One Week in The Florida Keys (with Kids)

Spring break is a week I look forward to all winter long. In Kentucky we don’t have particularly harsh winters but I still feel like we are cooped up inside more often than not. By the end of winter I’m always feeling the pull of warmth and sunshine, and a trip to the Florida Keys is the perfect antidote for cold weather blues. With the pandemic still not quite under control, we decided to drive the seventeen hours down to the Florida Keys instead of flying, though you could easily fly into Miami or Key West and grab a rental car. Just FYI: When we went in April 2021, we were able to pay tolls with cash throughout Florida until around Miami and the Keys. There, they took a picture of our license plate and mailed us the toll bill.

Florida Keys

The Florida Keys are a string of tropical islands that are off the coast of Florida. Connected by miles of bridges, many of which are one-lane, this area is best known for its beautiful reefs, fishing and abundant ocean life. Palm trees dot the islands and beautiful clear water surrounds you. Whatever you do, make sure you get out on the water in some way: boat rental, kayaks, snorkeling expedition, etc so you can enjoy the beauty of the ocean around you.

Getting Around

If you are planning to visit many different Keys, a rental car or driving yourself is the way to go. We loved having our own car to visit many of the different beaches, take a day trip to Key West and to pick up takeout from a variety of restaurants. If you are driving from the Miami area, you will pay a toll for the fastest route to the Keys (you can buy a Sunpass, use toll-by-plate where you will receive your toll in the mail a few weeks later or pay through your rental car agency). If you fly into the Keys there are no tolls on the overseas highway. Plan on some traffic once you are in the Keys, especially on weekends. The highway is often one lane, sometimes two and can become congested.

Accommodations

We stayed in two rentals on our trip, one in Marathon and one just outside of Marathon. Both had kitchens (a big plus when traveling with kids). I would recommend both of these places to stay with a few reservations (I’ll come back to that later). We used VRBO and Booking.com to book these and were overall very happy with them. Wherever you book for your trip, try to find a place that includes kayaks and paddle boards. This will save you in the long run!

Seascape Resort and Marina

This resort was absolutely beautiful. The space was large for our family. The kitchen was old and not in the best condition. This resort seemed to cater to couples as opposed to families, and though it had the space for us, we felt like we had to “hush” our kids a bit more than we like to while on vacation. The pool was a highlight and the beach area included the use of kayaks and stand up paddle boards, which we loved. 

Little Conch Key

Our second rental was at Little Conch Key. It was a small rental house on a private island. The location was beautiful and we enjoyed the semi-private pool every day. This location is where the TV show Flipper was filmed and the island used to be owned by Walt Disney! This location also had stand up paddle boards and kayaks for us to use and during low tide we could kayak out and see hundreds of conch in the ocean (make sure you put them back!). That will forever be a highlight.

Warning: Our only drawback of this place was the Cassiopoea Jellyfish. They were all over this area which made the beach difficult to use for swimming. We didn’t experience them in other areas of the Keys, but they could be there. Cassiopoea are small jellyfish and their “sting” is really just an irritant in the water. It doesn’t bug many people but one of our children has very sensitive skin, so this was difficult for him. If you plan to use the beach area for boating and no swimming, then we 100% recommend it. Just be aware in advance that it’s not really a swimming beach. 

Favorite Beaches near Marathon

The Keys are surprisingly not known for their beaches. They are known for the snorkeling, reefs and beauty in the water. With that said, we were able to find some awesome beaches to enjoy during our time in the Keys. As you drive down the overseas highway, you can pull off at different parks and beaches. Check the time of the tides and make sure you experience at least one low tide and walking way out in the ocean at a beach stop. This was a highlight for our family.

  • Sombrero Beach: A local beach in Marathon with free parking and free access. The kids loved the giant covered playground, some sand volleyball courts and the soft sand. This beach can become crowded later in the day and especially on weekends. 
  • Bahia Honda State Park: A state park which requires an entrance fee. You can set up on the bay side or the Atlantic side depending on the weather. The bay side was great for kids with calm water. The walk up to the old bridge is also fun and has beautiful views. Bring beach chairs, snorkel masks and water shoes (if you are sensitive to rocks and sea grass).
  • Veterans Memorial Park Beach: A free beach off the side of the highway. The water was clear and beautiful. Wait until low tide and you can walk far out into the ocean with the water only coming up to your knees. It’s a great spot for kids to learn to snorkel and has some nice sand and sea critters to find.

