Monday, April 27, 2009

Idaho Falls, Idaho, United States

Idaho Falls, Idaho, is one of the Top 100 Places to Live according to RelocateAmerica. The city is located on the Snake River on the eastern side of the bottom part of Idaho. It is due east of Boise. Because of the road system in Idaho, you can't go in a straight line from Boise to Idaho Falls. If you start in Boise, you have to take a curved southern route to get to Idaho Falls. Here's a link to it on Google Maps.

What is there to do once you get to Idaho Falls? You can visit the Tautphaus Park Zoo. It opened on April 11, 2009, and closes for the year on October 4, 2009. However, they will be open for Boo at the Zoo October 29 through October 31. Adults (13 and over) are $5.00 plus tax. Children (4 - 12) are $2.50 plus tax and children 3 and under are free.

If you're interested in the Titanic, you can visit the Museum of Idaho. They have Titanic artifacts on exhibit until September 7, 2009. They are open every day except for Sunday. The fee is $7.00 for adults (18 & up) and $5.00 for youth (4 - 17). Depending on the size of your family, it may be cheaper to purchase the family pass for $20. The Museum is also home to Lewis & Clark expedition artifacts.

For those of you who were wondering, yes, Vanilla Ice and MC Hammer are still performing...together. They will be at the Idaho Falls Civic Auditorium on Saturday, June 6. If you're looking for something a bit more current, Blake Shelton and Julianne Hough will be performing at Sandy Downs on July 16.

If you are looking for day trips from Idaho Falls, there are some National Parks close by. Grand Teton National Park is a little over 2 hours away in western Wyoming. Yellowstone is north of Grand Teton but less than a 3 hour drive from Idaho Falls.

Time for the census figures. According to the U.S. Census website, Idaho Falls had an estimated population of 52,786 in 2006. In contrast, Boise had an estimated population of 198,638. Here's an interesting fact: in 2000, there was an average of 15.6 people per square mile in the state of Idaho. In 2000, there was an average of 1003.2 people per square mile in the state of Rhode Island.

Official website for Idaho Falls.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Hot Springs, Arkansas, United States

Hot Springs, Arkansas, is located in west central Arkansas just a little bit southwest of Little Rock. There are a lot of touristy things to do in Hot Springs which makes it a great place for an extended weekend getaway. The town gets its name from the numerous springs found in the area. Today, there are several bath houses still in operation. Two of them let visitors take advantage of the restorative powers of the hot springs. The others have been turned into museums. Most of them are located in an area called Bathhouse Row. According to the National Park Service, the Government Free Bathhouse "was one of the first facilities in the United States to use penicillin". In addition to the bathhouses, there are many spas in the area that offer massage services.

The Buckstaff bathhouse has been in operation since 1912. A Traditional Bathing Package includes a thermal mineral bath, whirlpool, Swedish massage and loofah mitt for $50. Sounds like a good deal to me. They are open 7 days a week from March 1 through November 30 except for major holidays. From December 1 through February 28, they are closed Saturday afternoons and Sundays.

Hot Springs is also known for horse racing. Oaklawn gives visitors an opportunity to enjoy good old-fashioned horse racing as well as gambling. It has been in operation since 1904. This year, opening day was on Friday, January 16, and closing day was on Saturday, April 11. Oaklawn is home to two restaurants and a private club. Reservations are recommended.

My favorite place in Hot Springs is Garvan Woodland Gardens. It is a beautiful outdoor nature area. There are several paths throughout the Gardens. The paths wind through trees, streams and flower gardens. The Full Moon Bridge and Millsap Canopy Bridge were two of my favorite spots. The Gardens are mostly bordered by Lake Hamilton. The entrance fee is very reasonable, in my opinion. Adults are $8.75 and children (age 6-12) are $4.50. However, on Sunday afternoons during the summer, children get free admission.

Lake Hamilton offers excellent fishing and boating opportunities. The Belle of Hot Springs Riverboat offers a sunset dinner/dance cruise, luncheon cruise and a siteseeing cruise. I recommend paying for the cruise without the meal and then finding a nice restaurant after the cruise.

Hot Springs is also known as the boyhood home of President Bill Clinton. He was the 42nd President of the United States. The Clinton Presidential Center is located in Little Rock.

For a luxurious retreat in Hot Springs, I recommend Butler Manor. It sits on the edge of Lake Hamilton inside Hot Springs National Park. They offer some nice packages that include a room, homemade breakfast and massages. For the budge conscious, I recommend Baymont Inn & Suites. It sits right on Lake Hamilton and has a nice deck area for guests to fish from.

