Cool summer fun at Saluda Shoals water park

Need a break from the heat? Head to Saluda Shoals Park halfway between St. Andrews Rd and Lake Murray Blvd) for the coolest water playgrounds in the Midlands!

Best place for young kids to cool off in Columbia

The zero-depth pad is perfect for little kids to splash about to their hearts’ delight. The Splash Park is open daily 9AM to 8PM through Labor Day. An all day play $3 wristband can be purchased at the gate (credit cards accepted). Park admission is $5 per car / $7 per van / $10 per bus.

The are restrooms, vending machines, a covered shelter with picnic tables and grills (available for rental) and a covered playground.

I’ll the photos do the talking:

Coolest playground in Columbia Irmo and Lexington

Pour some fun this summer at Saluda Splash pad!

Best summer ever played at Saluda Splash Pad

Fun water playground for young and young at heart

A dash of splash for everyone

A classic playground right behind the splash pad

Water logged? Take it down a notch at the covered playground behind the splash pad.

Have a splashing summer in Columbia, South Carolina!

New at Riverbanks Zoo, Columbia wild fun thing to do!

I haven’t been to Riverbanks since the “Lights Before Christmas” event. Last Saturday my daughter and I braved the crowds and the heat to see what’s new at the zoo.

Newest exhibit: Kangaroo Walkabout
Although is hard to replace the feisty sea lions (remember Big Boy?) the kangaroos and wallabies held their own on the fun factor. Kids love to get close (really close!) to the strange looking creatures. The are two staff guides that monitor the animals and are happy to answer questions.

Red Necked Wallabies – Wallabies are the smaller cousins of the kangaroos.

Columbia Zoo newest exhibit

Happy to sit next to young wallabies

The red-necked wallaby is the largest of all the wallabies.

Like kangaroos, wallabies get around by hopping and raise young in a pouch in the female’s belly. They spend the dawn and dusk hours eating grasses and other plants, and rest during broad daylight.

Red-Necked Wallabies have been killed for their fur and because they eat same grass as sheep.

Red Kangaroos – Males are called “boomers”, females “flyers” and the young are called “joeys”. Kangaroos can live up to 20 years of age.

Handsome young male Columbia Zoo

Is fun watching the kangaroos only feet away

In the wild, males live lot less than females (5-10 years vs. 10-15 years) due to constant fighting with other males and their mostly solitary life.

An adult male red kangaroo can weigh 200 pounds and grow to be 5 feet tall, truly remarkable considering at birth he is as big as a jelly bean!

Kangaroos are mostly nocturnal. During the day they cope with the heat by licking their wrists.

They can hop over 6 feet tall fences, leap over 25 feet and reach speeds of 30 mph! When threatened, kangaroos stomp the ground with their hind legs and thump with their tales. They can deliver a powerful kick if necessary!

The Gorilla exhibit is still a family favorite. There is renewed interest after the short yet exciting escapade last year and the sad departure of Kimya, the youngest male, this year.

Silverback gorilla survivor Columbia zoo

The one gorilla who did not get away...


2010 Price and Food Updates:

Admission is now $11.75 adults, $9.25 children (under 3 get in FREE), $10.75 military and seniors. There is a new $28.75 (per person) Combo Pass that includes admission and unlimited rides.

Really cute meerkat Riverbanks Zoo

The Meerkat Manor of Columbia!


There are 2 new “Explorer” membership options, $99 individual and $149 family, which provide unlimited rides and attractions on top of the usual benefits.

See all the details here.

You can get a $20 Day Pass for unlimited rides and feedings. The price for each individual attraction has not changed ($5 pony ride, $2 train ride, $2 3D Theater, $1 carousel, and $1 giraffe and lorikeet feeding).

Best place to eat is still the Kenya cafe, which is open year around and offers indoor A/C seating. All grill meals include french fries and cost around $4. Choose from burgers, hot dogs, chicken tenders, chicken and BBQ sandwiches. There are grab-and-go salads, deli sandwiches, yogurt, fruits and more.

Stay wild, be cool at the Riverbanks Zoo!

Life is good at Sea Pines! Hilton Head free fun things to do with kids

On our second Hilton Head vacation I finally got a chance to explore the amazing Sea Pines Forest Preserve.

On the Buggy Gut swamp trail

On the Buggy Gut swamp trail


Admission is free, however visitors need $5 all day guest pass to get inside the Sea Pines Plantation.

In less than 2 hours we came close to alligators, anhingas and blue herons, and stepped back in time along the old Lawton rice fields and the prehistoric Indian shell ring.

