Planning a Beach Vacation with Kids

One of the things my kids look forward to at the end of the school year is a summer vacation. They know that they have to rest after whirlwind schedules filled with after-school sports, homework assignments, and studying for exams. While most of our beach trips are during the peak summer season, our schedule doesn’t always allow it. We started our family trips back in 2005, when my youngest was just 1. My husband and I felt that not only can these trips be educational, but it was great bonding time for us as a family. Here are our tips for a really awesome beach trip:

  1. Plan early. I am planner. I love seeing new areas in the country or out! While we haven’t quite got to the latter yet, the sooner you know that a vacation is going to happen, start planning. Determine what you like to do as a family (which beaches do you want to see? What other activities are there away from beach time?). If we take a spring vacation, we book early fall-December. If it’s summertime, we usually book by February or March. If the location is popular (say, Florida), you don’t want to book any later than March. This includes any activities you want to indulge in during your vacation too!


  1. Choose a budget. This is a probably the most important step for families. The budget often determines how long your family may stay and how far you travel. According to the website, people will travel anywhere from 2-5 days.


  1. Go in the off-season. If your time schedule allows, go during off-season (this varies by destination).  Not only are rates cheaper, but certain lodging can be more doable than in the summer. April and May have been great times for us to go on an early summer vacation in the past. Be aware that February and March are usually Spring Break months for college students in the U.S.


  1. Choose the extra space. As our kids have gotten older (they’re 12 and 15), it has been beneficial to pay a little extra for a condo. Not only is it nice to be across the condo (or even upstairs!), no one wants to step on each other. Besides, the extra bathroom is a Godsend when multiple people have to get ready to go to dinner. In 30 minutes. (Note: If your family chooses the condo route, you may be able to combine steps 3 & 4 for the best deal. Condo owners usually will let you take a 5-day vacation in April, but are often firm on 7 days after Memorial Day ends).


  1. Buy your summer essentials during Labor Day or Christmas sales. Or while you’re still on vacation. This may sound funny to some of my readers, but we have had to do this. Just as with summer sales trying to get rid of the season’s merchandise, why not load up on that smaller suitcase or beach towels you’ve been needing too? (And socks. My kids never have enough socks. Yes, even in summer!)


  1. “There’s an app for that.” If I’m going to search for our next favorite beach spot, there’s always a website and its mobile equivalent. Two that I have been using for years are TripAdvisor and Yelp. Not only do I appreciate the reviews of both, but TripAdvisor also tells you how many miles it takes to get to your destination and also what’s around you. Others we use are, (for hotel reviews and pictures), Gogobot (for travel locale ideas), and for,,, and (limited; as there are not properties in all states).


  1. Purchase passports, if necessary. Depending on where your destination is, a passport may be a requirement. Most islands in the Caribbean need visitors to have one (16 and above), but not the U.S. Virgin Islands or Puerto Rico.


  1. Be a repeat visitor. Liked your trip to the Gulf Coast? Maybe you’re short on time and can’t stay as long on the next trip? See if the condo owner or manager offers future stay discounts. Most hotel chains (like Hilton) also have loyalty programs that can help you save a little too. Also, check into the kids’ programs if available!


Although planning a vacation can be time-consuming, it’s all worth it. Plan early, pick a budget and a location, and get ready to create memories. Don’t forget your camera!























Exploring the Food Scene in Ocean Springs, Mississippi

While the Biloxi/Gulfport area is fairly well-known, I’m a fan of the little gems that few people outside the area know about. In this case, I’m talking about the artsy town of Ocean Springs, Mississippi. The town, east of Biloxi and connected by the Biloxi Bay Bridge, is great for a weekend stay. It’s a few hours drive from my home base, but very doable if “getting out of town” is on the agenda. My family and I recently made the trip one weekend in May. The first place we stopped was on the very busy Washington Avenue. This tree-lined street has many adorable little shops and my favorite place for dessert, French Kiss Pastries (714 Washington Avenue; 228-215-1160). The shop is small, but the desserts (we sampled eclairs and German Chocolate Cake), are rich and flavorful. Besides the cookies and cakes, there is also gelato and the infamous Louisiana-based Community coffee.

