Southwest Destinations: Zion National Park

Zion National Park ranks as one of the most popular national parks in the United States of America. Located in southwestern Utah outside St. George, visitors flock to its jagged skyline throughout the year, taking in the scenic trails and green mountain peaks. Since Zion is only a three-hour drive from Las Vegas, it makes for the perfect weekend getaway. It’s a place to go for a weekend getaway, a long camping trip or a day trip.

The most popular time of year to visit Zion is spring and summer, but you can visit the park throughout the year. Some activities are or unavailable throughout the year, such as certain hiking trails, river trips and camping, but that doesn’t seem to slow Zion visitors down.

The entrance fee per vehicle as of 2016 is 30.00, which is standard entry for most parks nationwide. They offer an annual pass for 50.00, which is important if you live in the surrounding area. It’s important to know off-road vehicles are not allowed inside Zion National Park. If you have an off-road vehicle, Bryce Canyon would be a better option for you.

There are a number of things you can do inside and just outside Zion. Inside the park, there are various hiking trails, camp grounds and canyons to explore. Some of the popular hiking trails include the Watchman, Northgate Peaks and Angel’s Landing. The Watchman ranks as an easy trail, but Angel’s Landing is not for the faint of heart. Roughly five people have died from falling off the 1,488 foot tall rock formation. The park suggests children, the elderly, and everyone with fear of heights avoid this trail.

Canyoneering is another popular activity inside Zion. While it is an activity that the entire family can take part in, all canyon trips require permits. Zion Adventures offers courses in canyoneering and rock climbing for children and adults, and provides assistance to its clients in securing the proper permits.

If you decide to stay inside the park, the Zion Lodge offers motel rooms, cabins and suites for its guests. If you’re unable to secure a space in the lodge, there are a handful of bed and breakfasts outside the entrance to the park, as well as in neighboring towns such as St. George and Kanab.

Chicago Eats: Five Restaurants to Try in Chicago

Chicago is known for many things, including The Cubs, architecture, the mob and food. Everywhere you look on the downtown streets of Chicago, you can find a variety of food options to choose from. To help narrow down your choices during your next Chicago trip, below are five of the most popular places to eat at:

Tapas Valencia

Tapas Valencia is a Spanish-style restaurant located near the Southside of Chicago. With its bright décor and items like on the menu from paella to grilled chicken breast, Tapas offers an interesting and unique dining experience. The average cost per person varies from 20-40 dollars per plate, but those prices include soup, an entrée and a dessert option.

Potbelly Sandwich Shop

Potbelly is a chain restaurant and perhaps the most inexpensive on this list. The menu is simple; it includes sandwiches, salads, oatmeal, smoothies and chili. If you’ve been to one before it’s not going to be much different, but if you’ve never experienced a Potbelly Sandwich it’s certainly worth checking out. You can find multiple locations throughout the city, including the downtown area.

Andy’s Jazz Club

Andy’s Jazz Club is easy to miss if you don’t know where to find it.  Located off State Street and Hubbard, Andy’s Jazz Club has a long and respected reputation. The prices at Andy’s are decent, but it’s important to note that there are time limits on seating during the weekends. They give you two hours to enjoy your meal, but after that, they ask that you move to the bar area to make room for additional guests. The menu, standard American fare, is simple, delicious and affordable.

Girl & The Goat

Girl & The Goat is a place to go if you want to celebrate. The stylish, romantic atmosphere makes a perfect setting for a wedding reception, graduation dinner or an anniversary night with your beloved. The menu is a melange of American, Asian and Latin American flavor. One of their famous dishes is the Oven Roasted Pig Face. The meat does not come on a skull, rest assured; it comes on a plate with an egg on top. Other featured items include roasted cauliflower, goat empanadas and braised beef tongue.

Reservations are highly recommended.

The Purple Pig

The Purple Pig is always packed, much like Girl & The Goat. They are one of the places on this list that don’t accept reservations, so if you get there be prepared to wait (if it’s busy). Their pork items are their specialties, of course, but the menu also includes turkey confit, lobster and stuffed olives. Their family-style menu is unique to this establishment and includes their dessert items. The Purple Pig comes highly recommended by most Chicago locals, not only for its flavor but its service as well.

Las Vegas Restaurant Review – Margaritaville

Margaritaville isn’t unique to Las Vegas, but I think it offers an experience that is very fitting amongst the neon and sparkle of the Las Vegas Strip. Located inside the Flamingo Hotel & Casino, Margaritaville is one of the most colorful and entertaining places to eat in Las Vegas.

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Owned by the world-famous musician Jimmy Buffet, Margaritaville captures the essence of island escapism that Buffet’s music is known for. The restaurant chain is named after Buffet’s 1977 Hit of the same name, and the song will play periodically throughout your dining experience. The food is mostly American with a little bit of Caribbean flavor.  Late at night, the restaurant morphs into more of a bar/club sort of setting, with room for live music and dancing. The music is mostly chart toppers from the 80s and 90s, so there’s a wide variety for everyone.