Snorkel Masks

Purchasing these snorkel masks before our trip was one of the best investments we made! They are full-face snorkels and are so easy for kids to wear, put on and have almost no learning curve. The kids used their masks every day and our four year old could even figure it out in about three seconds. If you have a beach trip or are headed somewhere with snorkeling, check these out! This is the adult style that fit our 9 and 11 year old as well as adults. This option was better for our four year old (affiliate link).

Things to do in and around Marathon

We spent our days swimming, snorkeling and kayaking, but we also added in some fun day trips and excursions. Here are a few of our favorites in the Marathon area:

  • Turtle Hospital: This was the most fascinating tour. We learned all about sea turtles, how to help protect them and the work that is being done for rescued turtles at the turtle hospital. We saw many of the injured turtles in different tanks and fed them at the end of the tour. It was very informative, and we loved supporting this cause with our dollars. It was a little long for our four-year-old, but our nine-year-olds loved it.
  • Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters: If you had to pick only one aquarium to visit in the Keys this one is worth it. For a small fee you can feed many different sea creatures in their habitats. They also offer aquarium encounters. My boys snorkeled in an aquarium tank and fed stingrays and sharks. It was a highlight of our trip! 
  • Robbie’s to feed Tarpon: Feeding the Tarpon at Robbie’s is a fun activity. You can buy a bucket of fish and feed the giant tarpon in the water. Be careful of the Pelicans who will try and snatch the fish out of your hands! Robbie’s also offers water sports, kayaks, dining and other island fun.
  • Day trip to Key West: Take a day trip down to Key West to enjoy more of a small city feel and see the southernmost point in the U.S.! You can check out my post all about our day in Key West here.

Next Time: We’d love to check out the Dolphin Research Center and I have kids already saving their pennies so they can swim with dolphins. The Crane Point Hammock in Marathon looked like a fun nature walk and you can get a fish foot pedicure!

Favorite Eats

Typically when we go on vacation, we bring food for two meals and eat out our third meal (could be breakfast, lunch or dinner). Groceries in the Keys were more expensive than those in our hometown. We planned ahead and brought groceries with us but there were ample grocery stores to pick up a few things we needed. We loved all the outdoor dining in the Keys and enjoyed eating outside or picking up takeout to eat on the beach. Here are some of our favorite place we ate on our trip:

  • Key Fisheries: We ate here a couple of times which is saying a lot for us! We usually like trying new places but we absolutely loved this spot. Fresh seafood, grilled or made to order (the mixed seafood plate was our favorite), tasty fish tacos and a yummy lobster reuben. We loved the ambiance with the boats, and if you want to see the sunset, get there a bit early. It is worth it.
  • Irie Island Eats: This food truck serves fresh, delicious food. The fruit salad, poke bowl and tacos were amazing, and the cute little setup has a laid-back feel that is perfect to bring kids to or enjoy lunch. They are open during lunch hours, so plan accordingly.
  • Meze Morada: Outstanding Mediterranean food with house-made pita. This was a highlight lunch for our crew. The dips were delicious. The za’atar seasoned fries were out of this world good (wish I could go back just for those!). The food was fresh and the pita bread was amazing. If you need a break from seafood…or even if you don’t and just want a delicious meal, add this to your list.
  • Lazy Days: This was a fun restaurant in Islamorada. We loved the ambiance and the kids loved feeding the pelicans and watching a shark swim in the water below. We ate on the beach and enjoyed yummy seafood. The crab cakes were especially good here.

Where to Get the Best Key Lime Pie

We tried so much key lime pie and it was all super delicious! Key Lime Pie originates in the Florida Keys where key limes are plentiful. Traditionally, meringue topped the key lime pie, but many replace that with fresh whipped cream. Both are delicious! The chocolate covered key lime pie on a stick was our favorite variety. Here are some of our “not to miss” places to grab some key lime pie when you’re in the Keys.

  • Blond Giraffe Key Lime Pie Factory: Located in Tavernier, Florida, this was our favorite key lime pie on a stick that we sampled. Rich chocolate, creamy key lime pie. It is definitely worth a stop on your drive down to the Keys.
  • The Trading Post: This small grocery store sells Key Lime Pie from the Key Lime Pie Lady. It can be found in the refrigerated/frozen section and is absolutely delicious. If you’re looking for a key lime pie to feed a crowd (or even a smaller one to snack on throughout the week), stop here and pick up an insanely delicious key lime pie. 
  • Key West Key Lime Pie Company: Their flagship store is in Key West, but many places around the Keys carry their frozen key lime pie on a stick. It is delicious and worth grabbing one if you’re at the aquarium, a convenience store or make it to their shop in Key West.
  • Island Fish Company: If you want to try a unique type of key lime pie, order the deep fried key lime pie from Island Fish Company. It’s a more mild flavor coated in cinnamon sugar and tastes like a key lime pie donut. Yummy.

