, the state capital. With a coastline longer than all other states combined, many people choose to cruise Alaska on their first visit in order to cover a lot of territory in a short amount of time.

Home to Mt. McKinley (North America’s highest peak), massive fjords, glaciers the size of Rhode Island, the northernmost rain forest, and the treacherous Chilkoot Trail, Alaska combines geography, earth science, and history lessons all rolled up in one unique vacation. An Alaskan cruise usually means a trip through the Inside Passage—the coastal route that weaves through the thousands of islands, coves, and bays that dot the Pacific Coast.

We chose a one-week cruise with Regent in order to minimize days at sea and also to make time for both a pre- and a post-trip. And, a smaller ship allowed for more stops and excursions. Before flying to Anchorage and embarking on our cruise in Seward, we spent several days in Seattle, which I covered in previous posts, “Seattle Top Spots” and “Four Days in Seattle.”

Seward, Alaska

Our cruise began in Seward, a busy fishing port on the Gulf of Alaska’s coast

At the conclusion of our cruise, we spent a few days in Vancouver (the subject of my “Canada’s Outdoorsy Urban Oasis” post). Many cruise lines follow this same route, from Northwest to Southeast and in reverse. Other ships embark from Seattle and can last 10 to 14 days. To take advantage of the most outdoor activities, the best time to cruise Alaska is summertime, when days are longest and temperatures are warmest. But, definitely pack lots of layers, a waterproof jacket, boots, hats and gloves, because the weather can change rapidly.

Regent Cruise

To reach Hubbard Glacier, we sailed through Yakutat Bay

Our days were exciting and included a JetCat Sitka wildlife tour, a scenic helicopter tour, a hike through Juneau’s rain forest and a walk to Mendenhall Glacier, and a trip back in time at the Skagway Gold Rush Museum. Our ship offered a wide range of active excursions: kayaking, biking, and dog sled adventures. In the summer, the fog can roll in quickly, so excursions can be cancelled at a moment’s notice, so backup plans are necessary.

Early one morning, we gathered on deck to watch as the ship approached one of the highlights of the cruise—Hubbard Glacier. This “river of ice” measures 76 miles long and 7 miles wide and it is the state’s most active glacier. It is very common to see sheets of ice separate themselves from the glacier, and crash into the sea with a loud crack that can be heard for miles. These pieces, christened icebergs, filled the bay and we watched in awe as these icy-blue splendors floated past the ship.

Disenchantment Bay

Pristine Disenchantment Bay

Hubbard Glacier

From a distance, Hubbard Glacier’s size is deceiving –it’s actually more than 30 stories high!

The one-week cruise made stops in several ports: Seward, Sitka, Juneau, Skagway, and Ketchikan (covered in my post “Fish & Feast”). The scenery and wildlife viewing in between ports was equally magnificent and kept us up on deck with camera and binoculars in hand as we scanned the horizon for humpback whales and porpoises.

Although this was a long journey, we look back on our visit to the 49th state grateful for our eye-opening experiences and reassured that the wilderness does still exist. And, even though Alaska is so large and so far away, upon our return, we felt a little bit closer to it.

Alaska iceberg

Although they got a bad rap in “Titanic,” icebergs are quite beautiful

Juneau

Tongass National Forest, the heart of the world’s largest remaining temperate rainforest

Mendenhall Glacier

Easily accessible, Mendenhall Glacier is located just 12 miles from downtown Juneau

Skagway, Alaska

In Skagway we took off on a helicopter tour

Herricks Travel American ExpressReady to plan a unique trip for you or your family? Contact me at mollie@herrickstravel.com. For more information on my trip planning services, please click here.

Email subscribers: to view my previous posts, and my ENTIRE blog, please click here uniquefamilytraveler.com. To become a subscriber of unique family traveler, please enter your email address in the box on the upper right hand side of the blog (if reading on a cell phone, please scroll ALL the way to the bottom), and then respond to the follow-up email. Thank you!

Sarasota: Florida’s West Coast Wonder

Orlando, Miami, Palm Beach – these are the cities that get top billing when considering Florida’s top vacation destinations. But, it is the Sunshine State’s west coast that truly features the best of what Florida can offer, and Sarasota is its heart and soul.

