Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden: Chinese Lantern Festival

Always one to explore local festivals and exhibits, when I heard that Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden would be hosting a Chinese Lantern Festival I, of course, had to check it out. 

Located just outside of Charlotte, NC in nearby Belmont Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden is a quick trip down 85. I had actually never visited the gardens before but it is definitely a place I will return with gusto! (A Christmas visit it at the top of my list now also- I hear they do an amazing lights exhibit!) 

I purchased my tickets online (a tad pricey at 21.95 per adult but well worth the money) and made sure to arrive with time to spare as the exhibit ran from 5:30-9:30 and I wanted to make sure I had plenty of time to check out everything. (Plus, I loathe waiting in lines so anytime I can purchase tickets online and breeze past lines- I seize the opportunity.) There was a ton to explore, winding pathways of lanterns (obviously), food trucks, kids crafting areas, a stage with scheduled entertainers, and lots of unique stalls erected selling all sorts of trinkets and souvenirs made by local craters and artists. 

Upon entering the gardens, the first thing we did, obviously, was head to the food trucks. There was tons to choose from, plenty of variety for any palate, and we decided on the kabob truck. Shrimps and bottles of water for all! After a quick stop at the wine booth we were ready to see the lights!

The lanterns were handmade in China and featured tons of unique elements including some moving exhibits with sound effects. We meandered through the walking trails, snapping pictures and admiring the handcrafted art. In total there were over 800 lanterns spanning the sprawling 12 acres of the gardens. Here are a few of my favorites: 

We made it to the stage in time to watch the Kung Fu Show, where a group of Kung Fu aficionados showed off knowledge of this ancient art. This was followed up with an opportunity for people to come up on stage and partake in a demonstration themselves, learning some of the basic moves of Kung Fu! My hand eye coordination is paltry at best so I opted to hang back and take in the show from the audience.

At the end of the exhibit, the walking trail puts you at the tent filled with stalls of handcrafted wares. Local artists booths were arranged within the tent selling anything from hand-painted pieces of art, exquisite jewelry, delicate sugared candies, and so much more. We took our time perusing the stalls and purchased two bookmarks, handmade (of course) cut shapes of each of my children's Chinese zodiac signs (a tiger and a pig!) Take a look at this beautiful artwork:

IMG_2625.JPG

The entire exhibit was a beautiful foray into Chinese culture and history, imaginative and ethereal. When the sun fell and night rose, the gardens truly came alive in a unique and wondrous way. If you ever get the opportunity to visit, take it! You won't be disappointed. 

Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens is located at 6500 South New Hope Road, Belmont, NC 28012, P: (704) 825-4490 and you can visit there website for a calendar of other events being hosted throughout the year.

XOXO, 

Coco

READ ABOUT OUR OTHER FUN TRAVEL EXPERIENCES HERE!

Craft Beer Breweries: Hops Paradise in Asheville, NC

My dear friends (and future friends),  you all know that we love to travel, and that we love to sample craft beer, so needless to say, we felt as if we landed in hops paradise when we visited Asheville, NC.

I mean, it's a shame that we hadn't been there before! Asheville is just a couple of hours drive up from our homes in Charlotte. Now we know. Get ready breweries! We will conquer you all!

We have sampled brews many times before in our hometown.  One of our favorite places, Flying Saucer is literally a beer emporium (here's that review), also, our friends at Salud recently opened a new brewery and we were there for the grand opening of Salud Cerveceria, which was amazing.  And of course, there's the beer festivals that we try to attend often, and don't forget about Oktoberfest in Helen, GA.  PROST! 

You've got to understand that it's not about the drinking, don't judge us before you hear this: It's about the hops, the aroma, the pleasure to taste the carefully crafted flavors in these beers. It's like tasting wines, or coffees, or cheeses...our thing is craft beer....and food, and yeah what the heck, wine, and coffee, and cheese, but you're making me miss my point. 

RELATED: GOODHOPS BREWERY, CAROLINA BEACH, NC

So moving forward with my point, Asheville, NC is famous nationwide for the dozens of fabulous breweries you can find.  

OUR FIRST STOP:

SIERRA NEVADA BREWERY.  If there was any instance in this trip that I had to say OMG out loud, it was when we arrived at this place.