More Activities: We could have spent a lot longer than a week in the Keys and we put many things on our “to do” list for next time we make it back. Here are a few that we have on our bucket list:

  • Rent a boat for a half day or day: We made such good use out of the free kayaks at our accommodations that we didn’t do this, but we would have loved to rent a boat for a day or half day to go fishing, snorkeling out in the reef or to just enjoy a day on the water. 
  • John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park: We heard so many great things about this state park. It is located in Key Largo. You can take a snorkel excursion from the park to view the coral reef. This is on our bucket list for next time!
  • Dry Tortugas National Park: Another bucket list national park. Take a boat out to this 19th century historic fort surrounded by crystal clear water. This is a full day excursion or you can camp on the island (make sure to reserve EARLY).

On our drive home we spent a few hours in the Everglades National Park. Be sure to use your “Every 4th Grader in a Park” pass if you have a 4th grader for free entry to a National Park. The Everglades definitely deserves more than a couple hours of a visit and it definitely left us wanting. But it was back to school and back to real life after a perfect week in the Keys. We will return again some day!

If you like reading about our travel adventures you can find other write ups about recent trips we’ve taken to Perdido Key, Florida and our fall getaway to Brown County, Indiana.


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One Day in Key West (with Kids)

We spent a beautiful week in the Florida Keys over spring break. The weather was tropical and the perfect spot for a spring break. Most of our time was spent in the Marathon area, but one of the days we drove about an hour south to Key West. This was a great day trip with kids or could be a spot to stay to explore the Keys. As you drive south, watch for the Florida Key deer or take a stop at the Florida Keys Deer Refuge if you have time. We bypassed this in order to arrive in Key West as early as possible to start our day.

Parking in Key West

Key West seemed to have small parking lots scattered throughout town. We opted to park at this lot near the Butterfly Museum and toward the south of the city. If you can find a free spot for parking, go for it! I recommend getting there early to grab yourself a parking spot if you plan to be in the city most of the day.

Key West Walking Route (with kids in mind)

Key West is a fairly walkable city, even with kids! We walked from the Southernmost Parking lot to the Southernmost Point of the Continental U.S. and then took Whitehead Street all the way north, past the Key West Lighthouse, Ernest Hemingway House, US 1 Mile Marker 0 (where the highway ends) and straight up to Mallory Square. After hanging around the square for a bit, we headed back down Duval Street, grabbing some tasty ice cream and cookies from Mattheessen’s (I’m still dreaming about their peanut butter fudge cookie) and finished up our walk down the quaint streets of Key West until we reached the Butterfly Museum again. The whole walk took a couple of hours and was about 2.5 miles round trip. It was quite the walk for little feet, but stopping at different points of interest along the way definitely helped. If you don’t want to walk it, you could consider taking the Key West Conch Train

Butterfly Garden

The Butterfly Garden was a favorite stop in Key West and the kids put it at the top of their list. It is not very big but the greenhouse area was filled with butterflies. Everywhere you looked, different colors of butterflies were flying around and would land on you if you stood still. The kids especially liked this. It was clean, educational and a beautiful spot to spend part of your day.

Hemingway House and Lighthouse

We opted not to go into the Hemingway House or Lighthouse, though we enjoyed some educational chats with the kids about them. Traveling with a family of six we have to pick and choose which experiences are most important to us to pay for. Of course if our kids were a bit older, we have chosen a a few things differently. 

Mallory Square

Mallory Square seemed fairly quiet, though we heard it is often bustling with street performers, especially in the evening for the sunset. Due to COVID there were no cruise ships in port which made the square feel extra empty. Fingers crossed that cruise ships will be back there soon. It was a good spot to play around for a few minutes and take a breather after our long walk. I recommend checking it out in the evening if you have time.

Stopping to explore along our walk up to Mallory Square helped the kids keep going…that and the promise of ice cream!

Roosters Roaming

One of the unique things about Key West is all the roosters that roam the streets. This was especially fun for the kids to search for throughout our walk. We loved finding families with baby chicks and watching the roosters strut around as if they owned the streets. 

Ice Cream and Lobster

Mattheessen’s was a great halfway point in our walk to get a little refreshment! Not only did they have delicious ice cream that helped us cool down, they had amazing giant cookies that we are still thinking about. At the end of our walk, we picked up lobster rolls from The Lobster Shack Key West. We took them to a little park complete with wandering roosters and enjoyed a late lunch by the ocean. The lobster rolls rivaled those we’d eaten in Maine and were absolutely delicious. I highly recommend trying them out if you love a good lobster roll. If we’d had extra time in Key West we would have loved to try Garbo’s Grill for their fish tacos or check out the Key West Key Lime Pie Company (though we did try their chocolate covered Key Lime Pie Bars at other places in the Keys).