Official Hot Springs website.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Gainesville, Florida, United States

I'm going back to Florida this week. Gainesville is one of my favorite cities. There's not a whole lot of touristy things to do there but there are some fun things to do. Gainesville is in the northeast part of Florida and is the county seat of Alachua county. Alachua is pronounced like "ah lat chew ah" or something like that. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Gainesville had approximately 108,000 residents in 2006. That's about 15,000 more than Columbia, Missouri.

I compared it to Columbia, Missouri, because both towns are home to state universities which have decent basketball and football programs. The University of Florida is home to the Gators and are part of the SEC (Southeastern Conference). If you're a college football fan, I recommend taking a trip to the Gators football stadium. The walkway leading up to the main entrance of the stadium is lined with palm trees. In my opinion, it's very beautiful and picturesque. The official name of the stadium is the Ben Hill Griffin Stadium but it is affectionately known as The Swamp.

Also on the University of Florida campus is Lake Alice. Lake Alice is a popular place to go to view alligators in their natual habitat. By natural, I mean there is no fence protecting you from them. There is a walking trail that goes around the lake and there are signs posted warning against walking small dogs around the lake. Apparently, gators like the taste of the small ones. As long as you keep your eyes open and keep aware of your surroundings you should be fine. If you happen to get chased by a gator, try to keep in mind that you should run in a zigzag pattern instead of in a straight line. I've heard that gators are a lot slower when they have to keep turning left and right.

Like most major university towns, Gainesville is home to many restaurants and hotels. One of my favorite places to stay in Gainesville is the Cabot Lodge. They have a delicious complimentary breakfast and complimentary cocktail hours during the week. They have remodeled recently so I don't know if they still have it but they used to have a huge firepit in the middle of the lounge area. They also had a nice secluded garden area.

If you're looking for a nice day trip, I recommend visiting Cedar Key on the Gulf Coast. It is about 2 hours southwest of Gainesville on Highway 24. You can take a boat tour of the area and also charter fishing boats. There are some great seafood restaurants there.

The official website for Gainesville is City of Gainesville. The official website for Cedar Key is Cedar Key Chamber of Commerce.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Fresno, California, United States

Today, we'll be making a virtual visit to Fresno, California. If you look at a map of California, you'll find Fresno halfway between the north and south borders and halfway between the east and west borders in the San Joaquin Valley. According to the U.S. Census Bureau in 2006, Fresno had approximately 466,714 residents. In 2000, 50% of the residents were listed as white and 39.9% were listed as Hispanic or Latino. The word fresno means ash tree in Spanish.

Fresno is home to California State University, Fresno, otherwise known as Fresno State. The Fresno State Bulldogs was one of eight teams that made it to the 2008 College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska. Fresno is also home to Fresno Pacific University and National University.

There is plenty to see and do in Fresno. For family fare, there is the Fresno Chaffee Zoo. According to their website, they are "the only zoo in North America that currently houses Northland green geckos (on exhibit) and Southern tent tortoises (off exhibit)". The Tower District is home to cultural mix of shopping, restaurants and nightly entertainment. The majority of the Tower District is located along Olive Avenue. If you're the gambling kind, there are four casinos listed on the Fresno Convention and Visitor's Bureau page.

Fresno is approximately 90 minutes south of Yosemite National Park. There are breathtaking views at Yosemite so be sure to bring your camera if you plan to visit the park. The park charges a $20 entrance fee per car. The entrance fee is good for 7 days. If you are 62 or older, you can purchase a $10 senior pass which is good for lifetime admission to the park.

If you like trains, you can visit the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad. You can choose between riding the Jenny Railcars or the Logger Steam Train. The Steam Train is $17.50 for adults. The Railroad is located between Fresno and Yosemite on Highway 41.

My choice for lodging this week isn't actually in Fresno but it's relatively close. I have chosen Tenaya Lodge as the place to stay. I picked the Lodge because the have a concierge department to assist guests in organizing activities during their stay. It's not just a place to lay your head at night. The Lodge is located in the Sierra Mountains just a few miles from the entrance to Yosemite National Park.

Fresno Convention & Visitor's Bureau
Official Fresno Website

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Here it is the end of March and we're supposed to get a few inches of snow today. My calendar says it is spring already. I don't really believe we'll get snow so let's go up north to a place that has a better chance than we do here. This week's post takes us to my first non-U.S. city...Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. The closest I've been to Canada is Niagara Falls. We stayed on the U.S. side but I could see Canada from there.

