Travel With Sara

An Adventure Around Every Corner


A Must Visit: Point Lobos State Natural Reserve California

I recently had the opportunity to travel to Carmel-by-the Sea, California and while in the area I found an array of amazing places to explore. Point Lobos State Natural Reserve was suggested by several folks. And let me tell you, this park is well worth stopping for. It’s conveniently located 3 miles south of Carmel-by-the Sea right off of Highway 1.


Point Lobos State Reserve

I obviously had not done my homework before arriving, as I did not have on good hiking shoes. I hiked quite a ways, but would have went further along the trail and gotten closer to the sea lions had I worn the proper foot wear. While hiking this trail the sound of waves crashing and sea lions singing away were all around. I took in every moment and the view here was absolutely amazing!

I ventured over to the Bird Island Trail and knew that the short hike out to Bird Island would be a little smoother than the first trail that I had stumbled upon.


Trail in State Reserve


Bird Island is the highest point pictured here and you can see the trail winding around. I hiked through here around 9:00 a.m. and the sun was just coming up and here you can see what the view looked like while looking back on the trail.

Sunrise in California State Reserve Park


I continued toward Bird Island and once I arrived, I took it all in! The views here are absolutely stunning! From the ocean to the sea lions, birds and the rock formations, you will find yourself sucked into all of the beauty that Point Lobos State Natural Reserve has to offer.

Sara near Bird Island

The best advice I can give you, is if you have never visited Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, be sure to have hiking shoes on. The first area of the trail is very rocky and a good pair of hiking shoes is a necessity. I would also suggest planning a picnic in this area, keep in mind, there are certain areas that are off limit for picnics. I noticed signs near beach areas, which made perfect sense.

I loved Carmel-by-the Sea and all it has to offer. This stop at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve was just another sliver of paradise that this part of California offers. The Hofsas House Hotel was the perfect spot to stay, as it was conveniently located to everything in the vicinity.

So, if you are making the drive down to Big Sur (that’s a whole other blog post), you need to stop at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve! Living in an area of the country that does not have a national park nearby, I had forgotten how nice California State Parks are, as they rank right up in the category of a national park, from my point of view. Have you visited a California State Park? If so, what was your experience like?


Make Your Christmas Extra Special With Alabama’s Gorgeous Coastline

I recently had the opportunity to visit the Alabama Gulf Coast and participate in a Coastal Christmas. Now, living in Iowa, Christmas is usually a cold time of year and filled with a snow flurry here and there. This is not the case on Alabama’s Gulf Coast. You will find a white, sandy beach, warm temps and a LOT of Christmas activities to get you in the Christmas spirit.

Wide open beach Coastal Christmas

The Wharf, is an inviting shopping and dining destination on Alabama’s Gulf Coast. A variety of restaurants and entertainment are in this area throughout the holiday season. This area is exceptional throughout the Christmas season. From the tallest ferris wheel in the South to an ice skating rink, you can experience a view and “Winter” fun!

I was lucky enough to participate in the Orange Beach Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony. Santa arrived on a fire truck, the tree was lit, several vocalists performed and then an amazing spectra of holiday lights began to shine! The lights danced to the Christmas music and it was a magical moment at The Wharf on Alabama’s Gulf Coast.

A Christmas Parade, lighted boat parade. Christmas concert with Aaron Neville and other fun community events are scheduled throughout the Christmas season. It was very difficult to find a pole along a highway or street that did not have a Christmas banner or a lighted ornament glowing. Alabama’s Gulf Coast knows how to celebrate Christmas and it is an amazing time of year to visit.

Local businesses also have several fun events planned to celebrate the Christmas season.

Lucy Buffet’s Lulu’s has a fun day planned for kids on December 13, 2014, as Billy Claus visits! Billy Claus arrives at 2 p.m. and the other cool thing? The lighted boat parade begins at Lulu’s at dusk (around 5 pm) on this day.


Lucy Buffet Restaurant


This fun children’s book that Lucy Buffet wrote will come to life, as kids can have their picture taken with Billy Claus and he will even deliver your Christmas list to his brother, Santa Claus. This is all in addition to the arts, crafts, and family friendly music playing on this fun day!

The Villagio Grille, located at The Wharf in Orange Beach, is offering a brunch and tea with Santa on December 13, 2014. Reservations are encouraged for this popular event that centers around a Coastal Christmas. The cost is $20 per person and reservations and questions can be made at 251-224-6510.