Sarasota lies on Florida’s Gulf Coast and is known for its award-winning, white talcum-powder beaches, vast cultural offerings, and natural beauty. With an increase in flights to its international airport, it’s even more accessible than ever. Sarasota, located south of the Tampa Bay area and north of Fort Meyers includes several barrier islands, known as keys, which lie just off the coast in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Ritz Carlton, positioned across from the city’s downtown area and marina, has served as our Sarasota home on several trips. Although its location on the mainland’s bayside might seem inconvenient, a quick trip across the John Ringling Causeway by car or hotel shuttle brings you to the resort’s lovely pool and beach club on Lido Key. Located between Long Boat and Siesta Keys, Lido also features an array of small, beachside hotels and condo rentals and acres of recreational area. Adjacent to Lido Key is St. Armonds Key with its popular pedestrian area. St. Armonds Circle is a charming place in which to meander and sample the diverse restaurants and sidewalk cafes, specialty stores, gelato and ice cream shops, all laid out in a lush, tropical, circular setting.

Ritz Carlton Sarasota

The Ritz Carlton Sarasota Beach Club — just steps from its gorgeous gulf beach

Sarasota’s downtown area, with its scattered high-rise office buildings and hotels, and low-rise historic areas offer an eclectic mix of eateries and galleries with annual street fairs, farmers markets, and art exhibits a focal point of the downtown culture.

Of course those gorgeous, white-sand beaches are Sarasota’s draw. We spend hours there collecting shells, fishing, and snorkeling in the Gulf — much calmer than Florida’s eastern, Atlantic coast. On cloudy days, there are plenty of nearby fun and educational activities including Jungle Gardens, MOTE Aquarium, kayak tours, and Marie Selby Botanical Gardens.

Sarasota, Florida

The MOTE Marine Laboratory & Aquarium offers hands-on learning like panning for shark teeth

Last year a highlight of our trip was a half-day spent with Tearin’ Em up Charters. We were met one early morning at the pier behind the Ritz Carlton and whisked away for a four-hour, hook-to-fork adventure on Captain Doug’s charter boat. We cast our lines in and around the inlets and then, with our catch of the day in the boat’s cooler, pulled up to the bayside beach of South Lido Park. We jumped out of the boat into the shallow water and strode up to the rustic beachside campsite complete with wooden picnic tables and barbeque station.

Sarasota, Florida

Jack reels in a Spotted Seatrout from the emerald-blue waters surrounding Long Boat Key

Captain Doug, a classically trained and experienced chef, had all the fixings to whip up his signature shore lunch. Right on the spot, he fileted and prepared my sons’ spotted sea trout en papillote, wrapping the freshly caught fish with sweet potatoes, Vidalia onions, and ginger root into a foil pouch. While we waited for it to cook, he offered us skewers and marshmallows, which we roasted in the fire and then sprinkled with fresh lime juice for a delicious take on “Siesta Key Lime Pie.” Accompanying our meal was warm honey-pepper corn bread and grill-cooked beans. After we finished our mouth-watering, open-air meal, we boarded the boat for our trip back to the Ritz Carlton, with our stomachs and our hearts full.

Sarasota, Florida

Lido Key’s acres of recreational area provide the perfect setting for a seaside picnic

While our tasty beach barbecue cooks up over the open flame, Harris toasts a marshmallow appetizer

While our tasty beach barbecue cooks up over the open flame, Harris toasts a marshmallow appetizer

Unique Family Traveler sampling of things to do and places to eat in Sarasota:

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens: This 14-acre “oasis of inspiration and tranquility” on the Bay features rare tropical plants including 6,000 orchids.

Almost Heaven Kayak Adventures: Their kayak eco-tour takes you through the exotic mangrove tunnels on Lido Key into the bay to view manatees and dolphins.

MOTE Aquarium: There’s plenty to see — sharks, sea turtles, manatees, seahorses, dolphins, plus over 100 other species, along with touch pools and viewable, working marine-studies labs.

Sarasota Jungle Gardens: Meander through 10 acres of lush, tropical, winding jungle trails and view creatures like Florida’s crocodiles and famous pink flamingos

John & Mable Ringling Museum: This original, 66-acre winter home of the legendary circus entrepreneurs, features an art museum, a 56-room estate, and the world’s largest miniature circus.

Ritz Kids: This Ritz Carlton camp program, held at their beach club, has top-notch staff who will keep young kids engaged with a diverse set of activities including swimming, arts, science and nature-studies

Darwin’s on 4th: This downtown Peruvian restaurant features a mix of Latin American flavors with an Asian flair including an extensive selection of ceviches.

