Archive for the ‘Science Trips’ Category

Visiting the Wright Brothers National Memorial

Visiting the Wright Brothers National Memorial

Next Monday, December 17th, marks the 110th Anniversary of Flight when the Wright Brothers skimmed over the sands of the Outer Banks in their “Wright Flyer”. On that cold December morning in 1903, the brothers who owned a bicycle shop in Dayton, Ohio had ventured to Kill Devil Hills in North Carolina.  Kill Devil Hills provided isolation, high dunes, strong winds and soft landings.  After much research with their earlier gliders and wind tunnel tests, they had designed and built a flyer with a four-cylinder engine and propellers that they hoped was ready for flight.  As we all know, the 1903 Wright Flyer was a success and left the ground four separate times that day, twice piloted by Orville and twice piloted by Wilbur.

My son and I visited the exact site of this historic flight this past summer when we were vacationing in the Outer Banks.  The Wright Brothers National Memorial is managed by the National Park Service which always provides an excellent educational experience.  Below is a guide to what to expect and thing to do if your family wants to learn first hand about the Wright Brothers first flight.

Visitor Center

In the visitor center we were able to learn about the Wright Brothers, the 1903 Wright Flyer, and one of the greatest scientific achievements of the 20th century. On display were reproductions of the 1902 Glider, 1903 Flyer (the original is at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum), the Wrights’ first wind tunnel and part  of the original engine block from the 1903 flying machine.  We were also surprised to see the original flyer cloth from the original 1903 Wright Flyer that Neil Armstrong carried with him over 40 years ago when he stepped on the moon.

Replica of the 1903 Wright Flyer

Replica of the 1903 Wright Flyer

First Flight Centennial Pavilion

When we drove up we were really curious about the large bubble-shaped buildings across from the visitor center.  Well the Centennial Pavilion is inside the bubble and it houses exhibits dealing with the Outer Banks at the turn of the century, the evolution of aviation and the challenges of flight and NASA sponsored space exhibits.

Curious about the large bubble shaped buildings?

Curious about the large bubble shaped buildings?

First Flight Centennial Pavilion

First Flight Centennial Pavilion

Reconstructed Buildings

Down a short path from the visitor center is the reconstructions of the 1903 wooden living quarters and hangar where the Wright brothers conducted their experiments. The living quarters were furnished with items like those the Wrights would have used and the hangar replicates the building where the Wrights stored their 1903 Flyer.

Reconstructed Living Quarters/Workshop

Reconstructed Living Quarters/Workshop

Reconstructed 1903 Hangar

Reconstructed 1903 Hangar

First Flight Boulder and Markers

The site of the historic first flight where the Wright brothers lifted off in the world’s first airplane is marked by the six-ton First Flight Boulder.  Numbered markers along the flight path indicate where the world’s first airplane landed after each of its four flights on December 17, 1903.

2nd Flight Marker - 12 seconds & 175 feet

1st Flight Marker – 12 seconds & 175 feet

First Flight Boulder

First Flight Boulder

Wright Brothers Monument and Big Kill Devil Hill

Atop Big Kill Devil Hill is the most magnificent view of the Atlantic Ocean, Albemarie Sound and surrounding scenery.  It was on this old sand dune that the Wrights conducted over a 1,000 glider flights and where we were able to visit the 60-foot Wright Monument that commemorates the Wrights achievements in aviation.  One tip, make sure you stay on the paved walkways because there is a lot of spiny cacti on the hill.

Wright Brothers Monument

Wright Brothers Monument

Airstrip and Pilot’s Booth

The Pilot’s Booth which is adjacent to the 3,000-foot First Flight Airstrip is a great place to visit if you love watching airplanes take off and land.  The facility featured a computerized weather briefing system, route planning software, and navigational charts.

Pilot's Booth

Pilot’s Booth

December 17, 1903 Sculpture

This life-sized art recreating the first flight scene is amazing.  The 10,000 pounds of bronze and stainless steel sculpture is located behind Big Kill Devil Hill.  It offers a new perspective to the famous photograph taken by John Daniels.  The sculpture is designed to be hands on, so you can explore and climb on the world’s first airplane.

Recreating the first flight scene

Recreating the first flight scene



Other Ways to Enjoy the Park

Visitors can bring their own kites and fly them just as Wilbur and Orville did at the turn of the century. If you brought along your bike while vacationing in the Outer Banks, you can ride them along the road at the base of the Wright Monument. When we went over the summer their were several park activities, such as the Park movie and kid’s activities like Being Wright (where kids can fulfill one of the requirements for he Junior Ranger Badge) and Wright Kite where kids can build their own kite.  Finally,  picnic tables are located near the Pilot’s Booth and on the opposite side of the monument which makes a great place to enjoy lunch with your family and friends.

Park Movie

Park Movie

"Lets Go Fly A Kite, Up to the HIghest Point"

“Lets Go Fly A Kite, Up to the Highest Point”

Do you enjoy learning about aeronautics and aviation? Have you visited the Wright Brothers Memorial?  If you can’t make it to North Carolina, the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum or local aviation museums are great places to learn.  Of course there are a lot of resources online too, like NASA Glenn Research Center’s website – it is great for kids and has a lot of DIY science projects!

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The Georgia Aquarium

A couple of weeks ago while in Atlanta I was fortunate to be able to attend a private dinner at the Georgia Aquarium.  I have to tell you that I was pretty excited to go to the world’s largest aquarium and the fact that I was going to be able to take in the galleries while the aquarium was closed to the public was icing on he cake.

During the dinner in the ballroom we were able to enjoy a pretty spectacular backdrop, the Ocean Voyager exhibit.  This exhibit was created to house whale sharks, the largest fish species in the world, so you can understand why this particular tank holds 6.3 million gallons of water.  In addition to the four whale sharks, there were also four manta rays which were beautiful.  Of course the whale sharks and manta rays were the star of the show, but the stingrays and goliath grouper were also pretty amazing too.

Told you they were pretty big.

After our dinner we were able to tour the aquarium freely for a couple of hours. We visited all the regions of the world ranging from the cold ocean waters to the warm coral reefs.  I particularly enjoyed seeing the beluga whales and the southern sea otters in the Cold Water Quest gallery.  The sea otters, which are endangered species were adorable and there was a cute little baby snuggled up to its mom.

