Mayor James Tufts & Former Mayor Bobby Tufts, Dorset, Minnesota

Dorset Minnesota: Home of America’s youngest mayor & the “Restaurant Capital of the World”

Cover: Dorset, Minnesota’s Mayor James Tufts & Former Mayor Bobby Tufts
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull


It’s not every day that you visit a town and, upon arriving, the mayor and the former mayor meet you and take you on a tour. But then, not every town is Dorset, Minnesota.

There’s a lot happening in this unique little town in north central Minnesota with a population of 22. The self-proclaimed “Restaurant Capital of the World,” Dorset has a newspaper that is published once a year “whether there’s unbelievable news or not” and has elected a three-year old mayor – twice.

The Youngest Mayor in America

Mayor James Tuft, Dorset, Minnesota
Mayor James Tuft, Dorset, Minnesota
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

When James Tufts became mayor of Dorset in 2015 at the age of three, he stole the record as Dorset’s youngest mayor from his older brother. Two-term former mayor, Robert “Bobby” Tufts, was also elected at the age of three but, with his win, James edged him out as the youngest by two days.

How did a three-year old become mayor, you may ask? In unincorporated Dorset, the mayor is drawn from the ballots cast during the annual Taste of Dorset festival. It’s a buck a ballot and anyone can enter their selection during the process, with the proceeds going to charity.

During their time in office, the Tufts brothers have gained international fame, appearing on the Today Show and Good Morning America and having made headlines in the NY Daily News, the Daily Mirror and countless other news outlets.

Mayor James Tufts, Kim Hull, Caitlin Rick, Dorset, Minnesota
Mayor James Tufts, Kim Hull, Caitlin Rick, Dorset, Minnesota
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

After a tour through several of James’ favorite haunts around town, such as the toy section of a local store and the miniature golf course, we stopped to catch some words of wisdom from the pint-sized politician who is quick to dispense sage advice.

And, it appears we are in good company – well, at least famous company. According to the local paper, the Dorset Daily Bugle, all of the presidential candidates have sought the mayor’s advice. James, now at the wise old age of four, provided these words of wisdom, “Be nice and no poopy talk.”

Dorset Daily Bugle, Dorset, Minnesota
Dorset Daily Bugle, Dorset, Minnesota
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Older brother Bobby, now a Dorset ambassador, seems happy to assist his younger sibling with his mayoral duties. But, if you think he’s completely retired from politics, you may want to think otherwise. It appears from his hat he’s already exploring a 2048 presidential bid.

Finishing up our time with the Tuft political dynasty, we moved on to investigate Dorset’s other claim to fame as the Restaurant Capital of the World.

Former Mayor Bobby Tufts, Mayor James Tufts, Kim Hull, Dorset, Minnesota
Former Mayor Bobby Tufts, Mayor James Tufts, Kim Hull, Dorset, Minnesota
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The Restaurant Capital of the World

Dorset, Minnesota restaurants
Dorset, Minnesota restaurants
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

With five restaurants serving the 22 residents of Dorset, it does seem the tiny town is worthy of the title of Restaurant Capital of the World.

This actually follows a two-year period when the town was down to only three restaurants. In September 2014, Campaneros and the Dorset House were destroyed by fire after being struck by lightning. Both restaurants were rebuilt and reopened in 2016, restoring the town’s assortment of dining options to five. While in town, we dined at La Pasta, which in addition to a wide selection of Italian delicacies, has ridiculously good breadsticks.

Trading Post, Dorset, Minnesota
Trading Post, Dorset, Minnesota
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Obviously, most visitors come to the Restaurant Capital of the World to eat but, when visiting, be sure to allow some time in your schedule for shopping as well.

Shopping in quaint Dorset, Minnesota
Shopping in quaint Dorset, Minnesota
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

A stroll down Dorset’s main street is a must and will undoubtedly result in a few finds that must make their way home with you. From souvenirs, to home decor to antiques to yes, James’ favorite, candy and toys await.

Dorset, Minnesota shops
Dorset, Minnesota shops
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Shopping in Dorset, Minnesota
Shopping in Dorset, Minnesota
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Things to do near Dorset

Shop Downtown Park Rapids. Only 6 miles from Dorset, Park Rapids has a charming downtown area with numerous shops, boutiques, and restaurants.

Cross the headwaters of the Mississippi at Itasca State ParkItasca State Park is home to the beginning of the Mississippi River, as well as 32,000 acres of towering pines, more than 100 lakes, hiking and biking trails, the largest pine tree in Minnesota, the historic Douglas Lodge and much more.

Visit Detroit Lakes. Only about an hour away from Dorset, Detroit Lakes is has a wide variety of outdoor activities, events, festivals, shopping, and dining.

Dorset, Minnesota
Dorset, Minnesota
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

We loved visiting Dorset and applaud the 22 residents and the nearby town of Park Rapids for their creativity in promoting this unique little place on the planet. Thank you to everyone who came out to meet us, to La Pasta for hosting us for lunch, and to James and Bobby for our tour of the town.


Disclosure & disclaimer: Special thanks to Explore Minnesota and the Park Rapids Chamber of Commerce for hosting us as their guests. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.

Greg & Kim Hull crossing the headwaters of the Mississippi

Itasca State Park: Crossing the Mississippi Headwaters

Cover: Mississippi Headwaters, Itasca State Park, Park Rapids, Minnesota
Photo: Caitlin Rick
Article by Kim Hull


Home to the beginning of the Mississippi River, Itasca State Park is a wonderful 32,000 acre park with towering pines, more than 100 lakes, hiking and biking trails, the largest pine tree in Minnesota, the historic Douglas Lodge and much more.

Established in 1891, Itasca is the oldest state park in Minnesota and the second oldest in the United States. It is also the most popular in Minnesota, with over a half million visitors each year. Most come to cross the rocks at the headwaters of the Mississippi, but discover an outdoor paradise and return to park to explore and enjoy it further, with 70% of Itasca visitors being return visitors.

A good place to begin a visit to Itasca State Park is at the Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center.

Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center

Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center, Itasca State Park, Minnesota
Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center, Itasca State Park, Minnesota
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

We always start a park visit with a stop at the visitors center, so we’ve been to quite a few across the country and the Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center is one of the nicest we’ve visited. Bright and spacious, it is well laid-out, with interpretive and hands-on exhibits, photographs, videos, maps of the area and a gift shop.

Bear exhibit, Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center, Itasca State Park, Minnesota
Bear exhibit, Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center, Itasca State Park, Minnesota
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The 13,000 square foot center is named after Jacob V. Brower, a writer, historian and land surveyor, who came to the Lake Itasca area in the 1800’s to settle a dispute over the location of the start of the Mississippi. Brower remained in the area and his conservation work to save the pine forests, which were being threatened from logging, ultimately resulted in the establishment of the state park in April of 1891.

Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center exhibits, Itasca State Park, Minnesota
Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center exhibits, Itasca State Park, Minnesota
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Park naturalists and staff are on hand at the center to answer questions and provide recommendations on exploring the park. Maps and information are also available at the center, including an Itasca State Park overview pamphlet.

Lodging

When planning a visit to Itasca State Park, the park has several lodging and camping options available for your stay, including a hostel, the historic Douglas Lodge, or, of course, camping under the stars.

Douglas Lodge

Douglas Lodge comon area, Itasca State Park, Minnesota
Douglas Lodge common area, Itasca State Park, Minnesota
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The historic Douglas Lodge opened in 1905 and has since hosted guests for over 110 years. While having been updated through the years with modern conveniences, the quiet, peaceful lodge retains its historic feel with period furnishings and rustic decor.

Douglas Lodge at Itasca State Park, Park Rapids, built in 1905
Douglas Lodge at Itasca State Park, Park Rapids, built in 1905
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Douglas Lodge has three suites that include a bathroom with a shower and four single rooms that share hallway baths. The common area is a warm, cozy living room with a large stone fireplace. The Lodge also has a full-service restaurant available for both hotel guests and park visitors that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Douglas Lodge guest room, Itasca State Park, Minnesota
Douglas Lodge guest room, Itasca State Park, Minnesota
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Hiking & biking trails

Itasca State Park, Park Rapids, Minnesota
Itasca State Park, Park Rapids, Minnesota
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

With 50 miles of hiking and biking trails, Itasca has a wide variety of treks ranging from short, easy hikes to longer, more adventurous trails.

The Headwaters Loop Trail & Doctor Roberts Trail near Douglas Lodge are both wheelchair accessible, boardwalk trails that wind through nature. The Headwaters Loop Trail runs from the Mary Gibbs Headwater Center along the Mississippi River to the Headwaters and the boardwalk section of the Roberts Trail runs to Old Timer’s Cabin.

Headwaters Loop Trail, Itasca State Park
Headwaters Loop Trail, Itasca State Park
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The Itasca State Park Summer Map has a full listing of the park’s hiking trails. Bicycling on hiking trails is prohibited, but 16 miles of bicycle routes run through from the visitor center to the Mary Gibbs Headwaters Center, while also connecting to Douglas Lodge.

Hiking at Itasca State Park, Park Rapids, Minnesota
Hiking at Itasca State Park, Park Rapids, Minnesota
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Mississippi Headwaters

Kim Hull crossing the Mississippi Headwaters at Itasca State Park
Kim Hull crossing the Mississippi Headwaters at Itasca State Park
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

One thing we weren’t going to miss when visiting Minnesota was crossing the beginning of the mighty Mississippi River.

Sure we’ve crossed the Mississippi countless times through the years by car in the 10 states it passes through on its journey from Minnesota to the Gulf Of Mexico, but Itasca State Park is the only place on earth where you can walk across it as it begins that path downstream.

If you want to say hi to someone while you are there, give them a call and tell them to go to Mississippi headwaters webcam  and they can watch as you make your crossing. Definitely a cool adventure!

Greg & Kim Hull crossing the headwaters of the Mississippi
Greg & Kim Hull crossing the headwaters of the Mississippi
Photo: Caitlin Rick
Caitlin Rick & Kim Hull cross the Mississippi River at Itasca State Park
Caitlin Rick & Kim Hull cross the Mississippi River at Itasca State Park
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Get the book: The Best of Itasca

The Park Rapids Chamber of Commerce provided us with a copy of Deanne Johnson’s book, The Best of Itasca prior to our visit. It is a beautiful, comprehensive book, filled with everything you need to know whether visiting for a few hours or a week.

Itasca State Park location

Itasca State Park is in north central Minnesota a little over 200 miles from Minneapolis-St Paul and 26 miles from Park Rapids.


Disclosure & disclaimer: Special thanks to Explore MinnesotaItasca State Park and the Park Rapids Chamber of Commerce for hosting us as their guests. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.

The MinneSODA Ice Cream Fountain, Park Rapids, Minnesota

Park Rapids Minnesota: Small town charm at the gateway to the Mississippi River

Cover: The MinneSODA Ice Cream Fountain, Park Rapids, Minnesota
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull


The center point of north central Minnesota, Park Rapids is abundant with natural beauty, outdoor adventures, and a relaxed charm.

With over 400 lakes in the region, hiking, cycling, numerous events to explore, and its close proximity to Itasca State Park, Park Rapids is a perfect retreat for a few hours or a few days. Add to that an inviting small town ambiance and the good eats found in the area, and you may want to stay even longer.

Things to do in and around Park Rapids

Go shopping in Downtown Park Rapids

Shopping in Park Rapids, Minnesota
Shopping in Park Rapids, Minnesota
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Small town America is alive and well in Park Rapids. With a downtown district filled with cute shops and an abundance of friendly locals, Park Rapids is a great spot to spend an afternoon browsing the specialty shops and boutiques filled with gifts, fashion, antiques and more.

Molly Poppin's Gourmet Snacks, Park Rapids, Minnesota
Molly Poppin’s Gourmet Snacks, Park Rapids, Minnesota
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

One foot in the door at Molly Poppin’s and you know you won’t be leaving anytime soon. The aroma is, well – I bet I gained weight just inhaling. Then you taste the samples and it’s all over, as bags of deliciousness fly into your arms and out the door with you.

Moving down the street, we spent the rest of our time in the quaint town exploring all the shops and dining options, having a throughly entertaining and casual afternoon on one of America’s classic main streets.

Artisan balsamic vinegars, Park Rapids, Minnesota
Artisan balsamic vinegars, Park Rapids, Minnesota
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Visit Dorset, the “Restaurant Capital of the World”

Trading Post, Dorset, Minnesota
Trading Post, Dorset, Minnesota
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Every visit to the Park Rapids area must include a lunch or dinner at the nearby “Restaurant Capital of the World,” Dorset, Minnesota. Home to 22 people and 5 restaurants, Dorset lays claim to the title, with the restaurants per capita ratio being 1 restaurant to 5 people.

We dined at Dorset’s Italian option, La Pasta – a lovely lunch and the breadsticks were out of this world.

La Pasta, Dorset, Minnesota
La Pasta, Dorset, Minnesota
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

But, before lunch we had a tour of the town with the mayor, James Tufts, and his older brother and former two-term mayor, Bobby Tufts, who now serves as the town’s ambassador (you may have seen them on the Today Show and in other national news).

Elected at the age of three, as was former mayor Bobby, it’s safe to say that Dorset has a unique political system. Quirky, fun and definitely not to be missed, Dorset is so deserving of the hashtag #OnlyInMN. Learn more about our visit to Dorset, Minnesota »

Mayor James Tufts & Former Mayor Bobby Tufts, Dorset, Minnesota
Mayor James Tufts & Former Mayor Bobby Tufts, Dorset, Minnesota
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Hike or bike the Heartland State Trail

While in Dorset, we noticed an awesome bike and hiking path passing through the town.

The Heartland State Trail is a 49 mile, paved multi-use trail reaching between Park Rapids and Cass Lake and was one of the first rail to trail conversions in the United States. The flat trail runs along the abandoned railroad the entire distance except for a four mile segment that uses a roadway north of Walker. 49 miles of paved bikeway? Sweet – we’ll be back.

Cross the headwaters of the Mississippi at Itasca State Park

Greg & Kim Hull crossing the headwaters of the Mississippi
Greg & Kim Hull cross the headwaters of the Mississippi
Photo: Caitlin Rick

Itasca State Park is a nature paradise just 26 miles from Park Rapids. The 32,000 acres of soaring pines and over 100 lakes are reason enough to visit, but it is also home to the Mississippi Headwaters. Truly a cool adventure – learn more about Itasca State Park »

Itasca State Park, Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center
Itasca State Park, Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Attend Legends & Logging Days each August

Legends & Logging Days logo

Get your plaid shirt ready and head to Legends and Logging Days each August in Park Rapids. A summer festival that includes Lumberjack action, Water Wars, Chainsaw sculptors, music, food and much more, it’s fun in the summer and a celebration of the rich heritage of the region.