That’s about all the outdoor trekking my 5 year old could take…so I drove to the Harbor Town playground, her favorite spot at Sea Pines.

Fun things to do and see

• Walk or bike on the historic trails through lush maritime forests and around pristine lakes. The most popular one is the 1 mile Boggy Gut board walk that takes you along an 1840 rice fields operation. Here is a detailed map along with the preserve overview.

• Admire the abundant wildlife, plants and trees. Common reptiles: alligators, snakes (copperhead, cottonmouth, black racer, Eastern King and yellow rat) and yellow-bellied turtles. The forest is a bird paradise, home or winter rest to over 200 species. Popular plants are the cat tail, saw grass, swamp willow, duck weed and marsh perry-wart.

Cute baby alligator resting on a log at Sea Pines

Cute baby alligator resting on a log at Sea Pines

• Fish at one of the several freshwater lakes inside the preserve. Only children can fish at Lake Joe. You can drive or walk to Fish Island. There are picnic tables, a shelter and restrooms. Permits can be for free obtained at the CSA Security Office. More info by phone at (843) 671-7170.

Organized “catch and release” fishing is provided by Sea Pines Plantation guides on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 to 10:30 AM. Fish for large mouth bass, crappie, bream and catfish with tackle provided by Shakespeare. Reservations are required, call (843) 842-1979.

Family fun fishing at Lake Joe

Family fun fishing at Lake Joe

• Walk around a replica of a 4,000 years old Native American ceremonial site made out of oyster shells. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Indian Shell Ring remains a mystery as no signs of permanent settlements have been found to date. Experts believe the area was used only for celebrations and hunting rituals.

In the middle of a 4,000 years old shell ring replica

In the middle of a 4,000 years old shell ring replica

Tips to know before you go
• Bring a bug spray! No see ums and mosquitoes really own the place. Apply sunscreen generously every 2 hours.
• Make sure to carry water with you, there are no water fountains around (at least none that I could see / use)
• Expect the unexpected…you never know what wildlife you may encounter. Some attractions look better on paper (like the shell ring)… while pleasant surprises pop up at every corner (we ran into a Christmas Present poem, a funny buck head like tree stomp and a baby gator)

Hi there Anhinga bird!

Hi there Anhinga bird!

Spend an hour with the earth and her nature
And I promise that you will surely see
The truest meaning of the season
The one best present you could receive
– The Christmas Gift

Make sure to also visit the rewarding Coastal Discovery Museum at Honey Horn plantation for nature and turtle walks, exclusive history tours and beautiful butterflies! (admission is free, donations welcome)

Here is a virtual tour of our favorite historic sites you can visit on Hilton Head Island.

Live curious in the South Carolina Lowcouuntry!

Alligator Strike! Free, raw and uncensored show at Huntington State Park…your place for memorable Myrtle Beach attractions.

Need a breath of fresh air? Tired of the every day gloom and doom? Love, pristine beaches, miles of nature trails winding through lush maritime forests and the romantic Atalaya Castle await you at Huntington Beach State Park, just half an hour drive from Myrtle Beach and Georgetown. Just next door is Brookgreen Gardens, the country’s largest and most amazing outdoor collection of sculptures by American artists.

I'm beautiful! Alligator sun bathing at Huntington Beach State Park

I'm beautiful! Alligator sun bathing at Huntington Beach State Park


How about some FREE, live and uncut entertainment, like being nose to nose from wild roaming alligators? That’s right only feet from the main road and nature trails these prehistoric monsters are sun bathing shamelessly and undeterred. Or so it seems…

Can’t touch me! Yeah, tell that to the dogs. As you can see from the video below the alligators have an issue with dogs and any other small creatures daring to “step on their toes”. Relax, after few minutes of jaws clapping, muscle pumping force display, everything went back to normal…sleeping as a rock! Meanwhile I got some awesome photos and video footage.

Enjoy!

Ready for more alligator action?

You’re lucky! Alligator Adventure, the “Reptile Capitol of the World” is located right in North Myrtle Beach at Barefoot Landing. Besides hundreds of cute gators, giant Galapagos turtles and Anaconda snakes you can also say hello to Utan the King of Crocs, the largest one on display in the United States!

Admission to Huntington Beach State Park is only $5 for adults, $3 for kids 5-15 and younger than 5 get in for free. The park is open year around. You can visit Atalaya on your own anytime or go on the FREE guided tours offered March through November (at 2PM Tuesday – Friday and noon on Saturday).