Pacific Rim: Japanese/Thai fusion cuisine and sushi in Sarasota’s lovely Southside Village neighborhood.

Café Epicure: Authentic Italian in the downtown area with sidewalk seating, offering excellent, freshly made pasta, thin-crust pizza, and homemade desserts and gelato.

Le Macaron: Located on St. Armonds Circle, this French patisserie creates mouth- watering, freshly-baked macarons — the perfect place for cappuccino and dessert.

Tommy Bahama: On St. Armonds Circle, serving contemporary, American cuisine with a tropical twist. Get a table upstairs for a view of the setting sun and order the delicious coconut shrimp.

Jack Dusty: The Ritz Carlton Sarasota’s lively seafood restaurant is not your typical hotel dining experience – recently opened, this restaurant’s creative “coastal cuisine,” first-rate service, casually elegant décor, and bay views are delightful.

Herricks Travel American ExpressReady to plan a unique trip for you or your family? Contact me at mollie@herrickstravel.com. For more information on my trip planning services, please click here.

Email subscribers: to view my previous posts and my entire blog, please click here: uniquefamilytraveler.com . To become a subscriber of unique family traveler, please enter your email address in the box on the upper right hand side of the blog (if reading on a cell phone, please scroll ALL the way to the bottom of the blog), and then respond to the follow-up email. Thank you!

For more information on Sarasota:

Visitsarasota.org

Thisweekinsarasota.com

Ritz Carlton Sarasota

NY Travels: Discovery Times Square “Art of the Brick” Exhibit

“Art nurtures the brain. Whether made from clay, paint, wood or a modern-day toy.”

During a recent day-trip into Manhattan, my husband, our two sons, and I seized the opportunity to visit Discovery Times Square’s current exhibit, “The Art of the Brick.” My boys’ love of all things LEGO has resulted in my basement becoming a shrine to this popular, Danish, brick, construction toy. Naturally, we were very eager to visit the exhibit, which showcases artist Nathan Sawaya’s critically acclaimed collection of beautiful works of art made exclusively from LEGO bricks.

The artwork is inspiring, but so is the artist’s story. Before you enter, you watch a brief film that describes his life: “When I was a lawyer I quickly came to realize I was more comfortable sitting on the floor creating sculptures than I was sitting in a boardroom negotiating contracts. My own personal conflicts and fears, coupled with a deep desire for overall happiness, paved the way to becoming a full-time working artist,” explains Sawaya.

We wandered through the two-floor exhibit space marveling at the artist’s handiwork. Famous masterpieces as well as original works of art are entirely represented in colorful bricks. Next to each piece of artwork is a plaque that explains the historical context of the artwork as well as how Sawaya selected the specific LEGO’s to create the piece. It is amazing to see how he has fashioned the fold of a robe, the roundness of a shoulder, or a brushstroke of paint, with only rectangular and square shaped pieces as his medium. You can’t help but smile in amazement as you admire his skills.  From Vermeer to Van Gogh, and Whistler to Warhol, he tackles each piece with passion and flair.

At the end of the exhibit, there is a place where you can write your name on a LEGO brick and add it to a growing, free-form sculpture. When the New York show concludes, Nathan Sawaya will take apart the sculpture and create a new one-of-a-kind sculpture of his own, to be displayed at future exhibits. Any extra bricks that he doesn’t use will be donated to charity.

Whether you enjoy building with LEGOs or not, this is a must-see exhibit for children (and adults) of all ages. With a limited run, try to get there soon. (Check his website below for future exhibit locations in the U.S. and abroad).  Discovery Times Square is conveniently located on 44th between 7th and 8th Avenues, so combine it with other family-friendly, midtown stops like the Times Square Museum & Visitor’s Center, Madame Tussaud’s wax museum, Top of the Rock in Rockefeller Center, the Bryant Park Carousel, the Sony Wonder Technology Lab (an amazing hands-on exhibit), or an overnight stay at the New York Marriott Marquis, just one block away.

You will definitely come away from the exhibit inspired, with a life-lesson to boot — as artist Nathan Sawaya simply states, “Dreams are built, one brick at a time.”

