There’s a certain mystique that comes alongside the signs which state “National Register of Historic Places.” Even more so, the places which are waiting to be named.
Occasionally in disrepair, like the Prado Dam Mural in Corona, California, these places hold significance to a great many, yet have often yet to be recognized for their cultural and historic significance. Status doesn’t matter to Jeff McCabe, owner of One Way Painting, based in Orange, California. Luckily enough, the pursuit of a singular passion has been enough to keep Jeff pushing for a complete repair and repaint of the Prado Dam.
The journey began in 2012, when Jeff passed by the mural on the 91 freeway, but unlike over 300,000 other drivers that see it on their daily commute, Jeff took notice of the state it was in.
“I wanted to repaint the dam after seeing it fall into disrepair,” he says. “It was being tagged. As a sign of our patriotism, it felt like people were disrespecting our flag and country.”
Jeff, like many others, was born in 1976. A Bicentennial Baby as his mom called him, the mural has always held a special place in his heart. The mural was originally painted the year he was born, by the students of Corona High School. Part of a school project and contest, Ron and Perry brought 30 of their friends along and over two weeks, painted the mural.
Celebrating America’s 200 years of freedom, the unveiling of the mural was part of the Bicentennial celebrations that took place all over the States. “Ten years in the making, with close to 60,000 events planned,” reporter Dave Mecham said “it was like the 4th of July on steroids, celebrated throughout the entire year.”
After years of attempted connections, Jeff finally made headway with the Army Corp of Engineers. And not too soon. By chance his brother Jim “saw online that the Corp was settling up to strip the mural, and that there was a group of the original artists, now in their 60’s, who were trying to save it.”
Joining forces, Jeff, Jim, and the former Corona High students formed the Bicentennial Freedom Mural Conservancy, whose sole purpose is to repaint the mural and preserve it indefinitely, for future generations to enjoy. Key major contributors include Dunn-Edwards, Rust-Oleam and Orange County-based Veteran Air.
“Upon completion of the repainting of the dam, there will be an unveiling, dedication and ribbon cutting ceremony.” A labor of love, like the first time around, the mural is still a symbol of American resiliency, hard work, and dedication. Just ask the moms who fed the original 30 students, or each individual private donation to cover labor and materials, insurance, equipment, worker’s compensation, and insurance. Mystique or no, the Prado Dam mural is here to stay.
The first time I heard of Ketamine was a few years ago from a friend in nursing school. Then again recently from another friend whose mother suffers from fibromyalgia as she began researching therapies to relieve chronic pain. A growing number of studies have found that Ketamine can be effective for people with a myriad of chronic pain and mental health conditions, including treatment-resistant depression, anxiety and PTSD.
Based in San Juan Capistrano, Renew Ketamine Infusion is the brainchild of Tanya Dall, MD and Justin Yanuck, MD – board certified physicians who became colleagues and friends in their emergency medicine residency training at UCI Medical Center. Both have extensive experience utilizing Ketamine for various medical indications and treating complex pain disorders. Dr. Dall studied physiology at the University of Arizona, and went on to obtain her medical degree from Georgetown University. Dr. Yanuck received his medical degree from UCI and then completed a Pain Medicine Fellowship at Harvard Mass General Hospital.
Ketamine was originally FDA approved in 1970 as a safe way to anesthetize patients. However, as is common in medicine, often one medicine can have multiple uses and over the last 20 years research has been building showing Ketamine’s safety and efficacy for a range of psychological disorders. Dr. Yanuck and Dr. Dall use Ketamine nearly every day in the emergency room for things like procedural sedation, and treatment of acute pain. A few years ago, they had a conversation about how frustrated they were with the current framework for how most mental health and chronic pain conditions were treated, and that for many patients, they not only get little to no relief from these traditional medications, but often suffer undesirable side-effects. That night, some new articles on the efficacy of Ketamine came up in conversation, and the rest is history. Renew Ketamine Infusion was founded shortly thereafter.