Ocean Springs’ beaches are a lot less crowded than Biloxi or Gulfport. We spent an afternoon at Fort Maurepas Park (at the end of Washington Avenue) before trying Leo’s Wood-fired Pizza (1107 Government St, 228-872-7283). This restaurant is a great place to have an early dinner. It’s deliciously Italian. Seating is indoors or out; most head outside to the courtyard. The courtyard has a small bar and televisions, and of course, over 20 beers beer on tap. The pizzas are thin-crusted and named after celebrities (my favorite is the Frank Sinatra). After dinner, we walked around downtown. The people of Ocean Springs are very friendly. Some shops may still be open to u, or do what we did and take the kids for a treat at the “Hot Light” (Krispy Kreme) afterwards. Unfortunately for us, we missed Ocean Springs’ favorite place for donuts, Tato-nut (1114 Government St, 228-872-2076). They are either closed or were renovating when we come through town. If anyone gets here, please let me know how your visit went!

Of course, you can’t spend some time on the coast and not have some delicious seafood. One of the first restaurants we ever tried was McElroy’s on the Bayou (705 Bienville Blvd. 228-818-4600). Literally right off the bridge, McElroy’s is a casual, family-friendly establishment with a great view. Everything from shrimp po-boys to flounder to soft-shell crab is here. If you can, save some room for the gumbo stew. 🙂 There is a kids’ menu available if needed. Other great seafood suggestions are Anthony’s Under the Oaks (1217 Washington Avenue, 228-872-4564) and BB’s Po-boys and Seafood (1300 Bienville Blvd, 228-875-2702). The restaurants have only dinner (5 pm-9 pm) or lunchtime hours (11am-3pm) respectively.

Wherever your trip along the Gulf Coast takes you, there is sure to be something you haven’t tried. Start with the food!

Taking a Bite Out of the Big Easy in 36 Hours


If  I were to give one piece of advice to the first-time traveler to New Orleans, it’s that the city is a food mecca. There are well over 1,000 restaurants to choose from and undoubtedly, you wouldn’t have to eat the same meal twice. Po-boys (or poor-boy sandwich), fresh seafood, steak, even sushi can be sought out (and please, don’t forget the beignets!). I literally spent about three weeks before my birthday searching for the best restaurants because there is no shortage of a good meal in New Orleans. It just depends on the traveler’s budget and their preferred tastes.

On the blog today, I wanted to share with you our culinary travels during those 36 hours. Of course, we did other things but since most of my travels revolve around the activity of eating, I know that readers could probably relate. 🙂

New Orleans is about a 3.5 hour trip for us, so we arrived right around lunchtime. After we checked into our hotel (we picked one in the middle of the French Quarter so that we could go Uptown or to Bourbon Street if we wanted) my husband and I set out for lunch.

Day 1

We chose Oceana Grill because we really wanted a shrimp po-boy. Again, there are numerous places for this dish and we will probably try a completely new place when we return in July. I did not mind Oceana Grill based on the reviews. But the restaurant itself was small and the po-boys took us by surprise. My husband, being a native Louisianan, loves his po-boys “dressed” and with popcorn shrimp. The shrimp po-boys here had large shrimp (at least 6) with sliced onions and coleslaw added on the bread. For dessert, we shared a Bananas Foster cake. It was very yummy, but more a drink with said bananas foster and cake mixed in.

Later on in the afternoon, we went to Café Du Monde. “The” world-famous beignet stand is all over the metropolitan area not just the original location on Decatur Street.  We tried one in Metarie, about a fifteen-minute drive from the downtown area. The beignets are good regardless of location and always come in an order of three. There is never too much powdered sugar either.

To be perfectly honest, we still weren’t quite sure where we were going to dinner by the end of the night. Our trek started out going toward Jackson Square, but we walked a few blocks and decided with night falling fast, to stop into Mr. B’s Bistro. This upscale restaurant was one of the highlights of our trip. The lighting was dim and romantic and the staff was very attentive. During my research, Mr. B’s customers raved about the garlic truffle fries. They weren’t lying. The fries were just the right amount of crispy, topped with cheese and truffle oil. My husband also had their seafood gumbo which proved to be good in helping finish off the fries. 🙂

While we might have gone to the famous Pat O’s on our first visit back in 2001, this time we elected to go across the street to the elegant Hotel Monteleone’s Carousel Bar for drinks. The hotel itself is gorgeous (we spent some time after drinks reading up on the history of the hotel) and the bar was fun. The carousel seats revolved every 14 minutes. The French 007, one of their signature drinks was delicious and lemony. Their Vieux Carre had “quite the kick” according to my husband.