Southern Sea Otters

There were several other galleries like the Georgia Explorer where there were many touch pools and interactive exhibits.  We saw an albino alligator in the River Scout gallery.  In the dolphin tales exhibit, we saw what else…two dolphins entertaining each other.  The Frog exhibit which opened up in the beginning of the year had over fifteen species of frogs and many were quite colorful.

I really enjoy scuba diving and Key West, so it is no surprise that my favorite gallery was the Tropical Diver.  It was so relaxing and we were able to see “Nemo”, seahorses and amazing jellyfish.  At the center the exhibit was one of the largest living exhibits which I guess is to be expected since is in the largest aquarium. There was even waves crashing overhead while we sat mesmerized while viewing the living corals, thousands of colorful fish and tiny glass sweepers.

My favorite picture from the Georgia Aquarium.

Pacific Sea Nettle Jellies

Moon Jellies

I really enjoyed my evening at the Georgia Aquarium and would love to return with my family.   I also really thought the location was perfect for families, so we will have quite a few places to check out.  The Georgia Aquarium is surrounded by the World of Coca-Cola, Centennial Olympic Park, the CNN Center where you can tour the CNN Studio and the Children’s Museum of Atlanta. There is no other place that can claim that they are the home of the world’s largest aquarium and the fact that there so many other family friendly things to do makes Atlanta a great place to spend a weekend. What do you think?

Have you been to the Georgia Aquarium?

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Kayaks and Canoes are also for rent at the Peconic Paddler at the traffic circle next to Milton L. Burns Park.

Did you enjoy part one of  30 reasons to vacation in Riverhead?  As mentioned before, the great thing about Riverhead is that there is something for everyone. Mom’s and daughters will enjoy having tea at Tea Time Cottage, decorating Gingerbread cookies at The Gingerbread University and shopping at the outlets. Fathers and son’s will enjoy Riverhead Raceway and the Railroad Museum of Long Island.  Families that enjoy the outdoors can rent kayaks and paddle down the Peconic River or rent bikes and cycle by the riverfront. Science comes alive at the Long Island Science Center or Atlantis Aquarium and history buffs will enjoy Hallockville Farm or the Historical Society Museum.  Below is the continued list with details and links to make planning your getaway to Riverhead simple and stress free.

11.  Ride the mechanical bull and do a little line dancingCody’s BBQ offers more than just the typical barbecue fare, it host line dancing on Saturday nights and an opportunity to ride a mechanical bull.  The inflatable mechanic bull is set up outside on the back deck.  If you are thinking about going, check out their facebook page because events seem to be updated more than on their website.  This sure is a fun night out and there is not to many places for you to get “your Cowboy on”!

The Mechanical Bull, photo credit: Cody’s BBQ

12.  Shopping – If shopping is your thing, there will be no shortage of stores at the Tanger Outlets.  Stores include accessory shops, children’s apparel, apparel for men and women, footwear, specialty shops and housewares and home furnishings.  Make sure you check out their website for coupons and special offers.  Another great place to check out is 73 Main in the historic downtown area.  I am sure this new boutique will be one of many with Main Street be revitalized and the addition of the Hyatt and approaching opening of the Suffolk Theatre.

Shop at the Outlets

13.  Long Island Science Center – This hands-on interactive educational museum emphasizes science, technology, engineering and math.  Families will have great time exploring the exhibits like CSI and solving the crime or creating  a small toy with tinker toys or building their own creation with legos.  Also offered are family workshops.  Admission is $5 per person.

Long Island Science Center

Time to Investigate

14.  Hallockville Museum Farm – Hallockville, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, sits on 28 acres where visitors can tour their historic houses and barns from the mid-18th century.  In addition to touring the museum’s buildings, gardens and collections, families will get to experience real farming in the fields and get to meet animals like cows, sheep and chickens.  One of the best times to visit  is the third weekend of September when they have their annual Fall Festival & Craft Fair.  Make sure you check out their website for other fun events, like Geology hikes.

Hallockville Museum Farm

15.  Spend the day at Reeves Beach – On the shore of the Long Island Sound, this beach is about a ten minute drive from the center of town.   A gazebo sits atop a cliff overlooking the Sound and beach and there is restrooms and parking.  Parking however requires a beach permit from Memorial Day to Labor Day.  Day permits can be purchased for $10 at the Recreation Office at Stotzky Park.

The Long Island Sound

16.  Railroad Museum of Long Island –  With two locations in Riverhead and Greenport, train enthusiast will love this museum.  Admission includes a ride on the World’s Fair miniature train and a guided tour of the Riverhead and Greenport site. Families will also like the model train display in the visitors center.  The best way to enjoy the day though is to arrive at the Railroad Museum of Long Island (RMLI), Riverhead site, at approximately 10 AM when it opens, on any Saturday and Sunday between Memorial weekend and Columbus weekend. Visit the Riverhead site and then walk over to the LIRR Riverhead station (across the tracks) and take the Eastbound 11:25 AM train to Greenport arriving at 12:05 PM. Visit the Railroad Museum of Long Island (RMLI), Greenport site, located across the parking lot from the West end of the Greenport train platform. After visiting you now have two choices. Return to Riverhead on the 1:11 PM train leaving Greenport and arriving Riverhead at 1:50 PM. Or if you want to do additional sightseeing in Greenport Village, return to Riverhead on the 6:11 PM train leaving Greenport and arriving Riverhead at 6:50 PM. When you return on either train, pack a lunch or snack, ride on the upper level of the train, and enjoy the view as you pass through Long Island Wine Country. (The LIRR fare is extra, but family fares are low-cost.)  Two annual events that you will want to keep in mind is the Riverhead Railroad Festival, always the weekend before Labor Day and the Holiday Open House with Santa, the first full weekend in December at the Greenport location.  The Riverhead location is also hosting Toy Train Play Days Columbus Day weekend.