Nathan Sawaya

An Easter Island LEGO Moai Sculpture

 

Nathan Sawaya

LEGO Nefertiti, wife of Pharaoh

Nathan Sawaya

This life-size yellow figure reveals a heart filled with LEGO’s

Nathan Sawaya

A portrait of the artist’s girlfriend

Nathan Sawaya

A close-up of the eye of the portrait reveals the square LEGO bricks

Nathan Sawaya

I added my LEGO to the growing free-form sculpture, soon to become a new Nathan Sawaya-built creation

Nathan Sawaya

Thousands of people added their bricks to the sculpture

For more information:

“Art of the Brick” ticket information

Future Nathan Sawaya “Art of the Brick” exhibits 

Times Square Alliance

Guide to Midtown Manhattan

Stay tuned for my next post: Vancouver: British Columbia’s West Coast Wonder

unique family traveler

Ready to book a trip? Email me at mollie@herrickstravel.com. Herricks Travel American Express

Fish and Feast in Ketchikan, Alaska

Fish and Feast in Ketchikan, Alaska

 

Give a man a fish, and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.

I have to say that I really knew nothing about fishing until my kids literally got hooked on this timeless pastime. Personally, I couldn’t tell you the difference between a fluke and a flounder, a jig and a rig, or a line and a leader. But, my kids have become avid fishermen, trolling the waters in and around Long Island for the past four years.  Like most things in life, it takes a child to open your mind to new experiences, and they have thus inspired my husband and I to include fishing excursions on several family vacations.

Our recent summer cruise to Alaska, on Regent Seven Seas Navigator, included a stop in Ketchikan, the state’s southeastern-most city. With my sons’ passion in mind, we signed up for the excursion “Guided Fishing in the Wilderness.”  I really didn’t know what to expect.  This wasn’t sunny Mexico or Miami – we were right in the heart of Alaska’s rainforest!  Before we left the safety of our cruise ship, I diligently dressed warmly and in layers, as instructed, and tried to visualize exactly what a “skiff” was and whether it would cause seasickness. But, from the moment we were introduced to Baranof Fishing Excursions, I was immediately put at ease.

We were escorted to their marina offices where the professional staff checked us in and helped us purchase our fishing licenses. Included in our charter were complete waterproof outfits designed to protect against wind and possible rain.  As we navigated our way into industrial strength rubber boots, pants, coats, and life vests, I couldn’t help but think of the “Gordon’s Fisherman.”

Our family of four was then introduced to our captain/guide who led us to our skiff – a small open boat, about 16 feet long. The trip out to the fishing spot took about 40 minutes, and on the way we marveled at the pristine Alaskan wilderness, spotting several bald eagles.  At the fishing site, our guide handed out the rods and tackle.  My kids immediately dropped their lines and began jigging, while my husband and I waited for instructions. Over the course of a few hours, at several different sites, the repeated shouts of “fish on!” had me scrambling for my camera to catch the joy on my kids’ faces.   They proudly hooked one dogfish, one halibut, and two rockfish.

With our fish in the hull, our captain brought us to Baranof’s wilderness camp for an outdoor culinary adventure.  Our catch of the day was expertly filleted and became the entrée in our gourmet campsite meal.  We sat on benches arranged around roaring fires surrounded by centuries-old cedars and spruce trees.  We chatted with other fishing families as we sipped hot coffee and hot chocolate, while an expert chef skillfully prepared our catch in his rustic, outdoor kitchen.  He transformed our fish into a mouth-watering, saffron-infused, bouillabaisse stew accompanied by fresh sourdough bread, garlic aioli, and for dessert, warm rhubarb blueberry bread pudding.  It was “Gourmet Magazine” meets “The Discovery Channel.”  There is nothing like the taste of fish freshly caught and prepared and served al fresco.

After lunch, the kids explored the shoreline and the tidal pools, and then we boarded our skiff and headed back to the marina with my son, Jack, happily at the tiller.  As we shed our fishing gear on the pier and sadly said our goodbyes to our guide, I thought back to that ancient fishing proverb, and realized that, although my fishing skills may not be sufficient to last me a lifetime, my memories certainly will.

Ketchikan Fishing

An expert fisherman, Jack boards the skiff and is ready to go

Fishing in Ketchikan

Harris’s first catch of the day, a fifteen-pound halibut

Fishing in Ketchikan

Jack follows-up with a Pacific Rockfish

Fishing in Ketchikan

Harris arrives at the campsite with his catch of the day

Fishing in Ketchikan

A successful day at sea

Fishing in Ketchikan

The chef prepares a gourmet meal in the wilderness campsite kitchen

Fishing in Ketchikan

A delicious halibut and rockfish Bouillabaisse

Fishing in Ketchikan

Exploring the tidal pools at the campsite

Fishing in Ketchikan

Jack at the tiller for the ride back to the marina

Check out my video below of our fishing and feasting adventure in action!