Spend some time on one the area’s 400 lakes

Spend some time on one of Minnesota's lakes
Spend some time on one of Minnesota’s lakes
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

No time in Minnesota, the land of 10,000 lakes (which I hear is actually 11,842), is complete without some time on the water and there are plenty of opportunities near Park Rapids. A wonderful spot for family vacations, the Park Rapids Lakes area offers a chance to explore the pristine lakes of Minnesota and engage in the water sports that abound in the region. Climb aboard a speedboat, kayak, paddleboat or pontoon for a sunset cruise or a spend the day on the water fishing for your own aquatic adventure.

 

Downtown Park Rapids, Minnesota
Downtown Park Rapids, Minnesota
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Know before you go

Location

Park Rapids, Minnesota is 186 miles northwest of Minneapolis-St Paul and 85 miles east of Fargo, North Dakota.

Climate

July is the warmest month in Park Rapids with average daytime highs of 82°F / 28°C and average lows of 56°F / 13.5°C. January is the coldest month with average daytime highs of 17°F / -8°C and average lows of -21°F / -6°C.


Disclosure & disclaimer: Special thanks to Explore Minnesota and the Park Rapids Chamber of Commerce for hosting us as their guests. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.

Sun setting on Little Detroit Lake, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota

Fun awaits in Detroit Lakes Minnesota

Cover: Detroit Lake, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull


Home to a wide variety of outdoor activities, events, festivals, shopping, and dining, Detroit Lakes is the place to be for year-round fun in Minnesota.

As one would anticipate, a city with “Lakes” in their name is the center of water pursuits and Detroit Lakes definitely delivers in this category. Outdoor splendor awaits on the sparkling waters for boating, fishing and water sports enthusiasts, with over 400 lakes within 25 miles of the city.

Detroit Lake at sunset, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Detroit Lake at sunset, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

For those that prefer their water activities in the city, Detroit Lake’s pristine mile long beach is perfect for beach fun, while also providing access for launching boats and water activities.

Things to do in and around Detroit Lakes Minnesota

When you manage to tear yourself away from the clear blue waters of the Detroit Lakes region, so many activities await on land. From shopping to mountain biking to events, Detroit Lakes has something for everyone from sunrise to sunset.

Downtown Detroit Lakes

Downtown Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Downtown Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

A stroll through downtown Detroit Lakes is a perfect way to spend an afternoon. Offerings range from antiques to boutiques and everything in between, with lots to see and explore. Stop for a bite, find a place for a beer, or just enjoy viewing the historic buildings and chatting with friendly locals.

Along the way, swing by the library and check out the cool sculpture of a child reading a book out front, which was created by local artist, Hans Gilsdorf.

Child reading a book sculpture by Hans Gilsdorf in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Child reading a book sculpture by Hans Gilsdorf in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Then, head down to the Washington Square Mall for more shopping and dining options, perhaps to take in a movie and to snap a shot with your catch of the day.

Kim Hull, Washington Square Mall, Detroit Lakes
Kim Hull, Washington Square Mall, Detroit Lakes
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

What’s the deal with those pretty fish around town?

In 2002-2003, 50 sunfish were created and designed by local artists, with several of the fish auctioned to cover the artist’s expenses. All 50 were then placed around Detroit Lakes in public places and have since become a favorite of locals and visitors alike.

Want to see them all? Detroit Lakes has created a Sunny in Detroit Lakes map with locations of all of the fish statues – which assists with locating them, as the fish are moved from summer to winter locations and back each year.

Detroit Lakes Sunfish, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Detroit Lakes Sunfish, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Festivals & events

Detroit Lakes hosts numerous festivals and events throughout the year ranging from markets to sporting events to concerts – so many that, according to the mayor, Detroit Lakes averages one event per week. Check the Detroit Lakes events calendar for a full list of things to do throughout the year.

Street Faire at the Lakes

Street Faire at the Lakes, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Street Faire at the Lakes, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Summer in Detroit Lakes kicks off with Street Faire at the Lakes and we were in town for the 2016 edition.

Food court & live music at Street Faire at the Lakes, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Food court & live music at Street Faire at the Lakes, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Photo: Greg K. Hull © Chasing Light Media

Located across six blocks of downtown Detroit Lakes, the Street Faire includes 125 juried artists, live music, a food court, and children’s activities. Free to attendees, Street Faire at the Lakes is held annually in early June.

Children's activities at Street Faire at the Lakes in Detroit Lakes
Children’s activities at Street Faire at the Lakes in Detroit Lakes
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Andy Rogers trying out the chairs at Street Faire at the Lakes
Andy Rogers trying out the chairs at Street Faire at the Lakes, Detroit Lakes
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

WE Fest Country Music Festival

Each August since 1983, country music fans gather in Detroit Lakes for one of the top events of the year in the genre, the WE Fest Country Music Festival on the shores of Lake Salle. Held at Soo Pass Ranch, the natural amphitheater, which has a permanent stage and sound towers, holds over 50,000 people. Adjacent to the facility are 10 campgrounds that can accommodate up to 35,000. Past performers have included Vince Gill, Faith Hill, Brooks & Dunn, Carrie Underwood, Rascal Flatts and many more.

Other things to do in Detroit Lakes

Detroit Mountain

Detroit Mountain, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Detroit Mountain Resort, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Here’s a really cool story. Detroit Mountain was the local ski hill for half a century until it fell into disrepair and closed in 2004. Missing the swoosh of the slopes, the local community pulled together, formed a non-profit, the Detroit Mountain Recreation Area, Inc., and began raising funds to bring skiing back to their community.

Talking with Jeff Staley of Detroit Mountain
Talking with Jeff Staley of Detroit Mountain
Photo: Greg K. Hull © Chasing Light Media

After raising $8.5 million dollars in private donations, the new lifts outside the all new lodge began to turn a decade later in 2014. Now a year-round facility, Detroit Mountain offers skiing, snowboarding, tubing, a terrain park, cross-country ski trails in the winter and summer mountain biking with flow and downhill trails and a skills course.

Learn more about Detroit Mountain »

Detroit Mountain's fat tire bike rentals
Detroit Mountain’s fat tire bike rentals
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Hiking

Hiking at Itasca State Park, Park Rapids, Minnesota
Hiking at Itasca State Park, Park Rapids, Minnesota
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Lace up your hiking boots and get ready to hit the trail because Detroit Lakes has multiple state parks and hiking options nearby. Maplewood State Park, Buffalo River State Park, and Smoky Hills State Forest are all within a 30-minute drive and Itaska State Park, where you can cross the headwaters of the Mississippi, is only an hour away.

Or how about a hike through Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge’s 43,000 acres? Located about 18 miles from Detroit Lakes, the refuge provides a chance to explore 20 lakes and three rivers, view 250 bird species, including bald eagles, and includes a segment of North America’s longest scenic trail, the North Country National Scenic Trail.

Let’s Go Fishing

Of course, fishing is huge in Minnesota and now that I’m an expert fisherwoman (I caught my first on our very first fishing excursion earlier in the week in Minnesota), I can tell you – I get it. Fishing in Minnesota is super fun and I am hooked (pun intended).

But, for our evening in Detroit Lakes, “Let’s Go Fishing” had a different meaning and we met some people who are the definition of “Minnesota nice.”

Dave Hochhalter, Ron Zeman, Betty Hochhalter, Cleone Stewart, Let's Go Fishiing, Detroit Lakes
Dave Hochhalter, Ron Zeman, Betty Hochhalter, Cleone Stewart, Let’s Go Fishiing, Detroit Lakes
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

“Let’s Go Fishing” offers lake adventures to seniors, veterans, youth and the physically challenged free of charge and we were fortunate to explore Little Detroit Lake by pontoon as their guest. Fully staffed by volunteers, our hosts for the evening were captain Dave Hochhalter, first mate Betty Hochhalter, and city council member, lake historian and comedian, Ron Zeman.

Momma Loon and her baby, Detroit Lake
Momma Loon and her baby, Detroit Lake
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

In addition to learning about the history of the area and their organization on our spectacular sunset ride, we saw a momma loon with her baby on her back, found a very talented SUP fisherman, and, of course, waved at everyone we passed by along the way.

SUP fisherman on Detroit Lake, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
SUP fisherman on Lake, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Such a beautiful way to end the day in Minnesota! Learn more about Let’s Go Fishing in Detroit Lakes Minnesota on their website.

Where to stay

Where to stay: Best Western The Lodge on Detroit Lake
Where to stay: Best Western The Lodge on Detroit Lake
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Detroit Lakes has a wide variety of accommodation options to suit all preferences and budgets. For our visit, we stayed at the beautiful, lakeside Best Western Premier Lodge on Lake Detroit.

The Lodge has an upscale feel with rustic accents and a relaxing atmosphere. Our spa suite was fabulous, with spectacular lake views, a jacuzzi, and a fireplace. The Lodge also has a day spa, fitness center, comfortable seating areas both inside and out, a delicious complimentary breakfast, and a friendly, helpful staff.

Spa Suite, The Lodge on Lake Detroit, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Where to Stay: Spa Suite, The Lodge on Lake Detroit, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Learn more about The Lodge Detroit Lakes »

Places to dine and enjoy a beverage in Detroit Lakes

Zorbaz

Zorbaz Pizza Shack, Detroit Lakes
Zorbaz Pizza Shack, Detroit Lakes
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

There’z nothing like a cazual evening zipping Bobbin’ Blue Margaritaz while chowing down on nachoz and pizza as you gaze out at the beautiful blue waterz of Detroit Lakez at Zorbaz.

Kim Hull & Caitlin Rick at Zorbaz in Detroit Lakes
Kim Hull & Caitlin Rick at Zorbaz in Detroit Lakes
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Zince 1969, gueztz have flocked to the eclectic bar and reztaurant that substitutez every “s” for a “z.” Arriving by boat, car, foot and bike, people pack the iconic beach bar acrozz from Detroit Lakez beach. Zpecializing in Mexican food and pizza, Zorbaz haz a huge azzortment of tap beerz, live muzic on the weekendz, and a great patio. On the way out, head to the zhop next door and grab a t-zhirt. Not to be mizzed.

Huge assortment of tap beers at Zorbaz, Detroit Lakes
Huge assortment of tap beers at Zorbaz, Detroit Lakes
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Lakeside Tavern

Lakeside Tavern, Detroit Lakes
Lakeside Tavern, Detroit Lakes
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Just a couple of blocks down from Zorbaz, Lakeside Tavern serves 24 tap beers, burgers, pizza and other fare. And, if you feel someone brush against you as you sip your beer but, when you turn, no one is there – no worries, that may be just one of six reported ghosts that hang out at the Tavern as well.

Located in the former Lakeside Hotel, which was built in 1891 and has a colorful past filled with stories of bank robber owners, vanishing patrons, and ghosts, the present day Lakeside Tavern is reportedly haunted by a little girl, two men and three women. When we stopped by, no hauntings to report – just quite a few patrons enjoying some late evening sun, cold beer, pizza and stunning lake views.

Sunset on Detroit Lake
Sunset on Detroit Lake
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Know before you go

Kim and Greg on a pontoon on Detroit Lake
Kim and Greg on a pontoon on Detroit Lake
Photo: Caitlin Rick

Location

Detroit Lakes is about 205 miles northwest of the Twin Cities of Minneapolis-St Paul and 45 miles east of Fargo-Moorhead.

Climate

Summer time is ideal in Detroit Lakes, with average daytime highs reaching just under 80 F (27 C) then cooling off in the evenings to the 50s F (13 C).

Winter daily highs average in the teens and 20s F (-7 C), perfect for skiing and winter sports. At night, ramp up the fireplace and grab some hot chocolate, when temperatures hover around 0 F (-18 C).

Prepare for the outdoors and changing weather

As many summer activities in and around Detroit Lakes are outside, remember to bring sunscreen, mosquito repellent, good walking or hiking shoes, a rain jacket and a sweater or jacket for the evenings when the day begins to cool.


Disclosure & disclaimer: Special thanks to Explore Minnesota and the Detroit Lakes Chamber of Commerce for hosting us as their guests. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.

Deck at Detroit Mountain, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota

Detroit Mountain: Skiing & mountain biking in Detroit Lakes

Cover: Detroit Mountain Lodge, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull


For half a century, locals, and visitors to the Detroit Lakes area had a local ski hill, Detroit Mountain, for winter fun on the slopes. Sadly, the resort fell into disrepair and shut down in 2004 and for a decade remained closed.

With no place to ski, the community formed a plan – to reopen Detroit Mountain as a year-round resort, with skiing, biking, and even hiking trails. They pulled together and formed a non-profit, Detroit Mountain Recreation Area, Inc., and began fund raising efforts to transform the idea into reality.

Painting from original Detroit Mountain, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Painting from original Detroit Mountain, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

In 2014, after raising $8.5 million dollars in private donations, Detroit Mountain once again opened. Gone was the old lodge and in its place was a beautiful new facility. True to their vision, the resort has since offered year round activities with skiing, snowboarding, tubing, a terrain park, and cross-country ski trails, and in the summer, mountain biking with flow and downhill trails, a skills course, a Strider Adventure Zone for the little ones and hiking.

Now in its second summer season, the resort is hosting events such as the Detroit Mountain Shakedown mountain bike race. We stopped by Detroit Mountain the day before the race to learn a bit more and get a tour of the resort with General Manager, Jeff Staley.

Mountain biking

Fat tire bike rentals at Detroit Mountain, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Fat tire bike rentals at Detroit Mountain, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Detroit Mountain turned to Progressive Trail Design out of Arkansas, who has built bike parks in bike-crazy locations like Park City, Utah; Aspen, Colorado; and Castle Rock, Colorado, to build their bike trails. With trails designed for all rider levels, the Detroit Mountain trails include lift accessed downhill flow trails, contour flow trails with some nice rolling terrain, and a skills course.

Kid's Strider rentals, Detroit Mountain
Kid’s Strider rentals, Detroit Mountain, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

For the kiddos 18 months to 5 years, Detroit Mountain has a Strider Adventure Zone to get them learning balance, handling skills and the fundamentals of riding without the complication of moving pedals.

Downhill mountain bike trails
Downhill mountain bike trails
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Detroit Mountain operates a comprehensive bike rental shop with standard, premium and fat tire bikes rentals available with full day, half day and twilight options.

Bike Shop, Detroit Mountain
Bike Shop, Detroit Mountain
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Skiing and snowboarding

Intermediate slope sign
Intermediate slope sign
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

As a ski bum, I can only imagine how happy Detroit Lakes skiers were when the lifts on those brand new triple chairs began to turn in 2014.

With the capability for snowmaking on 100% of the terrain, as long as it is cold enough, Detroit Mountain can keep smiles on the faces of those skiers and boarders throughout the winter months regardless of snowfall amounts. Offering day and night skiing, the resort has skiable terrain ranging from a bunny hill to black runs, and the Scheel’s Terrain Park, with tricks, jumps, and rails. The resort has a full-service ski rental facility and offers lessons as well.

Just outside the lodge, a warming hut provides additional space for resting, eating and group events in a warm and cozy atmosphere.

Kim Hull & Caitlin Rick in Warming Hut, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Kim Hull & Caitlin Rick in Warming Hut, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Tubing and Cross Country Skiing

In addition to downhill skiing and boarding, the Landslide Tubing Park, served by a Magic Carpet, provides fun on the snow with no special skills or equipment needed.