Model Train Display in Riverhead

Railroad Museum of Long Island

17.  Dine at Riverfront Restaurant – The Peconic River flows just south of Main Street and there are some really great places to enjoy a meal with the family.  The cuisine at Turkuaz Grill is Turkish and Mediterranean.  I love the atmosphere under the trees with paper lanterns and the sigara boregi, (Turkish Cigars, which is fried thin dough rolled with feta cheese and parsley – yum).  If you are in the mood for Italian, The Roadhouse has great brick oven pizza and pastas.  Both Turkuaz Grill and The Roadhouse are reasonable priced and family friendly.  I also love Farm Country Kitchen, which is tucked away from the road on the banks of the river. They have quite a selection of wraps and salads made with the freshest ingredients.  There soups are wonderful too.

Turkuaz Grill

Enjoy pizza, pasta or wings along the river at The Roadside.

18.  Give into your sweet tooth – After dining along the riverfront, make sure to save room for dessert. Across the street from The Roadhouse, you will find the best homemade ice cream at Snowflake Ice Cream Shoppe.  The historic downtown area offers up great shakes at the Star Confectionery, which is 1920s “classic” “mom‑and‑pop” luncheonette.  Just a couple of doors down, you will find the Baker’s Workshop. This cafe is part of the Suffolk County Community College Culinary Arts and Hospitality Center and the pastries here are spectacular.

Snowflake Ice Cream Shoppe

The Star Confectionery

19.  Explore Polish Town, USA – Polish Town is a small neighborhood in Riverhead settled by Polish immigrants at the turn of the century.  This is a great neighborhood to explore with kids and expose them to a different culture.  The streets are lined with red street signs and polish flags, so it gives you a feel that you are no longer in Riverhead.  It is here that you will start craving kielbasa and pierogisis even if you were not hungry.   No worries, if that happens, because the popular Polish Town Deli or Birchwood is on the main drag, Pulaski Street.  The best time to visit Polish Town USA is in August when they typically have the Polish Town Fair and Polka Festival.

Welcome to Polish Town, USA

Polish Town Fair and Polka Festival

20.  Grumman Memorial Park  – Families can pay tribute to the aviation and aerospace history that took place on Long Island at Grumman Memorial Park.  This free attraction is now home to some of  Grumman’s Long Island-built fighter planes, including one of the best known, the F-14A Tomcat, a supersonic fighter that could shoot down enemy aircraft in the middle of the day or night.

Grumman Memorial Park

Believe it or not, there is still 10 more places to highlight in this busy little town!  Stay tune for the continued list in Part Three of  the 30 Reasons to Vacation in Riverhead.

Main Street, Riverhead by the Community Garden

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Sunflowers along Roanoke Avenue in Riverhead.

Riverhead, New York is small town on the east end of Long Island sitting at the mouth of Peconic River.  Many people associate Riverhead with the Aquarium, the water park Splish Splash, and the Tanger Outlets.  These might be the most popular attractions, but Riverhead has so much more to offer.  Affordable hotels (that are scarce further east out in the Hamptons) make it a great destination to visit with families.  This post is the first of three and families will be thrilled to find something to do for every family member.   There really is a lot to do, regardless of the season or your age, so check out my list below and make plans to venture out to the east end of Long Island for a day trip or a vacation in this family friendly destination 76 miles east of New York City.

1.   Long Island Aquarium & Exhibition Center The aquarium has been one of our family’s favorite place to visit.  It is not a huge, but it has so many exhibits and interactive experiences.  In addition to seeing beautiful fishes and the sea-lion show, the aquarium is the home of three Japanese Snow Monkeys and adorable Penguins.   When my son was three he was happy touching the stingrays in Ray Bay and now at age thirteen he has enjoyed the thrill of the shark dive  and the pirate snorkel adventure.  Other fun things for the family is the Discovery Tower, climbing Poseidon’s Peak,  touring the Peconic River on the Atlantis Explorer Tour boat or hanging out in the tranquil Butterfly Exhibit.

My little guy checking out the stingrays

Not so little any more doing the shark dive with his friend.

2.  Splish Splash– This of course is a seasonal attraction and is open from Memorial Day to Labor Day.  With 96 areas of water slides and wave pools, it is no wonder that it was voted one of the best water parks in America by the Travel Channel.  One of the things I like best about Splish Splash is how the park is nestled in the trees for shade.

The Lazy River

3.  Riverhead Raceway – This is a fun way to spend a Saturday evening.  I promise the race cars whipping around the track, demolition derbies and classic carnival food will keep your family entertained.  Races are only on Saturdays starting at 6 pm and the pit opens in the afternoon where you can check out the practice and modified trials.

Riverhead Raceway

4.  Martha Clara Vineyards – More than just award-winning wine, the Entenmann’s family friendly farm is inviting for the whole family.  The kids will get a kick out of seeing the turtles, goats, pigs, cows and other animals.  This family friendly vineyard host dog walks (yes, your furry four leg friend is welcome), live music, horse and carriage rides and of course wine tasting for the adults.  The weekend we visited we were also able to pick our own sunflowers from the field and families were sprawled across the lawn with their picnic lunches while listening to the Live Reggae Music by The Roots Foundation.   The kids played games like tag and bean bag toss while adults were playing bocce. The vineyard is opened year round, so make sure you check out their website for events and live music schedule.

Check out the doggie in the wine tasting room.

The Roots Foundation keeping the crowd entertained.

Say hello to the alpaca

Walking through the sunflowers.

Saying hello to one of the horses that pull the carriage through the vineyard.

Families playing on the lawn.

The Vineyard

5.  Treasure Cove Rentals – Located behind the Hyatt Place, the Treasure Cove Resort Marina rents bicycles, canoes & kayaks, water bikes and electric tour boards.You can rent by the one or two hours or for a half a day for four hours and venture out on the Peconic River.

Kayaking along the Peconic River.

6.  Gingerbread University – This is such a fun activity to share with kids and not just for Christmas.   Families can pick from decorating their own Gingerbread house or cookies.  Each month has a theme and when I stopped by they had cute whales to decorate for summer.  There is plenty of candy in the sweet shop to add to the decorations too.  Walk ins are welcome, but it is best to make a reservation.

Gingerbread University

Gingerbread cookies waiting to be decorated.