Family Fun on Tybee Island: Georgia’s oldest lighthouse, famous artillery batteries, entertainment pier, Marine Science Center and legendary Fort Pulaski

Tybee Island located 18 miles east of Savannah and about one drive from Hilton Head delights visitors with 3 miles of sandy beaches, an entertainment packed pavilion, Georgia’s oldest lighthouse, Civil War artillery batteries and the incredible Fort Pulaski National Monument.

GA\'s oldest lighthouse recently renovated to its 1700s look and feel

GA's oldest lighthouse recently renovated to its 1700s look and feel

Things to enjoy on Tybee Island:
1. The Tybee Lighthouse, the oldest and tallest lighthouse in Georgia and recently underwent major renovations to restore its 1700 era authenticity. Nearby is the Tybee Island Museum at Fort Screven with its famous artillery batteries Union troops used to conquer Fort Pulaski, in one of the most memorable bombardments in the U.S. history.

The lighthouse and museum are open daily except on Tuesday and holidays. Hours are 9 AM to 5:30 PM; beware the last ticket is sold at 4:30 PM. Admission to Tybee Lighthouse and Battery Museum is adults $6, children (6-17), seniors, military personnel and groups of at least 10 people is $5. FREE for kids less than 5 years.

Driving directions and parking: Take Hwy 80 East to Tybee Island. Once on the island take a left at the first stop light on Campbell Avenue then follow the brown Tybee Lighthouse signs. Public parking is available on the north side of the Light Station beside the gift shop. You can also park at the Beach Parking lot in front of the lighthouse. Parking fees is $1.50 per hour or $12 per day.

Tybee Island Museum and Coastal Artillery Batteries

Tybee Island Museum and Coastal Artillery Batteries

Tybee Lighthouse historic facts:
• The first lighthouse on Tybee Island, built in 1736, was one of the first public structures in Georgia, and at 90 feet, one of the tallest in America.
• In 1742 another lighthouse was built to replace the old one destroyed by a storm. In 1773 a 3rd lighthouse was built on a different site. This forms the base of the present structure.
• In 1791 Georgia ceded it to the Federal Govt and in 1948 the U.S. Coast Guard took over the operation and maintenance of the lighthouse
• The Tybee Lighthouse had to be repaired after damages inflicted during the Civil War.
• The current light station displays its 1916 day mark with 178 stairs and a first order 9 foot tall Fresnel lens.

2. Kids will have a blast at the Marine Science Center where they can learn about barrier islands, see the aquarium and dozens of exhibits with all kinds of reptiles, corals and interesting sea creatures. Among the highlights: feel a shark skin, shake hands with a hermit crab, and touch whale bones. The Marine Science Center is open daily from 10 AM to 5 PM. Admission is $4 for adults and $3 for children (under 3 get in for FREE).

3. While on the island you can shop for one of kind art crafts and gifts. Tybee is a thriving art community where little art shops and street-side colorful displays sprung at every step.

Dragon fly art studio on Tybee Island

Dragon fly art studio on Tybee Island

4. Stroll on the pier where there’s always something fun going on. The original Tybrisa Pavilion, built in 1891 had an open dance floor amid a breath-taking coastal setting. It soon became a South Atlantic Ocean landmark and a legendary stop on the “Big Band” tour. Unfortunately fire destroyed it in 1967.
Upcoming Tybee Island events:
• August 31st – Labor Day Beach Bash – live music and fireworks at the pier, from 7 to 11 PM.
• October 10 and 11 – be a pirate at the Pirate Fest.

Getting around Savannah and Tybee Island
Historic Savannah trolley tours: $25 to get on/off anytime, $22 one complete loop, $10 children 4-12, under 4 years is Free. Get tickets at the Savannah Visitors Center located at the end of the Savannah River Bridge right as you enter the city. Trolleys arrive at stops every 20 minutes. They operate daily from 9 AM to 4:30 PM and offer free courtesy shuttle from hotels in the Savannah Historic District.

Savannah Trolley Tour

Savannah Trolley Tour

Here is a custom Google Map with some of Tybee Island’s family attractions. Speed limit on Tybee Island is 35 mph and parking is a quarter for every 10 minutes from 8 AM to 8 PM year-round. There are bike lanes on Hwy 80 all the way to the Bull River Resort.