For those preferring Nordic skiing, Detroit Mountain’s 7 km of groomed cross country ski trails wind through the beautiful Minnesota countryside. In the summer, the trails are used for hiking.

Dining & drinking

Kim Hull at The Horses Neck Saloon, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Kim Hull at The Horses Neck Saloon, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

All days on the hill require a bit of après time and Detroit Mountain has just the spot with the beautiful Horses Neck Saloon where you can hop on a saddle and enjoy a beer or glass of wine with fabulous mountain views.

Should hunger pangs arise, The Mountain Café offers a variety of tasty lodge fare with plenty of indoor seating or head outside to catch some sun on the deck and dine with a slopeside view.

The Mountain Café at Detroit Mountain
The Mountain Café at Detroit Mountain
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Getting there

The lodge at Detroit Mountain, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
The lodge at Detroit Mountain, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Detroit Mountain’s address is 29409 170th St, Detroit Lakes, MN 56501.

Detroit Mountain is about 3 miles from Detroit Lakes, approximately 49 miles from Fargo, ND and 214 miles from the Minneapolis-St Paul airport. Be sure and check road conditions before heading to the resort. Free parking is available at the resort.

Learn more about Detroit Mountain on their website.

Chairlifts, Detroit Mountain
Chairlifts, Detroit Mountain
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Where to stay

While we were in Detroit Lakes, we stayed at the beautiful Best Western Premier Lodge on the Lake, which is only about 3 miles from Detroit Mountain. Located along the shores of Detroit Lake, The Lodge has an indoor pool, day spa, fitness center, complimentary breakfast, spacious fireplace lounge, and a private beach.

Where to stay: The Lodge on Lake Detroit
Where to stay: The Lodge on Lake Detroit
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Kim Hull and Cleone Stewart
Kim Hull and Cleone Stewart
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Disclosure & disclaimer: Special thanks to Explore Minnesota and the Detroit Lakes Chamber of Commerce for hosting us as their guests. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.

Sitting around the firepalce at The Lodge on Lake Detroit, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota

The Lodge Detroit Lakes: An upscale lodge with breathtaking Minnesota lakefront views

Cover: The Lounge at The Lodge on Lake Detroit, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull


Steps from the sparkling waters of Detroit Lake, the Best Western Premier The Lodge on Lake Detroit in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota is an upscale rustic retreat and the perfect spot for a getaway to rejuvenate and recharge.

An indoor pool, day spa, fitness center, complimentary breakfast, spacious fireplace lounge, and a private beach provide the amenities for an enjoyable stay – but it’s the little details that make it a memorable one.

Best Western The Lodge on Lake Detroit, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Best Western The Lodge on Lake Detroit, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Arriving at the Lodge, we were greeted by the friendly staff and welcoming Minnesota hospitality. A bowl of chilled, lemongrass-scented towels on the front desk offered a chance for a quick freshening up, infused water and fresh fruit are provided in the lobby around the clock, and s’mores are available each evening.

Infused water & fruit at Best Western The Lodge Detroit Lakes
Infused water & fruit at The Lodge
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Moving on into the Lodge’s common area, sunlight from the two-story wall of windows overlooking the lake filtered into the large room in the late afternoon hours. Several guests quietly read in the bent willow rockers by the windows and a couple sat talking near the big stone fireplace.

Common area, The Lodge on Lake Detroit, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Common area, The Lodge on Lake Detroit, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

As we made our way to our room, we stopped along the way to view some of the photos and the rustic decor that create the authentic relaxed, atmosphere of the Lodge.

Lobby, The Lodge on Lake Detroit, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Lobby, The Lodge on Lake Detroit, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
True lodge atmosphere at Best Western Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
True lodge atmosphere at Best Western Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The rooms and suites

The Lodge has 54 rooms and 13 suites, all with breathtaking views of Detroit Lake that can be enjoyed from either a large private balcony or a walk-out patio.

Renewal Spa Suite, The Lodge on Lake Detroit, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Renewal Spa Suite, The Lodge on Lake Detroit, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Our room was a beautiful Renewal Spa Suite and how appropriately named it is with a two-person aroma-therapy whirlpool, fireplace and private balcony overlooking Detroit Lake!

Two luxurious terry spa robes were waiting on the bed when we arrived, just beckoning us to jump into the whirlpool. We stashed a bottle of white wine in the mini-fridge to chill while we unpacked and decided to relax a bit before dinner.

Spa robes in Renewal Spa Suite at The Lodge
Spa robes in Renewal Spa Suite at The Lodge 
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Rounding out the amenities in our room were a large bath with a free-standing, glass enclosed shower, Bee Kind Toiletries, loads of white fluffy towels, a flat panel TV, desk, overstuffed rocker, and, in addition to the refrigerator, a microwave, wet bar sink and coffee maker. The plush king size bed was super comfortable with a pile of pillows and high quality bedding.

Spa Suite, The Lodge on Lake Detroit, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Spa Suite, The Lodge on Lake Detroit, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The hotel

Rustic decor at Best Western The Lodge
Rustic decor at Best Western The Lodge 
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Returning to the hotel after dinner and a beautiful pontoon boat ride on Detroit Lake, we headed to Lola D’s for a glass of wine.

Lola D's Bar at The Lodge on Lake Detroit, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Lola D’s Bar at The Lodge on Lake Detroit, Detroit Lakes
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

After a quick game of tic tac toe, we sank into the leather chairs as the grand piano played softly and the last hint of daylight disappeared.

Tic, tac, toe lake style at Best Western Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Tic, tac, toe lake style at Best Western Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

While The Lodge is located just minutes from Detroit Lakes’ many restaurant options, for those preferring to have lunch at the pool or beach, spend a quiet evening in, or enjoy a quick snack, Lola D’s offers salads, sandwiches, appetizers and light entrees.

A delicious complimentary breakfast that includes frittatas, a waffle bar, pastries, oatmeal, yogurt, cereals, a great selection of fresh fruit and an assortment of coffees is served each morning in the Lake Reflections Room.

Lakefront Reflections Room at The Lodge on Lake Detroit, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Lakefront Reflections Room at The Lodge on Lake Detroit, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Hotel amenities

Indoor pool

Guests can enjoy a refreshing dip in the large indoor heated swimming pool and whirlpool, equipped with plenty of lounge chairs and social seating areas.

Indoor swimming pool, The Lodge on Lake Detroit, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Indoor swimming pool, The Lodge on Lake Detroit, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The beach and lakefront

Fun at the lake is mere steps from the Lodge, with 550 feet of lakefront that includes a private sand beach, a swim area, and access to a private dock, boat slips, and complimentary use of paddle boats and kayaks (seasonal).

Best Western The Lodge Detroit Lakes, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Best Western The Lodge Detroit Lakes, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Fitness center

A workout is just down the hall with the complimentary 24 hour fitness center at the Lodge. Workout options include an elliptical trainer, treadmills, dumbbells, and additional fitness equipment.

Fitness Center at The Lodge on Lake Detroit, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Fitness Center at The Lodge on Lake Detroit, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Spa

When it’s time to wind down, there’s no better way than a visit to the spa. The Spa Within at the Lodge on Lake Detroit offers spa treatments, massages, facials, nail services, and more.

Visiting the Best Western Premier Lodge on the Lake

The Lodge on Lake Detroit is a beautiful, relaxing hotel and we only wished we could have stayed longer.

A wonderful spot for a respite with stunning views of Lake Detroit, the hotel is inviting and cozy, the staff friendly and helpful, and the spa suite was sublime.


Disclosure & disclaimer: Special thanks to Explore Minnesota and Best Western Premier The Lodge on Lake Detroit for hosting us as their guests. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.

Blue footed Boobies, North Seymour, Galapagos Islands

Traveling to the Galapagos Islands

Cover: Blue footed Boobies, North Seymour, Galapagos Islands.
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull


There are few places on earth that still offer the adventure and diverse wildlife that can be found in the Galapagos Islands. The enchanting islands that captivated Charles Darwin over 200 years ago offer a unique opportunity to experience creatures found nowhere else on earth.

The terrain is rugged, remote and magical. The waters are clear, warm and offer amazing snorkeling and diving. Giant tortoises slowly make their way through grasslands and mud pits, marine iguanas dart about, blue-footed boobies sit on their nest of eggs, and so much more.

Getting to the Galapagos Islands

Located in the Pacific Ocean 605 miles/973 kilometers off the coast of Ecuador, the 21 islands that make up the Galapagos Islands straddle the equator across a span of 137 miles / 220 kilometers.

Travel to the Galapagos Islands typically begins with a flight to the Ecuadoran mainland cities of either Quito or Guayaquil, followed by another flight to Isla Baltra, one of the Galapagos Islands. An overnight stay may be required in either Quito or Guayaquil when connecting to flights to the Galapagos. Guayaquil is the largest and most populated city in Ecuador, with close to three million residents.

Guayaquil

Located on the coast, Guayaquil has a tropical climate and a rainy season from January to April. The Guayaquil airport, José Joaquín de Olmedo International Airport (Airport code: GYE), is modern facility built in 2006 and the city has a wide variety of hotels and hostels.

Quito

Quito, the capital of Ecuador, is the second largest city in Ecuador. Home to over two million people, Quito is located in the Andes mountains at an elevation of 2850 meters/9,350 feet.

The airport in Quito, Mariscal Sucre (airport code: UIO) is also modern and easy to navigate, with many shops and restaurants. As the Quito airport is located 18 km from the city, if an overnight stay is required, staying near the airport is a good option. We stayed at the newly built Wyndham Quito Airport, which is a luxury hotel with large rooms, marble baths with rain showers, a bar and restaurant, WiFi, and a free airport shuttle

On our way to the Galapagos, we stopped for one night in Quito, staying at the Wyndham Quito Airport. Built in 2016, the hotel is modern and luxurious, with large, well-appointed guest rooms, beautiful marble baths with rain showers, a bar and restaurant, 24-hour room service, WiFi, and a free airport shuttle (requires a call to the hotel to have the shuttle sent).

Many visitors to the Galapagos extend their visit to Ecuador with time in one or both of the cities, either en route or on their return from the islands, as we did on our return.


Read more about things to do in Quito, Ecuador ››


Galapagos travel tip: Limit your carry on contents and bring cash

The carry-on bag weight limit on flights to and from the Galapagos is 8 kilos.

In 2007, UNESCO put the Galapagos Islands on their List of World Heritage in Danger because of threats posed by invasive species, unbridled tourism, and overfishing. As a protected environment, no food, plants, seeds, etc. can be brought into the Galapagos. Additionally, about one hour before arrival, flight attendants open all overhead bins on the aircraft and spray each bin with a disinfectant/insecticide, so you may want to keep your makeup or toiletries under the seat.

Passengers must purchase Galapagos immigration forms upon departure from the mainland for $20 each. Upon arrival in passengers pay an entrance tax of $100 per person, so make sure you have sufficient cash on hand.

Isla Baltra

Flights arrive on the island of Isla Baltra at Seymour Airport (airport code: GPS). Following arrival, passengers pay an entrance tax and collect their luggage. Once outside, airport buses transport passengers to a barge to cross the canal to the island of Santa Cruz.

The fee for the barge is $1 per person. Luggage is placed on the roof of the barge and passengers find seats inside for the short crossing.

Arriving on Santa Cruz, most visitors stay across the island to the main city of Puerto Ayora. Unless your hotel or cruise ship has sent someone to transport you to your destination, visitors can either take a bus or a taxi. Taxis on Santa Cruz are white, crew cab trucks and the fee at the time of this article from the dock to Puerto Ayora was $20.

Galapagos travel tip: Maximize your first day with a land tour

Our taxi driver offered to take us to some attractions on the trip across the island for $50 instead of the $20, which allowed us to spend the majority of our first afternoon visiting the Los Gemelos sink holes, Rancho Primicias where the giant tortoises roam free, and to hike the Lava Tunnel – all key attractions on the island of Santa Cruz.

Touring the Galapagos – Cruises vs. Hotels

Famous for the varied species that reside throughout the archipelago, travel between the islands is a requirement in order to view the different animals on each the islands.

There are two primary methods of traveling in the Galapagos Islands – on board a cruise boat for a multiple day stay or basing on land in a hotel and taking day trips between the islands.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both. Staying on land in a hotel generally, provides more spacious accommodations, increased amenities, such as access to swimming pools and, obviously the ability to sleep on land. It also provides the ability to explore a variety of shopping, bars, and restaurants on the island. Staying on land is far more economical than cruising as well.

The small cruise ships in the Galapagos typically accommodate 16 – 20 passengers (a few are larger, with up to 96), who are your cruise mates day in and day out for a week or two, depending on the length of your cruise. Additionally, while land excursions occur each day, the majority of dining is onboard.

We opted for the land-based option, booking one of the top hotels in Puerto Aroyo and visited three other islands during our stay on day tours.

The downside of basing on land is that it restricts the islands that can be visited, as many islands are simply too far to visit on a day trip from Santa Cruz, where the majority of hotels are located.

From Santa Cruz, day tours to Bartolomé, North Seymour, South Plaza Island, Pinzón, and Santa Fe are easy day trips. Isabela, San Cristobal, and Floreana are possible, but the boat ride is two hours or more, the waters are choppy and the boat trip is not enjoyable. Imagine 24 people crammed on a small speedboat that is not well-ventilated bouncing through the water and the only amenities – a roll of barf bags for the boat to share, which quite a few did. It is definitely a trip that is about the destination and not the journey.

The remainder of the major islands cannot be visited on day tours from Santa Cruz. That said, while there are thousands of interesting species throughout the Galapagos, the majority of the key wildlife most visitors come to see, with the giant tortoises, blue-footed boobies and frigatebirds at the top of the list, can be viewed on the islands accessible by day tours, as well as Santa Cruz.

Without leaving Santa Cruz, giant tortoises, pelicans, marine iguanas, sea lions, sea turtles, sharks, rays, flamingos, land iguanas, dolphins and sea turtles can be viewed. Santa Cruz is also home to the Charles Darwin Research Station.

An uninhabited island, North Seymour is home to blue-footed boobies, frigatebirds, land iguanas, sea lions, and much more.

The incredibly picturesque Bartolomé is a beautiful island to explore, providing panoramic views and snorkeling near Pinnacle Rock. Here, Galapagos penguins can be found, as well as sea lions, white tip sharks, and green turtles.

As stated above, the journey by boat to Isabela is far from enjoyable adventure, but once on Isabela, the island provides numerous opportunities to view wildlife. Day trips go to Puerto Villamil on the southern tip of Isabela where giant tortoises, flamingos, Darwin finches, Galapagos penguins, pelicans, marine iguanas, blue-footed boobies, and Sally Lightfoot crabs, and an abundance of rays, sea turtles and sharks can be found. Additionally, a giant tortoise-breeding center is located near Puerto Villamil, where tortoises are bred and the offspring are reintroduced into
their natural habitat.