IMG_5754 (1).JPG

Located about twenty minutes south of Asheville (in Fletcher, NC), Sierra Nevada Brewery, originally from California, opened a second brewery which sits atop of a mountain.  No joke.  We felt as if we were entering an extravagant country club, as the rod-iron gates adorn the entryway along with the Sierra Nevada emblem, and the gorgeous natural views of the mountain.  Once at the top, we were greeted by a massive building home to the brewing facilities, taproom, gift shop, and indoor/outdoor entertainment. They even have a stage for outdoor concerts! They offer tours of their facility (we didn't take one because we forgot to make reservations), and it's fascinating how they are totally committed to be environmentally friendly (there's no smoking allowed anywhere, and solar panels provide energy)- kudos Sierra Nevada!

And their beer... as always, their commercial beers are great, and offered there, but we couldn't leave without trying their small batch selection which is only sold in the taproom.  We enjoyed their Hop and Sour, and sampled Hopporium (triple IPA) and their ginger beer, Oktoberfest, and the Southern Gothic Session Pilsner. The food was great too. We had the Moroccan Skewers, and duck fat fries... amazingly tasty!

STOP 2.  BURIAL BREWERY.

After being overwhelmed by the massiveness of Sierra Nevada, we stopped at Burial (checked in our hotel in between and walked there).  Burial was small, but their beer taste was big.  We sampled their Keeper's Veil Honey Seisson, and ordered rabbit wings (rabbit legs), and the gigantic hushpuppies from Salt&Smoke.  This place was packed to the roof...we all know why...their beer is pretty awesome.

STOP 3.  GREEN MAN BREWERY: DIRTY JACK'S

Curious little place this was.  Dirty Jacks is Green Mans original tasting room, before they expanded to the brewing facility (next door). This rustic establishment is decorated with the spirit of the green man for sure.  You can find green man everywhere you look.  On the walls, on the windows, wherever you look you will see something relevant to the culture of this brewery.  The outdoor space was comfortable as well, and you can enjoy your beer and pet some puppies.  There was this little dog, Citra, that kept bringing me a toy to throw.  If I ignored her for a second (while taking a sip of my beer) she would look for the next person willing to play.  Adorable!

STOP 4.  BEN'S TUNE UP. (BEER GARDEN).

IMG_5841.JPG

Not a brewery, but this place is worth mentioning because of their food.  I would call it Asian fusion maybe? Either way, I have to say that I had the best egg rolls I've ever had, as well as a the Thai Basil Chicken...awesomeness in a plate.  Accompany your food with a draft of your favorite local beer and you are set for a good start.

STOP 5.  THIRSTY MONK BREWERY AND PUB

This was a cool place.  They have a constantly rotating beer menu, so I guess you will find different beers every time you visit.  I tried the Monk Easy Gose...it was good and sour.  They divide this between upstairs and downstairs with a different selection of beers, which was pretty cool.

STOP 6. SKYBAR ROOFTOP BAR

Also, not a brewery, but we wanted to check it out.  Located inside the Historic Flatiron Building, they will check your ID at the very entrance, and you wait in the atrium for a very antique neoclassic elevator that will take you all the way to the top floor (7th I think).  You get out of the elevator and into the Skybar...but, where is the bar? Well, there's no "bar"...there are many waiters eager to take your drink order...by the way, before you get in the elevator, they tell you that you MUST have at least one drink to go up or they won't let you in.  So we did.  I had a cucumber vodka drink that was quite yummy.  Although there are cool views from the top, this place seemed to me like a glorified outdoor staircase...because you stand in a staircase, literally.  There are only a few bar stools around, but that's it.  Nothing too impressive...Not a place you would hang out all night.  Just cool for a picture or two.

STOP 7. BARLEY'S

We ended the night at this cool taproom.  Downstairs you can enjoy amazing pizza, and upstairs you can order a beer from their large selection (29 taps), play some pool, or darts, or foosball, or simply hang out in their spacious venue.  It was the perfect way to end our craft beer journey.

Then we walked back to our hotel, which was just a few blocks away.  Drank plenty of water, and woke up to an amazing breakfast buffet.  

There are so many more amazing breweries that we missed and/or didn't have time (or liver) left to visit.  We will definitely organize another trip to Asheville soon and hit a few more!

What is your favorite brewery in Asheville? Let us know! Please share or comment below!

Always,

Mia

Wise Acres Organic Farm

This Mothers Day my mom requested we visit a local, organic farm to pick some strawberries, have a lazy lunch, and explore the grounds. She had heard about this place from a friend, and at only 15 minutes from her house, we had to check it out. 