Next Time

By the end of our walk around Key West, the kids were all pretty tired and just wanted to go back to our vacation rental and swim in the pool, so we bypassed the beach we had been planning to go to. We heard great things about Fort Zachary Taylor State Park and wished we had time to meander through the fort, swim at the beach area and snorkel in the crystal waters. Definitely add this to your list if you want to check out a beach in Key West. 

Key West is also the jumping off point to visit Dry Tortugas National Park. This excursion will take an entire day and make your reservation ahead of time if you want to see this beautiful, one of a kind National Park. We’ve added it to our to-do list for our next visit. Key West makes for a fun day trip from a week in the Florida Keys and is rich with history that could keep you busy for many days! 

Check out this post if you’re looking for our favorites from our week in the Florida Keys.

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One Week in Perdido Key, Florida

This past Thanksgiving our family chose not to fly due to COVID. Typically we spend our Thanksgivings in Oregon with extended family in a little coastal town. Cozy, chilly and a warm fireplace are the staples of our traditional Thanksgiving beach vacation. This COVID year, after having disappointed our kids for what felt like the 10th time changing vacation plans, we decided to find a beach that we could drive to. We’d been to the Gulf Coast before (Dauphin Island, Alabama) and because we love trying new places we decided to look a bit further down the coast to Perdido Key, Florida

Perdido Key State Park

Most of the lodging we have seen along the Gulf Coast has been either little beach houses or giant hotels dotting the coastline with sunbathers and swimmers gathering on the beaches. One thing that attracted us to Perdido Key is Perdido Key State Park. This state park spans about two miles of the coast with beautiful views in every direction (though you can see a few giant hotels off in the distance). The beach itself is not too large and was never crowded the entire time we were there (November isn’t exactly high season, so take that with a grain of salt). Accommodations are available at a few of the larger hotels/condos nearby on either end of the two miles of state park beach or you can stay across the street from the state park beaches at a number of vacation rentals. Many of the rentals back to a beautiful lagoon and some of them have access to put a boat in.

VRBO House Rental 

We searched for a house rental that we could enjoy as a family of six and ended up with this awesome one we found on VRBO. It was a three story townhouse that was well furnished and had all the amenities you could want in a beach rental. The deck boasted views of the gulf, the bay and it overlooked a swimming pool that was shared with the three other townhomes. Being November, we didn’t have to worry much about sharing the (unheated) pool, there was never a time we were using the pool that another family was using it too. Another tip in searching for vacation rentals: Sometimes you have to book for a whole week or a minimum number of days on rental sites. It can also get you a better deal or open you up to more options if you increase the number of days you are looking for.

Beach Time

One of the best parts about this rental was the short walk to the beach. It was just about 3 minutes away, and we enjoyed many morning walks, evening strolls and daytimes playing in the water, building sandcastles, reading and lounging in our little piece of paradise. If you are searching for a beach house rental, definitely scour reviews or ask the host a few questions about what kind of beach items are included. Our rental came with a beach wagon, boogie boards, sandcastle-building toys, frisbees, balls, beach chairs, umbrellas, etc… You name it, they had it. This made spending our time at the beach so relaxing that everything was already taken care of. If you have kids who love to boogie board I would recommend bringing a couple life jackets too. The weather was just perfect for boogie boarding, we lucked out with about 70-80 degree days our entire seven days.

Grocery Pickup

One of our favorite vacation hacks whenever we are staying in a rental with a kitchen is grocery pickup. I always plan out our meals before we go, including restaurants we want to try (curbside pickup due to COVID this year), breakfast foods, lunch/dinner foods and we usually eat out or takeout about once a day. Before we leave I’ll pack up our pantry staples and then place a grocery pickup order. This makes it super easy to drive into town, stop for our grocery pickup time and then head straight to the rental without having to run around with a list gathering all the perishable foods we need for a week. If you are planning a family trip where you’ll be making meals this year, definitely do yourself a favor and order your groceries ahead of time.