Herricks Travel American ExpressReady to plan a unique trip for you or your family? Contact me at mollie@herrickstravel.com. For more information on my trip planning services, please click here.

 

Seattle: Top Spots to fill the Stomach and the Shopping Bag

Seattle: Top Spots to fill the Stomach and the Shopping Bag

It has been said that an army travels on its stomach.  The same could be said for traveling families. My last post, “Four Days in Seattle, the Emerald City,” highlighted the best of what to do in this eclectic city, nestled between Puget Sound and Lake Washington.  Taking advantage of a summer-time visit filled with sunny days, and with the Four Seasons Seattle as our home base, we covered a lot of territory, exploring the sights and taking breaks to browse through the shops.  What surprised me about this city was how hilly it was — like a mini-San Francisco.  All of this urban hiking left us hungry, and as with any adventure away from home, sampling the local cuisine was paramount.

Seattle will not disappoint the food-lover with its bountiful seafood, fresh, locally produced ingredients, and focus on sustainable fishing and farming.  Fish plucked that morning right from the waters surrounding the city is not only common on menus, but expected.  With so many choices, the following list is by no means complete, but it’s a good start in helping you to plan a trip.  And, if you have more than a few days to spend here, consider renting a car or joining a tour, and taking an excursion outside the city to catch a glimpse of the beautiful and lush state of Washington.

Seattle Seafood

Seattle offers the freshest of seafood

The First Starbucks: A must-see for the caffeine addicted, near Pike Place Market.

Seatown Seabar & Rotisserie: With its outdoor-seating and location outside Pike Place Market, it’s the perfect spot for fresh seafood and people watching.

Elliot’s Oyster House: On Pier 56, stop here for lunch after a morning visit to the aquarium. Afterwards, stroll along the waterfront or ride the giant ferris wheel.

Plaka Estiatorio: Located in the historic and hip neighborhood of Ballard, this authentic local restaurant serves all the Greek specialties, like spanakopita and souvlaki.

Ray’s Boathouse: On the shores of Ballard not far from the Locks, enjoy casual seafood with a beautiful view of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains.

Wild Ginger: Located downtown, the city’s best Asian restaurant covers the whole Pacific Rim: Thai, Chinese, Indonesian, Vietnamese, Malaysian and more. Order the Buddha Roll, Seven Flavors Beef and the Sichuan Green Beans — delicious!!

Barolo Restaurant: When you get tired of seafood, this is a great choice for Italian. Located downtown, it’s casually elegant, and features old-world dishes with a contemporary twist. My kids loved the rigatoni with organic, lamb ragu.

Serious Pie & Biscuit: Just a few blocks from MOHAI Museum in the Westlake neighborhood, its specialties are personal-size pizzas made in wood-burning, stone ovens and biscuits topped with everything. It’s all served at communal tables.

Art Restaurant & Lounge: Located in the lobby of the Four Seasons Seattle Hotel, we celebrated our last night in town with delicious Northwest cuisine and dramatic sunset views of Elliott Bay and the Olympic mountains. And, our gracious server, a native of Alaska, engaged our kids with talk of our upcoming cruise up north.

Plaka Estiatorio

This authentic Greek restaurant is a great place for dinner in Ballard

Stop by these Seattle shops, all founded in the Pacific Northwest:

REI: Located downtown, this is not just an outdoor equipment/clothing store, but an indoor/outdoor adventure! Walking through the mini forest to enter the store, my kids were amazed by the 470-foot mountain bike test trail, which leads to a waterfall, and inside, the 65-foot tall rock climbing tower. They even had a “steep terrain” area to test out hiking boots!

Columbia: Located downtown, we picked up some extra outdoor sportswear for our next stop on our trip: Alaska. It’s well stocked — perfect if you forgot to pack something, which we did.

Fran’s Chocolates: Two words: “salted caramels.” Located on First Avenue, in the lobby of the Four Seasons Seattle hotel, this specialty chocolate shop is addictive—trust me, just go there. And, they give out free samples.

Nordstrom’s: Not far from Pike Place Market, this is the famous retailer’s first location.

Fran's Chocolates

Stop by Fran’s Chocolates for a taste of its irresistible confections

Fran's Chocolates

My son, Jack, puts his spending money to good use

If you have time:

Mt. Rainer National Park: On a clear day, you can see this majestic snow-capped mountain from downtown Seattle, and it’s only about 75 miles away.