Decorating Kits

7.  East End Art Gallery – Located in downtown Riverhead on Main Street, this gallery is run by the East End Arts Council.  The Gallery produces eight shows a year and the gift shop showcases work of the member artist.  Admission is free and open to the public.  The day I visited there was an exhibit titled Found Objects and a fabulous women named Janet gave me a little background of some of the works of art.  I found many of the sculptures and paintings whimsical and thought it would be a great exhibit for kids to get their imaginative juices flowing by looking at works of art that were made of old alarm clocks and a kitchen strainer.  My favorite  object was a very large wastebasket that looked like a Starbucks cup made from Starbucks cups found on the ground.

A work of art made from found objects.

Kids would love this.

8.  Out East Family Fun  – This is an outdoor family entertainment center opened from March through November.  Miniature golf, batting cages, and jump shot basketball (a trampoline basketball game) will definitely ensure a great time. Summer seasonal activities include all water attractions which include 4 inflatable water slides, water wars (a slingshot water balloon game), shoot and shower (a basketball splash game), and a splash zone for the little ones. This place is a must, since vacation always should include a round of mini golf!

Mini Golf for $7 per person at Out East Family Fun

9.   Affordable Accommodations – There are three options for family accommodations in Riverhead – Holiday Inn Express East End, Hilton Garden Inn Riverhead and the Hyatt Place Long Island East End, all averaging about $150 a night.   Both the Holiday Inn Express and the Hilton Garden Inn are both located on Old Country Road which is close to the outlets, Splish Splash, Riverhead Raceway & Out East Family Fun.  The Hyatt Place, which opened up a year ago is on Main Street in the historic downtown section of Riverhead and sits along the Peconic River.  It is next to the aquarium and is close to the Long Island Science Center and the Railroad Museum of Long Island.  Treasure Cove Marina is also located on the premises for kayak rentals.  Each hotel has a pool, which is another attraction in itself when traveling with kids.

10.  Picnic at the Peconic Riverfront Park – Pick up lunch at one of my favorite places, The Country Rotisserie, and head down to Milton L. Burns Park which is behind the bank on Main Street.  This is a phenomenal park and you will feel like you are in an outdoor art gallery with the carved pilings along the river.  Seriously these pilings are a work of art, and you will find carvings of the Statue of Liberty, 911 Memorial and the Empire State Building.  There is a performance area , benches and checkers and chess tables.  The gardens are beautiful with many blooming flowers. This a charming retreat with pathways, grassy areas and some shade trees.  At the entrance off of Main Street there is a new playground and community garden. Across the street, south along the river you will find Ammann Riverfront Park.  This park runs behind the southern storefronts on Main Street.  Here you will find picnic tables along the riverfront with boat moorings. Sometimes a farmers market will be set up and the park ends at the aquarium.

Milton L. Burns Park

Statue of Liberty

See, they really are works of art!

Chess anyone?

Are you impressed with all that Riverhead has to offer?  Well this is just the tip of the iceberg, with twenty more reasons to vacation in Riverhead, make sure you check out my continued post later this week!

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Now that is Historic!

A new semester begins.

Across the country many students today started or returned to college.  About 28,000 students walked the campus at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill which is the nation’s oldest state university.  UNC was chartered in 1789 and opened its doors for students in 1795.  It is the only public university in the United States that admitted and graduated students in the 18th century.  Knowing that both my son and I love history, it should come to no surprise that we visited the campus a couple of days ago, but there was also another reason to return to Chapel Hill.  I was fortunate to be able to live in this college town that is nicknamed a”Southern Part of Heaven” from 2000 to 2002 and wanted to show my son a part of his history that he was too young to remember.

This past Friday, the campus was buzzing with new freshman and their parents touring the campus with student guides.  Franklin Street which is named in memory of Benjamin Franklin, is a vibrant main street and is filled with many places to shop and eat.  We started our day at the Carolina Coffee Shop.  I watched other parents with their grown children giving them advise and trying to keep their emotions in check realizing that it might be one of the last meals they share before they have to part.

It was over my own bowl of cheese grits (something this southern girl can’t get in New York) that I realized I would be in the same position with my son five years from now.  It is these moments that you realize how quickly time goes by.  Ten years ago, I was pushing my son in a stroller around campus and in half that time he will be starting his independent life.

Carolina Coffee House

Pushing away a moment of sadness, I reminded myself that the reason I was there was to show my son the beautiful historic campus and all that it had to offer.  We walked around the campus checking out the old buildings like Old East which was the first building constructed on campus and today serves as a residence hall.  After checking out the South Building and “The Pit” (the sunken courtyard by the student union) we spent time at many of the landmarks that are often associated with UNC.


The Old Well is the visual symbol of UNC and sits at the heart of the campus. Originally it served as the sole water supply for the Old East and Old West dormitories.  Today it is surrounded with brick walls, plants and benches.  It is tradition that students drink from the Old Well on the first day of classes for good luck.  We saw many students with name tags lined up to get a drink.  My son decided to take a drink too, he said he needed good luck for his approaching year in the eight grade.  I told him a little luck couldn’t hurt.

A drink for good luck.


Like many universities, UNC has a bell tower that rings each hour.  Seniors have the opportunity to climb the tower’s steps to take in the view of the campus a few days prior to the commencement ceremony in May.


The planetarium is located on the UNC campus and is one of he largest planetariums in the United States.  Reflecting telescopes, star projectors and the domed Star Theater make it a great place to visit.  Many of the shows in the planetarium are written and produced at Morehead.  Shows range from lunar landings to black holes. One fun fact about the planetarium is that Morehead provided training for U.S. astronauts from the Mercury program to to the Apollo-Souz program.

Sundial in front of the Planetarium.


The university’s first professor of botany, Dr. William Chambers Coker developed what is now known as the Arboretum into an outdoor university classroom for the the study of trees, shrubs and vines that were native to North Carolina.  Between 1920 and 1940 East Asian trees and shrubs were added.  Today the Arboretum is is managed by the university’s North Carolina Botanical Garden and is a beautiful and peaceful place to visit.


The Inn which was built in 1924 by a UNC graduate is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This is the place to be on Friday’s between 5 pm and 9 pm from late April to mid-October.  Here you can relax and enjoy good food and bluegrass music while overlooking the tree-shaded lawn during their Fridays on the Front Porch series.