Bike Rental Gulf Shores State Park

We kept things super simple this year due to Covid. Usually we like to get out and explore the area we are visiting a little more, but thanks to Covid we basically just swam, beached and ate. The one exception to this was a trip to Gulf State Park just over the Florida/Alabama border, where we felt we could appropriately social distance and wear masks when needed. This was one of the highlight activities of our trip and we had such a good time. We rented bikes from Beach Bike Rentals which was literally a stones throw from one of the bike trails at the park. They had bikes for all the kids and even a trail-a-bike attachment for our little guy. We rode all around the state park and enjoyed observing the lakes, alligators, marsh area, butterflies, armadillos and the beautiful views. Toward the end of our ride we were riding on boardwalks and even up and over an overpass to get to a beautiful beach. That beach was a little more crowded than we were used to at our Perdido Key beach, so we just headed back to turn in our bikes after our 9 mile ride around the state park. It was a definite highlight, and if you are in the Alabama/Florida gulf area it is definitely worth checking out.

Favorite Eats

One of the things we were most looking forward to on our trip was the gulf shrimp and fresh seafood. We are big foodies when we go on vacation, especially when it comes to seafood. Have you ever had gulf coast shrimp? It’s amazing and our favorite. Here are a few of our favorite spots we ate at on our trip:

The Gulf: Orange Beach We loved their fish tacos, poke bowl and lobster rolls and the ambience. This was the only place we actually sat and ate because you order your food and then sit at picnic tables right on the water. The ambience is so fun, and we were able to socially distance in the open air. The food was delicious.

Deep Blue Seafood Truck: We loved their fish tacos and took them to go to eat on the beach. Follow them on Facebook, they post a different special every day. 

Shrimp Basket: Good fried shrimp and other fish. This seems to be a regional/local chain. It was a quick place to grab some fish. We specifically liked the shrimp and fish tacos.

On a normal trip we often eat out once a day or so in order to sample all the regional deliciousness. Because we stayed mainly in the Perdido Key area and didn’t go in to eat at restaurants, we didn’t have quite as many food options but if we had ventured twenty minutes in either direction to Pensacola or down to Gulf Shores there are many more options.

Next Time

I had a whole list of things we would have loved to do in a non-Covid year. These are a few more options for our next trip when things have hopefully returned more to normal (fingers crossed):

Kayak Rental: We wanted to do this but didn’t get around to it. There are some beautiful bays to kayak in.

Blue Angels: Watch the Blue Angels practice on select days throughout the year. If you have the right credentials you can also check out the National Naval Aviation Museum.

Blackwater River State Park: This park is about an hour away from Perdido Key but it looked like such a fun day trip. I would love to rent a canoe and spend the day on the river.

Fort Pickens: An old military fort on the coast that is now a national park. Bring flashlights for the kids to explore and don’t forget to print out your “every 4th grader in a park” pass if you have a 4th grader (free national park pass for the whole year!).

We love Perdido Key as a vacation destination because you can make it as laid back or as “go-go-go” as you want it. The kids are already asking when we can go back and it has made the list as a top spot for a family beach vacation. What is your favorite beach destination? Are you heading to a beach for spring break this year? We love trying out different places and would love any recommendations!

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Three Days in Brown County, Indiana

Oh 2020. What a year! We’ve had so many cancelled plans, trips, adjusting to a “new normal” and slower pace of life while trying to stay home as much as possible. This year has taken a toll on everyone, I think. My husband, Jeremy and I were looking at each other a few weeks ago and realizing that we really needed a little couples trip.

My parents decided somewhat last-minute to come out and visit during the kids scheduled fall break. Since our original fall break plans were cancelled this year and we had willing grandparents to watch our kids, we decided on a quick two night trip. Truthfully we didn’t care too much where we went. Anything would have been a nice break but we did have a short list of criteria: keep it short (our son was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes this spring and we still don’t feel comfortable being away from him for long periods of time), socially distant, good food and fall colors (if possible). 

As much as I love to bake (one of my favorite pastimes), I also love to travel and plan travel (planning is half the fun of the trip in my opinion). I immediately scoured Tripadvisor, VRBO and googled places that had availability. We found a cute little cabin that was only a 2.5 hour drive away in Brown County, Indiana. After googling a few photos of the area and checking out a few local menus, we booked our cabin and were set to go. The kids were so excited to have alone time and be completely spoiled by their grandparents. We were excited to have some quiet alone time after being “on call” for seven months of a stressful pandemic. It was high time for a little couples getaway.

Brown County, Indiana  

Brown County State Park, the largest Indiana State Park, is located right outside the small town of Nashville, Indiana. The state park is home to over 15,000 acres of hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, camping, picnicking and much more. Brown County has beautiful winding roads for country drives, craft markets, antique shops and a very cute downtown Nashville. It is especially known for beautiful fall leaves and is the perfect destination for anyone wanting some peace and quiet. It is the perfect spot for a two-night fall getaway.

