Archive for the ‘Winter Fun’ Category

South Padre Island: A good winter escape

Meet Allison, an Atlantic sea turtle at a sanctuary on South Padre Island. (Sea Turtle Inc photo)

Meet Allison, an Atlantic sea turtle at a sanctuary on South Padre Island. (Sea Turtle Inc photo)

You likely have heard that a hoard of college kids invade South Padre Island during their Spring Break. But the rest of the year this narrow strip of land at the far southern edge of Texas is a perfect vacation spot for girls’ getaways, couples, families and retirees looking for a new destination.

Picture blue-green water to sooth the soul, glistening sand for a sunrise walk, terrific Mai Tais, Martinis and Margaritas to sip at sunset and yummy seafood for lunch and dinner.

For a change of pace there are cruises to see bottlenose dolphins, kite boarding to move with the breeze and sand castle building lessons to find your inner architect.

All those experiences (except for the kite boarding which maybe I’ll try next time) made my really brief visit to South Padre Island (often referred to as SoPadre), a memorable vacation.

I had heard of the destination but what spurred me to visit this fall was United Airline’s decision to fly from Chicago nonstop to the Brownsville International Airport on Saturdays. The airport is a mere 30 minute drive or shuttle ride away.

Hilton Garden Inn pool (GI photo

Hilton Garden Inn pool (GI photo

 

After arriving at the Hilton Garden Inn which has an airport shuttle, the first thing I did was step out onto the patio to inhale the warm air and collapse on a chair to gaze at the pool, greenery and gulf. Time out really means something on South Padre.

Second, was to don a bathing suit (unpacking could wait), dip a toe into the pool, relax in a cabana then begin to think about dinner. Vacationing on the Gulf of Mexico is a chance to indulge in shrimp, crab, scallops, oysters and fresh fish.

But what surprised me after three days of trying different, preparations for lunch and dinner at different restaurants was how good the food is on the island and Port Isabel which is just across Laguna Madre Bay.

Pier 19 had a terrific shrimp basket. Pirates Landing had a wonderful shrimp and oyster po’boy. I learned not to judge by appearance. The elongated shacks that make up Pier 19 attract the locals and the commercial looking Pirates Landing has good shrimp and salads.

Pier 19 was also well placed to take an Osprey nature and dolphin cruise on Laguna Madre Bay. Watching dolphins slip in and out of view was fun but the crew also emptied a net into a tank so that passengers could see and touch what was swimming in the bay. While waiting to board it was fun to watch the kite boarding on the other side of the pier.

Fun to watch dolphin from the Osprey Nature Cruise. (Osprey photo)

Fun to watch dolphin from the Osprey Nature Cruise. (Osprey photo)

Kites, period, are popular in the South Padre area.. B&S Kites is worth stopping just to say OMG when seeing their huge, wonderful shapes hanging from the ceiling. It’s also fun to watch people try to control these large kites on the beach.

What looks deceptively easier is building a sand castle worth of Disneyland. Playing in the sand isn’t just for kids on South Padre. Sand castle lessons are actually advertised on the island’s tourism site.

A group of us staying at the Hilton booked a sand castle lesson with “Sandy Feet,” an expert sand sculptor who used common silverware tools. We learned you don’t have to be among the kindergarten set to enjoy creating a sand castle.

Building sand castles is not just for kids. (Sandy Feet photo)

Building sand castles is not just for kids. (Sandy Feet photo)

What fun and a good way to work up an appetite for dinner! I had already enjoyed red snapper at Sea Ranch so went for sophisticated dining at South Padre’s new, upscale  F&B SPI (Food and Beverage South Padre Island). Both restaurants have terrific seafood appetizers and fresh fish. But I also loved the desserts (which I never order when home) at F&B.

Before returning to Chicago, I had to visit the island’s famed Sea Turtle Inc. sanctuary. So the next day I heard an excellent talk and saw some rehabilitated turtles swimming in tanks. To see Allison and Gerry, two Atlantic sea turtles, visit the center’s web cam.

South Padre Island is a major turtle protection and rehabilitation area. Alerts go out when baby turtles that their moms buried in the sand for protection start hatching and are guided into the gulf by staff and volunteers.

Sunset from Sea Ranch Restaurant and marina on South Padre Island. (J Jacobs photo)

Sunset from Sea Ranch Restaurant and marina on South Padre Island. (J Jacobs photo)

The island also has a bird center and sanctuary which is interesting to walk during spring and fall migrations but has birds landing all year round.

