Our Dixie Chicks Staycation at The Embassy Suites The Woodlands

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We love staycations.

Taking a one or two night stay somewhere not too far from home has become our solution when we start climbing the walls and need a change of scenery. We love to travel, but time and money prevents us from taking a full week trip somewhere far away more than we’d like. And with a soon-to-be high school freshman who is in band and plays sports, our time and …. gulp, money are going to become even harder to come by.

We’ve taken several staycations at The Woodlands. It’s only 30 minutes from our house in Northwest Houston, but if feels like we have truly gotten out of town. When I heard that The Dixie Chicks were coming to the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion on August 6th, I knew I had to get tickets and make it a last summer vacation outing for our family.

We were very excited to be invited as guests to stay at the Embassy Suites by Hilton The Woodlands at Hughes Landing for an evening so we could see the new property (they opened last December 2015). It was perfect to combine our stay with our concert plans so we could relax and not have to make a late night drive home after the show.

We’ve stayed at several different Embassy Suites hotels over the years…most recently at The Embassy Suites Irvine when we took an Orange County vacation earlier this summer. We love that all the Embassy Suites hotels offer large, comfortable 2-room suites, complimentary drinks at a reception in the evenings and free made-to-order breakfast in the morning.

The Embassy Suites in The Woodlands is just minutes from the The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion and within walking distance of Restaurant Row. After we checked-in at 4:00 p.m., we walked down the street and had appetizers at Del Frisco’s Grill and macarons at Macaron by Patisse. Other restaurants right by the hotel include California Pizza Kitchen, Escalante’s, Starbuck’s, Blue Fish, Local Pour and Fogo de Chao. While we were there we noticed they have free evening movies overlooking the lake. A fun family activity within walking distance of the hotel – but we already had plans!

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Back at the hotel, the kids wanted to take a quick swim – Because – hello infinity pool!

Located on the third floor, the pool is small but elegant and it wasn’t crowded. A glass wall over looks the lake and restaurant row and they had several lounge recliners that we hung over the side of the pool so we could relax in the water. The kids didn’t want to leave, but we had to head to the room to get ready.

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While many of the Embassy Suites hotels (and all the ones we’ve previously stayed at) have a large atrium in the middle of the hotel in which all the rooms overlook, The Woodlands location is designed like a traditional hotel. Our room on the 9th floor was on the corner and had a living room and bedroom with large, beautiful windows and a balcony.

Seriously.

Look at this view.

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While standing on our balcony, we saw some people kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding on Lake Woodlands  (wait – what? We LOVE to SUP!). You can rent them at the near-by Riva Row Boat House and we will definitely be back to do this when it cools off in the fall.

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Before going to the Pavilion, we stopped by the lobby for free drinks (a glass of wine for mom and soft drinks for the kids!) and snacks…we weren’t the only Chicks fans there. While the Pavilion isn’t far, it’s a bit long for a late night walk. Many people took a cab or called Uber, but you can also drive. We were “Dixie Chicks Serious” about getting to the show on time!

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photo courtesy of Ken O’Quinn, Storyteller Communications

The concert was so crazy, fun. This stop on the DCX MMXVI World Tour is the first time they’ve been back to Houston in nearly a decade.

They’ve been a long time gone.

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photo courtesy of Ken O’Quinn, Storyteller Communications

Annie plays the violin so she loved watching Martie fiddle. I’ve been a fan for a long time. I used to sing Godspeed to the kids when they were babies to help them drift off to sleep at night. The crowd went crazy when they played a tribute to Prince (Nothing Compares 2 U), Wide Open Spaces and Cowboy Take Me Away – but we lost our collective minds with Goodbye Earl and their first encore, Not Ready to Make Nice.

We had a great time, but were hot and tired and so thankful we only had to travel 2 minutes to get to our comfy beds at the Embassy Suites. The next morning we had our complimentary breakfast in the lobby. Scrambled eggs, fresh fruit, french toast, bacon, sausage and biscuits with gravy. They also offered made to order eggs and omelets and had fresh juice and coffee.

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In addition to the water fall in the lobby in the picture above, check out this fountain in the courtyard by the restaurant. I love water features like these. So calming.

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We talked to several people in concert t-shirts about the show before heading to the pool for another swim. While we hated to leave, work and Jackson’s all day band practices that started the next day were calling us back to reality. But we’ll be back to The Embassy Suites to SUP on the lake or when another band comes to town we want to see.

Or when we just want to live life on the edge…. relaxing in the pool.

