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