Also nice all rear round are the island’s wonderful sunsets.

 

 

 

 

Two smart winter ideas near Chicago

 

When Chicago’s winter gets going that’s the time to head to the Morton Arboretum for an indoor miniature train exhibit and an outdoor husky sledding event or to the Chicago Botanic Garden to breath moist air in its greenhouses or enjoy Asian orchids.

Visit Husky Heroes at the Morton Arboretum. Morton Arb photo

Visit Husky Heroes at the Morton Arboretum. Morton Arb photoMorton Arboretum

 

Morton Arboretum

An Enchanted Railroad is zipping around at family-friendly height at the Morton Arboretum now through Feb. 19, 2018. Viewing is ticketed so if at the Arboretum during those days stop at the Visitor Center Desk to get a timed ticket. The event is weekdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and weekends 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Or go over to the Arboretum Jan. 27-28 between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. to see Husky Heroes. Siberian dogs will be pulling sleds and posing for pictures. Demos are typically 11:30 a.m., 12:45, 2 and 3:15 p.m.  Also visit Adopt a Husky.

The Morton Arboretum is at 4100 IL Hwy 53, Lisle. For other information call (630) 968-0074  and visit Morton Arb.

 

Chicago Botanic Garden

A favorite place for people in the know who can’t fly to warmer climes is the desert or one of the other greenhouses at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Others dress for the outdoors and exercise by exploring the Botanic Garden’s paths.

However, orchid lovers will likely be heading there beginning Feb. 10 to see 10,000 of those exotic plants in the Asian Orchid Show from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.. The show goes through March 25, 2018. For a special treat plan on Orchids After Hours on Thursdays from 4 to 8 p.m. For tickets and more information visit CBG Orchid. Or go to Chicago Botanic Garden and call (847) 835-5440 (or 6801)

Visit the greenhouses at the Chicago Botanic Garden for a breath of warm air. Chicago Botanic Garden photo.

Visit the greenhouses at the Chicago Botanic Garden for a breath of warm air. Chicago Botanic Garden photo.

The Chicago Botanic Garden is at 1000 Lake Cook Rd.,  Glencoe.

Fun Chicago ice rinks open

 

Work off holiday treats by ice skating. Or simply enjoy the outdoors gliding around a rink to a waltz or holiday music.  The City of Chicago, its park district and The Park at Wrigley Field have ice rinks that are fun to skate. All you need to bring are your skates or rent them there.

Skaters at the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink in Millennium Park. City of Chicago photo

Skaters at the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink in Millennium Park. City of Chicago photo

Millennium Park

McCormick Tribune Ice Rink

Look below the Bean (Cloud Gate) sculpture on the Michigan Avenue level between Washington and Madison Streets to join skaters on the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink, free of charge. Ice skate rental is $12 Monday-Thursday, $14 Friday-Sunday and holidays.

Open through March 4, 2018, the rink’s regular hours: Mondays–Thursday, noon–8 p.m., Fridays, noon–10 p.m. (ice skating lesson at 11am), Saturdays (Nov. 18–Jan. 6), 10 a.m.–10 p.m. (ice skating lesson at 9 a.m.), Saturdays (Jan. 13–Mar. 3), 10 a.m.–9 p.m. (ice skating lesson at 9 a.m.) and Sundays, 10 a.m.–9 p.m. (ice skating lesson at 9 a.m.)

Holiday hours: Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, 10 a.m.–6 p.m. (ice skating lesson at 9 a.m.), Christmas Day, Dec. 25, 10 a.m.–4 p.m. Dec. 26 – Dec. 30, 10 a.m.–10.p.m. (ice skating lesson at 9 a.m.), New Year’s Eve, Dec. 31, 10.a.m.–8.p.m. (ice skating lesson at 9 a.m.), New Year’s Day, Jan. 1, 10 a.m.–10 p.m.

Maggie Daley Park Skating Ribbon

Look on north side of Millennium Park at 337 E. Randolph St. to find the Maggie Daley Park Skating Ribbon. It really curves like a ribbon. Admission is free. Skate rental and regular hours are the same as McCormick Ice Rink except Sundays 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Holiday Hours: Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m., Christmas Day, Dec.25, 10 a.m. – 9 p.m., New Year’s Eve, Dec.31, 10 a.m. – 8 p.m., New Year’s Day, Jan. 1, 10 a.m. – 9 p.m. (During the holiday break, the Skating Ribbon will be open from 10:00 am – 10:00 pm, except for above dates).

