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Hotel Review: Family Fun at the La Jolla Shores Hotel

Hotel Review: Family Fun at the La Jolla Shores Hotel

Sometimes you don’t need to travel farther than your own back yard for a wonderful family getaway. Recently we had the greatest staycation ever, with tons of family fun in La Jolla at the La Jolla Shores Hotel. With it’s prime beachfront location overlooking the Pacific Ocean, this hotel is well positioned for Southern California beach vacations. Whether you live in the area or visiting from out of town, La Jolla Shores Hotel is one of the best San Diego hotels on the beach.

girl views beach from balcony at La Jolla Shores Hotel

Our room at La Jolla Shores Hotel had this incredible balcony view

Best San Diego Hotels on the Beach

People think California beachfront hotels are a dime a dozen, but they’re not really. There are many amazing hotels on along the California Coast we love to stay in, but not many are oceanfront. In California, “oceanfront” can mean a lot of things. Sometimes the terrain can be hilly and unpredictable, meaning guests cannot typically walk directly out of the hotel and on to the sand. Sometimes “ocean view” can be misleading too. More than once, we’ve been surprised by hotels with “ocean views” from across the road. Or worse yet, a sliver view squeezed between two other tall buildings.

This is definitely not the case at the La Jolla Shores Hotel. This is Southern California beachfront, complete with the iconic boardwalk to boot. And this is why it ranks as one of our best San Diego hotels on the beach. AND THE BEACH IS AMAZING!

You can walk for miles on the beach in front of the La Jolla Shores Hotel.

Great History in La Jolla

Holding court on La Jolla Shores beach for decades, the La Jolla Shores Hotel has been fulfilling guests’ dreams for many years. Generations within families have grown up loving the casual vibe at this hotel. Many continue to come back year after year, now with children of their own and grandparents in tow. In fact, when we were staying here we saw many multi-generational families enjoying the hotel and its offerings.

La Jolla has long been recognized as the jewel of San Diego. It’s an affluent enclave with a beachy vibe, where surfer dudes in board shorts mix nicely with ladies who lunch. Home of Torrey Pines Golf Course, Scripps Aquarium, designer boutiques and bazillion dollar homes, La Jolla is also blessed with a chill vibe. At the center of all this Southern California energy, the La Jolla Shores Hotel holds court.

La Jolla Shores Hotel entrance

Main entrance of La Jolla Shores Hotel

Remodeled Rooms

After a recent room remodel, the spacious guest accommodations at La Jolla Shores Hotel are impressive. Our room had an enormous wrap-around deck and stunning views of La Jolla Shores beaches north and south. We could enjoy watching the waves along Scripps Pier, the kids playing in the surf, and kayaks paddling out to sea. Honestly, we were so close to the sand we could read the words on the sunbathers’ trashy summer novels if we wanted to. But who wants to do that when there are so many gorgeous vistas to take in?

Our room had two queen beds and a fold-out couch, along with sitting areas both inside and out on the decks. Our teen girls have gotten to the point where they refuse to share a bed, so the fold-out was very welcome!  Bathrooms were spacious but not overly luxurious. The emphasis is definitely on the view here, and why not. The La Jolla Shores Hotel is one of the best San Diego hotels on the beach for a reason: THE BEACH IS AMAZING.

hotel room view at La Jolla Shores Hotel

Enjoying the view from our room at La Jolla Shores Hotel

Fantastic Dining at Shores Restaurant

In my nearly 30 years of living in San Diego, I had never eaten at The Shores Restaurant inside the La Jolla Shores Hotel. And after having dinner and breakfast there, I’m asking myself why I’ve not been there before. Not only was the food excellent, but did I mention it is beachfront? And remember, THE BEACH IS AMAZING.

Arriving for dinner, we must have timed ourselves perfectly as we were seated by the giant picture window. Overlooking the beach, ocean, and setting sun, we felt so perfectly San Diegan. Instantly we were all in a good mood, and the rest of the evening was only up from there. As our attentive and knowledgeable waiter got us settled with drinks, we dug into the menu.

La Jolla Shores Hotel patio with roses

Outdoor dining at The Shores Restaurant has killer ocean views.

The Shores Restaurant Menu

Right away, one item stood out that we had to try – Brussels Sprouts with Habenero Sausage, Pecans and Goat Cheese. We love all those things! Never have we had crispy Brussels sprouts served with melted goat cheese, and we could not get enough. Another stand out was the Pesto Ricotta Flat Bread, colorful and delicious with tomatoes, artichokes and spinach. The Chicken Potstickers were also out-of-this-world, and surprised us with their perfectly flavored Asian bite. We were off to a great start.

chicken potstickers at La Jolla Shores Hotel

Chicken potstickers and a cucumber gimlet at The Shores Restaurant? Yes please!