What did we miss by not having access to the other locations? The red-footed boobies can only be seen on Genovesa, Wolf Island, or San Cristóbal. The Galapagos petrel can only be found on Floreana and the winged albatross on Española.

While it is possible to go to San Cristóbal or Floreana on a day trip, the journey is similar to the Isabel boat trip in length, boat type and through rough waters, so we ruled it out after the Isabela experience.

Galapagos travel tip: Purchasing Galapagos day tours on Santa Cruz

Near the main port in Puerto Ayora, numerous day tour companies operate out of small businesses. The tour companies broker spots on the various boats that actually operate the tours. We visited at least a dozen different brokers during our week in Puerto Aroyo and not one took credit cards.

ATM machines are found at various locations but at times the network is down or there are long lines so it may take various tries to access enough cash for the tours. Most of the tours we priced ranged from $140 to $180 per person, depending on the island visited, the boat, the day of the week, the time of day and the broker.

For example, we visited three different brokers at around 4:00 in the afternoon the day before our Bartolomé trip. The first offered three options, each aboard different boats. The mid-level boat was offered at $180. We visited another broker about a block away and were told $170 for that boat. The third, where we booked, offered the trip for $160.

The tours typically begin early, between 6 AM – 8 AM, with the boat’s private bus making stops at each of the hotels of the day’s tour participants. After a ride across the island to the dock where the barges cross the canal to the airport, participants board a dinghy and are taken to the boat. The day’s itinerary normally consists of the boat ride to the island, a nature hike, lunch, snorkeling, and the return boat trip. An English-speaking guide accompanies the group on all excursions away from the boat.

The exception to this are the trips to San Cristóbal or Isabela, which meet at the main pier in Puerto Aroyo and actually use a ferry, which is a speed boat with a capacity of 24, to access the islands. A guide accompanies the group on the ferry and throughout the day.

Summing it up

In summary, cruises are more expensive and restrictive in that you are with the same group for the duration but provide access to far more islands. Depending on the quality of the itinerary, they also can provide more activity time since going to and from the islands each day can be accomplished in the evening or at night. They also take the negotiation and decision-making out of the process, since the cruise company presets the itinerary for your vacation.

Land based lodging with day trips are less expensive overall and offer more freedom to create your own itinerary but, require navigating the web of day tour operators in Puerto Aroyo, require access to cash while visiting the islands and don’t make use of traveling between islands during downtime.

An alternative to basing solely on Santa Cruz is to travel to Isabel or San Cristóbal one way on the ferry, allowing a stay of multiple days on each island. Hotels are available on all On Isabel, this would also enable exploration of Volcán Wolf on the northern part of the island.

A final option is to travel by plane between the islands with airports – a more expensive option, but one that enables a quick trip without the boat travel time.

Where we stayed: Hotel Solymar

Hotel Solymar is conveniently located along the waterfront and within walking distance of numerous restaurants, shops, and a market. Hotel Solymar’s staff was friendly and helpful, providing assistance whenever needed.

Our room was a good size and very clean with a flat-screen TV, desk, safe and a beautiful view overlooking the pool and the bay. The hotel offers a complimentary breakfast with a good selection and a friendly service staff. 

The pool has a laid-back atmosphere and is a great spot to grab a beer or glass of wine after a day of exploring. We dined in the restaurant on two occasions and the food was delicious and, again the staff was attentive and very nice.

Galapagos travel tip: Visit the supermarket in Puerto Aroya

A supermarket is located in Porto Aroya across from the main pier that in addition to food and snacks, has an upstairs section with a great selection of pharmacy-type items including toothpaste, toothbrushes, sunscreen, and other items you may have forgotten or run out of. Additionally, the store sells wine, beer, bottled water and has a good selection of fresh bread and rolls that are very inexpensive.

Know before you go

Climate

The climate in the Galapagos is tropical and, depending on the time of year and location on the islands, precipitation can range from almost non-existent to daily.

The warm season is from December to May, with average temperatures reaching in the 80°s F/XX °s C and daily lows in the 70°s F/XX°s C. Average rainfall during this time period is 1.5 inches in December and January, rising to 3 inches in March and April, before it begins to taper off in May with an average of 2.7 inches of rainfall.

Water temperatures from December to May range from 74° – 76° F/XX° – XX° C.

In the cooler months of June through November, daily highs range from 74° – 78° F/XX° – XX° C and lows are in the 60°s F/XX°s C. Rainfall decreases from an average of 2.2 inches in June to a half an inch per month from August to November.

Water temperatures from June to November range are typically in the 70°s F/XX°s C.

Water

Tap water in the Galapagos Islands and Ecuador should not be consumed. Do not swallow water from the shower while visiting the Galapagos and brush your teeth with bottled water. Additionally, we decided on the better safe than sorry approach and did not drink anything with ice or water, only consuming bottled water, wine, beer, sodas and juice, and very hot coffee or soup. We also only ate food that was cooked or fruit that could be peeled or had the exterior removed – bananas, watermelon, etc., which meant no salads or fruit with skins.

Sun

Located on the equator, the sun in the Galapagos is very strong and can cause sunburn quickly. Apply a strong sunscreen each morning and multiple times throughout the day.

Power

Voltage: 110-120 Volts, the same as U.S./Canada. Primary Socket Types: North American

Currency

Currency: American dollar. There are ATMs, but sometimes the lines are very long and the network was out frequently.

Health warnings

Be sure to check the CDC or WHO websites or any health warnings before traveling to Ecuador and the Galapagos.

Your return trip

Allow plenty of time when returning to the airport on Isla Baltra. After crossing the island by taxi or bus, the wait for the barge to cross the canal can be up to 30 minutes (they wait until it is full). If you find yourself short on time, take one of the water taxis that are typically present at the dock. After the barge ride, there may also be a wait for the airport bus to the airport. Our experience with passing through security was incredibly fast and efficient, but that is situational. There are no taxes or fees to depart from the Galapagos or re-enter the mainland.


Disclaimer: The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. We received no compensation for this article. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used

Amgen Tour of California 2016, Julian Alaphilippe, Etixx-Quick Step

Santa Barbara to Sacramento: Amgen Tour of California 2016

Cover: Julian Alaphilippe, Amgen Tour of California 2016
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull


The 2016 Amgen Tour of California began in San Diego, California Sunday, May 15 and wrapped up nearly 800 miles later in Sacramento on Sunday, May 22. Along the route from south to north, the riders climbed mountains, traveled the beautiful Hwy 1 along the California coastline and visited majestic Lake Tahoe.

In the end, a 23-year-old Frenchman, Julian Alaphilippe, took home the yellow jersey, something he’d had in his possession since winning the third stage of the race and taking over the race lead in Santa Barbara County.

San Diego

Amgen Tour of California 2016 press conference at San Diego Yacht Club
Amgen Tour of California 2016 press conference at San Diego Yacht Club
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

A couple of days before the race began, a select group of riders met with the press at the San Diego Yacht Club. A beautiful setting, the San Diego Yacht Club dates back to 1886, when local boating enthusiasts formed the club, which has been located at its current location in Point Loma since 1924.

Pre-race press conferences typically include race official speeches, sponsor promotions, local celebrity cyclists and, of course, a handful of the cyclists riding the race.

Amgen Tour of California 2016 Coca-Cola bottles
Amgen Tour of California 2016 Coca-Cola bottles
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Amgen Tour of California 2016, Bill Walton
Amgen Tour of California 2016, Bill Walton
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

It was an all-star lineup of cyclists including 2012 Tour de France winner, Sir Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish, Alexander Kristoff, Julian Alaphilippe, Peter Sagan, John Degenkolb, and Taylor Phinney. Chatting under the California sun, the riders answered questions and bantered amongst themselves in the relaxed southern California atmosphere.

Taylor Phinney, John Degenkolb, Alexander Kristoff, 2016 Amgen Tour of Califoria press conference
Taylor Phinney, John Degenkolb, Alexander Kristoff, 2016 Amgen Tour of California press conference
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

A day off followed the press conference, then it was time for the race to begin its journey toward the north.

Southern California

San Diego stage 1 circuit

The 108 mile Stage 1 began at Mission Bay, traveled through Balboa Park and various San Diego neighborhoods, moved to the nearby hills east of the city, then returned to a finish a couple of miles from the start, near Sea World.

Breakaway group, Amgen Tour of California 2016 Stage 1
Breakaway group, Amgen Tour of California 2016 Stage 1
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Seven riders quickly pulled off the front of the peloton, maintaining about a four minute lead on the peloton for the majority of the day. We spent the day in a media car in the peloton, near the breakaway group of riders.

Danny Pate, Rally Cycling
Danny Pate, Rally Cycling Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
2016 Amgen Tour of California Stage 1 breakaway
2016 Amgen Tour of California Stage 1 breakaway Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

As with most breakaways, it fell apart near the end, with 2015 Amgen Tour of California winner, Peter Sagan of Tinkoff taking the stage 1 win.

Peter Sagan wins Amgen Tour of California 2016 Stage 1
Peter Sagan wins Amgen Tour of California 2016 Stage 1 in San Diego
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Peter Sagan in the yellow jersey, Tinkoff, Amgen Tour of California 2016 Stage 1
Peter Sagan in the yellow jersey, Tinkoff, Amgen Tour of California 2016 Stage 1
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

I’m very happy to be here again, to catch a first victory here, in the first stage. Thank you to all my teammates. Today was a good day. I came here the first time in 2010…it was a very nice race, very good organization, very nice hotels, food.  Also, the level of the race is very good, and it’s also very good for preparation because it’s good weather. Now it’s the Giro and Tour of California. And I prefer to come here to train and prepare. And also I like California for the fans, and I’ve won a lot of stages here, and I’m very happy always to return here.”
Peter Sagan

Stage 2: South Pasadena to Santa Clarita

Amgen Tour of California 2016 Stage 2 start line
Amgen Tour of California 2016 Stage 2 start line
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Day two began in South Pasadena near Rose Bowl Stadium, the site of the finish of the 2015 race. Located only six miles from downtown Los Angeles, South Pasadena is a picturesque community in San Gabriel Valley known for its tree-lined streets and historic homes.

Amgen Tour of California 2016 Stage 2 Start, South Pasadena, Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish,
Amgen Tour of California 2016 Stage 2 Start, South Pasadena, Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish,
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Leaving South Pasadena, the riders spent the day covering 92 miles that included visits to Big Tujunga and Little Tujunga Canyon in Angeles National Forest, before ending in Santa Clarita, which has hosted the most stages in the history of the race.

Remember the above statement from stage one that most breakaways fall don’t make it to the finish? Yeah, well, sometimes they do.

Ben King (Cannondale) and Evan Huffman (Rally) survived the stage 2 breakaway with King taking the win in Santa Clarita. Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) took third along with the peloton 8 seconds later.

The win also placed King in the overall race lead, taking the yellow jersey from Peter Sagan heading into stage 3. 

I knew Evan was a pretty quick sprinter. He smoked me in both of the King of the Mountain sprints, so I was hesitant to let it come down to a sprint, but I couldn’t drop him on the climb, so in the end we both fully committed to make the breakaway stick to the finish, and in the end, Evan let out the sprint, and I was able to come around him in the finish.”
– Ben King

Ben King, Amgen Tour of California 2016
Ben King, Amgen Tour of California 2016
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

South to Central California

Stage 3: Thousand Oaks to Santa Barbara County

Julian Alaphilippe, 2016 Amgen Tour of California Stage 3
Julian Alaphilippe, 2016 Amgen Tour of California Stage 3 Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx – Quick-Step) dominated on the Queen Stage of the Amgen Tour of California, taking the win on Gibraltar Road in Santa Barbara County and the overall race lead.

The goal at the start of the day was to be in a good position in the final kilometers and I was there thanks to the hard work of my teammates, who protected me throughout the day. I felt good, left it late to attack and from then on put in a strong effort. Now I’m in yellow, which is great, and I’m prepared to take things day by day.”
– Julian Alaphilippe, Etixx – Quick-Step

The race finished for the first time on the legendary Gibraltar Road, with the final 12 kilometers ascending at an average 8% grade.

At 10 kilometers to go, the day’s break had dissolved and the peloton began to fracture. Neilson Powless (Axeon Cycling) pulled away from the main group, riding solo for several kilometers, until he was joined by Peter Stetina (Trek-Segafredo) and Lachlan Morton (Jelly Belly).

With three kilometers remaining in the race, Stetina attacked. Alaphilippe quickly bridged to Stetina from the main group, then continued on, passing him enroute to the finish and the stage 3 win. 

Stetina finished the day in second place, as well as in the overall race, and now sits 19 seconds back.

Peter Stetina, Amgen Tour of California 2016 Stage 3
Peter Stetina, Amgen Tour of California 2016 Stage 3 Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

George Bennett (Team LottoNL-Jumbo) was third for the day, which moved him into third place in the general classification, 31 seconds behind Alaphilippe.

I’m happy with my performance today. I didn’t know how my condition would be because I was sick in the spring classics. I want to thank the boys for their help today and the team for the possibility to train in Colorado to build up again.”
– George Bennett

Julian Alaphilippe, Amgen Tour of California 2016 Stage 3
Peter Stetina, Julian Alaphilippe, George Bennett, Amgen Tour of California 2016 Stage 3 Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Stage 4: Thousand Oaks to Santa Barbara County

Photo: Kim Hull © Chasing Light Media
Peter Sagan wins stage 4 at Amgen Tour of California 2016 Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) picked up another win at stage 4 of the Amgen Tour of California at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey County. Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) was second and Nathan Haas (Dimension Data).

Peter Sagan, 2016 Amgen Tour of California Stage 4
Peter Sagan, 2016 Amgen Tour of California Stage 4 Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

“I’m feeling pretty good after that stage. It would have better if we could have won a stage already but in the end it was a good day for us and I’m pretty happy with my form after coming back from my crash in Flanders. I think Brent and Rohan had a really good day in GC and everything went pretty well.

For me, on the uphill sections I tried to follow as if you know there is a good finish for you, you can always hang on longer. So, I tried to get over the climbs and the team did a really good job today keeping the pace pretty high. In the end, there was a little bit of gambling about how the finish would go. I’ve beaten [Peter] Sagan a few times already but this time he won so next time I will have to try and beat him again.”
Greg Van Avermaet, BMC Racing Team 

Greg Van Avermaet, Peter Sagan, Nathan Haas, Amgen Tour of California 2016 Stage 4 podium Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx – Quick-Step) retained the overall lead, now 22 seconds in front of Peter Stetina (Trek-Segafredo) and 37 seconds ahead of George Bennett (Team LottoNL-Jumbo).

Photo: Kim Hull © Chasing Light Media
Julian Alaphilippe, Amgen Tour of California 2016 Stage 4 Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Northern California

Stage 5: Lodi to Lake Tahoe

Amgen Tour of California 2016 Stage 5, South Lake Tahoe
Amgen Tour of California 2016 Stage 5, South Lake Tahoe Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Toms Skujins (Cannondale) survived the breakaway to win stage 5 of the Amgen Tour of California at Heavenly Mountain in South Lake Tahoe. Adam De Vos (Rally) was second and Xabier Zandio (Team Sky) was third.

