Valley of Fire

May 4, 2015
valley-of-fire-stack

Valley of Fire State Park is a must-see if you have time while you’re in Las Vegas. It is just about an hour north of Las Vegas and provides jaw-dropping rock formations in the most gorgeous fiery colors. I was in Las Vegas with my own family of six, as well as a family reunion with my three siblings, their families and my mother. We decided to explore Valley of Fire together and my kids made such great memories climbing with their cousins.

EAT
+ They do not sell food inside the park so pack a picnic (and a cooler) before you leave Las Vegas.

DO
+
Stop by the Visitor Center before exploring the park. The employee there told us where to focus our time hiking (Mouse’s Tank and White Dome) and where to just stop for a photo (Rainbow Vista). And there are amazing places to explore and climb just at the Visitor Center itself. 
+ Hike and climb everywhere. We hiked through Mouse’s Tank and around White Dome.
+ Camp at one of their many first-come, first-served spaces. We met someone in Las Vegas and told them about our plans to see Valley of Fire and he mentioned how special it is to camp there. I could only imagine how serene and beautiful it would be to appreciate it all day while camping.

valley-of-fire-balanced-rockThe beautiful Balanced Rock, just a short walk from the Visitor Center parking lot.

valley-of-fire-lewisclimbvalley-of-fire-trio valley-of-fire-ralphieMy nearly two-year-old son Ralph loved picking up (and throwing) all the rocks. I was also pretty impressed with his climbing abilities.

valley-of-fire-akThis is my seven-year-old daughter Annabelle. She collects rocks and has studied petroglyphs and fossils and thought this park (especially the Mouse’s Tank area) was just the coolest place.

valley-of-fire-mouses-tankMOUSES’S TANK TRAIL is a cavern with a very sandy footpath that lets you go between beautiful rock formations and gorgeous prehistoric petroglyphs. Our kids loved looking at the different petroglyph shapes and symbols and guessing their meaning. We also spotted lizards along the path, to the delight of all the kids.

valley-of-fire-stepsvalley-of-fire-facesvalley-of-fire-petroglyphs-Evalley-of-fire-petroglyphs-closeClose-up of the beautiful petroglyphs!

valley-of-fire-rainbow-vistaThe gorgeous view at Rainbow Vista.

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White Dome loop has a covered picnic area and huge white sandstones to climb. This is where we stopped for lunch and it was a great place to eat while the kids ran off and climbed.

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Visiting Valley of Fire State Park reminded me a lot of Joshua Tree – it is such a unique and beautiful desert landscape. We’ve had such great visits at both of these parks that I’m itching to discover what other national or state parks offer similar experiences.

Las Vegas

April 28, 2015
vegas-nyny

Spring break this year was held in sunny Las Vegas, Nevada for a family reunion with my mother and siblings. Although I live in Northern California and my other family members reside in Southern California and Northern Utah, our school schedules all aligned with the same spring break schedule and we picked Vegas as the meeting point. The bulk of our time that week was focused on family – we all stayed at the same hotel and it was a lot of swimming with cousins and playground sessions. I know Las Vegas can be polarizing for families, but I love it -there’s plenty of entertainment, fabulous swimming pools and all the playgrounds and parks were lush and groomed. Here are a few highlights of the week:

EAT
+ Shake Shack is here! It’s on the street facing the Strip at the New York-New York Hotel and Casino. It was my favorite layout of any Shake Shack I’ve visited, there’s plenty of seating and parking couldn’t be easier (park for free at the NY-NY hotel).
+ Lotus of Siam was recommended to me by my friend Nicole, who’s a professional photographer and a culinary-trained foodie. Anything she suggests I trust implicitly so going here became top of my list. We hired a babysitter and made the trek to downtown to check out this hole-in-the-wall Thai restaurant. Our first dish was a curry and was just okay… I was getting worried about this meal living up to the hype. But then we tried the braised short-rib with noodles. That plate was incredible!! A total star, hands-clapping, moaning with delight plate of food. Overall a very delicious meal. Make sure to get a reservation and feel free to bring the kids, we saw a lot of families dining there.
+ Eat at Eat, which serves breakfast and lunch. Located downtown. Really good, classic food and the downtown area is emerging as such a rad place to visit.

vegas-shake-shackvegas-house-of-siamvegas-siam-noodles

DO
+ take a photo in front of the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas Sign” – a total tourist trap, but that’s kinda why I love it. There was a long queue when we were there, so we just skipped the line by taking a photo just off to the side instead of in the middle.
+ Valley of Fire State Park – this is an hour northeast of Las Vegas, but really worth the drive. Look for a separate post about Valley of Fire, it was so incredible.
+ Visit the playgrounds around Las Vegas and Henderson. We visited a different playground almost every day and each one had lush green grass, covered playgrounds, bbq pits and ball fields.
+ Take an old-fashioned photo at Buffalo Old Time Photo Co. at Circus Circus. We hired them to do a huge family photo with my mother, her four children and their spouses and her twelve grandchildren. The kids LOVED dressing up. I usually find family photo sessions grating but we all had such a great time.