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We were guests at The Embassy Suites and received a free night stay in order to review the property. No other compensation was received and all thoughts, opinions and sore throat from singing too loud at the concert are my own!

 

 

 

Surf City USA Day Trip – 7 Family Friendly Things To Do in Huntington Beach

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While you can definitely fill a full week relaxing in Huntington Beach, California, if you only have a limited amount of time to play in Surf City USA, no worries. We have the perfect itinerary for a full day of family-friendly fun in this casual and cool Pacific Coast community.

My family and I stayed in the beautiful Irvine and Costa Mesa areas while visiting Southern California this summer, the perfect home base for a vacation in Orange County. The Costa Mesa Marriott is 10 minutes from Huntington Beach, so we had just a short, 20-minute drive back to the hotel after a full day of fun. For information about things to do in the Irvine and Costa Mesa areas, be sure to visit my post: Family Travel – Fun Things to Do in Irvine, California #OrangeCounty.

Our friends at Visit Huntington Beach hosted our visit for the day and helped us coordinate a schedule that included a combination of water sports, good food and relaxation that was perfect for me, my 10-year-old daughter and 15-year-old son. If you are planning a girl’s getaway, romantic weekend or vacation with younger kids, they have a lot of other ideas about things to do in the area – so be sure to check them out for ideas before you arrive.

A DAY IN HUNTINGTON BEACH

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1. Learn to Surf – When in Surf City USA, you gotta surf! After all, Huntington Beach has the most consistent waves on the West Coast. If you don’t know how to hang 10, surf lessons from Toes On The Noes is the perfect thing to do in Huntington Beach.

Located at the Hyatt Regency Resort and Spa in the Retail Courtyard, Toes On The Nose offers lessons for those of ages 6 and up with any level of experience. As first timers – we were so excited about the opportunity to hit the waves with a little help from the pros. 

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After putting on wetsuits (provided by Toes On The Nose), we walked across the street from the hotel to the beach with our two instructors, Brock and Paul. Our 2-hour morning lesson started with a brief explanation about technique and we practiced going from the paddling position to standing on our surf boards while we were still on the sand.

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Then we hit the water. Jackson went up immediately and Annie was soon to follow. It took a few more tries for me – but it turns out you CAN teach an old dog new tricks. I wasn’t going to win an award for style, but I had a blast riding a wave all the way in to the beach.

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Brock and Paul were so patient and nice. They’ve both been surfing for a long time, especially Brock who started surfing when he was just a little one in preschool. It’s clear they are in their happy place when in the ocean. Even though they are clearly very experienced, they seemed to really enjoy surfing with us rookies and were excited for us when we got up on our boards. We all enjoyed getting to know them…it’s always awesome to meet people who are living their dream.

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After a while, it was clear that Jackson was really progressing quickly. Brock took him out to work one-on-one with him so he could experience as much as possible before the end of our lesson. It was so fun to watch Jackson feel the thrill of catching waves on his own. While Paul and I watched him from the beach, Paul told me that he could tell he had the bug. Paul got it when he was 13 years old and has been hooked on surfing ever since. He could tell Jackson was heading there.

Jackson stood a little taller when Brock and Paul asked him to come see them next time we visited Huntington Beach so they could go surfing together again.

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While surf lessons are a bit of a splurge – it’s totally worth it if you’ve never done it before. I also felt so much more comfortable knowing the kids had experienced surfers with them who knew about rip currents and how to be safe while having fun. Our instructors really maximized our time in the water, giving us the chance to catch waves immediately by telling us when to pop up…timing is everything.

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Many thanks to Brock and Paul and Toes On The Noes for an epic morning.

Jackson said it was lit.

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2. Ride Bikes Down the Boardwalk – After your surf lessons, rent bikes at Toes On The Noes (they also offer hourly and daily bike rentals) and cruise down the Boardwalk. There’s an 8.5 mile paved beach path perfect for pedaling around. It’s a great way to soak in the sun, the views and the relaxing vibe of Huntington Beach and the Pacific Ocean. We worked up an appetite after hitting the waves, so we rode our bikes from the Hyatt to Sandy’s Beach Grill for lunch. Bike rentals come with locks and you’ll find bike racks all along the paved path, so you can stop to shop or eat or just relax on the sand.

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3. Have Lunch at Sandy’s Beach Grill – While on your bike ride down the boardwalk – stop in Sandy’s for a bite to eat. This casual restaurant serves authentic California cuisine and is right by the iconic Huntington Pier. We had delicious scallops and mushroom flatbread at a table with a great view of the ocean. It was so yummy and relaxing and we were able to lock our bikes up on a bike rack right outside the restaurant. Check out my full review of Sandy’s Beach Grill in the post, 8 Great Restaurants in Orange County.