The basis of Renew is to treat each patient as a unique individual, and to take a holistic approach to the entire Ketamine experience. “We don’t believe in a model where everyone receives the exact same dose, or the same dose at each infusion. Everyone responds differently and we treat you like the unique person you are,” says Dr. Dall. The infusions don’t happen in a vacuum: each session has a specially-trained MD (Dr. Dall or Dr. Yanuck) to oversee it, which allows for in-the-moment adjustments as needed, and is preceded and followed by integrative psychotherapy consultations with a licensed clinical psychotherapist specially trained in Ketamine assisted psychotherapy. Furthermore, each infusion takes place at their clinic which places an emphasis on patient privacy and comfort. Their clinic is far from the typical sterile medical office and has more of a spa-like atmosphere. The clinic opened last year, and the program is built on years of clinical experience and research.
Renew treats depression, anxiety, PTSD, OCD, addiction, suicidality, chronic pain and fibromyalgia. All of which have something in common: stress. When someone is in a chronic stress state, there is a reduction in the number, function, and quality of brain connections. Ketamine has been shown to increase the function and quality of connections. These connections allow neural pathways to open back up, producing proteins that increase the number of synapses in the brain. These synapses lead to a rapid resolution of symptoms – if your mind-body connection is restored in a big way, you’ll find relief.
Dr. Dall is quick to add that while Ketamine is not a drug that will solve all psychiatric ailments, “we believe Ketamine combined with psychotherapy gives patients - especially those who have not responded to previous therapies - the best chance of relieving one’s symptoms so they can live a life free of the burdens of mental and physical anguish.”
Patient Claire says she had been suffering from depression for years and despite trying multiple medications and years of therapy, she “couldn’t get out from under the weight of depression.”
“To be honest, I was skeptical about Ketamine clinics, I felt like if this worked so well, everyone would be doing it,” she says. “After my first session, I was a believer. I’m now two months out from my last injection, and while I would say I still have some baseline depression, I feel 95% better. Words cannot truly describe what the experience through the infusions taught me and how much better my quality of life is now. I’m so grateful for the entire staff at Renew Ketamine Infusion for giving me my life back.”
Dr. Deepak Chopra was interviewed recently, and stated that as a physician, he was taught to never use the word ‘healing.’ You could treat a patient or their symptoms, but you might not heal them. He disagrees, and so do Drs Dall and Yanuck. “Ketamine takes advantage of the idea that our brains are moldable: even when our brains have been damaged, we have the capacity to heal from within. Ketamine kickstarts this healing process.”
I don’t believe in a miracle drug. I don’t think that the medication we have on the market today is capable of solving all our psychiatric ailments. But I am beginning to understand that repairing the mind-body connection might give patients, like my friend’s mother, a chance to feel relief from years of chronic pain. Especially in cases where previous or traditional treatments have fallen short.
In Drs Dall and Yanuck’s experience, and based on clinical studies, about 70-80% of people will have significant relief of their symptoms. Long-lasting relief. This is a positively staggering response rate given the patient population are those who have tried and failed multiple other therapies. They set out to open a space that allowed for the optimal delivery of this powerful medication, and have succeeded in creating a program that treats patients “not as objects that are broken, but people that have the capacity to heal from within.
Renew Ketamine Infusion
30230 Rancho Viejo Road, Ste. 134
San Juan Capistrano
It’s rumored that more than 150 movies are filmed in New York City every year. I’d wager that a good portion of those are made during the holiday season, celebrating the most populous city in the country under a blanket of white. Iconic landmarks, glittering skyscrapers, and some would argue the best slice of pizza in the US. Street food vendors, Central Park, ice skating, the tree in Rockefeller Center. Easy to see why the whole family can find something to love at the most magical time of the year or all year ‘round.
Madame Tussauds NY
The selfsame tourist hit (madametussauds.com) that attracts visitors from all over the world to its iconic location on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles has a sister venue in the Big Apple. Not surprisingly renowned as “the world’s greatest wax museum,” Madame Tussauds is home to some of the most incredible wax attractions you’ll ever lay eyes on.
We thoroughly enjoyed our experience here - sitting in the Oval Office, battling alongside MARVEL’S Avengers, or ringing up the Ghostbusters for a quick post-Halloween chat. Now, inspired by New York’s incredible gala presence, visitors can join an exclusive rooftop party with today’s hottest celebrities including Lady Gaga, Ariana Grande, and Justin Bieber; all in custom illuminated outfits.
Empire State Building
Built between 1930 and 1931, the Empire State Building (esbnyc.com) was recently voted the number one attraction in America to visit with unbelievable views at the center of it all - two observation decks offer unmatched vistas of New York City and a panorama that stretches across six states (views from the 102nd floor span 80 miles on a clear day).