Orange Beach and Gulf Shores, Alabama make up Alabama’s Gulf Coast and they offer Christmas festivities that you will not find in just any community in the United States. No matter what time of year you visit the shores of Alabama, I know you will enjoy your stay. Christmas was a magical time to visit and I would encourage you to book a stay and experience it for yourself. This is just a small glimpse of my visit to Alabama’s Gulf Coast. Stay tuned, as I have much more to share!

*Thank you to Orange Beach and Gulf Shores, Alabama for hosting me. The opinions expressed in this post are mine and nobody else’s. I did not receive any monetary compensation for this post.


Suzie Q Café: Mason City, Iowa

Mason City, Iowa is known for its architecture and history, so it’s no surprise that Mason City would be home to one of the last known Valentine Diners in the United States. In fact, owner Troy Levenhagen says that that there are 19 known Valentine Diner’s still up and running in the country today and this is one of them! This is a little kept secret here in the Midwest and I think it’s fair to say that the word is getting out. The Suzie Q Café offers food that you just can’t find anywhere else. The owner is also a magician, so you will get a little bit of magic with your meal. And let’s face it, where else will you get a fresh cooked meal and a little magic?

Suzie Q Cafe

I visited the diner with a couple other bloggers, Jeni of Jeni Eats and Beth Ann of It’s Just Life. Jeni ordered a gyro and Beth Ann and I ordered their award winning tenderloins. Keep in mind, these are real battered tenderloins and they are fantastic! Jeni ordered a gyro and enjoyed her meal, as well!

Suzie Q Tenderloin

I grew up in the Mason City area and I did have one of the last Spic-N-Span tenderloins that was served in the early 1980’s. I can recall waiting in line for quite a period of time to get one. This tenderloin is close to one of them, but there’s still a little something missing- maybe the flies on the wall around the fryer?

Mason City, Iowa is also home to The Park Inn Hotel, the last known hotel designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in the whole world. The Suzie Q Café is on the opposite side of Central Park in downtown Mason City, just one block from the Park Inn Hotel. Breakfast is also served in this fun diner, so it’s another option for a meal during your visit to Downtown Mason City.

The Suzie Q Café recently took part in a facade project as part of a Main Street Mason City project. The building was restored to its early look, bringing a little bit of history into the year 2014 in Downtown Mason City. I enjoy visiting local diners and it’s a little more special when I can find a “gem” in my hometown of Mason City, Iowa.



Carmel-By-The Sea’s 17 Mile Drive Belongs On Your Bucket List

I recently spent time in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California and fell in love with the area. I had often heard people talk about the 17 Mile Drive in California and I quite honestly had no idea what it was all about. Well, let me tell you, this drive is a MUST! The day started out a little dreary and drizzly so I wasn’t quite sure if I should spend the $10 to take the drive. Tip: If you spend $25 in Pebble Beach, your $10 fee will be reimbursed. At around 3:00 p.m. I thought to myself, “What do I have to lose? I don’t have views like this at home in the Midwest”. I approached the toll booth, paid the $10 fee and was on my way. I thought to myself, “I wonder if this will be all it’s supposed to be?”

The first few miles were through a lot of pine trees and I must add the signage along the route was great. If you make this drive, follow the signs and you will have no problems completing this 17 Mile Drive. I came to a point along the drive where it appeared I would be driving out of the pine trees and sure enough, I drove out of the pine trees and the sun came out! It was just as though the 17 Mile Drive was meant for me. One of the first views I came upon was this- golfers out on a point, simply breath taking!

Golfers On 17 Mile Drive


The views along the 17 Mile Drive near Carmel-by-the-Sea are AMAZING! My favorite spot was at Mile Marker 16- The Lone Cypress!


Lone Cypress


While in Carmel-by-the-Sea I stayed at the Hofsas House Hotel, which was an ideal location! I flew into the Monterey airport and rented a car. Here’s another tip: Rent a convertible! The views here on the 17 Mile Drive were jaw dropping and I must admit they would have even been sweeter if the wind would have been blowing through my hair. I might add, if you have views like this every day, I am jealous!

17 Mile Drive

So, tell me! Have you been to Carmel-by-the-Sea and driven the 17 Mile Drive? If you have not, I insist that you get it on your bucket list now! You will put this drive on the top of your travel experiences of all time.