My son loves baseball and football, so checking out the stadiums where all the action takes place was a must.  We first checked out Boshamer Stadium which is the home field for the baseball team.    This stadium is new, but built within the same footprint of the old stadium.  We found the new entrance interesting since it was named Steinbrenner Family Courtyard.  Being NY Yankee fans we had to do a little research and found out the Mr. Steinbrenner and his family pledged one million dollars for the courtyard in 2006.  Apparently, Mr. Steinbrenner brought the Yankees to Boshamer Stadium to play exhibition games against the Tar Heels in 1977, 1979 and 1981. Jenny Steinbrenner, Mr. Steinbrenner’s daughter, graduated from UNC in 1981.

The Kenan Memorial Stadium has been the  home of the Carolina football team since 1927.  It is nestled among countless pine trees and when the stadium is full it can hold 63,000 people.  Of course when we were there it was empty, but I am sure it is almost as exciting as an LSU game …(sorry, I am a LSU Tiger fan despite living in Chapel Hill for two years.)


The Carolina Basketball Museum chronicles the history of UNC Basketball.   A six minute theatre presentation highlights Michael Jordan and others and the history of UNC Basketball including their six national championships.  There are interactive exhibits and cool memorabilia like a letter from Duke’s coach to Michael Jordan saying that he was sorry that Jordan was not interested in playing for Duke.


As mentioned earlier, Franklin Street is lined with boutiques, antique and vintage shops, bookstores, art galleries, hotels, the Varsity movie theatre,  restaurants, bars with live music and plenty of places to pick up UNC fan gear.  This downtown street was a fun place to hang out and spend the day.  I was disappointed we were only in town for the day, because I had a list of restaurants that I wanted to revisit like Crook’s Corner Restaurant, Mamas Dips (actually on W. Rosemary Street – yummy southern cooking like my Granny use to make), Spanky’s and Top of the Hill. I read that Chapel Hill has more restaurants per capita than any other US city, so whatever your palate is they have you covered.  I have to visit again just for an eating fest.

Franklin Street

As you can see our little tour of UNC kept us busy and unfortunately we didn’t have time for another great place to visit, the Ackland Art Museum.  Right on campus, this museum has exhibits ranging from European masterworks to North Carolina pottery.

Our visit to UNC filled me with such unexpected joy.  I loved revisiting the campus and sharing with my son a part of our life that he was too young to remember.  I told him stories of how we would often see owls in the trees as I strolled him through campus and how our neighbors told us that there was no wavering between Duke and UNC and how we became Tar Heel Fans and wore Carolina Blue.  Before leaving town, I made sure to show him his history too and brought him by our old townhouse, favorite park at the Chapel Hill Community Center and his first school, Chapel Hill Day Care in Southern Village.  As we left town on our long drive home we spoke about how cool it would be if he ended up going full circle with his education…Chapel Hill Daycare to UNC.  I guess only time will tell.

Our old townhouse.

Decked out in Carolina Blue at the Chapel Hill Community Center Park.

Have you toured a college campus with your children?  

As you can see a university campus like UNC can fill a day with countless things to do and plant the seed for a college education!

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Coe Hall

Camellia Greenhouse

Last week while roaming Barnes and Nobel, I stumbled upon what many people consider to be the “Great American Novel” on the summer reading table, The Great Gatsby.  I ended up purchasing The Great Gatsby wanting to re-read it from my high school days before the new movie comes out on Christmas Day.  Reading through F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel made me want to go visit the Long Island Gold Coast and step back into the time of the “Roaring Twenties”.  So after a little research this morning, I came up with a list of seven mansions that were retreats of the rich and famous during the turn of the century to the 1930’s. From the Gugggenheims and Vanderbilts to the Pratts and Coes, the Gold Coast was the place to be for high society and notable Americans.  Despite the heat and oppressive humidity, I decided today the place to be for me was at William Robertson Coe’s mansion which was built in 1921 and is more commonly known as the Planting Fields Arboretum.

Here is a recap of my visit to a great 1920’s Gold Coast Estate and what to expect for those who want to revisit a decade where everyone wore a hat and many carried a flask during a time of prohibition and prosperity.

M.O. & M.E. Hoffman Visitor Center

The former Hay Barn of this 409-acre estate now houses the visitor center.  With so much property to explore this was a great place to get my bearings.  I found a model display of the property, so I could easily locate everything I wanted to see.  In addition, there was a nice display and short videos narrated  by Mr. Coe’s grandson Michael, that provided me with the history of the Coe Family and their estate.  One fun tidbit that I picked up from the video was that the gates at the main drive entrance was originally created in 1712 for the Carshalton Park Estate in England and Mr. Coe had them transplanted to his estate.  You can see these gates on the silver screen in the movie, Love Story and Sabrina.  The visitor center was also a great place to cool off since there was air conditioning, so I browsed the gift shop and decided to get a drink from the Garden Cafe’ before heading back out in the 86 degree humid weather.

The Visitor Center, formerly the Hay Barn.

A great place to start your tour of the estate.

History of the Coe Family

William Robertson Coe moved to the United States with his family at the age of 14 from England. At age 15 he worked as an office boy for an insurance broker in Philadelphia and in 1910 he became president of Johnson and Higgins Insurance Company and was involved in insuring the RMS Titanic.  Mr. Coe was married three times.  He lost his first wife who died on a cruise to England.  His second wife was Mai Rogers, who was the daughter to the Vice President of Standard Oil and builder of the Virgininan Railway.  It was Mai’s fortune that went into the estate.  William and Mai had three sons and a daughter.  Their passion for horticulture, specifically interest in rare species of plants and trees led to botanical bliss. Mai passed away in 1924 and Mr. Coe quietly married a divorcee from Texas, Caroline Graham Slaughter.  Mr. Coe passed away at the age of 85 from an asthma attack in 1955. Caroline stayed in the home until her passing in 1960.

Coe Hall Mansion

The style of this beautiful mansion is of an English 16th century Elizabethan country house and was decorated by an interior designer from Charles of London.  I toured the mansion for $3.50 and the sweetest widow was my personal tour guide.  The entrance was grand with Romanesque arches.  I particularly enjoyed exploring the den which was Mr. Coe’s study that had a safe hidden beyond the wood paneling and a hidden bar off to the side. The Reception room  which was decorated in a 18th century French style  was used by both the second and third Mrs. Coe to entertain their lady guest.  Taking in the grand fireplaces, chandeliers and artistically carved doors was wonderful, but seeing family pictures in the Great Hall where the Coe’s only daughter was married made me feel like I knew the family.