Toms Skujins wins 2016 Amgen Tour of California Stage 5
Toms Skujins wins 2016 Amgen Tour of California Stage 5 Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

To get into the break, you have to try at least a couple of times. I knew that the altitude was going to make people suffer, and I knew that even if it wasn’t the steepest hills that the race would be blown to bits. It was a good day for the breakaway. I was really happy I could get into the move, and of course, I was happy to take out the win.”
– Toms Skujins

Julian Alaphilippe, Etixx-Quick Step, Amgen Tour of California 2016 Stage 5
Julian Alaphilippe, Etixx-Quick Step, Amgen Tour of California 2016 Stage 5 Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

No change in the top of General Classification, with Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx – Quick-Step) holding onto the overall race lead by 22 seconds over Peter Stetina (Trek Segfredo) heading into the stage 6 time trial in Folsom.

Amgen Tour of California 2016 Stage 5, Julian Alaphilippe, Etixx-Quick Step
Amgen Tour of California 2016 Stage 5, Julian Alaphilippe, Etixx-Quick Step Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Stage 6: Folsom Individual Time Trial

Rohan Dennis (BMC Racing Team) won the stage 6 time trial in Folsom with a time of 24 minutes 16 seconds, but Julian Alaphilippe remains in yellow. Andrew Talansky (Cannondale) was second at the ITT and Taylor Phinney (BMC Racing) was third.

I was fairly confident as I crossed the line that I had set the quickest time for the rest of the race. I was in a fair bit of pain, the main thing I remember was that I had that taste of metallic in my mouth for the last four or five kilometers from the lactate so it was good to get a drink and wash that out.

The wind was definitely getting stronger and stronger throughout the day which actually played into our favor a little bit with Alaphilippe because he is a smaller rider and would have been blown around a little bit more. In the end it didn’t make too much of a difference with the stage win, that was my goal for the day as well as trying to take time out. So, it was still a good day, even if we didn’t get the yellow jersey.”
– Rohan Dennis 

The ride moved Dennis into second place in the overall standings, now 16 seconds behind Alaphilippe with two stages remaining. Brent Bookwalter (BMC Racing Team) is in third 38 seconds back.

Of course I’m really happy, and a small surprise for me to stay in yellow today, because the time trial is not really my specialty.”
– Julian Alaphilippe, Etixx – Quick-Step

Amgen Tour of California 2016 Stage 5, Julian Alaphilippe, Etixx-Quick Step
Julian Alaphilippe, Amgen Tour of California 2016 Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Stage 7: Santa Rosa to Sacramento

Alexander Kristoff, Amgen Tour of California 2016 Stage 1
Alexander Kristoff, Amgen Tour of California 2016 Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Alexander Kristoff (Katusha Team) took the stage 7 victory in Santa Rosa, edging out Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) and Danny Van Poppel (Team Sky).

We had to chase hard and still in the end Peter Sagan was right there with me even though he had been out there by himself all that time. Unbelievable. I was happy to be able to hold him off. I think if he had saved some energy from earlier he would have beaten me. I had wanted to see how I felt after the climbs before I put my team to work, but once we came across the last one I could tell I was OK.  I was tired, but I knew everyone else was also tired. The guys all did such a good job. It’s always good to finish it off with a win and it shows I am going the right way for the Tour de France.”
– Alexander Kristoff, Katusha Team

Amgen Tour of California 2016 Stage 7: Sonoma County
Amgen Tour of California 2016 Stage 7: Sonoma County Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Julian Alaphlippe (Etixx – Quick-Step) held on to his overall lead, which should send him to the race win at stage 8 in Sacramento.

Reflecting on the 2016 race, Alaphilippe recognized the importance of his time trial performance in his overall success, while pointing to his stage 3 victory on Gibraltar Road in Santa Barbara county as the highlight:

Victory is always something special. Yesterday was a good performance for me because I’m really not a specialist and I never train with my TT (time trial) bike….I know for only 20k’s (kilometers), I can do something good.”
– Julian Alaphilippe, Etixx – Quick-Step

Stage 8: Sacramento

Julian Alaphilippe, Amgen Tour of California 2016 Stage 4
Julian Alaphilippe, Amgen Tour of California 2016 Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx – Quick-Step) became the youngest winner of the Amgen Tour of California, winning the 2016 race in Sacramento at the age of 23.

It was stressful today, because everyone wanted to stay at the front and fought for a better position. Usually, I’m not nervous, but today things were different, as the victory was closer and closer. Thankfully, I had a powerful team around me, which was always in charge, and as soon as Tom Boonen hit the front with me safely tucked behind him, it was like being on a holiday. Now, we’ll celebrate the win, but once we will return home, I’ll be back on my bike, training and looking to further improve.”
– Julian Alaphilippe, Etixx – Quick-Step

Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) picked up the final stage win of the race, edging out Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) and Alexander Kristoff (Katusha Team) for the win in a sprint finish.

Its been a tough week, Nathan was third the other day, but we really wanted to get this stage win. It was a windy day, so we had to take on the race. The guys rode out of their skins, Jacques rode the whole day on the front, and then everyone was just really going for it. We had to use our whole lead-out to catch the break, so in the end it was a bit a case of free styling. I was on Sagan’s wheel and know this finish really well. I’ve won here before and knew that, if was in the right position I should win here.”
– Mark Cavendish, Dimension Data


Disclaimer: The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. We received no compensation for this article. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.

Hotel Contessa from the River Walk, San Antonio, Texas

Hotel Contessa San Antonio: Contemporary décor & Texas charm create a fabulous River Walk experience

Cover: Hotel Contessa on the River Walk, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull


Steps from San Antonio’s River Walk, the four-diamond Hotel Contessa is a chic all-suite hotel that successfully mixes contemporary décor with Texas charm to create an upscale, relaxed experience.

Brick walls and eclectic decor at Hotel Contessa on the River Walk
Brick walls and eclectic decor at Hotel Contessa on the River Walk
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Built around a soaring atrium, the lobby overlooks the beautiful bar area with palm trees, a water feature, abundant seating and serene views of the River Walk.

Cork Bar at Hotel Contessa on the River Walk
Cork Bar at Hotel Contessa on the River Walk
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

While we’ve stayed in many great hotels around the world, it is the staff that makes a stay memorable and the Hotel Contessa staff was exceptional. From the moment we arrived and throughout our entire stay, everyone we met at the hotel was friendly, helpful and welcoming – which truly made our visit special.

Checking in at Hotel Contessa, San Antonio, Texas
Checking in at Hotel Contessa, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The Suites

Living area in suite at Hotel Contessa
Living area in suite at Hotel Contessa
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

We were excited to visit this cool hotel when they asked us to pay them a visit in San Antonio. Hotel Contessa is an all-suite hotel, with 265 fashionable suites that deliver a loft-like feel.

The eclectic décor, vibrant accents, contemporary artwork, exposed cement columns and brick lined walls interject a sense of happiness into the space. A relaxing spot to retreat from the River Walk crowds, the living area features a large couch, coffee table, a flat-screen TV and a desk with one of the best power supplies we’ve found.

Living area in suite Hotel Contessa on the River Walk
Living area in suite Hotel Contessa on the River Walk
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

We instantly put the high-top table and chairs to use as we enjoyed a glass of wine and the afternoon indulgences of a cheese and fruit plate and dessert selection sent by the hotel soon after our arrival!

Afternoon indulgences at Hotel Contessa
Afternoon indulgences at Hotel Contessa
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

A granite counter area with a mini-fridge, coffee maker, large laptop safe and snack basket separates the living area and bedroom.

Floor-to-ceiling windows with views of downtown San Antonio and/or the River Walk (ours had both) serve as a backdrop to the bedroom. Interesting textiles, a bright throw pillo, and clever lamps pop against the crisp white linens of the king size bed. Two robes in the closet and a second flat screen TV round out the bedroom comforts.

Suite bedroom at Hotel Contessa
Bedroom in our suite at Hotel Contessa
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The bath has a shower/tub combo, granite counter, a make-up mirror, hair dryer and Zero Percent toiletries by Gilchrist & Soames, which I really liked. With a fresh scent, they have no sulfates, parabens, artificial colors or other bad-for-you ingredients.

Bath in suite at Hotel Contessa, San Antonio, Texas
Bath in suite at Hotel Contessa, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Even though the hotel is located on the River Walk, it was remarkably quiet. To use the real estate saying, it all comes down to location, location, location. Hotel Contessa is situated on a very quiet (and exceptionally beautiful) section of the River Walk and the result – a peaceful spot to retreat and relax.

River Walk behind the Hotel Contessa, San Antonio, Texas
River Walk behind the Hotel Contessa, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The hotel

Time to head down and check out the rest of the hotel.

Atrium at Hotel Contessa, San Antonio, Texas
Atrium at Hotel Contessa, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

I like atriums and the openness and natural light they provide. Combined with the contemporary styling at Hotel Contessa, the atrium creates a comfortable, modern-day courtyard where people continuously gathered.

Atrium gathering area at Hotel Contessa on the River Walk
Atrium gathering area at Hotel Contessa on the River Walk, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The contemporary styling and cool vibe is carried throughout with interesting accents, art and lighting.

Hotel Contessa decor, San Antonio, Texas
Hotel Contessa decor, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The lobby level overlooks the open area surrounding the bar and restaurant, creating an inviting meeting place for guests.

Cork Bar, Hotel Contessa, San Antonio, Texas
Cork Bar, Hotel Contessa, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The wall of glass brings the River Walk experience inside, where couples can find a quiet spot for two or large groups can gather around larger tables or relax in one of the plentiful couch seating areas. For those preferring the outdoors, a large patio sits just off the River Walk.

Casual seating at Cork Bar, Hotel Contessa on the River Walk
Casual seating at Cork Bar, Hotel Contessa on the River Walk
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Dining and libations

Cork Bar

Bar at Cork Bar, Hotel Contessa on the River Walk
Bar at Cork Bar, Hotel Contessa on the River Walk
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Combine Cork Bar’s great selection of wines, beers and handcrafted cocktails and its prime location on the River Walk, and it’s pretty obvious why Hotel Contessa’s watering hole is a hotspot for locals and visitors alike.

Then, we met master mixologist Hector and things got really interesting! Hector simply asked our liquor of choice, which of course was vodka, and offered up one of his award-winning creations – the Cavender Martini.

A beautiful blend of Cinco Vodka, rosé sparkling wine, a bit of St. Germain and a few accents, the Cavender is a perfectly balanced cocktail – not too sweet, crisp, pretty look at, and exceptionally tasty!

Master Mixologist Hector Vargas
Master Mixologist Hector Vargas, Hotel Contessa on the River Walk
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Las Ramblas Restaurant

Hotel Contessa restaurant, Las Ramblas, San Antonio, Texas
Hotel Contessa restaurant, Las Ramblas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Taking full of advantage of Hotel Contessa’s prime location, Las Ramblas offers breakfast, lunch and dinner with scenic River Walk views.

Las Ramblas Restaurant on the River Walk, Hotel Contessa
Las Ramblas Restaurant on the River Walk, Hotel Contessa
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

A perfect place to start the day, Las Ramblas offers an a la carte menu or breakfast buffet with a huge spread of hot and cold selections. Standouts – the fruit was incredibly fresh, the pancakes were spectacular, and our server was friendly and helpful, answering our questions as we sought some local input as we planned our day of adventures.

Breakfast buffet at Las Ramblas, Hotel Contessa, San Antonio, Texas
Breakfast buffet at Las Ramblas, Hotel Contessa, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

We headed back to Las Ramblas in the evening for dinner on the patio. The evening menu includes innovative dishes created with fresh, local ingredients.

Dinner on the patio at Las Ramblas, San Antonio, Texas
Dinner on the patio at Las Ramblas, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

We started with shrimp and grits, which was spectacular and the sauce was amazing. Next up, our main courses. I had the grouper, which was prepared with an English pea succotash, sweet Corn, heirloom tomatoes, and topped with a prawn – it was divine! Greg opted for the salmon, which was accompanied with a ratatouille, shaved radish, arugula and a smoked almond pesto butter. It was prepared to perfection and mouth-watering delicious.

Dinner at Las Ramblas, Hotel Contessa
Dinner at Las Ramblas, Hotel Contessa
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

We still had part of the amazing chocolate cake and cheesecake from our room delivery in the mini-fridge, so we opted to skip desert and finish off our sweet delicacies a little later.

Las Ramblas patio, Hotel Contessa, San Antonio, Texas
Las Ramblas patio, Hotel Contessa, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Glass art at Hotel Contessa on the River Walk
Glass art at Las Ramblas at Hotel Contessa on the River Walk
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Amenities

Heated rooftop pool

Hot tub and rooftop pool at Hotel Contessa
Hot tub and rooftop pool at Hotel Contessa
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

With sweeping downtown San Antonio views, the rooftop pool and hot tub are a perfect spot to take a dip in the heated waters or simply relax and enjoy their tranquil perch above the city.

Ample comfortable seating surrounds the pool, which is open from 6AM to 11PM, and should the urge for a beverage or bite occur while poolside, guests can order room service delivered directly to the pool.

Pool at Hotel Contessa, San Antonio, Texas
Pool at Hotel Contessa, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Fitness center

Fitness center, Hotel Contessa
Fitness center, Hotel Contessa
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Also located on the top floor of the hotel, the well-equipped 24 hour fitness center has everything needed for an inspirational workout including cardio and strength equipment, free weights and amazing views of downtown San Antonio.

Woodhouse Day Spa

The Spa at Hotel Contessa, San Antonio, Texas
The Spa at Hotel Contessa, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Taking time out for a bit of rejuvenation and recharging is only an elevator ride away at the full-service Woodhouse Day Spa.

Treatment room at Woodhouse Day Spa, Hotel Contessa
Treatment room at Woodhouse Day Spa, Hotel Contessa
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Offering massages, body treatments and skin care services, the Woodhouse Day Spa adds a bit of pampering to your visit, whether visiting for business or pleasure. Chatting with someone on the rental car bus that had also stayed at Hotel Contessa while on business, he raved about his massage at the spa and what a great value it was.

Woodhouse Day Spa lounge room at Hotel Contessa
Woodhouse Day Spa lounge room at Hotel Contessa
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Nearby on the River Walk

Hotel Contessa in the heart of the River Walk
Hotel Contessa in the heart of the River Walk
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

While the majority of the River Walk, and all it has to offer, is within walking distance of Hotel Contessa, several top San Antonio attractions are mere steps from the hotel.

Marriage Island

Marriage Island behind Hotel Contessa
Marriage Island behind Hotel Contessa on the River Walk
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

A 100 year old cypress tree is situated between Hotel Contessa and the river and, over time, the tree’s roots have formed a small island, which has become known as Marriage Island. A popular destination for wedding ceremonies, it is also a beautiful spot to sit and read or watch the River Walk activity.