DO NEXT TIME
Most of our week was carved into spending time with extended family. On our next trip there, here’s a few places I’m hoping to check out:
+ Hike at Red Rock Canyon
+ Play at Discovery Children’s Museum
+ Water ski at Lake Mead
+ Revisit staples along the Strip like the Bellagio Fountains, Conservatory and Gardens at the Bellagio, Shark Reef Aquarium at the Mandalay Bay. And revisit the Downtown area, I especially want to check out Container Park.
+ If it’s summer time, hit up the splash pads at the parks around Las Vegas. They weren’t open in early April.

vegas-signNote: 3/4 of the children present. Our son Ralph was sleeping in the car so my husband stayed with him while his older siblings and I ran to get a quick pic.

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Our spring break in Las Vegas was focused on my family reunion, but we hope to be back for a proper visit soon. Anything I need to make a priority next time I’m in Las Vegas?

Joshua Tree National Park

February 4, 2015
joshua-tree-heaven

While we were in Palm Springs in January, we tagged on a quick half-day visit to Joshua Tree National Park on a Sunday morning. THIS PLACE! It was pure magic.

The park has three entrances, two along the north and one at its south (picture an upside-down triangle). We entered through its main gate, the West Entrance. The drive took us a little over an hour from Palm Springs to the actual gate.

EAT
+ Unlike developed national parks like Yosemite, Joshua Tree does not have any restaurants or shops within its gates, so bring all food supplies with you. There are picnic grounds scattered around the park with tables. We grabbed sandwiches from The Sandwich Spot in Palm Springs and brought them with us.
+ There are restaurants, cafes and shops in the cities just outside each park entrance (Joshua Tree, CA or Indio, CA).

joshua-tree-shades

DO
+ Check out the Visitor Center – it’s located near the park’s West Entrance. This is a great place to learn about how this landscape was formed and the type of life that live there. You can also ask one of the employees for advice on your itinerary. We told the staff that we only had a few hours and their advice was perfect for our family. You reach the Visitor’s Center about 15 minutes before you officially enter the park itself.
+ Hike – We chose to walk the Hidden Valley trail, an easy 1-mile loop. The best part is that the kids could climb on EVERYTHING. They loved climbing up all the boulders and had such a great time. See a list of trails here.
+ Climb – we saw rock climbers everywhere. Some bouldered without equipment and others were traditionalists. And, as I just mentioned, my kids favorite activity was scampering up all the boulders and rocks.
+ Camp – we didn’t camp this trip but would love to come back. I can’t imagine how unreal the sunrises and sunsets would be at a place like Joshua Tree. More info about camping can be found here.

joshua-tree-rocksonrocksjoshua-tree-clockpalm-springs-he-climbsjoshua-tree-pilesjoshua-tree-they-climbjoshua-tree-hikejoshua-tree-anotherplanet

Joshua Tree was really magical, you could feel how special and unique it is. We’re hoping our next visit includes camping, followed by a trip with swimming in Palm Springs.

Palm Springs

January 20, 2015
palm_springs_rentalpool

We just returned from an amazing long weekend in Palm Springs to celebrate our friend’s birthday (happy birthday Jordan!). It was this great balance of family time, romantic date nights and laughs with friends.

Below is a travel guide of what we did over the long weekend. Palm Springs is a great getaway, even though it is marketed toward couples, I found it very family friendly.

palm_springs_normasComfy seating and orange stripes everywhere at Norma’s at the Parker.

EAT
Brunch at Norma’s at The Parker. It’s pricey but with large portions, so split plates with your kids. Every dish we ordered was sooooo good. And don’t forget to carve time to walk around the gardens when you’re finished eating.
+ Brunch at Cheeky’s. The food is incredible, but the price is a crowd of people, so be prepared for a long wait. Always. So either go early, or go to Norma’s.
+ Lunch to-go at The Sandwich Spot. Really amazing deli sandwiches with homemade cookies too.
+ Dinner with the family at Las Casuelas Terraza. Mexican food, mariachi bands, outdoor dining and dancing. It’s a total tourist trap, but your kids (and you) will have a blast.
+ Date-night dinner at Workshop Kitchen+Bar. Jordan planned her big birthday dinner here and the meal was incredible. The restaurant’s menu is seasonal, supports local farms and above all, is soooo delicious. Leave the kids with a sitter and go here, it’s worth it.

palm_springs_workshopOur friend’s birthday dinner at Workshop Kitchen+Bar.

palm_springs_parkercroquet2Playing croquet at one of the huge gardens of The Parker.