The Reception Room

The Dining Room

The Den

The Mud Room where the family would mount their horses.


Cocktail Culture – The Glamorous Gold Coast Years from Prohibition to 1960 – This exhibit can be viewed until September 30, 2012.  Coe Hall was built in the same year that the Prohibition Amendment became law which was appealed in 1933.  Long Island was one of the most notorious routes that liquor was smuggled in by boat in then by road to New York City.  Mr. Coe stockpiled liquor in 1918 and 1919 and spent $35,349.72 which today would be slightly under a half a million dollars.  I really enjoyed this exhibit and didn’t realize Long Island’s history in the prohibition era.   The exhibit also had several dresses from the 1920s reflecting the flappers independence and the birth of the “cocktail dress” around 1935.  The “little black dress” made its debut when speakeasies became legal restaurants such as the 21 Club which still exist today in NYC.  There was a picture of the Coe’s daughter in front of the bar  of the 21 Club in the early 1930s.

Cocktail Culture Exhibit

Radio Bar

Planting Fields Arboretum 




The Italian Blue Pool Garden  is surrounded by spring-blooming perennials and a darling Tea House sits at the end of the pool.

Italian Blue Pool Garden

Tea House

The Rose Arbor and Rose Garden contain over 600 Tea, shrub, and miniature roses.  The Children’s Playhouse is not to far from the Rose Garden.  The Green Garden features a circular pool and the Azalea Walks and  the Vista Path are nearby.

Rose Garden

The Playhouse

The Synoptic Garden displays over 500 types of tree and shrub with little signs arranged in alphabetical order by botanical name.  I saw a few chipmunks in the Synoptic garden.


Main Greenhouse  The Main Green house orchids, cacti hibiscus, begonias and more.  Kids can be a plant detective and collect stamps at plant stations.

The Main Greenhouse

Plant Detective Children’s Activity Map

Hibiscus House

Cactus House

Camellia Greenhouse – This is the largest collection of camellias under glass in the Northeast.

Camellia Greenhouse


There are over 200 acres of woodland at Planting Fields, with miles of walking trails through the woods.

Information needed to plan your visit

Planting Fields Arboretum State Historic Park is located at 1395 Planting Fields Road in Oyster Bay, New York.

  • Grounds are open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., except December 25.
  • A $8 per car from April 1st to Labor day, 7 days a week and weekends only from September 10th thru October 31st. Admission free during winter season.
  • Mansion Tours are an hour-long and are offered twice daily at 12:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m from April 1 – September 30.
 $3.50 Tour Fee for Non-Members / Members and all children under 12 are FREE .  THe guided tour focuses on the work of the servants during the 1920s.  The tour will lead visitors through the servants living quarters, kitchen areas, the flower room, and wine vaults.
  • The Main Greenhouse and Camellia Greenhouse are open year round from 10:00 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • The Visitor Center is open April 1st thru October 31st 11:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m daily.
 November 1st thru March 31st, Friday, Saturday and Sunday only.
11:00 a.m. – 4: 30 p.m.

While in Oyster Bay, you might also like to check out Sagamore Hill National Historic Site, the “Summer White House” to the 26th President, Theodore Roosevelt. Another site to explore is The Raynham Hall Museum which was once used as British headquarters during the American Revolution and was home to the Townsend family.  Robert Townsend was the first link in a chain of agents in the Culper Spy Ring.

If you are hungry check out Canterbury Ales Oyster Bar & Grill and then afterwards walk down to Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Park to take in views of the Long Island Sound.

Are you ready for a day trip to explore the Gold Coast?

Stay tune for future post on other mansions like the Eagle’s Nest, Oheka Castle, Old Westbury Gardens, Mill Neck Manor, Condrie Hall and Falaise.

If you enjoyed this post, you also might like 12 Long Island Family Day Trips to Experience in 2012 and Touring the Top Five Presidential Homes.

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Our road trip through Western New York state and Canada included many exciting pit stops. We were very excited for our two days in Toronto because we planned on cheering on our beloved New York Yankees that were scheduled to play the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre.  We were also excited because we had planned to check off three more places from Frommer’s 500 places to take your kids before they grow up – The CN Tower, the Hockey Hall of Fame and the Toronto Zoo.  Here are some highlights from Toronto’s must see family attractions.

Taking in Toronto

The CN Tower

1.  MLB at Rogers Centre – Our visit  to Toronto was actually planned around the fact that the New York Yankees would be in town for an away game.  My son and nephew are HUGE Yankee fans and if asked, they will tell you that going to the game was their favorite part of the road-trip. They were so excited that we arrived at Gate 11 of Rogers Centre at 5:30 p.m for a 7 p.m. game.  Since we were so early, we watched some of the warm ups and stocked up on your typical ball park food.  Rain earlier that day had kept the retractable roof closed, but the boys cheered loudly next to the Blue Jay fans throughout an exciting game that included a crazy fan running out on the field.  Unfortunately, the Yankees were not able to end up with the win, but the whole experience made the boys proud that they were “loyal fans” that followed their team on the road.  Needless to say, I’ll be checking the Yankee schedule this year for our planned road trip down the east coast.

2.  CN Tower – Standing at a height of 1,815 ft, 5 inches, the CN Tower defines Toronto’s skyline and is the most recognized icon in Canada.  It is actually the world’s tallest free-standing structure and serves as a hub for telecommunications across the city.  The only way to the top of the world’s tallest tower is by riding glass-faced high-speed elevator.  I am not kidding when I say high-speed because it is only took 58 seconds to reach 1,136 ft .  No wonder why it has earned the world’s title as the #1 elevator ride by National Geographic Journeys of a Lifetime.  Of course the boys loved the elevator ride, but they had an even better time giving me a heart palpitations as they walked across the glass floor 113 stories above the ground.  I personally enjoyed the four lookout levels that offered spectacular views of Toronto and Lake Ontario that just got better the higher we went up.