Let the adventure begin at majestic Table Rock State Park (Greenville weekend fun outdoor activities)

So much to see, so much to do at Table Rock State Park the undisputed jewel of the South Carolina mountains. The park is at the edge of the Blue Ridge Escarpment off of scenic highway 11, relative short drive from Greenville and little over an hour drive from Charlotte. Table Rock Visitors Center photo Table Rock mountain has a spectacular granite outcropping which at 3124 feet is a stark contrast to the heavily wooded forests below.

The first white men moved in the Oolenoy Valley soon after the Cherokee treaty at a place called Pumpkintown. In 1840 the Keith and Sutherland families built a hotel that soon became a popular area attraction. A second hotel was built in 1899 at present White Oak Picnic Shelters site then moved in 1920 to Saluda Valley to become a summer lodge.

Things to know before you go at Table Rock and Caesar’s Head parks

1. Carrick Creek is the only recommended hiking trail for young kids at the Table Rock state park. It starts at the Nature Center and about 2 miles it takes an hour to complete. It weaves around Carrick Creek and rewards hikers with dozens of gorgeous, refreshing and easy accessible mini waterfalls. It gets better at the end (or beginning!) when you and your brave little ones can goof around at the swimming area.
Rock sliding Nature Center at Table Rock Park photo

Here are all Table Rock hiking trails. Hikers are encouraged to register at the trail head kiosk and be off trails at least one hour before sunset. No overnight camping on trails. Foothills Trail hikers need to purchase a parking permit at the Visitors Welcome Center.
• Pinnacle Mt. 8.4 miles 6-7 hours
• Table Rock 7.2 miles 5-6 hours
• Mill Creek 5.8 miles 5-6 hours
• Carrick Creek (kid friendly) 1.9 miles 1 hour
Hiking on Carrick Creek trail photo

2. There is a big playground near Pinnacle Lake with plenty of age appropriate equipment in a nicely shaded place. Beware of the geese wandering throughout the parking lot and the picnic area. They are mean, mean, mean and will harass you as soon as they sense the food. My 4 years old and I had to take refuge on top of the picnic table. No kidding! I finally braved to chase them away using some stick musketeer style.
Young kid on Carrick Creek trail photo

3. Caesar’s Head State Park has the “take it with you, no trace left behind” policy. There are no trash canes or restrooms along the park. The welcome center has restrooms and vending machines. I encourage you to replenish there and use the facilities.
Caesars Head overlook photo

4. The trail to Raven Cliff Falls from Caesar’s Head is about 5 miles long so plan ahead. If there is not much time left you can still enjoy incredible vistas of Campbell, Paris, Table Rock, Raven Cliff and Glassy mountains and the immaculate Table Rock reservoir (it supplies the city of Greenville with fresh water) at the Caesar’s Head overlook. From there you can hike the short and moderate Devil’s Kitchen trail. Caesar Head park photo
Be mindful this park is frequented by black bears.

5. If waterfall viewing “it’s on the menu” drive to Dupont Forest State Park (couple miles after crossing the NC border off of hwy 276; here are driving directions to and map of Hooker Falls Access Area). It provides easy hiking and quick access to some of North Carolina most beautiful waterfalls: Triple Falls, High Falls and Grassy Creek Falls. There is a $12 map you can purchase at Caesar’s Head welcome center. Here are some great Dupont Foreast park hike trails details, an interactive map and waterfall photos.

Table Rock Admission, Lodging and Rental Prices

Admission fee: $2 per person; $15 per bus; $1.25 SC senior citizen. Annual passport $50 (good at all SC State Parks); Palmetto Passport $25 (for SC seniors or disabled citizens). Tip: if you got a permit or day pass from another SC park you can use it at Table Rock (and any other state park) as long as the permit / pass are still valid.
Lake Oolenoy Table Rock State park photo

Cabins: There are 14 cabins (8 with 1 BR, 5 with 2 BR and 1 with 3 BR) that can accommodate 4-10 persons. They range in price from $75 to $120 per night. Check in 4 PM, check out time 10 AM. Tip: rent Sunday thru Thursday to save $15-20 per night. Cabins 5, 6, 7 and 8 are right by Pinnacle Lake and have the best views. You can reserve a cabin up to 11 months in advance. Call 1-866-345-7275 or go online www.southcarolinaparks.com.

There are 96 camping sites at the White Oaks campground equipped with showers and a recreation building. Price is about $20 per night (including tax); again is cheaper during the week.

