February 2017 – Chattanooga, Tennessee chattanoogafun.com
Just the mention of the word Chattanooga (above) evokes fond childhood memories of family trips to this gorgeous mountain city. Last summer, I got to relive those memories and add many more during a visit to the city and its surrounding area.
My tour consisted of three strands – history and heritage; regional products and cuisine; and local activities and adventures. The region is alive with America’s story – from its earliest pioneers to its role in the Civil War; from its coal miners, who dug a living out of the mountains, to its trademark poignant, gospel-inspired bluegrass.
I quickly discovered that any visitor these days should prepare to belly up to the table often to enjoy all the delectable Chattanooga foods. Biscuits, gravy, grits, and bacon are typical breakfast fare. But don’t be fooled. Southern comfort foods and farm-to-table restaurants are not all you’ll find. The city is also home to world-renowned chefs specializing in eclectic and varied cuisines.
I anticipated the history and the food, but I was stunned at the array of the area’s outdoor activities. Swim, raft, or paddle a sparkling mountain stream. Try fly fishing and zip lining. Hike a mountain trail, climb a mountain cliff, or skydive – solo or tandem. Take a riverboat tour. Stroll (or kayak) the Riverwalk. Explore Ruby Falls and other caves. Visit Rock City. Tour the aquarium and the famed Chattanooga Choo Choo.
For all the history and traditions Chattanooga offers, it also possesses a thriving urban vibe exemplified by its unique Jazzanooga music, its abundance of museums, a wide range of art galleries, and places like the Creative Discovery Museum, where kids have fun while learning.
Whatever your pace, whatever your taste – Chattanooga has something for every family member to enjoy. I guarantee it.
Silver Dollar City, Missouri silverdollarcity.com
As a teenager, I loved amusement parks such as Six Flags. But the problem with them was that there was little for my parents to do. Unlike me, they do not enjoy staring death in the face. And there’s often even less for small children to do.
Silver Dollar City is different because, to get the adrenalin pumping, it has rides such as Outlaw Run, their wooden roller coaster, and their newest ride, WildFire. Both are thrilling enough for this wild ride aficionado.
But SDC also has tamer attractions including an entire area called Fireman’s Landing catering to young children. Kids and parents will enjoy the rides, shows, and activities at the Landing.
My family has always marveled at the craftsmanship on display around every corner. Potters, wood workers, glass blowers, and leather craftsmen are eager to talk about their work and how it’s done to perfection.
A huge amphitheater and two indoor theaters host concerts and first-rate stage productions in some seasons.
And wandering through the park, you’ll be drawn to the sounds of the Homestead Pickers, the epitome of authentic bluegrass music, picking and singing on the front porch of McHaffie’s Homestead, an old Ozark cabin.
Don’t be surprised when Danny and the pickers start sharing their Christian faith between tunes. That’s common fare at Silver Dollar City.
Don’t shy away from the Old West saloon (no alcohol allowed), where several times a day, there’s an old-fashioned shoot-out. And the good guy always wins. Marvel Cave, the first tourist attraction at the park, is still a major draw.
For this young dad, it’s no small thing that all attractions – all shows, all rides, everything (well, everything but souvenirs and food!) – are covered with your entrance fee at the gate.
Door County, Wisconsin doorcounty.com
“Door County is my family’s favorite vacation spot,” a friend remarked.
“Huh? Door County?” I’d never heard of it. But a lighthouse tour recently attracted me to the Wisconsin hot spot, and I have to say it’s worth the time and travel to get there.
Eleven lighthouses march along the Door County shoreline, a thin peninsula projecting into Lake Michigan. Some lights still function to guide freight traffic across the lake, some are now privately owned, and some are open to the public.
Climbing to the top of the old towers creates a sense of awe. It’s sobering to consider the critical role this band of trustworthy men played in the lives of countless travelers for decades.
Eagle Bluff Lighthouse offers tours giving extraordinary insight into the often spartan and solitary lives of hardy keepers and their families who maintained the great lamps. The docent illustrated the hardships of the Duclons, who raised seven sons at Eagle Bluff between 1883 and 1918.
“They had trouble getting their sons up each morning,” she said, “until the parents came up with this plan: The last boy up each morning empties all the bed pans!”
Door County’s Highway 42 winds through picturesque small towns – Egg Harbor, Fish Creek, and Sister Bay – never far from Lake Michigan, where every water sport you could want is available.
I also commend the historic Rowleys Bay Resort, where a master storyteller spins tall tales from local history while visitors observe an authentic Door County fish boil.
Climb lighthouse steps, dine at a fish boil, go fishing and boating, kayaking or paddle boarding. Or explore by foot, bicycle, or Segway. Now I know why my friends and their kids always look forward to Door County.
Homestead Country, Nebraska visitnebraska.com
Last summer, I explored a loop in southeast Nebraska that offers a treasure of outstanding family destinations. In Lincoln, the state capitol building bears this inscription over the main entrance: “The Salvation of the state is watchfulness in the citizen.” Good challenge for today.
Lincoln offers countless family attractions – Children’s Zoo, Children’s museum, music, the arts, and sporting events. But the gems I discovered along rural highways made the trip extraordinary.
Beatrice, a city of 12,000 plus, is home to the Homestead National Monument near the site where Daniel Freeman, one of the first to file under the Homestead Act of 1862, staked his claim. Its museum has more than 60,000 items. Beatrice is preparing for a deluge of visitors for the August 21, 2017, total eclipse that will make it one of the darkest spots in the nation.
A few miles away, Brownville may be the most intriguing town I’ve ever visited. Brownville’s 140 residents boast 10 museums. Yes, most are small, but they each house some unique collections.
The Flatwater Folk Art Center is a professional display of Americana housed in a pristine white church, which founder George Neubert discovered abandoned in the countryside and moved to the big city of Brownville. Another of my favorites is Dan’s Classic Muscle Cars. Dan Bailey not only restores automobiles, but also crafts old parts into creative works of art – a floor lamp made from a bumper, and a 1950s grille and dashboard mounted on the wall.
One unexpected find in Nebraska City was Titan Toy Museum and retail store. Along with thousands of vintage toys on display, the shop also has plenty of sale items to open up your wallet.
Also in Nebraska City, Arbor Day Farms needs to be “discovered” by America. More on it in an upcoming AFAJ.