Here’s Our Itinerary:

Day 1: Arrive in Brown County

After driving for two and a half hours through fields of horses, cows and barns and watching the trees changing into beautiful hues of yellow, green and red, we stopped for brunch in the cute little town of Story, Indiana. I’m not even sure I can call it a town as it is basically an Inn and restaurant with a few little houses, all oozing with charm. We poked around a bit and enjoyed a delicious brunch at the Story Inn (the dinner looked wonderful as well) with local lettuces from the backyard garden. Definitely worth a stop for a good meal. We loved meandering around the gardens afterwards. 

After our late afternoon meal, we drove to pick up the keys to our little cabin. We originally found the cabin on VRBO, but with a quick search we found it cheaper on the cabin’s rental website. It is often cheaper to book with the cabin directly, so keep that in mind when planning or booking a trip. We picked up our keys and headed to our cute little cabin in the woods.

Stonehead Ridge Log Cabin

This was the perfect cabin for a couples getaway. It was a bit big for us with two bedrooms and a large living area. We would have booked something smaller but didn’t have as many options as we were booking about a week before arrival. The cabin had a large kitchen and was decorated with fall decor. It was impeccably cleaned and they even left us masks, encouraging us to social distance while there. Stonehead Ridge Log Cabin was very private, and we enjoyed soaking in the hot tub surrounded by beautiful trees and nature. A perfect spot to get away from it all. 

Stonehead Nature Preserve

After relaxing and settling in, we went for a short walk at the Stonehead Nature Preserve that was literally a stone’s throw from the cabin. This is not a place that I would necessarily go out of my way to go to, but if you happen to stay in a cabin nearby, it is worth a visit. Quiet, peaceful and beautiful trails, it was the perfect spot for a little walk as the sun went down. Neither of us were hungry for dinner with the memory of our very filling late brunch on our minds, so we headed back to our cabin and stayed up late watching a movie. 

Day 2: Nashville and Brown County State Park

Brunch in Nashville, Indiana

After a leisurely morning and sleeping in for the first time in many months (no four-year-old to wake us up at 6:30 AM), we headed into the cute town of Nashville for another amazing brunch. We enjoyed our Eggs Benedict with fried green tomato gravy and breakfast burrito at the Bird’s Nest Cafe. Everything on the menu looked delicious. After brunch we poked around the cute town of Nashville with all of the craft shops, boutiques, candy stores and fall decor. It was such a cute little town and we definitely could have spent more time window shopping.

Brown County State Park

We picked up some “make-your-own” charcuterie at the local grocery store before heading into the park, as there aren’t many food options there. The fee to enter the state park is $9 for out-of-state guests. If you are an Indiana resident, it is only $7. It is nice to note that you can come and go as you please throughout the day, just show your receipt to get back in the park.

Vistas

Throughout the park, you can pull out to see beautiful views and the park advertises its “7 Vistas Challenge” where you can earn a sticker for taking and posting pictures at each vista. One of our favorite spots for a view was Hesitation Point. Picnic tables abound, so bring a lunch to enjoy an extended time at one of these vistas. We also loved seeing all of the playgrounds for kids scattered throughout the park and the fun mountain biking trails. We are already planning a return visit with the kids.

Ogle Lake

We spent most of our time hiking around the beautiful Ogle Lake. The fall colors were exquisite and the lake itself provided beautiful views. We hiked trail 7, 4 and 5 making a large loop through a nature preserve and around Ogle Lake. It was breathtaking and definitely worth a visit. With younger kids, I would probably only hike trail 7, but with older kids and adults you could definitely add in the larger loop. No swimming is allowed in Ogle Lake, but we did see people fishing on the banks and enjoying being out in nature.

Scenic Driving

We enjoyed some scenic driving around the rest of the park after our hike and stopped at a little lookout to enjoy some of the snacks we had purchased earlier in the day. After spending a good 4-5 hours at the park, we decided to head out of the park and come back later for the beautiful sunset. We wished we had brought bikes to bike some of the amazing mountain biking trails. Trails range from easy to difficult. This park looks like a great spot for mountain biking. We will be back!

Hot Caramel Pumpkin Sundae

By this point in the day we had worked up an appetite for something sweet, so we headed to Fearrin’s Ice Cream shop for a hot caramel pumpkin sundae with nuts, whipped cream and a cherry on top. It was basically all of the best things fall has to offer in one beautiful cup. Plenty of hot caramel and absolutely delicious pumpkin ice cream. I’m still dreaming about it. Apparently they offer this sundae year round, so don’t miss it if you are passing through Nashville, Indiana.