Owned and operated by Chicago implants, this organic farm has been in business since 2013 with the mission to provide the highest quality produce, free of pesticides and chemicals found in many other conventional farms. Not only do they turn out some pretty stellar strawberries, but they support other local, like minded farmers by selling honey, eggs, meats and cheeses from neighboring farms. 

 Absolutly in love with this sign! 

Absolutly in love with this sign! 

Located in rural Indian Trail, NC, this farm is easily accessible to the Charlotte and surrounding areas. Boasting strawberry fields, an outdoor wood fired oven, wooded play area, livestock, and homegrown items for sale, there is plenty to keep you busy for a couple hours on a beautiful May day. 

We started off with the strawberry picking. For $3.29 a pound, you can pick to your hearts desire (or until your wallet runs out of money!). They accepted cash, check, and cards which is convenient, I know a lot of us don't carry much cash these days. We filled up a conservative two buckets (big plans for some strawberry jam in our future, more to come on that later!), paid, and wandered around to see what there was to see. 

The kids had a blast playing in the wooded play area and taking rides on the barrel train. There were a variety of swings, zip lines, and re-purposed tires to play on. When we needed a cool drink, we popped over to the barn where they boast an assortment of drinks and snacks. We bought a few slushies (100% fruit juice). They also offer organic popcorn,  organic cotton candy, and other organic snacks and drinks. The slushies were sweet and cold, perfect for a warm May day! 

After a nice little stroll to look at the grounds and check out the animals (chickens, goats, and bunnies!), we put in our order for a Wise Pie pizza. Cooked in an outdoor, wood fired oven, these pies are made with all locally sourced, organic ingredients and let me tell you.... they were divine. I don't think they could have tasted any better if Jesus himself had had a hand in crafting them. We tried the pepperoni and margherita pizzas but they do offer gluten free and vegan options. Open on the weekends during strawberry season, you'd be insane not to try one while you are out. 

After we had eaten our fill of pizza, and slurped up our share of slushie, we lazily made our way back out into the world. Wise Acres Organic Farm is one that I will definitely return to not only for the strawberry season, but also for the fall pumpkin season. As if the grounds, food, and strawberries weren't enough to win me over, everyone we encountered was just so nice. From the sweet woman grinding out the delicious pizzas, to the Farmer himself pulling the hayride and barrel rides for the kids. Everyone was sincerely friendly, and just looked like they were enjoying life. You can't ask for much more than that! 

Check out the Wise Acres Organic Farm website here and make an afternoon of it! Whether you come with family, book a field trip for your class, or host your child's birthday party here, I guarantee you will enjoy every minute of it! 

LET US KNOW WHAT YOU THINK! Please share or comment below!

Snow Tubing Fun!- Hawksnest, Seven Devils, NC

When you are not a very sporty person, the idea of spending your weekend participating in what your mind is perceiving as a extreme sport, is not very appealing. It gets even harder to admit that you are crying inside when your six year old is over the moon excited and fearless.  

Living in Charlotte, North Carolina we don't get a lot of snow around here. Maybe once every few years we'll see a few inches of snow (and the whole city shuts down). That being said, we don't own snow gear, or snow clothes, or anything of that sort... but we are resourceful. You should've seen me in layers of leggings, and sweatpants, and an old pair of Uggs. Throw in a rain jacket, and you have the perfect snow tubing outfit. Although, for my daughter's fashion taste, I looked "embarrassing". I didn't care. I was warm and dry. 

Maybe a little bit too warm, if I want to be honest. It was a scorching 55 degrees at the top of the mountain and I wasn't feeling so good, as the windy roads messed up my stomach and I almost puked, twice.

But this weather was not ideal for snow activities. It's basic science folks...snow melts on anything that is over freezing temperatures. Who would've thought that it was going to be so (relatively) hot at the top of a mountain in the middle of winter??? -Global Warming people!

We had to pay $5 for parking (cash only) when we got there...and... none of us had any non-plastic money.

**mental note to check do's and don't online before visiting a new place**

We started sweating even before we got out of the car. We worked hard to gather those $5 guys! Fortunately, there were enough quarters and dimes in the car. The attendant didn't seem too happy to receive this heavy, and quite annoying form of payment. Money is money, and she let us through.