Briscoe Western Art Museum

Briscoe Western Art Museum, Covered wagon, San Antonio, Texas
Briscoe Western Art Museum, Covered wagon, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The Briscoe Museum is located next door to Hotel Contessa. Named in honor of the late Texas Governor, Dolph Briscoe, Jr., the Briscoe houses a wide variety of American Western art and artifacts.

La Villita Historic Arts Village

La Villita, San Antonio, Texas
La Villita, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Originally settled 300 years ago as one of the city’s first neighborhoods, La Villita was transformed into a historical arts district in 1939. Today, La Villita is home to shops, art galleries, restaurants, statues, and beautiful walkways and plazas.

Rio San Antonio River Cruises

Rio San Antonio River Cruises, San Antonio, Texas
Rio San Antonio River Cruises, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

One of the best ways to experience the River Walk is on a scenic cruise along the river. Along the way, you learn facts and historical information from the guides, while enjoying incredible views of the beautiful city of San Antonio.

River Walk, San Antonio, Texas
River Walk, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Top 5 things we loved about Hotel Contessa

1. Stellar Staff. In a time when many hotels have standardized to a near robotic state, the Hotel Contessa staff, while incredibly efficient, still takes the time to treat guests like guests, with a true focus on hospitality. Everyone we met seemed very proud of their hotel and their city – which is really cool.

2. Unbeatable Location. The hotel is located in a quiet section of the River Walk, just steps away from the shops, restaurants, bars and attractions. We rented a car – and never drove it once. We walked around the River Walk and took a hop-on, hop-off bus to get to further locations around San Antonio.

3. Inviting design. Hotel Contessa is a super cool boutique hotel with clever décor that warmly welcomes visitors into upscale luxury that is doesn’t take itself too seriously. It works.

4. Fabulous food and drinks. Cork Bar is fun and lively and Las Ramblas has one of the best dining locations on the River Walk. But, it really comes down to delivering on the food and drink and everything we sampled was top notch and the best we had while in San Antonio.

5. Spacious accommodations. We love rooms with space to work, have a glass of wine or watch TV, without requiring sitting on the bed while doing so. Hotel Contessa goes way beyond with a comfortable one bedroom apartment-size suite.

 


Disclosure & disclaimer: Special thanks to Hotel Contessa San Antonio for hosting us as their guest. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.

Hotel Contessa entrance
Hotel Contessa San Antonio entrance
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
River Walk, San Antonio, Texas

San Antonio: So much more than the Alamo

San Antonio things to do: River Walk, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull


Mention you are headed to San Antonio and nearly always the reaction is, “Oh, you can visit the Alamo.” Yes, the famous fortress is a mainstay on all “San Antonio things to do” lists, but there is so much more.

In addition to a rich historic past, San Antonio has museums, lively districts, shopping, great dining, outdoor activities and the beautiful River Walk. The second most populated city in Texas is also one the cleanest and most well-cared for cities you’ll find, with fountains, waterfalls, flowers and massive cypress trees around every turn.

San Antonio: Where to stay

Hotel Contessa from the River Walk, San Antonio, Texas
Hotel Contessa from the River Walk, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

When in San Antonio, you, of course, want to stay on the River Walk, but not all locations along the river are the same. A hotel with a perfect spot, close to everywhere you want to be, but also in a quiet segment of River Walk, is Hotel Contessa. An all-suite hotel, Hotel Contessa is a beautiful hotel with large contemporary suites, a rooftop pool and hot tub, spa, a fabulous restaurant and bar, and a stellar staff.


Learn more about Hotel Contessa »


Cork Bar at Hotel Contessa on the River Walk, San Antonio, Texas
Cork Bar at Hotel Contessa on the River Walk, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

San Antonio: Things to do

The River Walk

Marriage Island on the River Walk, San Antonio, Texas
Marriage Island on the River Walk, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

There’s so much to love about the River Walk. Also known as Paseo del Rio, the River Walk is 15 miles of walkways lined with restaurants, bars, hotels, and boutiques, that wind through San Antonio next to the San Antonio River.

River Walk near Arneson River Theatre, San Antonio, Texas
River Walk near Arneson River Theatre, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

A stroll along the River Walk is a visual delight, with bright colors accenting the way as the paths lead to different areas of the city, looping through the downtown and beyond. With towering cypress trees overhead, the paths meander through arched stone bridges and lush gardens as squirrels and birds play in the heart of the city.

Double-Crested Cormorant along the River Walk, San Antonio, Texas
Double-Crested Cormorant along the River Walk, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Rio River Cruises

Casa Rio on the River Walk, San Antonio, Texas
Casa Rio on the River Walk, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

A guided cruise down the San Antonio River is a wonderful way to experience the River Walk while also learning about San Antonio’s history and landmarks.

The narrated boat tours are about 40 minutes and allow visitors to relax and take in the beautiful scenery as they glide along the river in San Antonio’s downtown district. In addition to the tours, Rio Taxi service stops at 39 spots continuously throughout the day. Taxi boats are identified by the checkered flags displayed on the back of the boats.

River cruise, River Walk, San Antonio, Texas
River cruise, River Walk, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

La Villita Historic Arts Village

La Villita, San Antonio, Texas
La Villita, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

One of San Antonio’s first neighborhoods, La Villita was transformed in 1939 and today is a charming arts community located in downtown San Antonio.

La Villita Historic Village, San Antonio, Texas
La Villita Historic Village, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Adjacent to the River Walk and the Arneson River Theatre, La Villita is home to galleries, boutiques, restaurants, plazas and courtyards and hosts many events, festivals and concerts.

La Villita Church, San Antonio, Texas
La Villita Church, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Culinary delights

Cafe Ole on the River Walk, San Antonio, Texas
Cafe Ole on the River Walk, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

San Antonio has a diverse food scene, with culinary options to satisfy every palate. As no visit to Texas is ever complete without at least one Tex-Mex fix, a stop by long time standouts like Mi Tierra is always on the agenda (be sure and get take home pastries from the bakery).

Mi Tierra Cafe and Bakery, Market Square, San Antonio, Texas
Mi Tierra Cafe and Bakery, Market Square, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

But, far from just great Tex-Mex and barbecue, San Antonio’s restaurants are gaining widespread notoriety for their farm to table offerings using fresh local ingredients. Innovative eateries abound in the city, from the growing number of restaurants at Pearl, to the countless River Walk options that deliver creative cuisine against one of the most beautiful dining backdrops around.

Lunch along the River Walk, San Antonio, Texas
Lunch along the River Walk, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Briscoe Western Art Museum

Wells Fargo Stagecoach, The Briscoe Western Art Museum, San Antonio, Texas
Wells Fargo Stagecoach, The Briscoe Western Art Museum, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Named in honor of the late Texas Governor, Dolph Briscoe, Jr., the Briscoe Western Art Museum is a beautiful museum focused on the art, history and culture of the American West.

Saddles, The Briscoe Western Art Museum, San Antonio, Texas
Saddles, The Briscoe Western Art Museum, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Located in the former San Antonio Public Library building along the River Walk, the museum has nine galleries on three levels. Highlights of the collection include Pancho Villa’s saddle, an Alamo diorama, a Wells Fargo Stagecoach and works by Frederic Remington.

Walkara-Hawk of the Mountains, Greg Kelsey, Briscoe Museum, San Antonio, Texas
Walkara-Hawk of the Mountains, Greg Kelsey, Briscoe Museum, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Buckhorn Saloon & Museum and Texas Ranger Museum

The Buckhorn Saloon, San Antonio, Texas
The Buckhorn Saloon, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Seventeen-year-old Albert Friedrich first opened the Buckhorn Saloon in 1881 and soon discovered that patrons liked to partake of a beverage even when their pockets were empty. Coming up with a creative solution, Friedrich began accepting horns and antlers in exchange for drinks in the saloon. Albert married and his bride, Emile, decided jars of rattlesnake rattles would also be a good form of barter for a whiskey or beer. Interesting couple.

Polar bear exhibit, Buckhorn Saloon and Texas Ranger Museum, San Antonio, Texas
Polar bear exhibit, Buckhorn Saloon and Texas Ranger Museum, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

So, the collection grew and grew and grew. Legend has it the Buckhorn is where Teddy Roosevelt recruited Rough Riders and where Pancho Villa planned the Mexican Revolution. Today, the Buckhorn Saloon features over 520 species of wildlife from around the world, displayed in over 40,000 square feet, with multiple museums and attractions under one roof including a Carnival of Curiosities, the American Sideshow and the Texas Ranger Museum.

Wildlife, Buckhorn Saloon and Museum, San Antonio, Texas
Wildlife, Buckhorn Saloon and Museum, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

At the Carnival of Curiosities, Dr. Phineas Phiasco welcomes visitors to the attraction, where curiosities await ranging from a mystery mine where water flows upwards to an elephant the size of a tiny peanut. PT Barnum and Buffalo Bill holograms shares stories at the American Sideshow, which features shrunken heads and two-headed calves.

Buffalo Bill exhibit, Buckhorn Saloon and Texas Ranger Museum, San Antonio, Texas
Buffalo Bill exhibit, Buckhorn Saloon and Texas Ranger Museum, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Mystery Mine, Buckhorn Saloon and Texas Ranger Museum, San Antonio, Texas
Mystery Mine, Buckhorn Saloon and Texas Ranger Museum, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The newest of the exhibits, the Texas Ranger Museum is home to hundreds of Texas Ranger artifacts, a recreation of San Antonio in 1900 called Ranger Town, and a Bonnie and Clyde exhibit with a replica of the couple’s getaway car.

Bonnie and Clyde replica car, Buckhorn Saloon and Museum, San Antonio, Texas
Bonnie and Clyde replica car, Buckhorn Saloon and Museum, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Shopping San Antonio style

Garcia Art Glass, San Antonio, Texas
Garcia Art Glass, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

For those seeking some retail therapy, San Antonio has a vast array of shopping options from boutiques, to galleries, to malls. While large shopping malls can be found throughout sprawling San Antonio, if visiting downtown, Rivercenter Mall is a prime shopping spot, located along the River Walk with over 100 retailers including major department stores, restaurants, a comedy club and an IMAX® theater.

Rivercenter Mall, San Antonio, Texas
Rivercenter Mall, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Market Square – El Mercado

Shopping at Market Square, San Antonio, Texas
Shopping at Market Square, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

El Mercado, or Market Square, is the largest Mexican market in the U.S., with over three blocks of restaurants, shops, and produce stands.

Market Square shops, San Antonio, Texas
Market Square shops, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The place to find everything from decorative items to leather goods to toys, Market Square is a vibrant center celebrating the sights, sounds and flavors of Mexico. In addition to the shops, Market Square has several restaurants and is home to numerous working artists that set up along the plazas creating pottery, jewelry, paintings and other works of art.

El Mercado - Market Square, San Antonio, Texas
El Mercado – Market Square, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Mi Tierra Cafe, Market Square, San Antonio, Texas
Mi Tierra Cafe, Market Square, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

San Fernando Cathedral

The San Fernando Cathedral, San Antonio, Texas
San Fernando Cathedral, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The seat of the archbishop, Cathedral of San Fernando is one of the oldest cathedrals in the United States and the oldest continuously functioning religious community in the State of Texas.

Founded in 1731, the church is located on the west side of the San Antonio’s Main Plaza. The walls of the original church form the sanctuary of the cathedral as it stands today.

San Fernando Cathedral Altar, San Antonio, Texas
San Fernando Cathedral Altar, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The cathedral has played an important part throughout San Antonio’s history. At the Battle of the Alamo, the Mexican army’s General Santa Ana flew a red flag from the church tower to signal no mercy to the Texas Army. The cathedral has also been reported to house the remains of some of the men who died at the Alamo.

A beautiful cathedral, San Fernando is especially brilliant in the twilight just following sunset. For those seeking a bit more modern adaptation, a multimedia video show, involving light being projected onto the structure, is held after dark a few days of the week. The Main Plaza is also home to periodic events, festivals and evenings of music.

San Fernando Cathedral Altar, San Antonio, Texas
San Fernando Cathedral at night, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Pearl Brewery

Texas Transportation Company's Engine #2, Pearl Brewery, San Antonio, Texas
Texas Transportation Company’s Engine #2, Pearl Brewery, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Home to a weekend farmers market, dining, shopping and the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) San Antonio, Pearl is a vibrant neighborhood community located in the area that formerly was the sight of the Pearl Brewing Company. While at Pearl, be sure and stop by Local Coffee, a hot spot in the trendy urban district that serves up premium coffee creations using beans from their own roasting facility, Merit Roasting Co.

Pearl Brewery District, San Antonio, Texas
Pearl Brewery District, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

King Williams Historic District

Nix House in King William Historic District, San Antonio, Texas
Nix House in King William Historic District, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Meandering the tree-lined historic streets of the King Williams District provides a glimpse into San Antonio’s elegant past. Built by affluent German immigrants who originally settled in the area in the 19th century, today the elaborately designed homes of the area are used for cafes, art galleries, and museums, as well as many remain occupied as residences.

King Williams Historic District, San Antonio, Texas
King Williams Historic District, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

While visiting the area, the Edward Steves Homestead, an elegant three story Victorian home built in 1876, is open for tours, allowing a glimpse into life in the late 1800s.

Edward Steves Homestead, San Antonio, Texas
Edward Steves Homestead, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Guenther House

The Guenther House, San Antonio, Texas
The Guenther House, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Also located in the King Williams Historic District, Guenther House is a popular restaurant, museum and store in the former home of Pioneer Flour Mills founder Carl Hilmar Guenther. Built in 1859 as Guenther’s private residence, the Guenther House sits along the San Antonio River in the shadow of the Pioneer Flour Mills and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places in Bexar County, Texas.

Guenther House and Pioneer Flour Mills, San Antonio, Texas
Guenther House and Pioneer Flour Mills, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Blue Star Arts Complex

Blue Star Arts Complex, San Antonio, Texas
Blue Star Arts Complex, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Home to the Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum, art galleries, shops, studios, restaurants and a micro-brewery, the Blue Star Arts Complex is a mixed-use development in former warehouse buildings on the edge of the King Williams Historic District. With over 20 exhibitions each year, featuring both emerging and established artists, Blue Star is the city’s creative hub, enriching and inspiring visitors to explore San Antonio’s contemporary art scene.

Mural near Blue Star, Lead muralists: Jane Madrigan and Jose Cosme, San Antonio, Texas
Mural near Blue Star, Lead muralists: Jane Madrigan and Jose Cosme, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Tower of the Americas

Tower of the Americas, San Antonio, Texas
Tower of the Americas, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Panoramic views of San Antonio await at the 750-foot tall Tower of the Americas in downtown San Antonio. Built in 1968 for the World’s Fair, the Tower of Americas is home to the revolving Chart House Restaurant, an Observation Deck, and a 4D Theater ride.

View of San Antonio, Texas from Tower of the Americas
View of San Antonio, Texas from Tower of the Americas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The Alamo

The Alamo at night, San Antonio, Texas
The Alamo, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

On February 23, 1836, General Antonio López de Santa Anna arrived in San Antonio with his Mexican army, launching an assault on the Alamo Mission. The siege continued for the next 13 days, with the Texians and Tejanos willing to give their lives rather than surrender in a battle they considered to be critical to the defense of not just the Alamo, but the State of Texas.

