Thursday, April 29, 2010

¡Casa Bonita!

Don't judge. We went to Casa Bonita a couple of days ago. Nate surprised me and planned an afternoon date, which included lunch at Casa Bonita and some time hanging out in downtown Denver afterwards.

If you watch South Park regularly, you've probably seen the Casa Bonita episode. If you haven't seen the episode, Cartman comes up with a ploy to kidnap Butters so he can go to Casa Bonita in Butters place for a birthday party, and the cops end up chasing him through the restaurant. Cartman escapes and goes rushing through the restaurant while attempting to sample every attraction and food in the minute he has left. The real life experience isn't too far off from the cartoon depiction. The place is packed with attractions to experience. Both of us had been there as kids, and it had probably been almost 20 years since either of us visited Casa Bonita. Most things were as we remembered, and some things were just plain better since it was slow during the day, and we had the run of the whole place! While we sat at our table, we were singing "Casa Bonita, Casa Bonita... lalalalalalala!" like they did on South Park. :)

I finally guessed where we were going for the afternoon once we were far enough west on Colfax to not be going anywhere else. We arrived at the "pretty house", which is located in a strip mall west of Denver, and were greeted by the pink and white stucco facade. Instant childhood memories! We were both pretty psyched to enter, but also anxious to eat the food. If you've been there you know what I mean. Casa Bonita is not known for delicious Mexican food, but rather for the experience and all of the entertainment. You have to purchase a meal to enter the inside of Casa Bonita and get a chance to see the cliff divers. So basically you pay for a meal made with cheap ingredients instead of paying an entrance fee to see all of the attractions. After debating and trying to remember what the reviews said to order, I settled on the taco salad and Nate ordered the nacho salad. (Pretty much everything was $12) Warning: do not order the taco salad. We decided the only safe bet was to order the nacho salad, and sopapillas are included in every order.... those are pretty delicious!

You can see a picture of my taco salad above. See that little white dish, with onions on the top, to the right of the main plate? That's the "chicken" that I ordered on my taco salad. Thank goodness they put it in a separate dish on the side. It's almost as if they knew I wasn't going to touch it, and if they mixed it with my taco salad they probably would have had to make me another one minus the chicken, haha!
On a better note, the nacho salad (see the pic below) that Nate ordered wasn't too bad. The queso (cheese) drenching the whole meal made it edible. For the most part you could identify all of the ingredients on this plate. Except for maybe the "taco meat" that the menu mentions. I didn't know that meat came from tacos. I thought that's what cows were for? So there must be chicken, beef,.... and taco meat?! Who knew. Needless to say, I ended up sharing Nate's meal. We didn't finish either meal... I think we were way too excited about the cliff diver who was diving from the rocks 3 feet from our table. Yeah, that's why we couldn't eat it all. ;) That and we were saving some room for the sopapillas, because those are the best part! Sopapillas, sopapillas!! We ate them so fast that I didn't even get a picture of them.

We were lucky enough to have been able to visit on a weekday afternoon, so we had a table right next to the waterfall. Prime seats for the cliff diving shows! We both remembered the place being packed when we visited as kids, but we really were one of the few people there. I clapped extra loudly for the cliff diver, because I felt sorry for him and his lack of an audience.

"Black Bart's Cave! Black Bart's Cave!" It's actually "hideout" but on South Park it was "Black Bart's Cave", so of course I was shouting that as we entered the "cave". I'm glad I make myself laugh.

The inside of Casa Bonita is pretty dark and not great for picture taking... maybe for a reason? But here's a picture of the cliff diver scaling the rock cliffs next to our table. We couldn't help but wonder if they ever fall off of the rocks while trying to climb for their next dive! We also wondered how people responded when this guy tells them he works at Casa Bonita as a cliff diver... we think the responses might be entertaining.

While eating lunch, we saw that the schedule for the day included a "Gorilla Show" so I made sure we stayed for that one. The schedule also said "substitute pirate on weekends", so that had me very curious. I'm thinking we may need to make a weekend trip there sometime soon. Pirates aaaarrrrrr cool! That aside, the gorilla show was cheesy and fun! We even had a close encounter with the crazy gorilla. :)

Needless to say, we had a pretty entertaining afternoon at Casa Bonita. If you visit, have an open mind and a partially full stomach. It also helps to bring with you an ability to make yourself laugh. I'm looking forward to our next visit, but I think I'd like to go when there are more visitors. A girl can only cheer so loudly for the cliff divers... I'll be in need of more help next time. Casa Bonita lalalalalalala!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Day in Denver

Yesterday Nate and I spent some time downtown, and we hadn't been down there in a while so it was a nice treat. Not to mention, it was a perfect day to sit outside in the sun. One of my favorite places downtown is Commons Park, so we ended up sitting there and spent some time people and dog watching. From the park you see the skyline to the east, Elitch Gardens (Denver's amusement park) on the south, and the Platte river creates a border to the west. There is so much "eye candy" at Commons Park, but it's definitely not overwhelming. It's a perfect retreat from the busy urban surroundings. If you love to people watch, Commons Park is a fantastic spot for that! We also had some of our engagement pictures taken there... it's great for photography too. :)