Edmonton is in the Alberta province in the western half of Canada. It is about 560 miles due north of Missoula, Montana, and about 3 hours north of Calgary. Calgary was the host city for the 1988 Winter Olympics. The 2010 Winter Olympics will be held in Vancouver which is about 12 hours southwest of Edmonton. This should be proof enough that Edmonton is far enough north to get more snow during the winter and early spring months than we do in the central United States. In fact, Google Maps doesn't show much north of Edmonton as far as roads and towns.

Edmonton's Valley Zoo is home to Lucy the painting elephant. The zoo has a tiered admission price plan based on your age. They also have a family pass that covers two adults and all children living in the same household. This pass will cost $29.25 during the summer months (May 9 - October 12). For the same price you can get a grandparent pass that covers two grandparents and up to 4 grandchildren.

Fort Edmonton Park is a living history museum. These are my favorite types of museums. A living history museum is one in which the employees dress up in period costumes and pretend to be from that time period. According to their web page, it looks like the museum plans special activities for people to enjoy. They have Mother's Day and Father's Day brunches and murder mystery weekends. The family/grandparent passes at the Fort are $40.50 CAD ($32 USD). In September, they have guided wagon tours that cost $28.00 CAD ($22 USD) for the family. To really immerse yourself in the time period, you can book a stay at Hotel Selkirk located within the Fort.

For you shopping aficionados, you can visit the West Edmonton Mall. They claim to be the "Greatest Indoor Show on Earth". I think I believe it after seeing everything they have to offer. They have a Putt 'n Glow miniature golf, an ice skating rink and an indoor waterpark! For the budget conscious, you can pick up a Super Savings Coupon Book for $7.95 CAD ($6.42 USD).

This leads me to this week's lodging pick. Fantasyland Hotel is located within the West Edmonton Mall. They have themed rooms that are spectacularly decorated. The Igloo themed room has a jacuzzi and bunkbeds. The jacuzzi in the Roman room is surrounded by marble columns. The jacuzzi in the Polynesian room is filled via a waterfall.

I can't forget about you sports fans. Edmonton is home to several sports teams. There is the Edmonton Oilers which is a National Hockey League team. They are home to the Canadian Football League Edmonton Eskimos. The Edmonton Rush is a National Lacrosse League team.

Now I'm ready to pack my bags and head north for my summer vacation!

Official Edmonton website

Friday, March 20, 2009

Dunedin, Florida, United States

The winner of the poll this week is Dunedin, Florida! In case you were wondering how to pronounce this name it is "done eden" or like some country folks I know it is "done eatin'". You can go to Dictionary.com and click on the speaker icon to hear how it is pronounced.

Dunedin is on the Gulf Coast of Florida just west of Tampa and north of Clearwater. It is currently after 10 pm in Dunedin and it's 73 degrees with 59% humidity. Many people complain about the humidity in Florida. In August 2008, humidity got up to 97% almost every day according to the Wunderground.com daily almanac. Fortunately, there's always a beach nearby to take a dip in and cool off. Clearwater Beach is about 8 miles away and home to Sunsets at Pier 60. It has a street festival feeling. The last time I went there was a performer who juggled fire and his grand finale was fire breathing. He was a good performer and had a little comedy routine to go with his show. There are also plenty of boats along the Gulf Coast. Some of them will promise you dolphin sightings, some will take you out fishing and others will help you pretend to be a pirate for a couple hours. Pinellas Trail runs along the western edge of Dunedin. The trail is 34 miles long. Jogging, inline skating and bicycling are all allowed on the trail.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were about 36,000 residents in 2006. This makes it the same size as Cape Girardeau, Missouri, home of Southeast Missouri State University.

There is a Best Western and Holiday Inn Express in Dunedin proper. There are many more lodging choices in the neighboring towns of Clearwater, St. Petersburg and Tampa. The towns around Tampa Bay all flow together and can be difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins.

My pick of the week for lodging is Hilton Clearwater Beach Resort in Clearwater Beach. It's right on the beach and within walking distance to restaurants, souvenir shops and the boats. My vote for restaurants is Crabby Bill's. I have eaten there and the food was wonderful.

I learned a lesson this week. It will work out best for me if I close the city selection poll on Friday evening and publish the post Sunday evening. This will give me the weekend to do research, write it and proofread it.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Chicago, Illinois, United States

Last week, I included a poll to let you guys decide which city I write about this week. It ended up being a 3 way tie. My 8 year old daughter got to be the tie breaker. Her decision was based on the fact one of her teachers was born in...Chicago. The winner this week is Chi-Town!