Courtyard outside Long Barrack, The Alamo, San Antonio, Texas
Courtyard outside Long Barrack, The Alamo, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

On March 6, the Mexican army scaled the walls of the Alamo and the defenders were unable to fend off the final attack. According to historical accounts, nearly all of the estimated 189 to 250 men died in defense of the Alamo. The nearly 20 women and children in the Alamo during the siege were spared.

Today, the Alamo remains hallowed ground serving as a memorial to those who died in their fight for freedom.

The Alamo History Walk, San Antonio, Texas
The Alamo History Walk, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Over 2.5 million people visit the Alamo each year. The complex covers 4.2 acres with a variety of exhibits covering the Texas Revolution and Texas history in addition to the tours of the Shrine. Photography is not permitted inside the buildings and admission is free.

Flowers at The Alamo, San Antonio, Texas
Flowers at The Alamo, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Know before you go

Getting around. We rented a car, drove it to the hotel, and never used it again until we returned to the airport. The River Walk makes the city highly walkable, so bring a pair of comfortable shoes and get out and enjoy San Antonio at your own pace. To get to locations a bit further out, such as Kings Williams District or Pearl Brewery, several hop-on, hop-off buses depart from Alamo Plaza. We used City Sightseeing San Antonio, which covers all the major sites in downtown area and nearby districts.

San Antonio Bcycle, San Antonio, Texas
San Antonio Bcycle, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Other transportation options include water taxis and Bcycle bike sharing, where you can rent a bike at various kiosks throughout downtown and the surrounding neighborhoods to explore the city. Horse drawn carriages are also available in the downtown area.

Horse drawn carriages, San Antonio, Texas
Horse drawn carriages, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Climate

  • In the winter months (December-February), days average in the 60s (62°-67°F/17°-19°C) with lows averaging around 40°F/4°C.
  • The spring months (March-May) are wonderful, with average highs ranging from 74°F-86°F/23°C-30°C and lows normally getting down to 50°F-65°F/10°C-18°C.
  • The summer (June-August) is hot. Highs average 91°F-95°F/33°C-35°C and lows are typically around 73°F/23°C.
  • Fall is beautiful (September-November). While summer tends to hang around in September with highs averaging 90°F/32°C and lows around 69°F/21°C, it soon cools off and by November highs average 71°F/22°C and lows run around 49°F/10°C.

Disclosure & disclaimer: Special thanks to the San Antonio Convention and Visitors Bureau and  Hotel Contessa San Antonio for hosting us as their guest. Additional thanks to City Sightseeing Tours San Antonio, Rio San Antonio Cruises, and Tower of the Americas. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.

Strolling in Chicago, Illinois

My kind of town… Chicago

Cover: Chicago, Illinois skyline
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull


Chicago has always had a fond place in my heart.

My father grew up on the south side of Chicago during the depression and loved telling stories of his Chicago adventures – from falling through the ice while skating on Lake Michigan and hurrying to the Field Museum to warm up, to going a few rounds with Joe Louis on the Midway, to marching into the Stevens Hotel during World War II, and many more that probably shouldn’t make print. All true? In Chicago style – hardly. All great? Absolutely.

As a little girl, we’d travel to Chicago from the small town where we lived in Kansas to visit my uncle and aunt – and it was magical. Uncle Phil and Aunt Hazel would take me to Marshall Field’s and spoil me with treasures, followed by a stop at their favorite bakery, where we’d pick up a huge layer cake. As we’d drive through the city in Phil’s big sedan with the windows down, all the sounds, colors, sights and energy of the city would mesmerize me.

Has the magic worn off for me over the years? Not in the least. Always one of our favorite places to return to, we recently spent a weekend in the Windy City visiting a few of our favorite spots along the way.

Chicago River, Chicago, Illinois
Chicago River, Chicago, Illinois
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

An afternoon stroll

Holy Name Cathedral, seat of the Archdiocese of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
Holy Name Cathedral, seat of the Archdiocese of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Soon after arriving, we headed out for a walk under bright blue spring skies.

Roaming Chicago’s bustling downtown area provides an up close view of Chicago’s beautiful buildings and stunning architecture. As much of Chicago was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire in 1871, the rebuilding resulted in innovative designs not mired in historical tradition and made Chicago home to some of the first modern skyscrapers.

The Chicago Theatre, Chicago, Illinois
The Chicago Theatre, Chicago, Illinois
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Today, Chicago is widely recognized for its landmark buildings of varying styles, with the city frequently voted in polls as having the nation’s best skyline.

Downtown Chicago, Illinois
Downtown Chicago, Illinois
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Finding ourselves on the iconic Wacker Drive, we turned to walk along the famous street that runs along the Chicago River.

The Chicago River, Wacker & Wabash, Chicago, Illinois
The Chicago River, Wacker & Wabash, Chicago, Illinois
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Unique in several ways, Wacker Drive is the only street in Chicago that runs in all directions – winding along the river, it has addresses east, north, south, and west. Wacker Drive is also a multi-level street, with Upper Wacker Drive, Lower Wacker Drive and, in a short portion, Lower Lower Wacker Drive.

Strolling in Chicago, Illinois
Strolling in Chicago, Illinois
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

By mid-afternoon on this Friday, the streets that earlier had been filled with those rushing from lunch in business attire began to relax, transitioning to a more casual environment filled with those seeking a stroll in the sunshine or an afternoon jog.

Bridges of Chicago, Illinois
Bridges of Chicago, Illinois
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

As pleasurable as simply wandering amongst the bridges and buildings was, we decided it was time to visit a few attractions and shortly found ourselves at Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower).

Willis Tower in Chicago, Illinois
Willis Tower in Chicago, Illinois
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Travel tip: Get a CityPASS

Arriving at Willis Tower, we were met with a line that was estimated to be a 3-hour wait before getting access to the Skydeck. Ugh! I spotted a Fast Pass entrance area for those with a CityPASS with no line, so I went to the CityPASS website on my iPhone, bought two passes, and received the confirmation email within one minute. We headed over to the Fast Pass entrance, bypassed the main line, and were on our way to the Skydeck.

In addition to the Skydeck, the Chicago CityPASS allowed us VIP/Fast Pass entry to Shedd Aquarium, The Field Museum, a choice of the Art Institute or the Adler Planetarium, and a choice between 360 Chicago at the John Hancock Tower or the Museum of Science and Industry for $98 per adult, which would have been $208 in regular admission fees. What a sweet deal!


Willis Tower (Sear Tower) Skydeck

View of Chicago from the Skydeck at Willis Tower
View of Chicago from the Skydeck at Willis Tower
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Located on the western edge of Chicago’s Loop, the Sears Tower was completed in 1973, topping out at 1,451 feet (442 meters), making it the tallest building in the world at the time – a title it held for 25 years.

Skydeck Chicago at Willis Tower, Chicago, Illinois
Skydeck Chicago at Willis Tower, Chicago, Illinois
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

In 2009, the tower was renamed to Willis Tower, but is still commonly referred to as Sears Tower. Now the 8th tallest building in the world, Willis Tower is the second tallest building in the western hemisphere and offers amazing views of Chicago from the Skydeck on the 103rd floor.

Chicago from the Skydeck Chicago, Willis Tower, Chicago, Illinois
Chicago from the Skydeck Chicago, Willis Tower, Chicago, Illinois
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The Ledge at the Skydeck offers visitors the chance to stand in a glass box 1,353 feet over Wacker Drive. Each of the four clear glass boxes extends out 4.3 feet from the Skydeck, providing unobstructed views of the city and the streets below.

Navy Pier

Navy Pier & Chicago Children's Museum, Chicago, Illinois
Navy Pier & Chicago Children’s Museum, Chicago, Illinois
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Originally opened in 1916 for shipping and recreation along the shores of Lake Michigan, Navy Pier is a 3,300 foot (1,010 meters) pier that has grown into the #1 leisure destination spot in the Midwest, with nearly nine million visitors annually.

Family Pavilion, Navy Pier, Chicago, Illinois
Family Pavilion, Navy Pier, Chicago, Illinois
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Navy Pier, Chicago, Illinois
Navy Pier, Chicago, Illinois
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Home to a variety of restaurants ranging from sit-down dining to food court fare, Navy Pier also has parks, gardens, shops, and other attractions and entertainment options including the Navy Pier Ferris Wheel, sightseeing tours, dinner cruises, Crystal Gardens and an IMAX theater.

The Crystal Gardens, Navy Pier, Chicago, Illinois
The Crystal Gardens, Navy Pier, Chicago, Illinois
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

We stopped by for a beer and a bite at Harry Caray’s Tavern Navy Pier, one of the seven popular dining spots around the city bearing the name of the famous Chicago Cubs announcer.

Harry Caray's Tavern, Navy Pier, Chicago, Illinois
Harry Caray’s Tavern, Navy Pier, Chicago, Illinois
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Water Tower Place and The Magnificent Mile

North Michigan Avenue, The Magnificent Mile, Chicago, Illinois
North Michigan Avenue, The Magnificent Mile, Chicago, Illinois
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Luxury is ever apparent on the Magnificent Mile. One of the most opulent 13 blocks on the planet, the Magnificent Mile is a stretch of North Michigan Avenue from the Chicago River to the Oaks Street on the north, filled with 460 stores, 275 restaurants, 60 hotels and a wide variety of entertainment options.

Water Tower Place at night, Chicago, Illinois
Magnificent Mile at night, Chicago, Illinois
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Anchoring the north end of the Mag Mile is the Water Tower Place shopping mall, named after the nearby Old Chicago Water Tower District. Built in 1869 to conceal a standpipe that held water, the Chicago Water Tower was one of the few buildings to survive the Great Chicago Fire – and is still standing today.

Water Tower Place, Chicago, Illinois
Water Tower Place, Chicago, Illinois
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The Field Museum

The Field Museum, Chicago, Illinois
The Field Museum, Chicago, Illinois
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

One of the largest natural history museums in the world, The Field Museum was established in 1893 to house the exhibits and collections from the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.

Originally called The Columbian Museum of Chicago, the name was soon changed to recognize its major benefactor, Marshall Field, founder of the Chicago-based department store chain Marshall Field’s.

The Field Museum, Chicago, Illinois
The Field Museum, Chicago, Illinois
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Throughout its history, The Field Museum has brought a view of the world and its peoples to the museum to enable visitors to explore the past and present world and its cultural diversity.

Exhibits at The Field Museum, Chicago, Illinois
Exhibits at The Field Museum, Chicago, Illinois
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

A highlight of the museum is Sue, the largest Tyrannosaurus rex ever discovered. Measuring 42 feet long, she has 58 teeth and holds court front and center in the museum’s atrium.

Sue the T. rex at The Field Museum, Chicago, Illinois
Sue the T. rex at The Field Museum, Chicago, Illinois
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Shedd Aquarium

Shedd Aquarium, Chicago, Illinois
Shedd Aquarium, Chicago, Illinois
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Known as “The World’s Aquarium,” the John G. Shedd Aquarium opened in 1930 and, to this day, is one of the largest indoor aquariums in the world.

Penguins, Shedd Aquarium, Chicago, Illinois
Penguins, Shedd Aquarium, Chicago, Illinois
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The Shedd has more than doubled in size since its inception, growing to 480,500 square feet with the addition of the Abbott Oceanarium and Wild Reef.

Home to 32,000 animals representing more than 1,500 species of fish, reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates, birds and mammals from waters around the world, the Shedd is a not-to-be-missed spot, especially for families with children.

Shedd Aquarium, Chicago, Illinois
Shedd Aquarium, Chicago, Illinois
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Art Institute of Chicago

The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Founded as both a museum and school for the fine arts in 1879, the Art Institute of Chicago has grown to house nearly 300,000 works of art, with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum of the Art Institute of Chicago internationally recognized leading fine-arts institutions in the United States.

A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, Georges Seurat, Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, Georges Seurat, Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Well-known for its fabulous Impressionist and Post-Impressionist collection, the Art Institute also has a broad selection of American art, Old Masters, and contemporary art.

Elizabeth - Like the Queen, Andy Warhol, Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
Elizabeth – Like the Queen, Andy Warhol, Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

One of the most visited museums in the world, the Art Institute welcomes 1.5 million visitors each year to its one million square feet of space spanning eight buildings.

Nighthawks, Edward Hopper, Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
Nighthawks, Edward Hopper, Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

In addition to housing one of the finest collections in the country, the museum regularly hosts guest exhibitions. On our most recent visit, the museum presented Van Gogh’s Bedroom exhibition, which brings together all three versions of The Bedroom for the first time in North America.

Van Gogh's Bedroom Exhibit, Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
Van Gogh’s Bedroom Exhibit, Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Morning stroll along the lake

Lake Michigan, Chicago, Illinois
Lake Michigan, Chicago, Illinois
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

A walk or run along Lake Michigan is the perfect start to any day in Chicago.

With spectacular views of the city and the sound of the lake splashing against the shore, the 18-mile multi-use path running along the eastern edge of Grant Park and continuing along the Lake Michigan shoreline, is a beautiful way to start your day.

A Sunday afternoon in Chicago, Illinois
A Sunday afternoon in Chicago, Illinois
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

360 Chicago at John Hancock Center

360 Chicago at John Hancock Center, Chicago, Illinois
360 Chicago at John Hancock Center, Chicago, Illinois
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

We ended our Chicago visit at 360 Chicago on the 94th floor of John Hancock Center.

It had started to rain and we questioned if we should go or not. We decided yes. We were rewarded with a nearly vacant Sunday night experience observing the city as it wound down from the weekend under the cover of clouds.

Night view, 360 Chicago Observation Deck, John Hancock Center, Chicago, Illinois
Night view, 360 Chicago Observation Deck, John Hancock Center, Chicago, Illinois
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

We wandered over to Tilt and watched as about half of the evening’s visitors decided to try out the glass and steel moveable platform that tilts visitors to an angle, with downward-facing views of Chicago and the Magnificent Mile.

Tilt at 360 Chicago at John Hancock Center, Chicago, Illinois
Tilt at 360 Chicago at John Hancock Center, Chicago, Illinois
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Wandering over to the bar, we grabbed a couple of vodka sodas, selected a table (they all have stunning views), and relaxed as we enjoyed our elevated happy hour above the windy, and tonight rainy, city.

Know before you go

Fly into Midway if you can. Located on the southwest side of Chicago, Midway is smaller than O’Hare, is closer to the city, and sees far fewer delays than busier O’Hare.

Bring your walking shoes. Chicago is very walkable, so put on some comfortable shoes, get some exercise, and enjoy the view.

Don’t put ketchup on your hotdog. A Chicago dog (and yes, veggie dogs are widely available) includes mustard, onions, slices of tomato, relish, peppers and a dill pickle slice. Chicagoans have strong feelings about ketchup and hotdogs – just don’t go there.