TO DO
+
Swim! Make sure your hotel or rental property has a swimming pool. Go pool hopping too, a lot of hotels allow pool access for a resort fee. 
+ Explore the lush grounds at The Parker. There’s 13 acres to explore with amazing gardens carved out for games, fire pits and seating. Kids will love exploring each section. I suggest a visit to the gardens after gorging on breakfast (or lunch) at Norma’s.
+ Climb a mountain on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. My two daughters and I took this tram in October 2010 and it was 80 degrees in Palm Springs and we found snow on the mountaintop! Children will love the tram itself, it travels 2.5 miles up to 8,500 feet in elevation in just 10 minutes. Mt. Jacinto State Park is awaiting you at the top, with thousands of acres of forest to explore. A great place to visit year round, especially in the summer when Palm Springs is an inferno!
+ Ride the BUZZ bus. Palm Springs has a free bus running along most of the major hotels and restaurants in the city. My kids love all forms of transportation, especially bus rides. It runs from Thursday to Sunday, 11am until 1am. And it’s free! Check out their route map here.
+ Visit the Living Desert. It’s a zoo and garden focusing on creatures who thrive in the desert. We planned on going but ran out of time, it’s on my list for our next visit.
+ If you’re an aviation fan, check out the Palm Springs Air Museum. It’s focused more on the history of the special planes that served in military defense. Toddler and young kids will just think they are cool planes, but teenagers could appreciate the history behind these special aircraft.

palm_springs_acePool hopping at The Ace.

instax palm springs

My little girls sitting at Mountain Station at the top of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, way back in 2010.

palm_springs_cannonballThe backyard at our home rental!

LODGING
Our friends all stayed at the Ace Hotel, but we decided to rent a small home nearby instead, which turned out to be the right decision for us. Having our own small home (with a huge pool!) was perfect. We were able to let the kids swim all day, even while their baby brother napped. Plus, we had an extra room for my mother to come up and stay with us. She lives in Orange County, not too far away from Palm Springs, and it was wonderful to have grandma around (plus to have a babysitter for date nights). And it was so peaceful and quiet, I’m tempted to always rent a house on our travels, if possible.

palm_springs_citrustrees Our rental home had three citrus trees with oranges, lemons and grapefruits. My kids loved climbing the trees and we all enjoyed eating the fruit. We took home a giant bag of lemons to Oakland and made “Palm Springs lemonade.”

palm_springs_nighttime
Smores on our own firepit and night swimming!

OUTSIDE PALM SPRINGS
+ Joshua Tree National Park – We squeezed in a visit to Joshua Tree on a Sunday morning and this place looks like it’s on another planet! I’ll do a post just about JT soon, but I highly highly recommend going. It’s about an hour from Palm Springs.
+ Cabazon Dinosaurs – If you drove to Palm Springs like our family, there’s a good chance you drove along the 10 fwy and spotted these huge dinosaurs. The dinosaurs have cameos in a few films like The Wizard and Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. Show the films to your older kids and they’ll be even more excited to visit.

I couldn’t recommend Palm Springs enough, we all had such a great time. Have you been to Palm Springs? Anything I should try the next time we visit?

Welcome to Rollybag

September 9, 2014
RBMichelle35candles

It’s September. Last year I had given birth to our final child (our fourth in less than 6 years) and I gave myself one year, until my 35th birthday in September 2014, to launch this website.

Birthing four humans has been my life’s greatest accomplishment, and my role as a parent is far from over, but lately I’ve been yearning for another passion. Before having children, I worked professionally in marketing/PR for several years, primarily within commercial architecture. Then I started making babies and slowed my work down, finally becoming a true SAHM the last three years. But while I still love architecture, I have no desire to return to that industry.

Which brings me to Rollybag. I love to plan trips just as much as taking them. Travel planning has been a fun outlet of mine for 15 years, including planning a few trips for some close friends and family. I had considered starting a travel blog for a few years and now I finally feel ready to begin. But I knew I needed to focus on family travel. Whenever I visit a place (even without my kids), I notice if it is stroller-friendly, safe, appropriate for babies or toddlers or school-age kids, if it interests myself as well as my toddler… I have kids constantly on the brain. And more than anything, I love traveling with my family.

Children allow us to see the world through their amazing perspective, which is often filled with wonder, amazement and excitement. So this website is my 35th birthday present to myself. Beyond serving as an outlet for me, I hope it gives families ideas to see the world themselves and to create lasting memories.

Welcome to Rollybag.