Empire State Building
Our teens are big on self-guided audio tours so it was easy to immerse ourselves in the multiple exhibits showcasing the history of the Empire State Building (ESB), from its origins in the 1920s through the construction process and opening day to the specific measures taken to make ESB the modern marvel it is today as world leader in sustainability and energy efficiency.
A 102-story Art Deco triumph in the heart of Midtown Manhattan, the building gets its name from the state’s nickname, and has certainly inspired more than its fair share of cinematic moments. Save money with CityPass or time with an Express Pass: Skip the queue and head straight to the top. A perfect venue for the whole family to scope out the city, ride an elevator that counts floors in tens instead of singles, and get together for a core-memory making photos.
Big Bus Tours
Our family was blessed to have experienced a European vacation last summer. It was in Paris that we discovered one of the best ways to get around and orient yourself in a new city upon arrival: Big Bus Tours (bigbustours.com). Offered in cities all over America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East, their hop on, hop off tours give you a front row view of landmark sites and attractions. An audio tour of pre-recorded commentary offers a particularly great way to learn a bit of history/background on each of the 10 “stops” along the route and determine which were “must-see” destinations for the coming days.
Big Bus Tours
If you’ve never heard of the company, you’re in for a treat. Especially with kids in tow. No whining that their feet hurt, no sore backs from trying to piggyback a toddler 20 blocks at a time. Incredibly priced, you can choose to hop off at a particular sight to explore a bit more or stay on the bus for the entire time to snap crystal clear photos from the open-air deck for the duration of the 2.5-hour ride. Pick the option that works best for you - 1 day, 2 days, or 3 days at a time - downtown or uptown loops. Times Square, the Empire State Building, Brooklyn Bridge, Statue of Liberty and more await.
Edge New York City
There’s a fascinating and exhilarating experience now open at 30 Hudson Yards. Suspended in mid-air, and overlooking 100 stories of New York skyscrapers, Edge (edgenyc.com) stakes its claim as the highest outdoor sky deck in the Western Hemisphere. With a unique design, 360-degree views, and an incredible glass floor, lean out over the Big Apple on angled glass walls and sip champagne in the sky. I guarantee you’ve never seen the city this way before - from the rooftop garden of your favorite hotel or even from the Empire State Building. If you’re really brave, scale the outside of the skyscraper Edge sits atop and lean out more than 1,200 feet above the ground - the highest open-air ascent in the world. No more challenging than a typical staircase, though it is perched at an exposed 45-degree angle on the side of a building.
Edge New York City
Chinatown + Little Italy
Full disclosure: my husband, Tim and I fancy ourselves fledgling foodies. Over the years, we have found that taking a walking tour with an entertaining local guide has often been the highlight way to experience a city’s offerings. So I was particularly thrilled to stumble upon the Ahoy New York Tours and Tasting website (ahoynewyorkfoodtours.com) when planning our itinerary.
Literally the best of both worlds, our family enjoyed a flavorful tour of the culture and history of Chinatown and Little Italy. Winding our way through a maze of streets while regaled with fascinating tales and stopping to indulge in eight different tasting locations (think authentic Chinese dumplings and popular Asian pastries, homemade mozzarella paired with prosciutto, fresh pasta with outstanding marinara and super yummy imported cheeses and olives) - family-owned shops, off-the-beaten path locations and establishments that have been in operation for over a century. With advance notice, Ahoy even tailored our intimate tour to accommodate Tim’s shellfish allergy.
Rockettes Christmas Spectacular
I know a way to keep the Christmas spirit alive in your family’s heart every holiday season: attend the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes’ Christmas Spectacular (rockettes.com). Could be the classic high-kicks, the chorus line entertainment, the magical and seemingly instantaneous costume changes, or just the exquisite feeling of New York under a blanket of snow that makes it such a memorable experience. Perhaps it is a bit of each - but it’s most definitely a not-to-be-missed spectacular (pun intended).
Rockettes Christmas Spectacular
One World Observatory
The glittering gem of lower Manhattan’s skyline towers amongst iconic and historical buildings at One World Trade Center. Now also known as the Freedom Tower (oneworldobservatory.com), the gorgeously designed monument exists as a living museum, observation point, registry of global guests to the Big Apple, and reveals the New York skyline from its unsettled heritage to today’s uninterrupted swath of skyscrapers. Enter into a multimedia extravaganza viewable from One World Observatory where 145 screens tell the story of each face, moment, and place viewable from the climate-controlled space. All you have to do is step aboard the SkyPod Elevator, and you’ll be to the top story is less than a minute (47 seconds to be exact). What else could unite the family for an afternoon than one of the most iconic views in New York City, from one of the state’s most remarkable foundations?