Sunset at Hesitation Point

After a little nap back at the cabin (no kids meant we got to nap!!!), we headed back to Brown County State Park to enjoy the sunset. Hesitation Point didn’t give us a direct view of the sunset, but we could still see the beautiful colors of the light from the setting sun against the fall leaves. It was the perfect end to a relaxing, nature-filled day.

Day 3: Checkout and Drive Home

Bean Blossom Covered Bridge

We woke up late, again (vacation) and were checked out by around 10 AM. We didn’t want our trip to end yet, so we took a little drive up north of Nashville and drove through the rustic Bean Blossom Bridge. The setting was idyllic and this beautiful bridge built in 1880 was full of history and charm. Definitely worth a little stop if you are passing through.

Lunch at Farmhouse Cafe and Tea Room

We continued our drive through more beautiful fall foliage and came to our last foodie experience of the trip, the Farmhouse Cafe and Tea Room. This little cafe is set outdoors in a beautiful flower and herb barn. We sat outside on the cute little patio with eclectic chairs and tablecloths. It was the perfect fall morning and we enjoyed a fizzy herb barn lemonade (milk lemonade that was absolutely delicious) along with fresh garden salads and yummy fried green tomatoes. After our beautiful lunch we walked through the gardens and greenhouse area. Such a little gem and definitely worth a stop for lunch or dinner. 

Then it was back to grown-up reality! We drove the 2.5 hours home feeling refreshed and excited to see our kids (and bring them back here one day) and ready to get my hands into some sourdough. Nashville, Indiana and Brown County State Park would be a fun getaway any time of year, but fall is just magical with the changing of the leaves. If you live within a couple hours drive and are looking for a little getaway, this should definitely be considered!

What are some of your favorite fall getaways? I’d love to hear in the comments.

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Kid Sized King Cake

Last year we took a trip down to the Gulf Coast, driving through Mobile, Alabama and vacationing for a week on Dauphin Island…a little piece of paradise we never knew existed. We added a day trip to New Orleans, Louisiana where we indulged in beignets at Cafe du Monde, danced to jazz music in the street and enjoyed sampling Cajun cooking. We even sampled a piece of their famous “King Cake” and learned about the history of Mardi Gras, something we knew very little about. 

Jump to Kid-Sized King Cake Recipe

Mardi Gras History

Mardi Gras means “Fat Tuesday” in French. It is traditionally a time of fun and feasting before Lent which begins on Ash Wednesday. Many people give up certain foods and other luxuries during Lent to prepare themselves for Easter. When French settlers moved to North America, they continued their traditions and the first American Mardi Gras was celebrated in Mobile, Alabama or New Orleans (depending on who you ask). Now, New Orleans holds the largest Mardi Gras celebration in North America. Many parades, people dressed up in costume, beads, jazz music and celebrating take place leading up to and on Fat Tuesday, exactly 47 days before Easter.

Introducing Kids to A New Culture

As a mom I’m always looking for fun ways to make connections to the real world with my kids. We don’t traditionally celebrate Ash Wednesday or Mardi Gras but I’m always up for an excuse to bake. After experiencing the fun vibes of New Orleans, I decided Mardi Gras King Cakes were on my bucket-list to “bake with my kids.” I picked up an informational book from our local library (thank you library holds), purchased a few ingredients and we made our own “kid-sized” King Cakes.

One of my mom tips: Pick up a book from the library about the history behind your bakes. It strengthens literacy skills and we all learn new things together.

What is a King Cake?

King Cakes are traditionally eaten during Mardi Gras season. They are baked into the shape of a crown and taste similar to a cinnamon roll, though other flavors are also popular. Gold, green and purple sugar sprinkles cover the creamy icing as a reminder of power, faith and justice. A little doll is traditionally hidden in the cake and the person who finds it (sinking their teeth into it) buys a king cake for the group the next time they get together.

1 Kid-sized King Cake will feed around 8 , this recipe makes 2 King Cakes

Adapting King Cakes for Kids

A traditional King Cake feeds around 18 people. I wanted each of my kids to get to make their own, so we made “mini” versions that make around 8 slices each. For our Kid-Sized King Cakes, I pulled some candy out of the pantry and let the kids choose what they wanted to hide in their cake. I thought an edible version would be better than the potential for a cracked tooth. We rolled up the candy inside the dough, baked it and then the kids had to guess where it was when we cut into the cake. The anticipation seeing if they guessed right and looking for the mystery candies was a hit. The consensus was the caramels held together pretty well. Chocolate was second-best and the gummy bears melted away. They were still fun to find the colors left behind. Moral of the story: use what you have on hand (leftover Valentine…or even Christmas candy works great).