3.  The Hockey Hall of Fame – I know that Canadian’s would find this hard to believe, but our family really is not huge hockey fans.  This however didn’t keep the boys from having a great time and we were excited to add it to the list of our other Hall of Fame visits (the National Baseball Hall of Fame and the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame).  The Hockey Hall of fame was more than a sports museum.  The boys really enjoyed the interactive exhibits, the NHLPA Be A Player Zone, the broadcast pods and the replica of the Montreal Canadians dressing room. Of course getting up close and personal with hockey’s Holy Grail, the Stanley Cup was one of the more memorable moments as you can see from the picture below!

4.  Toronto Zoo –  The Toronto Zoo was listed as one of the 7 Great Zoos in the world by Frommer’s 500 places to take your kids before they grow up.  I have been to a lot of zoos (including the Bronx Zoo and the San Diego Zoo which also made Frommer’s list), but I have to say the Toronto Zoo really is one of my favorites.  Yes it is big, but I found it really easy to navigate.  The “Follow the Footprints” offered three trails that were approximately an hour and included opportunities to meet the zoo keepers.  There is also a kid’s zone that is divided into biomes – the prairie and the wetlands.  In addition, there is also a Waterside Theater where you can catch a bird show and splash island where the kids can cool off.

Toronto is a great city to explore with kids.  There were so many other places we would have liked to check out if we had more time like the Royal Ontario Museum and the Ontario Science Center.

Are you planning to go to Toronto?  What will you see?

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The Maid of the Mist

Visiting Niagara Falls by far has been one of my family’s favorite memories from our road trip through Western New York state and Canada.  The fact that my son and nephew loved Niagara Falls most probably had something to do with getting wet. Really wet!  The excitement of splashing water had them shrieking with joy when we stood on the Niagara Falls viewing platform and felt the mist on our faces.  The shrieks became louder when we cruised on the Maid of the Mist which required ponchos.   Spending the day at Fallsview Indoor Waterpark and running under the 1,000 gallon tipping bucket topped off our stay and honestly there is no words for their excitement.

Most people have had an opportunity to view a photograph of Niagara Falls, but let me tell you there is nothing like seeing it in person.  Niagara Falls actually is the name known collectively for the Horseshoe Falls in Canada and the American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls in the United States.  The combined falls of the Niagara River forms the highest flow rate of any waterfall in the world.  Niagara Falls forms the international boundary between the United States and Canada and flows between the twin cities, Niagara Falls Ontario and Niagara Falls, New York.

On the viewing platform in Ontario.

The American Falls

Ready to get wet!

Breakfast at the Fallsview Restaurant.

The best way to check out the falls and “explore the roar” is on one of North America’s oldest tourist attractions, The Maid of the Mist.  The Maid of the Mist has been in operation since 1846 and departs from either shore.  Since we were staying in Ontario at the Crowne Plaza we departed from the Canadian side.  The half hour cruise sails upriver right up to the base of both the American and Horseshoe Falls. Of course with any tourist attraction there is an opportunity to learn something new from the tour and in this case interesting facts revolved around the formation the falls and a quick geology lesson about the gorges.  We also learned about hydro-electric power that is generated by the falls and shared by both eastern United States and Ontario, Canada.   As much as I love having the boys learn something new, these facts were overshadowed by getting wet and there was absolutely no way of avoiding getting drenched to their delight.  I am just happy ponchos were provided!

The boys thought cruising under the “big spill” was cool, but spending the day at North America’s largest indoor waterpark and hotel complex in their eyes was AWESOME!  Atop The Crowne Plaza Hotel was an amazing indoor waterpark that offered over three acres of indoor water fun.  The boys loved the massive indoor wave pool.  Of course they made sure they slid down all sixteen water slides. The giant plunge bowl was also a favorite.

Fallsview Waterpark

All smiles on the one of the many slides.

Niagara Falls was captivating and I am glad the boys were able to see the second largest waterfall on Earth.  (The first is Victoria Falls in southern Africa.)  My son shared that bringing him to see one of our planet’s greatest natural wonders made me a cool mom, but staying at hotel with not just an indoor pool, but an indoor waterpark made me the “COOLEST GREATEST MOM” ever!

Has your family gone on a vacation to Niagara Falls?  Did your clan get wet and wild under the falls?

Niagara Falls

Fallsview, atop the Crowne Plaza Hotel

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The family at the Air and Space Museum in March 2012.

Washington, D.C.  is one of my favorite places to visit and I love the Smithsonian.  Seriously, with so many museums and exhibits to choose from there always is a reason to visit! Another great perk is that the Smithsonian museums are FREE! Okay, well I know the FREE part has your attention, but maybe you are concerned that your kids and museums might not mix and you don’t want to hear the dreaded “this is boring” whine; NO WORRIES, museums today are filled with interactive exhibits, live demonstrations, and fun family events. To see for yourself, check out my three exhibit picks for the National Air and Space Museum when you plan on visiting Washington, D.C.

The Wright Brothers & Invention of the Aerial Age– Seeing the original 1903 Wright Flyer is pretty cool in itself.  There is also 150 artifacts and 250 photographs to view, but the kids will gravitate to the hands-on stations and the computer stations which will help them understand how the Wright brothers took flight 109 years ago.

The original 1903 Wright Flyer.

How Things Fly– Hands-on activities guide visitors through the interactive gallery which explains the principles of air and space flight.  This exhibit is divided into seven sections and has more than 50 interactive activities for kids.  Highlights are the model of the International Space Station and a section of the Boeing 757 fuselage. In addition there is an area where “Explainers” perform demonstrations kids can enter a paper airplane contest!

How Things Fly – Control and Stability Interactive

America by Air– This exhibit focuses on the early years, airline expansion and innovation, propeller airlines and the jet age.  Kids will have a great time checking out the cockpit of the Boeing 747 jumbo jet.

The boys with my Dad.

Outside of the exhibits, kids also will love the flight simulators, the space show at the planetarium and the IMAX shows.  As I mentioned earlier the museum is FREE, but these add-ons come with an admission price.