One World Observatory
Circle Line Cruises
For truly unique means of experiencing some of the city’s most famous landmarks on both the Hudson and East Rivers, there’s perhaps no better option than boarding a Circle Line Cruise Landmarks Cruise (circleline.com). This 1.5 hour from-the-water perspective features breathtaking views of Manhattan’s downtown and midtown skyline and the up-close spectacle of the Statue of Liberty, while the 2.5 hour Best of NYC tour is the only cruise that completely circles Manhattan (or for the most beautiful view of the NYC skyline at night, opt for the Harbor Lights cruise).
Circle Line Cruises
In the city that never sleeps, every minute counts so purchasing a CITYPASS (citypass.com) is a great way to save time and money. The best-selling option offers 42% off your choice of five of NYC’s most popular attractions including the Empire State Building, 9/11 Memorial and Museum, Top of the Rock Observatory and the Museum of Modern Art.
There is a specific type of business person I particularly appreciate when utilizing his or her services. One who is detail oriented.
Ryan “Bubbles” Jara is just such a professional. Having been in mobile auto detail business serving Orange County for over 25 years, he must be, and especially since his specialty is restoration and paint correction on classic cars. Bubbles was the plan since the beginning, it seems.
“My uncles restore classic vehicles so I grew up in the industry," he says. "It only made sense to one day have a business of my own bringing cars back to their original glory.”
But what happens before a car becomes a classic? Those of us that pride ourselves on being detail oriented would perhaps note that a regular car wash and wax are in order. Ryan takes it one step further. Bubbles Mobile Auto Detail comes to you, and handles all of the heavy lifting - from upholstery cleaning to paint protection.
Jara's services include hand wash and wax, interior and exterior detailing, headlight restoration, steam cleaning, ceramic coating, engine bay wash and ... something my minivan could certainly use ... pet hair removal. You name the vehicle, Bubbles will ensure it is looking its finest.
“Having a passion for the cars I’m servicing takes almost no effort - I know I love this work," he says. "The commitment to excellence and knowledge of the chemical industry gives your car its million-dollar shine.”
RV’s, motorcycles, daily drivers, trucks, boats and classic cars. The convenience is unmatched and the product? Well, it’s detailed. And you know I love nothing better.
WE COME TO YOU!
• Cars • Boats
• Trucks • Motorcycles
• RVs • Classic Cars
Ryan “Bubbles” Jara
Bubbles Mobile Detail
Sweeping ocean and verdant golf course views aren’t the only thing you can come to expect from VIEW - the gorgeously appointed restaurant at Vea Newport Beach’s floating lanai. The chef-driven menu showcases innovative California coastal cuisine with a cosmopolitan perspective, VIEW capitalizes on its locale’s “chic social sanctuary where revelry and relaxation mingle.”
Other defining characteristics include an extensive, eclectic and exemplary wine list of domestic and international varietals, unique craft cocktails (think pumpkin spice martinis), seasonal margaritas and signature starters like crispy confit chicken wings (enhanced with Marshall’s farm honey, mint and togarashi) and a delicately delish tuna crudo with summer vegetables and crispy nori.
Salads arrive as meals unto themselves - seafood aficionados will love the Dungeness crab salad while fans of kale will love the View’s version with candied pecans, Fuji apples, maple vinaigrette and feta.
Entrees range from a flavorful roast chicken on farro and enhanced citrus, sauteed kale and natural demi glaze and pan roasted halibut accompanied by curried cauliflower, carrots and pistachio to the Australian Wagyu sirloin with bone marrow butter, charred greens and truffle fries and the Klingemann Family Farm bone-in pork chop paired with polenta, mustard seeds and crispy pork rinds.
The spicy crab sushi roll is super flavorful with jalapeno yuzu, asparagus and spicy furikake while the Sunset “View” Roll improves upon the traditional California roll with fresh salmon, Hiramasa yellowtail, trout roe and green curry aioli.