 

Wrigley Field

The Rink at the Park

Skate in The Park at Wrigley, the public entertainment area that abuts Wrigley Field at 3637 N. Clark St. Opened Nov. 24, the 8,000 sq. foot ice rink will be open daily through Feb. 25, 2018. Entry is $5 ages 13 and older. Skate rental is $10.

If there during the holidays stop at the Christkindle Market that opened this year for the first time in the Park at Wrigley.

 

Chicago Park District

The park district operates several ice rinks. Its outdoor Warren Ice Rink at 6601 N. Western Ave. is already open as is the Maggie daley Skating Ribbon and the McFetridge Ice Rink which is indoors at 3843 N. California Ave.. Other rinks open in December depending on weather conditions.

Click Chicago Parks for locations and hours.

 

Three ways to take advantage of a long weekend

 

All of a sudden the long weekend that includes Presidents’ Day, the third Monday of February when schools and banks are close, is only a few days away.

What would have been a good time to fly south for a short, sunny break is likely going to be too difficult to book now. Airline flights and hotel rooms in places such as south Florida are typically at a premium that weekend, if still available.

However, instead of playing the “should-have” game, think of the weekend as a fun opportunity. The following suggestions work anywhere even though the examples given are for the Chicago area.

The Field has free general admission for Illinois residents Presidents' Day Weekend. Photo by Jodie Jacobs

The Field has free general admission for Illinois residents Presidents’ Day Weekend. Photo by Jodie Jacobs

 

Take a “staycation”

Nowadays all hotels have a fitness center so that would no longer be a deciding point on where to take your weekend vacation. Think about what you most want to do. Shop? Visit museums? See art and architecture? Go to the theater? Do it all?

Next, how important is a pool? Few downtown Chicago hotels have pools but some have indoor lap pools. Even fewer have a pool where children can swim all year round.

You can keep the bathing suits in the suitcase you planned for a trip south if spending the weekend at The Intercontinental on Michigan Avenue’s Magnificent (Shopping) Mile. It not only has a pool, it is historic and large. The spa and fitness area is now a part of the hotel pool area.

The hotel is nicely placed for a “staycation.” Walk north from the hotel for Michigan Avenue shops. Walk south and cross the Chicago River a few blocks to Millennium Park for ice skating and “Cloud Gate” better known as “The Bean.”  A little further south is the Art Institute of Chicago. You are in a great spot to appreciate downtown art and architecture.

Cross Michigan Avenue from the hotel to take a bus to the Museum Campus’ Field Museum,  Shedd Aquarium and Adler Planetarium at the south end of Grant Park. All of February is free general admission for Illinois residents at the Field.  Presidents’ Day,  Feb. 20, is free admission to the Adler Planetarium and the Chicago History Museum in Lincoln Park.

The city is at you doorstep when you take a “staycation” downtown. Enjoy

 

Binge on Oscar nominated movies

Get a jump start on Oscar night, Feb. 26, 2017 by seeing the nominated movies at your local theater.

For the kids there are the animated features: “Kubo and the Two Strings,” “Moana,” “My Life as a Zucchini,” The Red Turtle” and “Zootopia.”
Best Picture nominees are: “Arrival,” “Fences,” “Hacksaw Ridge,” “Hell or High Water,” “Hidden Figures,” “La La Land, ”Lion,” “Manchester by the Sea” and “Moonlight.” Most theaters offer advance tickets. The AMC theaters at Northbrook Court were recently remodeled with really comfortable seats and a bar to get drinks and food.

Or settle in with popcorn or pizza at home as you check Netflix or On Demand for past Oscar winners. Some are oldies. Others are just goodies.

 

Make a penguin and cupcake play date with friends

Lincoln Park Zoo Penguin Cove opens. Photo by Lincoln Park Zoo

Lincoln Park Zoo Penguin Cove opens. Photo by Lincoln Park Zoo

 

Go to a zoo or aquarium then forget the diet and splurge on cupcakes at places you’ve been meaning to try.

In Chicago, the Lincoln Park Zoo has a wonderful, new penguin center.  Or watch the penguins in their Polar Play Zone at the Shedd Aquarium.

For a dessert break pick up cupcakes at Sprinkles Cupcakes at 50 E Walton St. west of the Magnificent Mile. Or stop in at the Magnolia Bakery  at 108 N State St at Block 37.

 

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