Commons Park has a hill, located to the side of of an open area, which gives a great vantage point for all of the above mentioned things. I almost forgot to mention the entertainment that dogs interacting provides. There is an endless supply of dogs and their owners enjoying the open space. We watched at least five chihuahua sized dogs on leashes get tangled together, while their owners attempted to untangle the hyperactive mess. We were pretty sure that all of the dogs were happy and excited that they found dogs the same size as them. Every once in a while though you see a very unfair advantage when a giant sized dog and tiny dog meet. It's even funnier when the little dog attempts to be the alpha dog over the larger dog. Makes me think of "short man syndrome" every time. Quite entertaining, those darn dogs!

One thing there is no shortage of in Denver is bicycles. You see countless numbers of people riding through Commons Park on their bikes, and that adds another fun activity to watch while lounging on the hillside. We watched one guy ride the entire length of the park with no hands on his handlebars, and of course that made us think of the Flobots song "Handlebars". If you see anyone riding their bike with no hands, I highly suggest singing "Handlebars" (at least in your head), because it makes the whole experience funnier.
Denver has a bunch of "bicycle libraries" popping up all over town, and we found one just on the fringe of the park. I thought all of the red cruisers in a row made for a perfect, colorful snapshot. You can rent the bikes and return them to any of the stands located across Denver. Pretty darn cool if you ask me.
If you have some free time and there's nice weather for sitting outside, check out Commons Park in Denver. You just might enjoy it. :)

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Michigan Nostalgia

A couple of summers ago I took Nate to one of my favorite northern Michigan places to "be a fudgie*", Mackinac Island! I think he enjoyed it as much as I did. Actually, I think he found some things more amazing than I did (like the bridge and all of the water). Mackinac Island was always one of my favorite places to visit when I was a kid, and I still love it just as much today as I did as when I was a kid.

* A fudgie is a Michigan term used to describe tourists/out-of-towners who enjoy eating fudge and other goodies that can be found in northern Michigan.

picture of the Mackinac Bridge from the ferry

The island is located in Lake Huron between the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan. You can reach Mackinac Island by ferry, boat, airplane, or snowmobile in the winter. We went in August, so we enjoyed the 15 minute ride on the ferry from Mackinaw City. Mackinac Island and Mackinaw City end in "c" and "w" respectively because of their origins. The French fur traders had named the island with a french spelling, and the English in Mackinaw City took on the more phonetic spelling of "Mackinac". (There's a little history for you).

That aside, the ferry ride is usually scenic and fun... unless the water is rough and you're wishing you were somewhere else. You get great views of the Mackinac Bridge from the ferry, and that's always interesting! The bridge is even more fun to drive across (unless you're me and have some fear of being high above the water). I like observing the bridge from shore or water, and I'll drive ride across if I have to get to the other side. :) If you want more info on the "Mighty Mac" you should check out the website:

I don't know what it is with me and history these days, but history used to be one of my least favorite classes. I had a hard time getting interested, but now I have a much greater appreciation for history and I'm always in awe of the history and stories behind things. With that being said, there is so much history on Mackinac Island that it could make a history buff cry, or jump for joy... whichever.

the Grand Hotel is so beautiful and... well, grand

One place that still has me in awe is the Grand Hotel on the island. I have still never stayed there, and that's something that is on my travel to-do list. Talk about a step back in time. Everything about the hotel just screams history, and I love it! There are no cars allowed on the island, so the Grand Hotel, which was built in 1887, has a beautiful old stagecoach that they use to pick up guests at the ferry docks. The hotel is a national historic landmark that’s been visited by anyone from US presidents, famous entertainers, and countless families for over a century now. If you want some more info on the Grand Hotel, take a look at the website:

Riding bicycles around the island is a must-do when you visit. It's not as tough as it sounds, because the ride is only about 8 miles on mostly flat land. We rented some really awesome one-speed cruiser bicycles near the ferry dock, and we were on our way. Stopping along the way breaks up the trip and makes it feel much shorter than it is. The entire trip is scenic and relaxing. Remember, there are no cars allowed, so horse and bicycle are some of the quickest ways to get around the island. Our rented bicycles got us along just fine!

I wonder if the people who live on the island love it as much as the people who visit? I sure hope they love it, but sometimes it seems like you never love the place you live as much as visitors love it. Unless maybe you live on a tropical island or something.

I love Mackinac Island. Maybe sometime in the future we'll even stay at the Grand Hotel! I love how Nate was amazed by the amount of water all around. At times it's like you're on an ocean, because land is nowhere in sight. Visiting Mackinac Island brings back so many great memories of when I visited as a child, and I still love the place just the same today. It's amazing how your appreciation for a place can grow over the years.