Relish in all-day dining, live music and a charismatic indoor/outdoor scene where light bites are paired with tableside martinis, savor signature sushi rolls or indulge in a decadent multi-course meal ... no matter what time of day you choose to linger ... you’re all but guaranteed a meal in idyll.
VEA Newport Beach
A Marriot Resort & Spa
900 Newport Center Drive
Purposefully designed to make great wine uncomplicated
One could venture to say with Micah Sampson, what you see is pretty much what you get - passion, excitement, intelligence. But each of those things is about as complex as the best glass of wine - and as a sommelier Micah will tell you there’s so much more to wine than just fermented grape juice.
“There’s history, geology, geography, chemistry, cultural studies," says the San Juan Capistrano resident. "Books and movies have been centered on it. Wars, empires, and country lines have been fought over it.”
So how is it that one of the most uncomplicated pleasures in the world is also one of the most complex and variegated? Micah would like to help answer that question - with his own brand of varietals - Somm’s Stash.
A good sommelier is a helper, a guide to finding the best wine for your food and experience. He says "basically, my job is to drink a lot of wine and know everything about it,” which reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from an author when she realized she could major in writing - ‘it was like finding out I could major in eating chocolate.’
“It’s a bummer,” Micah laughs. “But the idea of having a wine brand run by a sommelier was to give people a chance to try and learn about varietals they may not have tried before.”
Uncomplicating the wine game has worked well for the Somm’s Stash since 2020, and unwrapping the mystery of why wine is enjoyable is a task Micah foresees sticking with for a long, long time. Probably longer than the shelf life of that Chardonnay or Petite Sirah sitting in your wine fridge right now.
The best part is, you can go about it any way you want to by booking a private tasting with Micah, and seeing what really goes into the wine you love so much. Bouquet, tannins, aroma, body, finish. Formal, informal - a guided pairing or a casual dinner party with friends where he'll chat with anyone who has questions.
In a wild turn of events, what seems so uncomplicated stems from an extremely complex background of learning and teaching: the education and wine appreciation behind the distinguished certification. Whatever your reasons for coming to the Somm’s Stash for insight, leave with a personalized understanding of the real world behind wine. After all, what you see is truly what you get - you just have to understand what’s behind that first glimpse.
Micah is happy to connect personally
His cell is (562) 241-1699 or
Full disclosure: I’m a mom of teenagers and as such, am continually on the hunt for bonding opportunities that a) don’t involve electronics and b) do entail entertainment and activities that are enjoyable for both age brackets. So I was thrilled when my suggestion of a day trip to the Desert Hills Premium Outlets was literally met with squeals of excitement from my 14-year-old daughter.
Home to the largest collection of luxury outlets in the Golden State, and just twenty minutes west of Palm Springs, the center features a list of 180 designer stores that reads like a “who’s who” of the fashion industry - including Burberry, Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, Fendi, Jimmy Choo, Coach, Balenciaga, Alo Yoga, Polo Ralph Lauren, Prada, Saint Laurent, Versace, the only Christian Louboutin outlet in the U.S. and more. These reside alongside several of my daughter’s favorite retail staples (Forever 21, Claire’s and American Eagle Outfitters) and anchors Neiman Marcus Last Call and Saks Fifth Avenue OFF 5TH.
The newest stores to open here in recent months include Alo Yoga (the trendy and practical activewear line that easily transitions from studio to street), Buck Mason (inspired by the laid back California ethos of easy living, quality and simplicity), IRO (a beautiful French line of ready-to-wear pieces) and just in time for winter adventures everywhere - the West Coast’s first Moose Knuckles outlet location (the Canadian luxury outerwear collection showcases warm parkas and down coats that can withstand sub-zero temperatures in style).
Surrounded by majestic mountains with temperatures hovering in the mid-70s, our mother/daughter day was defined by leisurely strolling in and out of stores, sipping Boba tea and thoroughly enjoying the picturesque outdoor shopping oasis. With savings up to 65 percent off regular retail prices, we happily crossed several names off our holiday lists. Mother/daughter bonding + retail therapy + productivity? That sounds like an equation for a fun-filled endeavor that bears repeating in the not-too-distant future.