I was quite disappointed to see mostly green. Green hills, green grass everywhere (well, dead grass, mostly), and then I saw the snow.  Tons of "snow"...cause I'm assuming it's fake, just on the track lanes. Not quite what i was expecting. What ever happened to the sight blinding shine of the white snowy hills you see in the movies? I guess not in NC. It hasn't snowed in a while around here.  

We stood in line with a couple hundred other people. We got there pretty early, so we were like second in line, which was nice. When they opened the gate, they directed us to grab a tube per person and proceed to the tracks.

I was nervous, my heart was racing, my legs were shaking. My daughter and hubby went down the hill as I watched them. They seemed fine, so I went. I sat on the tube and let go.  Weeeeeeee. I made it out alive.  No broken bones, no injuries.  I was fine. You might be thinking... It's JUST snow tubing lady! Stop whining... No.  You don't understand.  I am clumsy and I tend to always get injured...so I was very proud of myself here, friends!

When you successfully get to the bottom, you must get your tube and step onto the "magic carpet", which is a slider conveyor carpet, that will pull you, and the tube, up to the top.  Although, it takes like 15 minutes for it to get all the way up.  It was the boring part of the ride.  It goes slow because it has no handles and it's very easy to lose your balance off of it, believe me.  I almost did.

If you pay for one session, you only have 1 hr and 45 minutes to "play". Trust me. That's plenty.  I couldn't have done it longer. I didn't get wet as people suggested, but instead, I was sweating to death, and dying to sit down and drink something cold.  

The snow tubing ended up being a lot of fun, despite my earlier doubts. They also had zip lining, but that would've been too much excitement for one day.

This might be something we would do again. We all had lots of fun. My daughter keeps talking about it, and how much fun she had.  

Here's a short video of me sliding down the mountain...

So if you are in the area, visit Hawksnest in Seven Devils, NC.  It's the largest snow tubing park in the region, and guaranteed fun for the whole family.  **kids 3 and up are allowed to ride**

Have you guys been there? I didn't fall out...did you?

Childress Vineyards

My beautiful cousin, Shelby recently turned 21 and decided to celebrate with a family girls trip to a local vineyard for some lunch, wine tasting, and a tour. We settled on Childress Vineyards as it was the halfway point between the Charlotte, NC crew and the Kernersville, NC crew. 

Now let me make one thing clear, I am not a wine connoisseur by any means. I honestly wouldn't know "good" wine from "bad" wine, and my palate is really only good for a moscato or chardonnay, but I wasn't going to pass up a chance to check out a local winery and spend some time with my fam.

Childress Vineyards is owned and operated by former NASCAR racer, Richard Childress and located in Lexington, NC. Opening its doors in 2004, this 72 acre winery has grown not only physically but also in reputation. With over 900 awards under its belt for it's stellar wines, Childress has really earned a name for itself among the wine community not only in North Carolina, but across the nation. We had the opportunity to run into Mr. Childress himself, and he is just as nice in person as everyone has raved. 

We started off our time at Childress with lunch in the outside pavilion. A 9,000 square foot covered patio with plenty of seats, a small lunch menu to choose from, and of course, WINE. We picked a table, enjoyed our lunch (y'all gotta try the mac and cheese bites, so good!), and soaked in the surrounding beauty of the farmland all to the easy going background of a local live performer.  

Next up, tour! Tours are every hour on the hour and last roughly 25 minutes. Tours start off in the lobby and show visitors briefly around the grounds outside pointing out the acreage & the pavilion before making its way down to the machinery. Our tour guide, Joann, explained the process of picking and converting the precious grapes into the wine we all know and love as well as the difference between the preparation in white versus red wine. I'm not gonna lie, alot of this process went over my head and alot of technical terms were thrown out but it was still cool to see all the big machinery and get even a tiny glimpse into the complex process of wine making. Next we were lead inside to the large vats where the various wines would ferment and go through all sorts of other processes which I really am not qualified to write about, before being barreled or bottled. As we came during the off season, we weren't able to see the bottling process first hand but if interested, head over between August and October to check it out!  

Lastly, the tasting! You have two options for wine tastings depending on which types of wine you enjoy. Pick and purchase your tasting at the gift shop counter, and mosey on over to the bar. A knowledgeable and friendly bar tender will take your slip and begin. Our bartender, Olga, was great! She expertly poured our selections, educating us on the various flavors as well as how best to enjoy it (with what kind of foods, temperature, etc). We were provided pencils to keep track on our wine tasting list of which wines we enjoyed, and which we didn't care for. 