Pros

One big thing Margaritaville has going for it is the drink prices. Drinks can cost you an arm and a leg on the Strip, and Margaritaville offers a reasonable drink menu throughout the day and night.  The best part is – they are not only inexpensive, but good too. My personal favorites are the pina coladas, but they have a wide enough variety of beer and cocktails that everyone can find something to enjoy. The food is also reasonably-priced, especially compared to other nearby restaurants.

Another thing that sets Margaritaville apart is their hourly entertainment. An aerialist appears at the sound of “Margaritaville” and performs some amazing feats of flexibility on a fish hook.  This is a rare sight on the Strip, and I personally think it adds to the fun and fresh atmosphere. You’ll only be able to see her if you sit inside the restaurant, and not on the outdoor patio.

Cons

One downside is the wait. If you go on a weekend night, you could wait for an hour or more. But since the LINQ is right next door, you can always check in and then window shop while you wait. Parking can also be an issue. The Flamingo is the oldest hotel on the Las Vegas Strip, and its parking structure needs a makeover. I suggest parking in open lot behind the Linq and the High Roller and walking; it will be a little bit of a trek but it’s worth it.

San Francisco Eats: Four Restaurants to Try in San Francisco

San Francisco is the city of fog, free spirits, and food. Everywhere you turn, you can find sushi, dim sum, burgers, pasta – pretty much anything your heart may desire. It is a city rich in distinct flavors, from fresh seafood, clam chowder and some of the richest chocolate you’ll find in the United States. It can be difficult to narrow down your choices during your vacation with so many places to go; the list below will offer a variety of options, from Asian to Italian to dessert.

Z & Y Restaurant

Z & Y Restaurant is one of the best known Chinese spots in the entire city. With past patrons including our current president, Z & Y is the place to go especially if you like spicy Chinese cuisine. With all the items on the menu coming in under twenty dollars each, it makes for an affordable dining experience as well. They do takeout as well if you can’t do a sit-down meal.

The Stinking Rose

The signature of The Stinking Rose is garlic. Lots and lots of garlic. They put garlic in everything, from the pizza to the ice cream. It seems kind of strange at first glance, but it grows on you. This isn’t a place to go if you don’t like garlic, obviously, but if you do (or if you can just stand it) it’s worth checking out. The place is always busy, so it’s best to call ahead and place a reservation.

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Ryoko’s Japanese Restaurant & Bar

Ryoko’s has absolutely delicious sushi. It’s got an interesting mix of music, and depending on when you go you might catch the live entertainment. The prices are comparable to other sushi places throughout the city, which is another added bonus. The place is small, as is a lot of the sushi spots in the downtown area but the flavor and the sake are the worth the lack of elbow room, time and time again.

Ghirardelli Square

Ghirardelli Square is the place to go in San Francisco for dessert. Locals left and right recommend the hot fudge sundaes above all else, and the line to get them is a testament to their infamous decadence. There’s a multitude of choices for dining options in Ghirardelli Square, from Lori’s Diner to McCormick & Kuleto’s, but to pass up a chance to try original Ghirardelli chocolate is an opportunity sorely missed.

Three Reasons Why You Should Visit the Shedd Aquarium

 

I made my first visit to the Shedd Aquarium this past summer. It is part of the Chicago City Pass bundle (which I highly recommend getting, by the way). I decided to hit the aquarium after seeing the Field Museum. I covered the entire aquarium in about two hours, including the free film that is included as part of the City Pass. If you think aquariums aren’t interesting, or you’re not sure what to do on your next vacation, here are three reasons why you should consider putting the Shedd Aquarium on your list:

The Sheer Size

It’s the largest indoor aquarium in the world. The Shedd Aquarium first opened in 1930, and remains the largest indoor aquarium in the world ever since. Like the Field Museum, the aquarium’s classic architecture makes it stand out in a city with an eclectic skyline. I skimmed my way through each exhibit, but I spent most of my time watching the whales and the penguins, which I’ll get more into later.

It’s close to other points of interest

It’s within walking distance of The Field Museum, the beach, and the Buckingham fountain. I walked from my hostel to Grant Park, the location of both the Field Museum and the Shedd Aquarium. I don’t recommend doing that, but do try to do both on the same day if you can. If you can’t, just take a stroll through Grant Park and get a hotdog from one of the food stands. Grant Park is gorgeous, and it was worth the long walk and the bruised heels I had by day’s end. There’s plenty of great places to eat around Grant Park if you forgo the aquarium’s food options, but I recommend the Potbelly Sandwich Shop.

The animals that call the Shedd Aquarium home

Beluga whales and penguins. If you’re still not sold on the Shedd Aquarium, go for the beluga whales. I have never seen a beluga whale before, and now it ranks high on my list of coolest animals. Their domed heads make them look otherworldly, and they swim so fast sometimes it’s hard to get a good look at them. I wasn’t at the aquarium in time to see any of the live shows, but I did get to see the whales eating. They don’t jump like the dolphins at the Mirage, but watching them cut through the water is captivating. The penguins are equally entertaining; I watched the penguins play and swim for half an hour, amused by their boisterous and animated interactions.