Desert Hills Premium Outlets
48400 Seminole Drive
There are a few places on my winter vacation shortlist: San Diego for a surf and sand staycation, Big Apple for the holidays, Big Sur to see McWay Falls at its peak, and South Lake Tahoe for literally everything else. Boating, shopping, gaming, nightlife, hiking, biking. Dining out or cooking dinner with the family, staying slopeside or near the waterfront: there are endless combinations of fun to be had. Taking a break but staying close to the amenities that make you comfortable at home can be a tough lift, but on the shores of the lake waterfront homes often come with a dock for easy access to get you to whichever activity you’d like.
Split by the massive, magnificent alpine lake in the middle, both the north and south shores of Lake Tahoe are easy to navigate and offer an abundance of outdoor (and indoor) attractions and activities year round.
Our family is rather partial to the south shore - many of our best vacation memories were made here over the years. It doesn’t matter which season you visit: whether a winter wonderland or a water enthusiast’s dream during the summer. When snow caps the Sierra Nevadas, there’s snowshoeing, cross-country and downhill skiing and snowboarding, while warmer weather is perfect for hiking, biking, kayaking or simply soaking in the picturesque environs from the shoreline. Pristine waters, deep gorges, craggy mountains and tall green trees define the spectacularly scenic landscape.
A unique way to experience the lake is to embark on a family-friendly daytime scenic cruise aboard the Tahoe Queen for a tour of Emerald Bay – an absolutely must for amazing photo opportunities. Take in some of the most incredible views in the world, enjoy lunch, hot cocoa and a good dose of South Lake Tahoe history with the Captain’s live narration.
For a more comfortable, cozy and convenient option to staying in a traditional hotel room, The Tahoe Keys Resort and Lake Tahoe Reservation Bureau (www.laketahoe.com or 800.698.2463) offers an extensive selection of luxury homes, condos and rustic cabins to suit your specific needs – whether you’re a couple looking for a romantic retreat, a family with kids or a large group of friends.
For those of us who are working from the confines of our kitchen table or a cramped home office looking for a break, Tahoe Keys Resort features abundant 30+ day-extended stay properties. Perfect for a work-vacation combination trip, or a multi-generational vacation, the opportunities for excitement and relaxation are unlimited.
Traveling with our teens, we have been booking accommodation through Tahoe Keys Resort since they were littles. The process couldn’t be easier and with so many options, we’re ensured plenty of space to stretch out, everyone has their own room to retreat to, we save time and money by being able to cook our meals and dine in rather than eat out three times a day and are within minutes of area attractions, casinos and, of course, the lake. We could easily bike to the nearby beaches, hike Camp Richardson and still be a mere stone’s throw from all the action at stateline.
Unlike vacations where we schedule a series of specific activities designed to keep everyone occupied and entertained away from the hotel room, this trip was all about taking full advantage in what the condo we rented had to offer – the kids were in and out all day long, playing frisbee, tossing a ball and enjoying a “picnic” lunch on the property’s expansive lawn between bike rides to explore the environs.
Lunches and dinners were either easy outdoor affairs – steaks, burgers, hot dogs and grilled corn cooked on the barbecue or on the last evening, a multi-course meal prepared in the chef’s gourmet kitchen – and for the adults, “happy hour” on the upstairs deck was a nightly highlight sipping a glass of fine wine while watching the sun slip over the horizon – a perfect end to each fun-filled day in one of the prettiest places on the planet.
Tahoe Keys Resort features spacious condos, rustic cabins or luxury homes for short and extended stay.
A friend of mine joked with me recently that Kansas City is the loudest city in the midwest. He assured me that it was strictly due to the volume of sports fans: Royals baseball and Chiefs football, Sporting KC soccer, NASCAR at the Speedway. Someone is always cheering.
I can’t say we’re the biggest sporting family, but I’ll wager Kansas City can compete with the best when it comes to family-friendly activities during the fall. The free KC Streetcar, located within walking distance of all the major hotels downtown, gets you to Union Station’s Science City, dubbed a “play-and-learn paradise.” Also home to the Planetarium and the Extreme Screen Theater, there’s more entertainment that you might be able to squeeze into one afternoon.
Accommodations of Distinction
Kansas City is known as the Crossroads of the US, and there’s one property located at its heart that channels the unique history of the city while celebrating its contemporary culture. The award-winning 131-room Crossroads Hotel (www.crossroadshotel.com) - with its trio of bustling bars and restaurants - is where people from all over the world and around the corner come together.
Like the energy, creativity and passion of the city it calls home, this vibrant property is all about community and connection. At every turn, local artists, designers and purveyors share their talent in its public and private spaces.