Hofsas House Hotel: Carmel-by-the-Sea, California Is Warm And Inviting

I recently had the opportunity to travel to Carmel-by-the-Sea, California and let me tell you, it was an amazing experience! My hosts were the good folks of the Hofsas House Hotel, which was just a hop, skip and a jump from all that this beautiful part of California has to offer. I flew into the Monterey, California airport and rented a car. It took me approximately 15 minutes to drive from the airport to the hotel.

Flying out of Monterey California


Once my car was parked, I did not drive anywhere within the square mile of Carmel-by-the-Sea, but I did drive the 17 mile drive and down to Big Sur. I would highly recommend renting a car when you visit Carmel-by-the Sea, California so you are able to truly experience the gorgeous coastline!

The Hofsas House Hotel is conveniently located between 3rd and 4th Avenue. Now I will admit, this was a little confusing to me; as I am used to having a number with a street for an actual address. In Carmel-by-the-Sea, there are no street numbers, as mail is delivered to a post office box. I do feel that it does add to the warm feeling of the area. There are no large neon lit signs, or numbers plastered on property located in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California.

Parking at the Hofsas House Hotel is ample and the folks that work here are some of the friendliest people I have encountered in the hotel industry.

Reception area at Hofsas House Hotel


Upon check in they let me know that a continental breakfast was available each morning, which included fresh pastries from a local bakery as well as fresh fruit. Should you opt for more during the breakfast hour, there are several small diners within walking distance of the Hofsas House Hotel.

Each room at the Hofsas House Hotel is unique. There are no two units decorated with the same décor. My room was on the 4th floor and it had a spectacular view of the ocean! The dutch doors added a lot of character to this property, as well.

Dutch Doors


And I might add that sunset is not too shabby of a view from Room #45 at the Hofsas House Hotel in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. After a long day of travel this is the view I had upon my arrival.

View from room 45

One thing I immediately noticed in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California was that dogs were welcomed everywhere! Several units at the Hofsas House Hotel are dog friendly, which is great for folks that like to travel with Fido. The town itself had doggie bags throughout the town, as well in the beach areas. This community was one of the most dog friendly communities I have ever visited.

Stay tuned, as I have much more to share about the Hofsas House Hotel located in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California and everything you can experience while in the area. This property is family friendly and will provide you a cozy place to call home while visiting Carmel-by-the-Sea, California.

Are you planning a visit to Carmel-by-the-Sea, California? Give the good folks a call at the Hofsas House Hotel at (831)-624-2745 or e-mail them at with any questions you may have. Let them know Travel With Sara sent you and you would be interested in Room #45, you won’t regret it!


*A special thank you to the Hofsas House Hotel for hosting me for two nights.





The Carnival Sunshine: Dining Tips To Make Your Cruise A Great Experience

Carnival Sunshine in Grand Turk


Cruising with Carnival Cruise Lines has became a passion of mine. My husband and I recently spent one week on board the Carnival Sunshine and let me tell you, it was an amazing experience! From the staff to the food, the Carnival Sunshine had it all. While on the ship, we did learn how to make the most out of our time and I’d like to share some time saving tips with all of you.

You will find Guy’s Burger Joint while cruising on the Carnival Sunshine.

Guys signs

The burgers are very tasty and are truly one of a kind. I did notice that there was quite often a long line for these burgers, which told me they were more than likely very tasty!

burger on sunshine

Here’s a tip that you will appreciate. Do not wait in line for one of these burgers. I walked right up to the counter with zero wait time while the ship was in port and on another day at 5:15 p.m.. We spent a portion of our day in San Juan, Puerto Rico and came back on board the ship and found zero wait time for one of Guy Fieri’s famous burgers. I then took note the rest of the cruise and sure enough, on port days, there was rarely a wait of 3-4 people. Anytime after 5:15 p.m., you could usually walk right up and grab a burger or two.

The Havana Bar area offers sit down seating 24/7.

Havana Bar Carnival Sunshine


During breakfast they serve omelettes at two food stations in this area. You can also order eggs and have them cooked up any way you like them. They also served side breakfast dishes here, such as bacon and the fixings. If you do not want to wait in a long line in the Lido area, head on back to the Havana Bar area. Here you will find the juice stations, seating and an omelette station waiting to serve you. This area of the ship was busier on port days, but the lines were never very long. The days we were at sea, this area had zero wait time. We found it difficult to find a seat in the Lido seating area, but never had any problems finding a seat in the Havana Bar area.

Stay tuned, as I will have more to share about the Carnival Sunshine! Have you cruised on the Carnival Sunshine? If so, I’d love to hear about it. We had a great experience on this ship and I can’t wait to share more about it with all of you.