Chicago is also known as the Windy City. Why? I don't know. I searched the web and couldn't find a definitive reason for it. I always thought it was because it was on the edge of Lake Michigan. Lake Michigan is one of the five Great Lakes on the northern border of the United States. Lake Superior, Lake Huron, Lake Erie and Lake Ontario are the other four great lakes in case you were wondering. Lake Michigan is the only one completely surrounded by the United States. The other four lie on the border between the United States and Canada.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Chicago had an estimated population of 2,833,321 in 2006. This puts Chicago as the 3rd most populous city in the U.S. behind New York and Los Angeles. In 2000, 21.7% of the residents of Chicago were foreign born.

There is plenty to see while in Chicago. It is home to the famous Sears Tower. According to the Sears Tower website: "Standing at 1,450 feet and 110 stories high, Sears Tower is the tallest building in North America and the third tallest building in the world." I imagine it is quite an impressive building to see. There is also the Shedd Aquarium, Art Institute of Chicago, Field Museum, Adler Planetarium, Museum of Science and Industry and the John Hancock Observatory. Admission to all of these attractions can be purchased separately or at a discount by purchasing the Chicago City Pass.

I can't write about Chicago without mentioning Wrigley Field. It has been the home to the Chicago Cubs since 1914. And, of course, there are the Chicago Bulls. Here's a shout out to all the Michael Jordan fans. He played for the Chicago Bulls from 1984 to 1998. Chicago is also home to the Chicago Bears football team, the Chicago White Sox Major League Baseball team (yes, Chicago has two MLB teams) and the Chicago Blackhawks National Hockey League team.

My pick of the week for lodging is the House of Two Urns. I've never been there but it has a catchy name, the pictures at the website look good and the price is right. You can get a room for around $100 a night.

Don't forget to vote in the poll for next week!

P.S. Choo-Choo! I just had to say that because I really wanted to write about Chattanooga this week. I'll just have to save it until the next C week.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Biloxi, Mississippi, United States

Last week it was 25 degrees outside and I picked Anchorage for the starting city. This week it is 72 degrees here so I'm going south to Biloxi for this week's post. Biloxi is on the southern edge of Mississippi on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. How many of you remember the elementary school rhyme....M-I-crooked letter-crooked letter-I-crooked letter-crooked letter-I-humpback-humpback-I? That was one of my favorites.

On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina ravaged the gulf coast. I'm willing to bet most people associate Hurricane Katrina with New Orleans. Many more towns were almost completely destroyed east of New Orleans but they didn't make the news quite like New Orleans did. Mississippi took a hard hit when Katrina came ashore. Biloxi lies about 90 miles slightly northeast of New Orleans and just east of Gulfport, Mississippi. Gulfport and Biloxi were not spared from the widespread destruction of Katrina. According to the official Biloxi website, there are 8 casinos back in operation. Here is a link to a fun 5 minute video about Biloxi that I found at the website.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Biloxi had an estimated population of 44,342 in 2006. This was down from the 2000 estimate of 50,644. No doubt many of those people left as a result of Katrina. The people of Biloxi are working hard to get back to where they were before the hurricane.

They have 8 casinos and only 44,000 inhabitants? That must mean the town thrives on tourism. I did a search for lodging and it looks like most of the hotels are associated with the casinos. However, I found this beautiful place: Lofty Oaks Inn. Check out the African Safari Cottage! They are currently running a special for the military. You can click here for a 15% off coupon good through 06/30/09.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Anchorage, Alaska, United States

It is 25 degrees outside at the moment and spitting snow. So it's no wonder the first city that came to mind for the letter A was Anchorage. I've never been to Anchorage but I would love to go some day. Many people tend to think Anchorage is the capital of Alaska. That's a common misconception. The state capital honor goes to Juneau. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the estimated 2007 population of Anchorage was 279,671. That makes it about twice the size of Springfield, Missouri, and slightly smaller than Bakersfield, California. Today is February 28 and it is currently 23 degrees in Anchorage. Six months ago (August 28), the high was 62 degrees.

When I think of Alaska, I think of wildlife, wilderness, snow and the Iditarod. Don't know what the Iditarod is? It is a famous trail sled dog race. There are two routes but they both go from Anchorage to Nome (or is it Nome to Anchorage?) Both routes cover over 1100 miles. The 2009 race starts on March 7. You can click here to find out more about the Iditarod. There have been several movies created that center around a dog sled race. One of my favorites is Snow Dogs which stars Cuba Gooding Jr. It is rated PG and is suitable for children.

Here is the official website for Anchorage.