Accommodations here are stylish with a Midwestern point of view - spacious and welcoming spaces characterized by hints of the structure’s historic roots (think hardwood, exposed brick, original industrial details). Encompassing two buildings originally built by Pabst Blue Ribbon and used as a bottling and distribution center, Crossroads Hotel’s design pays homage to the city’s 20th Century heritage as “The Paris of the Plains” - a reputation earned by defying Prohibition.
Lazia, the hotel's signature dinner-only establishment showcases a fresh take on nostalgic Italian cuisine. Start with the fragrant warm house-made focaccia with your choice of small bites as accompaniment. These range from a creamy whipped ricotta )enhanced with local honey and pistachio butter) and baked littleneck clams to a roasted eggplant pecorino puree or "burger's smokehouse attic aged ham."
The kids loved the from the hearth, napoletana style pizza topped with mozzarella di bufala, basil and san marzano tomato. Popular house-made pasta dishes include the cocoa cappelletti filled with roasted butternut squash with lemon brown butter, pumpkin seeds and amaretti cookie crumble. Among the main courses meant to share is the bistecca alla fiorentina - a grilled to perfection Morgan Ranch bone-in florentine steak accompanied by Tuscan fries and black garlic bone marrow butter.
Barbecue, blues, destination dining, the arts and culture are a given, but lest we forget the Kansas City's apt moniker - there are literally fountains to be found everywhere - with over 200 in the greater metro area. Some are big and boastful in their beauty, while others are more understated but equally impressive.
If you’re looking for thrills, check out the rollercoasters at Worlds of Fun and Towers of Fun - or just skip straight to the Zoo - either way, you’re guaranteed to whoop and holler with excitement all the way through your visit. Maybe KC is really the loudest city for a reason.
A few years back my teenage daughter came home from school using the phrase “beyond.” I gathered after it was expressed a few times that it meant “extra,” or “really great.” And then I felt very old. After enough time passes though, those juvenile phrases you think you’re unlikely to ever utter become part of your everyday vocabulary. I’m sure I used the phrase incorrectly more often than not, but she and I did come to an agreement that the town we vacationed in recently fit the idiom perfectly. Branson, Missouri.
Mind you, it sports attractions you might expect to see: zoo, aquarium, family fun parks. But each feature was just the slightest bit extra - 1880’s themed park, or a massive four-story upside-down house at Wonder Works which you can spend hours exploring. A Titanic museum with a real iceberg. Excellent dining, gorgeous and expansive Ozarks views, live shows, wineries, bars, buffets and distilleries. All I can say is it’s beyond worth a trip to see for yourself.
WHERE TO STAY
The Hilton Promenade in Branson Landing (hilton.com) proved to the perfect, picturesque home base for our adventure in the Ozarks - ideally situated in the city’s historic downtown district. Within easy driving distance to the theaters and attractions on the strip, the four-diamond property (and its sister hotel, the Hilton Branson Convention Center, across the street) is located right in the heart of the shopping and dining destination at the edge of Lake Taneycomo.
Our accommodation was superb - an amenity-rich king condo that provided plenty of space for our family of four to spread out. We loved having a kitchen equipped with all the necessities to enjoy a leisurely breakfast on the beautiful balcony overlooking the promenade (bonus! a birds-eye view of the spectacular fountain shows on daily display).
For fine dining, you’d be hard pressed to top Level 2 Steakhouse. Located in the Hilton Branson Convention Center, this award-winning establishment serves up delicious dishes for every palate and an extensive wine list. A meat-and-potatoes man, my husband thoroughly enjoyed his cooked-to-perfection petite filet mignon enhanced with roasted garlic chive butter paired with an iceberg wedge and a fully loaded baked potato.
Other popular entrees include the linguini and clams, pan roasted Atlantic salmon and the Show Me Wagyu Cattle Company Burger with bacon onion marmalade and sharp cheddar cheese.
WHERE TO PLAY
Presleys’ Country Jubilee
My husband, Tim, has been telling me about Branson and specifically about Presleys’ Country Jubilee (presleys.com) for years. He had seen the performance before we were married and it clearly left an impression because he insisted we see the show when we booked our trip to the Ozarks - and having returned, I have to say is a night with the Presleys’ is guaranteed to be a historically good time.