Day 2

Although the strawberry is the native fruit, I wondered why the banana couldn’t also share the prize. I am a fan of all things bananas foster. Breakfast at The Ruby Slipper (so-named as a tribute “to coming back home” after Hurricane Katrina) was no different. Their specialty, bananas foster pain, was a delicious French toast with the added bonus of raisins. My husband’s breakfast of choice? Cheesecake-filled French toast topped with mixed berry compote. It was a decent meal in a low-key environment.

Our plans changed after finally making it to Jackson Square. As I wanted to take a tour on one of the historic streetcars to the Garden District, we never made it to that section of the city. After heading out to City Park for most of the afternoon, our last stop in our culinary adventure was the piece de resistanceNola.

Nola is the less formal restaurant in Emeril Lagasse’s chain of restaurants. It is no less elegant, however. We were elevatored up to the second floor dining room, which had large windows overseeing the colored buildings next door. The meal and staff were wonderful from start to finish. Water glasses were always filled, the yeast rolls were some of the best either of us had ever eaten, and “Miss Hay’s chicken wings” with a side of hoisin sauce? They have been the only appetizer on the menu that hasn’t changed in the restaurant’s 24-year history. I wanted a second order just to take home with me! If you read my list from last week, you know that one of my favorite steak restaurants is in Florida. The steak I had at Nola could very well be tied for first. It was tender and had a very yummy sauce added to it that made the dish. While I’m still daydreaming about this wonderful meal, I also advise on trying Nola’s Banana Cream Pie. It was certainly one of my most memorable meals to date!

Do you have any favorite culinary adventures?





Three Things Eating Carne Asada Burritos Taught Me About Life

In the summer of 2009, my husband and I took a trip to San Diego, California. Other than a layover in Los Angeles, I’d never been to the West Coast before. (This trip was partially so I could see what my husband was up to during his Marine Corps days). I hopped off the plane and automatically loved seeing palm trees and sunshine. The scenery was a lot different than what I was used to in the airports from my East Coast trips.

For months leading up to our visit, my husband swore he wanted me to try his favorite Mexican chain, Alberto’s. They had the best carne asada burritos according to him. I was never a burrito fan, but wanted to indulge him. Unfortunately, after driving around one night from Temecula’s wine country, we never did find one. So we went back to our temporary apartment in the Gaslamp. (The Gaslamp is the place to eat and do things). Being that is was near 10 pm on a Sunday, we walked around trying to find a Mexican restaurant that just happened to be open. The nightlife was in full swing, if people screaming on the sidewalk and loud music from nearby venues was any indication. The restaurant, of which I can’t recall the name, changed my life. Not surprisingly, we were the only ones in the dimly-lit space. The radio was on as we quickly ordered carne asada burritos and margaritas. The order came out lightning-fast and the first bite of the carne asada burrito I couldn’t tell under the red lights of our table if my husband was pleased or just curiously awaiting my reaction. As I continued eating, the sensation hit me. The “this is nothing to write home about” moments led to the “What in the hell just happened?” moment. Somewhere along the way, my taste buds changed my mind about carne asada burritos.  They were phenomenal with a capital P.

Life is the same way. When you feel stuck in your life, what makes you feel good? What moments like my new love for carne asada burritos have you just stopping in your tracks and thinking “Why haven’t I taken up surfing/crocheting/ parasailing/ drama class sooner? One of the first clues in life about taking on something new is that it often unexpected. These are the “go” moments that tell your heart when to begin. A lot of people (myself included) often claim we don’t know where to begin. I had been eating Mexican food since I was a child and never recalled tasting Mexican this yummy. In addition, I found something wonderful in something so simple. We never know when we get up in the morning when something or someone will change our lives. The crazy thing is sometimes, the new event even happens in weird Stay open to the odd, funny, or even embarrassing ways that the universe will say “Yes!”

I’m not sure how we missed Alberto’s as they appear to be all over the San Diego area. However, I’m kind of glad we went to the Gaslamp restaurant instead. 🙂