Overall it was a fun trip (but honestly, what trip involving wine wouldn't be fun?!) and I would definitely recommend a day trip to check it out!

Find more information about special events and hours of operation on the Childress Vineyard website here. 

Carolina Beach, NC. Family Weekend. What to do, where to go.

We are about a 3 1/2 hour drive from Wilmington, NC. and we try to visit this beautiful place often.  Wilmington is the "commercialized" part of this amazing area.  It's full of great restaurants, bars, museums, tours, and it's home to the USS North Carolina, a real life battleship open to tours all year round.  

Once you are in Wilmington and you continue driving south on US 421, you will encounter Carolina Beach.  Go a little further down and you can also enjoy (my personal favorite), the beautiful Kure Beach, and Fort Fisher.  

There are many things to do in Carolina Beach, and most of them are family friendly (and that's why I love this place!).  Here are my top places and things to do with the whole family:

1. OBVIOUSLY, THE BEACH.

Carolina Beach can be crowded in the summer time or holidays, but even so, it's still provides a great place to relax and get some vitamin D from the sun.  You can also go down to Fort Fisher if you are looking for a more secluded beach... there are very few restaurants and stores down at Fort Fisher but the beach is beautiful and peaceful.

2. TAKE A STROLL DOWN THE BOARDWALK

Honestly this boardwalk is amazing.  It's full of shops, restaurants, bars, ice cream parlors, and doughnut shops.  In the summer, you can find live music and fireworks every week.  Kids can freely run and play while enjoying some good live (and free) entertainment.  

3. SEASIDE AMUSEMENT PARK

Yes, there is a permanent amusement park right by the ocean.  Located at the boardwalk, this amusement park has rides for all ages.  It's free to walk around and each ride takes 2-3 tickets.  You can purchase tickets at one of the stands around the park, or you can get an armband (better deal) for $25 and have unlimited rides.  There are no big roller coasters, but you can find your typical Ferris-Wheel, Carousel, giant slides, pirate ship, and many others.  And don't forget to get some funnel cake!

4. ENJOY SOME GOOD HOTDOGS AFTER A DAY AT THE BEACH

We tried Island Hots... and I loved it.  Their menu has hot dogs for every taste, and their onion rings are to die for. (probably the best onion rings I've had in a long time).  Hot dogs go great while sitting on their outside patio, enjoying the weather.

5. TASTE SOME CRAFT BEERS

There are many breweries in the area.  We tried Good Hops Brewing in Carolina Beach.  LOVE IT! What I love the most about this place, it's kid and pet friendly.  I don't feel bad about bringing my six year old with me because they actually have board games, and outside games to entertain everyone. Dogs are allowed inside and outside (must be on a leash), and they even have a doggie water station for our furry friends.  And the beer?  Awesome.  a must try!

6. VISIT THE AQUARIUM

Just a few minutes down Carolina Beach, you will encounter Fort Fisher, home to a beautiful North Carolina Aquarium.  You can enjoy many exhibits including a huge tank which is home to sharks, eels and many, many gorgeous and colorful fish.  You can also meet their albino alligator, Luna!

7. FORT FISHER AND MUSEUM

If you are in a history mood, you can also go across the street from the aquarium and take a look at the actual fort.  There is a small museum with civil war artifacts and lots of history!

8.  GO FISHING

If you enjoy fishing, there is nothing better than spending a couple of hours at the fishing pier.  You can buy a license in the store and pick your spot on the beautiful pier.  The view is breathtaking and the kids have lots of fun.  If you are a little more adventurous, you can try the Jetty at Fort Fisher, but I believe you need a license through the state park to fish here. (don't quote me on that one)

9. RENT A BIKE

Riding a bike is a perfect way to get around the area.  Ride a bike around town, or on the beach.  Enjoy the weather with the whole family

10.  USS NORTH CAROLINA

On our way back home, we stopped at the USS NORTH CAROLINA site.  This impressive battle ship is open to the public for tours every day of the week.  This is a great history lesson for the kids (and adults).  The USS NC is a beautiful memorial and it's actually fun to see the inside of this colossal ship.

Whether you are into history, ice-cream, or just want to put your toes in the sand, Carolina Beach, Kure Beach, and Fort Fisher are full of family fun, endless entertainment, and unforgettable memories.  

To learn more about the area click here.

DID YOU LIKE THIS ARTICLE? LET US KNOW! Please Share or Comment below!

TOP