*Thank you to Carnival Cruise Lines for providing 300 minutes of wi-fi while on board and one meal in the steakhouse for two. We paid for our cruise and our shore excursion.




Tropicana Inn & Suites: Convenient Location To California Disney Theme Parks

Tropicana Inn Sign


Are you planning a vacation to Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventures Theme Park? If so, I have found the perfect place to call it a night while exploring these two amazing theme parks. The Tropicana Inn & Suites is conveniently located near the main entrances to the Disney Parks in California. Having stayed on the property several times at Walt Disney World, I was a little skeptical when I booked my stay. The best comparison I can give to this location is that The Tropicana Inn & Suites is about the same walking distance to the main California Disney Park entrances that you will find from the bus areas at the theme parks in Florida.

The Tropicana Inn & Suites was located near several restaurants, which make it a family friendly location. Not only do you have the options of Disney restaurants, but you also have the ability to eat off of the property. Tip: There is a restaurant called The Pizza Press, next door to Tropicana Inn & Suites and the pizza here is affordable and delicious!

Pizza Press Pizza

You can easily return to this hotel to swim in the heat of the afternoon and then head back to the Disney California theme parks. Within 5-7 minutes, you will literally be back in the heart of Disney.


Tropicana Inn And Suites Pool Area


Some of the amenities you will find at the Tropicana Inn & Suites in Anaheim are as follows:

  • Coin operated laundry facilities
  • Theme park tickets can be purchased on the property
  • Complimentary Wi-Fi
  • Heated pool and Jacuzzi
  • Gift/snack shop

How to get to Tropicana Inn & Suites From LAX:

I flew into LAX and booked a trip on the Super Shuttle before I left from home. I had booked a flight that landed at LAX at 5:15 p.m., which was not one of my smarter moves. Who in their right mind schedules a flight to arrive in the thick of rush hour in Los Angeles? Me, raising my hand!

The Super Shuttle was super convenient. Folks with the company were carrying signs which made it easy to find. The employee was able to tell me what number of vehicle to watch for. Exactly 1 hour and 30 minutes later I arrived at my destination, The Tropicana In & Suites. All in all, considering the time of day and the distance, I was impressed. Keep in mind that the Super Shuttle transports several folks that are headed to a specific area, so your drop off time can vary. I found the service to be affordable, quick and as efficient as possible.

Have you visited the Disney theme parks in California? If so, I’d love to hear about your accommodations. I was pleasantly surprised by the Tropicana Inn & Suites and would highly recommend it to anyone heading to Disney’s California theme parks.



Three Ways To Make Your Carnival Cruise Awesome

I have cruised Carnival Cruise lines three times in the past eighteen months and I am excited to board the Carnival Sunshine, now based out of Port Canaveral, in a few short weeks! Having cruised several times over the past few months, I have learned how to make the most out of a Carnival Cruise. There’s something to be said about enjoying a vacation. When I cruise, I want to get away from the everyday routine and experience new adventures. Cruising offers new adventures and, of course, views like this!


View of Ocean From Cruise


Make your Carnival Cruise awesome by educating yourself on the ports of call before you board the ship. When you book your Carnival Cruise, you will receive an itinerary which will show you the excursions that are available at each port. Learn about each port to see what interests you. Keep in mind, it’s best to book an excursion with Carnival Cruise Lines. We embarked on an excursion to Gumbalina Park in Roatan, Honduras and found it to be absolutely gorgeous. With views like this, it’s hard to say no to a Carnival Cruise shore excursion of this sort.


Roatan Honduras flowers



If you are in unfamiliar territory, I would highly recommend that you book with Carnival. Did you know that if you don’t book an excursion through Carnival Cruise Lines, the ship can leave port without you on board?

While cruising, you can choose a specific dining time or dine on your own time. I have found that by dining on my time, I am able to squeeze in a little more “fun”. When you choose a specific dining time you need to report to the dining room at a certain time. Should something come up that you can’t make it, you can always find a buffet line later in the evening. For families cruising with extended family, the specific dining time works great. Extended families can dine together and share the adventures of their day. Cruising offers a wide variety of family friendly activities, so cruising is the ideal extended family vacation.

Experience the Serenity Deck while cruising with Carnival Cruise Lines.