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4. Stand Up Paddleboarding at Huntington Harbor with OEX Sunset Beach. We fell in love with Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP) last year in Florida. So much so, that we bought our own paddleboard before we left Sandestine! We don’t get the chance to go out as often as we’d like in Houston, so whenever we are by the water – we always try to squeeze in some time to SUP. OEX Sunset Beach, a kayak and SUP rental shop only a short drive down the Pacific Coast Highway from Sandy’s Grill, is a great place to grab a board and get on the water.

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Since we’ve been stand up paddleboarding before, we each got our own paddleboard – but two people can easily fit on one board if you are new to the sport and have younger kids. OEX Sunset Beach also offers lessons if you want to learn before you head out on your own, but SUP is really easy…you just have to find your balance. While it’s a lot of fun, relaxing and a great way to explore – it’s also a great workout. We went out around 3:30 p.m. so we had two hours to play. OEX Sunset Beach closes at 5:30, so all kayakers and paddleboarders have to be in by then.

The harbor is beautiful and there were a lot of kayakers and paddleboarders out on the water. We had fun exploring the area and looking at the boats and homes along the way. Paddleboarding is very calming to me. I love falling into the rhythm of paddling as I glide across the water. The kids love it, too. It’s a great way to see the water from a different perspective and while we didn’t talk a lot – it’s fun to experience SUP together with your family.

We went pretty far out, around several bends in the Harbor and before we knew it, it was time to head back. It was a little windier then we anticipated and because we were going against the wind on the way back, we made it back with only about 10 minutes to spare! With tired arms, tighter abs and full hearts – we turned in our equipment.

Tip: Parking is limited in their parking lot but you can park for free along the highway. You can also store your valuables in the shop (car keys, etc.) so you don’t have to worry about taking things on the paddleboard.

5. Shop at Pacific City If you have time and want to do some shopping, Pacific City is a fun place to visit. Right on the Pacific Coast Highway – they have big stores like Free People and LUSH (our favorite bath products!) as well as smaller specialty shops. We went after we finished SUP and before dinner and really enjoyed CherryHills Market. They also have restaurants and live entertainment. While we just visited for an hour, we could have been here much longer.

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6. Eat Dinner at Cucina Alessa – Just a short drive from the Boardwalk to Main Street is a delicious Italian restaurant, perfect for dinner. While you don’t want to wear a bathing suit or cut offs, it’s not too fancy. We were very comfortable. Jackson got lasagna, I ordered lobster ravioli and Annie had pasta with grilled shrimp and everything was delicious. We heard that all their handmade pastas are yummy – especially the Butternut Squash Ravioli. For a full review about Cucina Alessa, see my post: 8 Great Restaurants in Orange County.

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7. Bonfire on the Beach – While there are several public fire pits available for use on a first come, first serve basis on the beach each evening, there’s a special area across the street from and between the Hilton and Hyatt hotels where you can reserve a private bonfire. Waterfront Adventures, part of the The Hilton Waterfront Beach Resort, allows you to enjoy watching the sunset on the beach and making s’mores by the fire without any of the fuss. They provide the beach chairs, fire pit, wood, soft drinks and water, and all the fixin’s for s’mores.

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This was an amazing way to end the day. We just showed up on the beach and checked in with the attendant at about 8:30 p.m. Our private fire pit was already set up. During the evening he continually checked on us and kept the fire going so all we had to do was get comfortable and curl up by the fire. We loved visiting together about our Huntington Beach adventures in such beautiful surroundings.

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Tip: Be aware that the beach closes for everyone at 10:00 p.m. Starting at about 9:45 p.m. police vehicles begin to patrol the beach – so be prepared to pack up or pay a fine!

The kids happily dozed off during our ride back to Costa Mesa after the Bonfire. Before they were out like a light, both of them smiled and said…”Today was the best day. Ever.”

So, yeah. This mom’s kinda loving Huntington Beach.

What is your favorite thing to do in Orange County?

As guests of  Visit Huntington Beach our meals and activities were provided in order for us to experience Surf City USA area attractions. No other compensation was received and, as always, all opinions expressed are my own or taken from input received from my kids.

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A couple days before Halloween last year I dyed my hair blue. Brilliant, bright, big as day, sassy pants…blue. I was going as Joy from the movie Inside Out to a Halloween party and the store bought color spray wasn’t cutting it. I wanted to be authentic. Also – I always wanted to dye my hair. Someone […]

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