I visited friends in Charlotte, NC in late March. The weather was beautiful, so we went for a morning hike around Lake Wylie in McDowell Nature Center and Preserve.
In the afternoon, my friend gave me a brief walking tour of uptown Charlotte. We relaxed in a quiet literary-themed pocket park called The Green. I enjoyed the book sculptures and colorful mosaic stools.
Speaking of mosaics, the Firebird sculpture in front of the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art is a sparkling mosaic wonder, reflecting bits and pieces of everything around it.
We went to the Denver Zoo in early March, and were delighted to find out that an adorable two-day-old giraffe was making its zoo debut that day. We also enjoyed seeing several animals playing with the toys in their habitats, such as the elephant and hippopotamus below.
We watched some amazing big horn sheep and mountain goats climbing on Sheep Mountain, and Bear Mountain had two beautiful grizzly bears.
This is a great zoo with all kinds of animals, but the thing we were probably most surprised to see was a Lego lion sculpture, apparently by the same artist as the Lego sculptures we saw at the McKee Botanical Garden in Florida. These awesome Lego sculptures get around!
We visited the McKee Botanical Garden in Vero Beach in February. The first thing that we noticed and loved was the huge stick structures, which you can go inside.
The gardens currently have a special exhibit, Nature Connects: Art With LEGO Bricks. These super cool Lego sculptures will be in the gardens through May 7, 2017.
Our favorite Lego sculptures are shown above. The smallest of these sculptures, the “Pileated Woodpecker,” is made of 4,424 pieces. The largest, the “Monarch Butterfly On Milkweed,” contains 60,549 pieces and has an eight-foot wingspan! These Lego sculptures were so impressive, and the beautiful gardens were the perfect setting for enjoying them.
During our Florida mini-vacation we visited the Manatee Observation and Education Center in Fort Pierce. When we arrived, we appreciated the manatee artwork on a bench and on the walkway to the entrance.
Inside, there was an optional scavenger hunt for kids, to encourage them to observe the different types of fish inside the building. Our three-year-old loves this sort of challenge, and the possibility of earning a little prize. There were also a few fun crafty activities for kids, and a short movie about manatees and the observation center. The best part of visiting the observation center, of course, is the chance of seeing wild manatees in the creek behind the building. The observation center has beautiful views of the creek and Indian River Lagoon, and we were lucky enough to see three manatees relaxing in the creek!
Admission to the manatee center was only one dollar per person (!), so I highly recommend visiting if you are in the Fort Pierce area.
It should come as no surprise that Loveland, Colorado, the “sweetheart city,” is really into Valentine’s Day. Around this time of year, there are charming red wooden hearts with personalized dedications posted on all of the light poles on the main street. And the Fire and Ice Festival is celebrated all over downtown Loveland on a weekend near Valentine’s Day. We enjoyed the festival’s great live music, carousel, carnival games, kettle corn, and of course, ice sculptures.
There was also an awesome community art project that came together throughout the festival. People painted individual smallish sections of a huge mural and the finished sections were mounted on the side of a building, creating a beautiful, funky image of Mona Lisa in Loveland. What a cool idea!
The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, in Amherst, MA, is a fantastic museum for little kids. It’s spacious, bright, and modern, and has all sorts of things for little kids to enjoy. First of all, there is a great art gallery with picture book art by Eric Carle (author and illustrator of The Very Hungry Caterpillar and illustrator of Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?) and other well-known picture book illustrations. I really enjoyed this area, but it is probably the only part of the museum that is more appreciated by adults than little kids. Budding bookworms will love the library, and finding books scattered around the museum (even inside the very hungry caterpillar himself, on a cozy little bench).
There is also an art studio with suggested projects for kids to work on, and a small movie theater that shows short (~15 minute) movies based on picture book stories. My three-year-old’s favorite part of our visit was the scavenger hunt for footprints from the various Brown Bear animals, which also encouraged us to explore the museum fully (and she got a temporary tattoo as a prize when we found everything!). I would definitely recommend visiting this museum if you’re looking for a special activity for little kids on a winter afternoon. With all of the things to see and do, you can easily spend two to three hours here.
For me, the highlights of our cross-country drive were Pittsburgh and St. Louis. I’ve blogged a few times before about my love for Pittsburgh, but I’d never been to St. Louis before. I was really excited to see the Gateway Arch, which is part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, and is an awesome example of architecture and engineering in the 1960s.
Obviously the arch is huge, but I never fully appreciated its scale before seeing it in person. The top of the arch looks so sleek that I never expected there to be enough room inside for a tram to carry passengers to the top, where they can get out and enjoy views of St. Louis and the Mississippi River.
After visiting the arch, we had a fantastic lunch at PW Pizza. You can get gluten-free crust and vegan cheese on any pizza, so we had a “Popeye and Olive Oil” pizza (cleverly named: roasted garlic olive oil, spinach, roasted red pepper) with those substitutions and vegan sausage on half of the pizza. Best lunch of our road trip!