For the last 55 years, the family has been providing legendary performances as the original country music theater in Branson. First in the caves that dot the Missouri Hils, then above ground on a lonely stretch of two-lane asphalt out of town in the Ozarks. What grew up around them along Hwy. 76 decades later, no one could have foretold. And now, among the glittering mecca of country music stars still play the Presleys’. With their unique blend of downhome family atmosphere, this one-of-a-kind mix of country, gospel, bluegrass and hilarious comedy show is a smash hit, and the crowds still come by the thousands to see. The artists are a lineage all to themselves, and the dream just keeps rolling, night after night to the tune of fifteen hundred tapping feet. Underground no more, and dedicated to making memories just as special as the day they began.
It’s about 51 degrees outside here at home as I write this and I am inside, underneath a blanket, wearing a sweatshirt and leggings: reminiscing about the experience I had reaching my hand into 28-degree water, standing on the sloping deck of the historical juggernaut - RMS Titanic. Don’t get me wrong, only a handful of folks have ever visited the actual wreckage of the world’s most legendary shipwreck. But at the living history museum in Branson, you can climb the Grand Staircase and peer into the parlors, cabins, and hallways that housed its ill-fated passengers on that icy journey across the Atlantic in 1912.
Each guest entering the ship receives a boarding pass of an actual Titanic passenger or crew member, and journeys to see private artifacts on display - a collection valued at over $4.5 million. Like the award-winning audio tour on Alcatraz Island, this self-guided tour leads you to discover your fate in the Titanic Memorial Room, descending the famed and sweeping steps of the Grand Staircase, and perhaps feeling the spirit presence of your passenger or crew mate as you experience the splendor and tragedy for yourself.
Beyond the Lens/Flyride
Its curved screen reaches up into the dark above you and boasts a full range digital audio system, but leaning into the experience is the only way to enjoy the 4k laser projectors which give you an immersive image of America’s favorite landmarks at Branson’s Flyride (beyondthelens.com). More than five years in the making, and crafted and produced by the Academy Award-nominated IMAX filmmakers, the experience includes full motion seats that soar, dip, and dive. Accompanied by delicious scents, refreshing wind, misty breezes off of the giant Niagara Falls, and other amazing effects, you don’t want to miss out. If the big screen isn’t what excites you, look no further than the Beyond the Lens experience for endless Insta-worthy photo ops, escape rooms, virtual reality games, classic arcade favorites like Skeeball and even a pop-culture timeline that stretches from the 1960’s to the present.
Anthems of Rock, King’s Castle Theatre
Now that my teens have officially outgrown what we call “kid music,” my husband and I were thrilled to discover that they both have a taste for the classics: The Eagles, The Who, Queen, Elton John. So it was a particular treat to experience the high-energy Anthems of Rock at King’s Castle Theatre. A state-of-the-art sound and lighting system makes the country’s number one tribute show an iconic must-hear (and see!).
Aquarium at the Boardwalk
You tend to see a lot of aquariums when you have kiddos. Some activities tend to lose their color, but others stay fresh no matter how many times they’ve been on repeat. I think the Aquarium at the Boardwalk holds a particularly special place in my heart because of the moon jelly infinity room. There is something so incredibly otherworldly about jellyfish - and putting their amazing bioluminescent bodies on display in an endless space with changing colors that you can control? Beyond, as the kids say these days. I’d be content just hanging out in the infinity room all day watching the jellyfish swim, but don’t miss out on the coral reef, waters tunnel straight into the heart of the aquarium (and a sunken ancient city!), or mermaid palace. Hit the kelp forest for the kids, and finish your day with some hands on experience at the touch pools.
Snowflex at Wolfe Mountain
Technology continues to advance in the most fascinating ways each and every day. Most people are talking about AI right now - in certain metropolitan areas, you can get food delivered via robot. But one of the most incredible innovations in recent years are substitutions for grass and even snow. Like most other activities, Branson’s Snowflex turned the fun up to ten on this technological wonder, and created a snow park out of the high performance polymer composite. Large enough that eight tubes can run the 400-foot slope simultaneously, Snowflex was designed to give “maximum thrills to people of all ages,” and is fun for the entire family, toddler on up. All you need are closed toed shoes and casual athletic attire to enjoy this low maintenance activity. Somehow, it’s even softer than the real thing, just in case you take a tumble. No grooming required either: which begs the question, what will they think up next?