The Process

This southern cake starts out with a sour cream mixture that is heated over the stove. The dough is mixed using a stand mixer or by hand and then left to rise for an hour. After rising, portion the dough into two king cakes (or one large one if you want to make a traditional king cake). Roll the dough out into two rectangles and fill with cinnamon sugar filling. This filling is not quite as heavy for King Cake as a traditional cinnamon roll recipe. If you like more filling, you can double the filling recipe. Choose a candy to hide and place it somewhere on your rectangle of dough. Then roll the dough up cinnamon-roll style and shape into a circle, bringing the two ends together. Let the king cake rise again before baking. Once the cake is baked, top with the icing and cover in colorful sprinkles (affiliate link).

These King Cakes are decadent, delicious and kids are in heaven with the amount of sprinkles they put on top. And while I would never recommend skipping this delicious dough, I won’t bat an eye if you pick up a refrigerated roll of dough from the grocery store and follow the rest of the recipe from there. Either way, get in the kitchen and have fun making a mess with all the sprinkles, living it up with your kid-sized King Cakes and “let the good times roll!”

Kid-Sized King Cake

The perfect way to celebrate Mardi Gras with these kid-sized king cakes. Whether you want to introduce your kids to a fun new tradition or enjoy a King Cake that's a little smaller portion-wise, these King Cakes are the perfect size for a small group and taste delicious too.
Prep Time 30 mins
Cook Time 22 mins
Rising Time: 2 hrs
Course Bread, Dessert
Cuisine American
Servings 2 small king cakes

Ingredients
  

King Cake Dough

  • 8 oz sour cream
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter cubed
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • 3/4 Tablespoon instant yeast
  • 1 large egg beaten
  • 3-3 1/2 cups bread flour see recipe note

King Cake Filling

  • 3 Tablespoons butter softened
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 small unwrapped candies to hide in the King Cakes

Glaze

  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla or any flavoring you like
  • purple, yellow, green sugar sprinkles for decorating

Instructions
 

  • In a saucepan on the stove over low heat, cook the sour cream, sugar, butter and salt until the butter is melted. Cool to room temperature.
  • Pour the mixture into a heavy duty stand mixer (Bosch, KitchenAid, etc…) and add the water and instant yeast. Mix in the egg and 1 cup of flour and beat until smooth. Gradually add in the remaining flour until a soft dough forms.
  • Knead with your mixer 5 minutes or by hand about 10 minutes. Be careful not to over-flour your dough.
  • Let the dough rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about an hour. 
  • Punch down the dough and divide it in half (this recipe makes two “smaller” King Cakes). 
  • Mix together your filling: butter, brown sugar and cinnamon and divide it in half (a portion for each cake).
  • Using one piece of dough at a time, roll the dough out to a rectangle about 16 inches long, or longer and 6-8 inches wide. Spread the filling over the dough trying to get an even coating over all the dough (this should remind you of making cinnamon rolls).
  • Place your candy on the cake at the edge nearest to you and where you begin to roll.
  • Roll up each rectangle like a jelly-roll and then form a circle by bringing the ends of the roll together and pinching the seams together as you
  • Repeat for the second king cake. You may want to put a small, circular, oven-proof dish in the center of the ring to help keep the circular shape in the middle when baking.
  • Cover and let rise for about 30 minutes until puffy.
  • Bake at 350 degrees for 20-22 minutes until golden and cooked through. 
  • While the cakes are cooling, mix up the glaze with a spoon or hand mixer. Add a little more cream if glaze is too thick.
  • Add glaze to piping (or ziplock) baggies, cut off the ends and let your kids decorate their cakes!
  • Top with purple, yellow and green sprinkles and have your child guess where their “baby” (or candy in this case) is located in their cake. Enjoy the deliciousness of a Mardi Gras King Cake!

Notes

Serving Size: This recipe makes two small king cakes, each feeding about 8 people. If you want to make one large king cake, use all of the dough and make one large king cake (feeding about 18 people).
Bread Flour: If you don’t have bread flour, you can substitute all purpose flour. If you have vital wheat gluten, add 2-3 teaspoons in with the all purpose flour for a bread flour substitution. 
King Cake Candy: Unwrap any of your favorite candy to hide in the King Cake. Caramel held up the best. Chocolate worked well. Gummy candy dissolved but was still fun. 
Recipe adapted from Southern Living
Keyword Kid Friendly, King Cake, Mardi Gras

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