The other part of the Air and Space Museum is at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia.  Here you will find two gigantic hangers.  One is for aviation artifacts and one is for space artifacts – where the Space Shuttle Discovery now calls home.  This place is a dream for air and space fans!  Parents will have just as much fun as their kids marveling at the Enola Gay (the WWII plane that dropped the first atomic bomb) and checking out rocket boosters and spacewalk capsules.  To cap off the day, make sure you visit the control tower and watch planes land and takeoff at Dulles Airport.

Space Shuttle Discovery passes the Washington Monument on April 17, 2012 on its way to its new home at the Air & Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. (Photo posted on Facebook by The American History Museum)

Have you been to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum?  What was your favorite thing your family enjoyed?  Let me know!  

Also, please comment and share your experience if you check out the Space Shuttle Discovery!

National Air and Space Museum. National Mall at Independence Avenue at 6th Street, SW. Tel. 202-633-1000. Open every day except Dec. 25. Regular hours: 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Extended summer hours apply to certain days from late March to early Sept.; call for details.  www.nasm.si.edu

Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. 14390 Air and Space Museum Parkway, Chantilly. Tel. 202-633-1000. Open every day except Dec. 25. Regular hours: 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Extended summer hours apply to certain days from late May to early Sept.; call for details.  www.nasm.si.edu/udvarhazy

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The minute you arrive in San Diego you will more than likely be greeted with sunny blue skies and warm temperatures with frequent cool coastal breezes.  It truly is picture perfect.  In addition to the gorgeous weather, San Diego also offers many fun family attractions that show off the city’s proud heritage and culture.  My family loved San Diego!  It was the perfect destination for my son and Dad to hang out together while I had to attend a business meeting.  Luckily, I still had some time to join them in the fun.  Here are our favorites!

1.  Sea World is most probably one of the most popular destinations when visiting San Diego.  There was plenty to see and do in this 100 acre marine theme park.  We really enjoyed the Shark Encounter through a glass tunnel.  My son also liked the stage comedy show where the star was a very talented seal.  Of course, rides like Shipwreck Rapids was a hit with him too!  He was soaked and loved every minute of getting wet.  I on the other hand decided to sport a beautiful whale poncho.  I just hope I didn’t look like one!  The highlight, no surprise,  was the killer whale show.  Where else can you see Orcas performing water gymnastics?

2.  Hotel del Coronado is one of California’s premier ocean resorts.  The circular red roofs and turrets are located on one of America’s most finest beaches.  We learned that stars like Marilyn Monroe and royalty have stayed at this elegant wooden castle.  The restaurant in the hotel is actually named after Edward, Prince of Wales. We had fun touring the hotel and the grounds and learned that it was nicknamed “The Del”  because the hotel had numerous leisure activities for guest.  Before moving on, we took in the beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean as we walked along the smooth beach of white sand.

3.  The Gaslamp Quarter is named for the early street lights that decorated the sixteen blocks that were the home of Victorian commercial buildings back in the 19th century.  Today the Gaslamp Quarter is a National Historic District with many shops, galleries, theaters and restaurants.  There are walking tours available of this charming neighborhood.  We picked up historical tidbits and saw things like the brick firewalls that saved the neighborhood from the great fire of 1872.

4.  Old Town is the birthplace of San Diego.  The center  has a collection of restaurants and shops that have a colonial mexican design.  We enjoyed shopping and a great lunch at the Plaza Del Pasado in Old Town San Diego State Park.  On Wednesdays and Saturdays  you can catch volunteers roaming the streets in period costumes and there are ongoing living history activities.  Also on Saturdays is the Old Town Market.  There is live music at this artisan fair and it is free.

5.  Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial is beautiful site to honor our country’s veterans.  As you will see from the pictures below the view from the mountain top was amazing, not to mention quite serene.

6.  The San Diego Zoo was on our must see list since it is listed as one of the “Seven Great Zoos” in Frommer’s 500 places to take your kids before they grow up.  With more than eight hundred species of rare and endangered animals my son and Dad had a lot to see.  The animals were separated by moats instead of bars and the grounds were filled with many exotic plants which my Dad appreciated since he is a “garden man”.  Another thing my Dad appreciated was the guided bus tour since the zoo was so large.  My son is fascinated with Australia, so he really enjoyed seeing Koalas and Kangaroos and shared his excitement with me.  He was quick to add that just because he saw a Koala bear didn’t mean that he still didn’t want to go to Australia!

7.  The Maritime Museum consist of several ships and submarines.  Exhibits for the museum are  on a turn of the century riverboat, named the Berkeley.  The Berkeley carried refugees from the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906 to Oakland.   The most popular ship is the  fully-restored windjammer named the Star of India.  The Star of India has been in the San Diego harbor for seven decades and is the oldest active sailing ship in the world.  The Russian Submarine was also a big hit with my son.  This was a great way to spend the day on the waterfront.

8. USS Midway is also on the waterfront and conveniently right next door to the Maritime Museum.  This aircraft carrier’s odyssey stretched from the end of WWII to the liberation of Kuwait in 1991.  An impressive 47 years!  There was more than 60 exhibits and 27 restored aircrafts to explore.  My son had fun checking out the crew’s sleeping quarters and the ship’s jail.  The flight simulators and interactive exhibits like the “Ejection Seat Theater” will excite any kid, big or small!

9.  Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres offers a behind the scene guided tour that is great fun for any baseball fan.  I had went to the 1998 World Series when the Yankees scored a victory against the Padres and I couldn’t wait to take a walk down memory lane with my son.  He was allowed to explore the dugout and check out the press box.  For baseball fans, this is fabulous ball park to visit.  There is not many baseball fields that have a sandy beach and palm trees for a backdrop!

Our trip to San Diego was nothing but delight! I loved that the city was vibrant, but without attitude.  The easygoing nature of the people and the fabulous weather had me considering a move out west.  Since that is unlikely, I guess I’ll just have to make another trip.  There are still many places that my son and I still need to explore like Presido Park, Heritage Park and the many museums in Balboa Park.  I am sure my son would love to take a thrill ride on the Giant Dipper at Belmont Park along Mission Beach.  I also heard that the San Diego Zoo Safari Park is great too, especially the behind the scene tour.  Looks like we have an excuse to head back out to San Diego!  Have you been to San Diego?  Do you have any places we should add to our must see list?

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