Equipment Rentals: Spring thru fall, Tuesday to Sunday from 11 AM till 5 PM (weather permitting).
• Pedal boats – 2 person $5 per half hour; 4 person boat $7 per half hour
• Kayaks and canoes – $5 per half hour; $15 per day
• Fishing boat – $15 per day; $35 per day for boats with trolling motor (3 person maximum). Note that no private boats are allowed on Pinnacle Lake however you can use them at Lake Oolenoy across Hwy 11.
Table Rock swimming area photo
Swimming: June till mid-August Tuesday to Sunday from 11 AM till 5 PM; August 16 thru Labor Day weekends only. Adults $2, children 4-12 years $1.50, free for kids 3 years and under.

Enjoy the beauty of the South Carolina Upcountry parks!

Highlands dream vacation – gem mining, rock sliding, drive thru waterfall and awesome kids camping trip (things to do at Oconee and Lake Jocassee)

Arrive in North Carolina mountains. Wake up in Europe.” A great slogan that’s absolutely true. Highlands reminds me of Switzerland. Old Edwards Inn photo Nature all around, waterfalls, hiking trails, outdoor adventures at every step. And you don’t have to leave comfort behind. There are excellent places to stay, eat, shop and indulge your artistic spirit. Like the Highlands Playhouse, the Instant Theater and the Nature Center. The Old Edwards Inn, established in 1878 and part of the National Register of Historic Places, is the city’s landmark and an extraordinary spa resort.

Highlands and its natural forest, bog and wetlands surroundings represent the most diverse biologic area in the Appalachian Mountains, boasting over 160 species of birds and 500 species of flora. Its unique ecosystem offers incredible opportunities Lindenwood Lake for exploring wildlife and plants equaled only by the tropics.

The Highlands Botanical Garden covers 11 acres on the shores of Lindenwood Lake. There are nature trails that lead to displays of carnivorous plants, native azaleas and medicinal herbs. The Coker Rhododendron Trail is an old growth hemlock hardwood forest.

Things to do at the Garden

1. Visit the Nature Center, test your nature and survivals skills; Meet the bears, touch snake skins, turtle shells and dried animals scat. Say hello to the busy working bees…literally. Just keep some distance so you don’t get stung.

2. Bring your kids for Kids fun camping at Highlands Botanical Gardens an awesome day camping trip. We’ve witnessed one in action. The little ones were flabbergasted by the live snake demo. Then they started their hiking journey along the many yet short and easy going trails.

Along the way they learned how to spot predators, trace animals, think like a bat and hide like a bunny. Lana and I had to settle for something more mundane like watching a snail go by.

3. Hike the trails around the lake, through hardwood forest, and over an old beaver dam. Along the way admire some unusual plants at the Cherokee, Herb, Butterfly and Wildflower gardens.

4. Sing and perform at the Amphitheater. Nothing like playing American Idol…

Things to do and see downtown Highlands
Enjoying Kilwin ice-cream downtown Highlands 1. Get a taste of heaven at the Kilwin’s chocolate, fudge and ice-cream shop.

There is so many sweets inside you’ll need more than a minute to make up your mind.

2. Wash the sweets off with some deliciously aromatic coffee and catch up on all the gossip at Buck’s Coffee Café next door.

3. Get your hands on one of kind gifts only Highlands can put forth.
My 4 years old really liked the frogs; I preferred the Little Flower Shoppe.

4. Arts frog shop in Highlands See a play at the prestigious Highlands Playhouse theater.

Call (828)-526-2695 for tickets.

Here is the upcoming shows calendar (2008):

– Till July 6: “Always Patsy Cline”

– July 10 – July 20: “On Golden Pond”

– July 24 – August 10: “70th Anniversary Salute to Broadway”

– August 14 – August 31: “Inherit the Wind”

Things to do in the area

Gem mining, drive thru waterfall and rock sliding…sounds like fun?
Bridal Veil drive thru waterfall

Unleash the “Indiana Jones” in you and go hunt for rubies, sapphires and even gold in Franklin, NC less than an hour drive from Oconee State Park and Lake Jocassee.

Who knows you may be the next “romancing the stone” star!

See Bridal Veil and Cullasaja waterfalls along scenic Hwy 64.

Located between Highlands and Franklin NC, Bridal Veil is the only waterfall in the Carolinas that you can drive through it.

Cullasaja river boasts the teens’ most favorite rock-sliding and swimming spot in the area. Motorists stop frequently to take photos, Swimming spot on Cullasaja River off hwy 64 enjoy the incredible views and just have a laugh watching the children jump Tarzan-style into the river.

Want to see more?

Read my previous post and visit the South Carolina Upcountry legendary waterfalls.


The fun is unlimited in the Carolina mountains!