Serenity Area


The Serenity Deck is an adult’s only deck that offers hammocks, sea breezes, and a quiet place to call all yours. Each Carnival Cruise ship has their own unique touch when it comes to the Serenity Deck. Here you will not find kids running around. You will find peace and tranquility with sea breezes all around you!

Before you cruise, make sure your travel documents are all current. This will make the boarding process a lot smoother. Remember, cruising has something for everyone. By doing a little bit of homework before you cruise, your Carnival Cruise will be AWESOME!



Enchanted Acres: Fall Fun In North Central Iowa

Fall is an exciting time of year in Iowa. The colors of Fall are abundant and the combines are heading out into the Iowa fields to harvest the crops. Shannon Latham, of Sheffield, Iowa, has built one of the nicest pumpkin patches I have ever visited!

Shannon Latham at Enchanted Acres


Shannon Latham’s business, Enchanted Acres, has been a work in progress. She has something everyone in the family will enjoy. One moment that has stuck with me since I left Enchanted Acres, was a man sitting comfortably in a rocking chair near the barn. He was comfortable, enjoying the sights and sounds of Enchanted Acres. There’s something to be said about a little solitude out in the country in Iowa.

If you love the colors of Fall, Enchanted Acres is for you! With several colorful pumpkins to choose from, you will find one to meet your needs. There are pumpkins for decorating, canning, pies, carving and even pumpkins for painting. So, no matter what your need is, Enchanted Acres has you covered in the pumpkin department. You can pick your own, or choose from pre-picked varieties. I observed families going out to pick their own, as well as choosing them from the piles that had been pre-picked.

Goats, rabbits and chickens are also featured at Enchanted Acres. As you can tell, Shannon takes very good care of her chickens.

Shannon Latham with chickens


If you are a chicken lover, you can purchase your fresh chicken in approximately four weeks. Story hour, craft sessions and magical parties are all taking place at Enchanted Acres in North Central Iowa. Need to know more, here you go. I think once you view this short slide show, you will find yourself planning a visit to Enchanted Acres


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Enchanted Acres is located right off of I-35 in North Central Iowa. Take the Sheffield, Iowa exit and go 2 miles East. Like Enchanted Acres on Facebook and Twitter  to keep you up to date with all of the happenings. So, tell me, have you ever visited a pumpkin patch and what did you like most about it?


Fall Break: Head To Tuckaway Shores In Indialantic, Florida

Fall Break seems to be a new trend that has popped up all across the country and I’ve got a great destination for you when it comes to traveling this Fall. How about heading to the beach? Tuckaway Shores, located in Indialantic, Florida will welcome your family with open arms. I have personally stayed here several times and let me tell you, Jacqui and her team will literally roll out the red carpet for you and your family.

Tuckaway Shores is located on the Eastern Coast of Florida in Brevard County. It’s location is unique, as it is the closest beach to The Walt Disney World Resort. Hop on Highway 192 East in Kissimmee and you will find yourself at Tuckaway Shores. It is not surrounded with high rise buildings, so the beach here is secluded.


Steps To Beach At Tuckaway


The other advantage to staying at Tuckaway Shores during the Fall season is the fact that the water is still warm and there are no crowds. The surf can be amazing and the shell hunting can also be very good in the Fall. Tuckaway Shores also has some great amenities that your family will appreciate:

  • Free Wireless Internet
  • Big Green Egg Available For Guests To Use
  • Two Bedroom Suites Offer Basic Cable TV In Both Rooms
  • Pool & Beach Toys Available For The Kids
  • Complimentary Beach Chairs & Pool Towels
  • Private Beach Access & Beach Shower

The two bedroom suites here are all literally within a few feet of the beach. There is no long walkway to walk across, you will be on the private beach within one minute.

The fact that the two bedroom suites have fully equipped kitchenettes and guests have access to The Big Green Egg, there’s no reason for anyone to be hungry while staying at Tuckaway Shores.


Big Green Egg


Each oceanfront suite offers amazing beach décor and a super clean room. Tuckaway Shores is proud of the fact that they have earned the White Glove Award from 2009-2013. And you know what that means? They have passed the White Glove Test- yep, they offer a super, clean place to call home.

Brevard County and Florida’s Space Coast offer a lot for families. Book your Fall Break get-a-way today and find out what all the buzz is about when it comes to Tuckaway Shores. And if theme parks are your thing, Orlando is just a little more than 90 minutes away!

It’s looking like this time of year is getting to be almost as big as Spring Break when it comes to family travel. So, tell me- Are you heading anywhere for Fall Break?