Issaquah: It’s a former mining town, and now the second fastest growing suburb in the state. We went to visit my cousin, but I would recommend to anyone. There’s lots of mountain hiking trails, lush green forests, a quaint town center, a salmon hatchery and much, much more.

Herricks Travel American ExpressReady to plan a unique trip for you or your family? Contact me at mollie@herrickstravel.com. For more information on my trip planning services, please click here.

Stay tuned for my next post…. Fish and Feast in Ketchikan

 

Four Days in Seattle, The Emerald City

Four Days in Seattle, The Emerald City

Until this summer, I had only associated Seattle with coffee, Bill Gates, and the setting of one of my favorite sitcoms, “Frasier.” The little drawing of the skyline with the Space Needle prominently featured in the opening credits always intrigued me.  Having already booked a summer Alaskan cruise (covered in my post “Inside Passage,”) I jumped at the chance to add on a visit to Seattle before meeting our ship, the Regent Seven Seas Navigator, in Anchorage. It’s a three-hour flight from Sea-Tac airport to Anchorage or a two-and-a half hour drive to the Canadian Border, which makes Seattle the perfect jumping off point if you are headed to points north. The visit also gave the four of us (my husband, our two sons and me) a chance to spend time with my cousin and her family who have recently made Seattle their home.

Emerald City is actually the official nickname for this seaport, surrounded by lush evergreen forests, which is unusual for a coastal destination. Our four days, although too brief, gave us a taste of all that this eclectic city has to offer. Yes, it has earned its reputation as rainy for most of the year, but a visit to Seattle in the summertime will surprise you with many warm, sunny days and daylight extending past 9pm. To make the best use of our time, we booked a hotel in the downtown area, the Four Seasons Seattle, which enabled us to walk, take public transportation, or taxis to any other part of the city. And, we also rented a car for road trips to the suburbs. Having a hotel with an outdoor pool also came in handy after long days of touring, and since the weather was so mild, we made good use of it.  The hotel’s outdoor deck, overlooking Puget Sound, was the perfect spot to end the day.

If you only have a few days to spend in Seattle, here are my top picks of things to do. (Bolded items are hyperlinked to the related websites):

Seattle Space Needle
A view from the top of the Space Needle

Things to do:

  • Seattle Space Needle: Built for the ’62 World’s Fair, make this your first stop to get a bird’s-eye view of the whole city. Reserve in advance online.
  • Monorail: After visiting the Space Needle, jump on the Monorail for the one-mile ride back to downtown.
  • Pike Place Market: Seattle’s famous public market with lots of stalls selling fresh local produce, fish, crafts and baked goods like yummy bear claws.
  • Seattle Aquarium: Perched on Pier 59 overhanging Puget Sound, it gives you a great view of Pacific Northwest creatures including adorable otters and seals.
  • Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI): The name sounds dull but the museum is definitely not! It’s a great way to learn Northwestern history through hands-on exhibits and historic photos and memorabilia—like the set from Seattle-themed TV show “Frasier.”
  • Boeing Factory Tour: This was a huge hit with my kids. Located in Everett, 25 miles from downtown, this tour takes you through Boeing’s commercial jet assembly plant, the world’s largest building by volume, where the 787 Dreamliner are assembled. Book online in advance.  We drove in our car, but van tours are also available; contact your hotel concierge or front desk for information on tours and public transportation.
  • Ballard Locks and Fish Ladder: A real engineering feet, this mini Panama Canal comprised of locks, or water elevators, enable vessels to pass between Puget Sound and Lakes Union and Washington. After watching the boats, walk to the far side of the bridge and check out the salmon that make their way to spawning grounds by using specially built ladders. This was of extreme interest to my kids who have recently become avid fishermen, and a real learning experience for anyone interested in the life-cycle of Seattle’s famous fish.

For more information, check out my recent article: Seattle: Top Spots to fill the Stomach & the Shopping Bag

Herricks Travel American ExpressReady to plan a unique trip for you or your family? Contact me at mollie@herrickstravel.com. For more information on my trip planning services, please click here.

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Boeing Factor Tour

Welcome Center for the Boeing Factory Tour: cameras and phones are not allowed in the actual factory.

Puget Sound

A view of Seattle’s Great Wheel on Pier 57 from the pool deck of the Four Seasons.