There’s wind chill and then there’s Chicago’s wind chill. Chicago didn’t earn the nickname “The Windy City” by accident. When the wind blows across Lake Michigan, it feels much colder than the actual temperature. If visiting any time other than summer, be prepared to bundle up.

"The Strip" Las Vegas Blvd at night, Las Vegas, Nevada

24 hours in Las Vegas

Cover: “The Strip” Las Vegas Blvd at night, Las Vegas, Nevada
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures @Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull


If ever there was a city designed to make only 24 hours for a visit not only doable but also enjoyable, it’s Las Vegas.

24 hours in Las Vegas
24 hours in Las Vegas
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

With 15 of the world’s largest 25 hotels located on the 4 miles of Las Vegas Boulevard known as the Strip, a vast array of restaurants, casinos, shopping, and entertainment options are available for non-stop amusement.

The Paris Las Vegas Eiffel Tour at night, Las Vegas, Nevada
The Paris Las Vegas Eiffel Tour at night, Las Vegas, Nevada
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

While the average visitor to Sin City stays about three days, sometimes one night in the city where the party never ends is all the schedule allows, requiring some prioritization to make the most of the adventure. How would we spend our time between touchdown and wheels up – almost exactly 24 hours in Las Vegas? We turned to some tried and true favorites from our many previous visits, while still working in some time for our favorite activity in any city – wandering.

Here’s how it went…

1:00 pm Lunch at Mon Ami Gabi

After a quick cab ride to the hotel, we checked in and dropped our bags in the room. Most hotels have a 4:00pm check in time in Vegas, but hotels will either hold your bags in storage or some offer an early check-in option for a fee, which ours offered. We decided we didn’t want to have to worry about coming back to the hotel to deal with checking in later and opted for early check-in.

Mon Ami Gabi, Paris, Las Vegas, Nevada
Mon Ami Gabi, Paris, Las Vegas, Nevada
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Bags settled in the room, we were hungry and headed out for lunch at one of our favorite patios, Mon Ami Gabi at Paris Las Vegas. A great spot for people watching and viewing the fountains across the street at Bellagio, Mon Ami Gabi also delivers some fine French bistro fare.

Mon Ami Gabi, Las Vegas, Nevada
Mon Ami Gabi, Las Vegas, Nevada
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

2:30 pm Shopping at Bellagio

Las Vegas, Nevada
Las Vegas, Nevada
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Deciding we needed to do some walking to work off lunch, we headed over to Bellagio for a stroll.

Bellagio, Las Vegas, Nevada
Bellagio, Las Vegas, Nevada
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Built in 1998 at an original cost of $1.6 billion, Bellagio is an exquisite hotel inspired by Italy’s village of Bellagio near Lake Como. Elegance abounds at the resort with art collections and stunning décor throughout, including over 2,000 hand blown glass flowers by Dale Chihuly that cover the ceiling of the lobby.

Dale Chihuly glass, Lobby ceiling, Bellagio, Las Vegas, Nevada
Dale Chihuly glass, Lobby ceiling, Bellagio, Las Vegas, Nevada
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

On the north side of the hotel, Bellagio offers the finest in shopping with elaborate hallways lined with luxury brands such as Tiffany, Valentino, Prada, Louis Vuitton, Hermès, Giorgio Armani, Gucci, and many more.

Shopping at Bellagio, Las Vegas, Nevada
Shopping at Bellagio, Las Vegas, Nevada
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

After some intense decision making (black or brown?), we left with a new bag in tow, then headed to Caesar’s for a spin around the casino.

Shopping at Bellagio Las Vegas, Las Vegas, Nevada
Shopping at Bellagio Las Vegas, Las Vegas, Nevada
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

3:30 A visit to Caesars Palace

Caesars Palace Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas, Nevada
Caesars Palace Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas, Nevada
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

A classic that continues to update itself, Caesars has been located on the corner of Flamingo and Las Vegas Blvd in the heart of the Las Vegas Strip since 1966. Built by Jay Sarno, who wanted to have guests experience life as Caesar would have, the hotel is complete with palaces, statues, and opulence.

Having stayed at Caesars multiple times over the years, one of our favorite memories was staying in one of the round room suites in the old Roman Tower just before it was remodeled. Complete with a round bed and lots of red velvet, we jokingly checked the room to make sure the ghost of Elvis wasn’t hiding in one of the closets.

Caesar, Caesars Palace Las Vegas Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas, Nevada
Caesar, Caesars Palace Las Vegas Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas, Nevada
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Still one of our favorite hotels in Las Vegas, Caesars has grown to a massive resort with nearly 4,000 rooms and suites in six towers, a wide variety of restaurants and bars, a 166,000 square foot casino, The Coliseum at Caesars Palace, and The Forum Shops. All that shopping and walking left us parched, and it was 5:00, so that meant… cocktail time.

5:00 pm Martinis at Gordon Ramsay’s Steak

Vegas has no shortage of beautiful bars offering delightful libations. With only one night in town, selection of our happy hour destination deserved careful consideration. Should we unwind at the captivating Seahorse Bar at Caesars, which boasts actual sea horses in their aquarium?

Seahorse Bar, Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, Nevada
Seahorse Bar, Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, Nevada
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Mesa Grill, Bobby Flay’s first restaurant outside of New York which opened in 2004, has a beautiful bar and serves up some incredible southwestern cuisine.

Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill, Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, Nevada
Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill, Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, Nevada
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Or, perhaps some chill time at the sleek bar at Martorano’s?

Martorano’s, Las Vegas, Nevada
Martorano’s, Las Vegas, Nevada
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures ©Chasing Light Media

So many tantalizing options, but the winner tonight – the lounge at Gordon Ramsay’s Steak at Paris.

Gordon Ramsay Steak, Las Vegas, Nevada
Gordon Ramsay Steak, Las Vegas, Nevada
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Sipping lemon drop martinis under the neon-lit ceiling adorned with a rendition of the Union Jack Flag brought back fond memories of celebrating a milestone birthday with the tasting menu in the restaurant a few years earlier, just after it had opened.

Ramsay’s chic London invasion of Vegas in Paris specializes in Ramsay’s classics, including the legendary Sticky Toffee Pudding.

Martinis at Gordon Ramsay Steak, Las Vegas, Nevada
Martinis at Gordon Ramsay Steak, Las Vegas, Nevada
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

6:30 pm A twilight stroll down the Strip

Early evening in Las Vegas, Nevada
Early evening in Las Vegas, Nevada
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Heading toward the south end of The Strip just as the sun began to set, we joined the crowds taking in the sights and sounds on the wide sidewalks lining the boulevard. Magicians entertained, singers performed, and thousands of people roamed between the casinos, shops, restaurants, and bars.

Street performers along the Strip, Las Vegas, Nevada
Street performers along the Strip, Las Vegas, Nevada
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

While the Las Vegas mega-resorts are impressive against the brilliant blue Nevada skies of the day, Vegas doesn’t really come alive until those millions of lights begin to twinkle. As we approached the Monte Carlo, which has occupied its place on Las Vegas Boulevard since 1996, the sun quietly disappeared leaving a brilliant blue hue in its wake.

Monte Carlo, Las Vegas, Nevada
Monte Carlo, Las Vegas, Nevada
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Like many of the hotels, which have expanded their presence in front of the hotels toward the Strip in recent years, Monte Carlo added BLVD Plaza in 2014, with multiple casual restaurant and bars.

Cantina Diablo, Monte Carlo, Las Vegas, Nevada
Cantina Diablo, Monte Carlo, Las Vegas, Nevada
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures ©Chasing Light Media

Next door, New York New York recreates the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, the CBS Building, and nine other of New York City’s most famous skyscrapers, with each hotel tower reaching a height approximately one-third the size of its inspiration. A replica of the Brooklyn Bridge leads into the hotel, casino, and shops.

Brooklyn Bridge, New York - New York Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas, Nevada
Brooklyn Bridge, New York – New York Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas, Nevada
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
New York New York, Las Vegas, Nevada
New York New York, Las Vegas, Nevada
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

And, of course, Lady Liberty welcomes visitors from around the world at the entrance.

Statue of Liberty at New York New York in Las Vegas, Nevada
Statue of Liberty at New York New York in Las Vegas, Nevada
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Near the southern end of the Strip, King Arthur holds Court at the Camelot-themed Excalibur, which glows magically each night.

Excalibur, Las Vegas, Nevada
Excalibur, Las Vegas, Nevada
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Across the intersection, the MGM Grand has been attracting visitors worldwide since 1993.

MGM Grand, Las Vegas, Nevada
MGM Grand, Las Vegas, Nevada
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The third largest hotel in the world based on the number of rooms, MGM Grand has over 5000 rooms and suites and is home to the largest casino in Clark County, the county where Las Vegas is located. Originally built with a Wizard of Oz theme, which included the yellow brick road, Dorothy and the rest of the Oz characters, the resort has evolved over the years to a more old-Hollywood, deco vibe.

MGM Grand, Las Vegas, Nevada
MGM Grand, Las Vegas, Nevada
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Heading back toward the north, the frenzy of Las Vegas was all around us. From flips flops to stilettos, from wedding dresses to pajamas, the crowds converge in search of lady luck along the famous boulevard. To that note, Vegas is a town that is best to walk if possible – even the hotel next door is always quite a distance away – so, bring your walking shoes, stop at each hotel for a bit of rest.

An evening on the Strip, Las Vegas, Nevada
An evening on the Strip, Las Vegas, Nevada
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Bellagio at night, Las Vegas, Nevada
Bellagio at night, Las Vegas, Nevada
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Arriving back at Bellagio, we gazed at Bally’s and Paris shimmering against a sky complete with a full moon and decided we should go check out the Eiffel Tower’s observation deck.

Ballys, Paris, Planet Hollywood, Las Vegas, Nevada
Ballys, Paris, Planet Hollywood, Las Vegas, Nevada
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

30 minutes later Vegas was at our feet.

8:30 pm Eiffel Tour Experience

“The Strip” Las Vegas Blvd at night, Las Vegas, Nevada
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

A half-scale replica of the famous Paris landmark, the Vegas version of the La Tour Eiffel offers the opportunity to see the city from a bird’s eye view, 46 stories above the Strip. Following a glass-elevator ride to the top, the Eiffel Tour Experience offers amazing 360-degree views of the city.

An open-air, caged deck, the platform has holes approximately the size of a camera lens placed at intervals around the platform for capturing stunning images of Las Vegas in all directions.

Bellagio and Caesars Palace from the Eiffel Tower Experience, Las Vegas, Nevada
Bellagio and Caesars Palace from the Eiffel Tower Experience, Las Vegas, Nevada
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

9:30 pm Dinner at Spago

Paris Las Vegas casino, Las Vegas, Nevada
Paris Las Vegas casino, Las Vegas, Nevada
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Arriving back down to the casino floor, we considered a bit of blackjack, but opted for dinner instead, with pizza definitely on the evening’s agenda.

Spago - Las Vegas
Spago – Las Vegas
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

One of our favorite pizza places has long been Spago’s, so off we went to Caesars Palace. Located in the Forum Shops, we asked for a spot on the patio for some late evening people watching and mushroom pizza. As we enjoyed our Italian pie and some vino, we discussed spots we hadn’t been in a while and decided that a bit of blackjack was now definitely in order and we should pay Rio and their Carnival in the Sky a visit in the process.

11:00 pm Games of chance at Rio

Grabbing a cab, we arrived at Rio just after 11:00 pm and quickly headed over to the Masquerade Tower casino in hopes we weren’t too late to catch the last show of the night.

The Carnival in the Sky began in 1997, with Mardi Gras-style floats circulating above the casino floor hourly, as dancers would toss beads to those below and to crowds on the balconies surrounding the casino.

Arriving, it seemed oddly quiet in the casino. The tracks where the floats circulated were still on the ceiling, but that was about it. A quick Google search and – oh no! We were late – by more than a few years. The show had stopped in March 2013.

Rio, Las Vegas, Nevada
Rio, Las Vegas, Nevada
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Bummer! We went back over to the more lively main casino to try our hand at a few table games, and then called it a night.

8:30 am Starbucks & a morning walk

Since we’d covered the southern end of the Strip the previous night, a hike up north was on the morning’s agenda. After grabbing a chai and muffin, we began our urban trek.

The Venetian is an all-suites hotel, with over 4,000 luxury suites in the main building and another 3,000 in the Palazzo wing of the hotel.

The Venetian, Las Vegas, Nevada
The Venetian, Las Vegas, Nevada
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Complete with a replica of St Marks Tower and a restaurant and boutique-lined Grand Canal, gondoliers offer rides both inside and outside the hotel.

Grand Canal Shoppes, The Venetian, Las Vegas, Nevada
Grand Canal Shoppes, The Venetian, Las Vegas, Nevada
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Further north, Wynn, Encore, the Stratosphere and the Fashion Show Mall awaited, but our time was running short.

Fashion Show Mall, Stratosphere, Encore, Wynn, Las Vegas, Nevada
Fashion Show Mall, Stratosphere, Encore, Wynn, Las Vegas, Nevada
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

10:00 am Last stop – The Forum Shops

The Forum Shops at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, Nevada
The Forum Shops at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, Nevada
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Arriving back at The Forum Shops entrance, we had a choice – continue down the street or take a “shortcut” through the mall and Caesars.

Home to more 636,000 square feet/59,100 square meters) of retail shops, restaurants, and a large collection of luxury boutiques ranging from Cartier to Channel to Versace, it is reported to be the highest grossing mall in the United States – with sales per square foot exceeding Rodeo Drive and the Magnificent Mile in Chicago.

Talking Statues, Fountains, and Aquariums at The Forum Shops at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, Nevada
Talking Statues, Fountains, and Aquariums at The Forum Shops at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, Nevada
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Following a couple of stops to watch the fountains and talking statues and a quick swing through the Apple store, we made our way to the hotel, retrieved the bags and grabbed a cab.

Caesars Palace, Forum Shops, Las Vegas, Nevada
Caesars Palace, Forum Shops, Las Vegas, Nevada
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Getting to the airport early in Vegas is a must – even with TSA Pre√ the lines can be excruciating at times – and it left us enough time to stop by Sammy’s.

11:30 am Lunch at Sammy’s Beach Bar at the airport

While some may know that Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, Sammy Hagar owns the Cabo Wabo Cantinas and a popular tequila company, many may have not made the connection when they walked by Sammy’s Beach Bar & Grill in Terminal C at McCarran.

Sammy's Beach Bar, McCarran Airport, Las Vegas, Nevada
Sammy’s Beach Bar, McCarran Airport, Las Vegas, Nevada
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

With fresh, tasty food and friendly, quick service, Sammy’s is a good choice for lunch at the airport. Add in that, as the menu states, “Sammy has dedicated his profits from this restaurant to local community children’s charities. Sammy wants you to enjoy a great meal, great drink and know that together we can make a difference!”

After a beer, some fabulous nachos, and a huge salad, we grabbed our bags and walked back over to our terminal, ready for our next adventure.

Until next time – Viva Las Vegas!

Las Vegas from the air
Las Vegas from the air
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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