Our entrees were also delicious and well prepared. We sampled the Maine Diver Scallops, Dynamite Wild Shrimp with Forbidden Rice (why is it forbidden when it’s sooooo good?) and more. Everything was superb – well seasoned, not too fussy and extremely well prepared and plated.

And in the midst of this amazing meal, the sun set over the blue Pacific Ocean directly in front of our table. Honestly a postcard-perfect view and by the way, the view of THE BEACH IS AMAZING!

Sunset at La Jolla Shores Hotel

Watching the sunset from Shores Restaurant at the La Jolla Shores Hotel.

We finished with The Shores Restaurant version of Banana Split Mudd Pie, a sinfully delicious concoction we shared along with the Passionfruit Layered Cheesecake. Ridiculously rich and tasty.

Banana Split Mudd Pie at Shores Restaurant La Jolla

This Banana Split Mudd Pie was gone in 60 seconds.

La Jolla Family Activities

After all that feasting, we had to get up and be active the next day. There are so many thing to do in the area, we came up with a list of things for a fun family day at La Jolla Cove.

Or you can simply stay put at the La Jolla Shores Hotel. With so many activities right there, you may not want to leave.

sunset over pool at La Jolla Shores Hotel

View looking west towards Pacific Ocean from La Jolla Shores Hotel.

Booking Details

For room details and pricing, visit The room we stayed in starts at approximately $499 during high season, and other rooms can be booked starting at around $319.

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Family Fun in the Florida Keys

Family Fun in the Florida Keys

Everyone raves about vacations in Florida, a state we have not visited much together. Recently we spent a long weekend in the Florida Keys, and now we see why people love visiting here so much! Spectacular weather, warm waters and plenty of interesting flora and fauna make this a really amazing place for vacation. With so much to see and do here, we made a list to share with you of our favorite fun family activities in the Florida Keys.

Honestly, there is so much to do here we didn’t even scratch the surface. With the help of friends, advisors, experts and our own kids’ spidey senses, we found some really amazing things for our first visit here. We left so many other things on the table, we’ll just have to go back and tick more things off the list. Until then, here are some of the highlights!

family at southernmost point marker Key West

Ava gives eyebrow at the southernmost point marker in Key West.

Fun Family Activities in the Florida Keys

From our home base at the gorgeously remodeled Hawks Cay Resort on Duck Key, we plotted our agenda of fun family activities in the Florida Keys. Tearing ourselves away from the hotel pool and lagoon was not easy, but it was really sweet to return here each day. More on the Hawks Cay Resort below.

Feed the Tarpons at Robbie’s

Probably one of the most fun things we did while visiting the Florida Keys (and most alarming!) was feeding the tarpons at Robbie’s of Islamorada. First and foremost a restaurant and marine activities center, Robbie’s has become famous for the schools of giant tarpon that swarm their docks. Tarpons are saltwater game fish common to these waters, and can grow up to 350 pounds and 8 feet in length. Their mouths are enormous caverns of hungry  darkness.

family feeds tarpons at Robbie's in Florida Keys

Triton and Ava jump back as a giant tarpon grabs their bait.

So at some point, Robbie himself started feeding these gargantuans of the sea. Now when you visit Robbie’s, you can buy a bucket of bait fish for $2.25 and feed the tarpons yourself. The fish seemed to sense our presence and start to get rambunctious in the water next to the pier. Holding a fish by the tail over the water, we each took turns slowly lowering the fish towards the water. Suddenly, a bold tarpon will rise out of the water with its mouth open wide.

feeding fish to a tarpon at Robbie's

The soundtrack to this photo is a high pitched scream (from me). Look at that mouth!

I don’t know what happens if you hold on to the fish while the tarpon closes its mouth around your hand. Instead, we all screamed like little girls and dropped the bait fish as the tarpon jumped up. Damn things look prehistoric when they are coming at you with that hungry look in their eyes!

feeding the tarpons at Robbie's of Islamorada

Those tarpons can jump high out of the water at Robbie’s of Islamorada!

Robbie’s also offers great food in a casual environment with full bar. Activities offered here include jet skis, parasailing, kayaks, snorkel cruises and plenty more. It was too windy the day we visited to embark on any of these activities. Just another reason to come back and see our tarpon buddies!

Restaurant at Robbie's of Islamorada

The indoor/outdoor vibe at Robbie’s of Islamorada in the Florida Keys

Check out the Robbie’s website for times, costs and details.

Turtle Hospital in the Florida Keys

One of the only turtle rescue hospitals in the world dedicated to rehab and release programs, the Turtle Hospital in Marathon is exceptional. Dedicated to helping turtles injured by humans, other creatures and disease, the hospital staff comes to their rescue. Visitors are invited to come to the Hospital for educational tours, with proceeds from ticket sales supporting the organization’s non-profit mission.

green turtle rescue at Turtle Hospital Florida Keys

Sage the teen turtle rescue at the Turtle Hospital in the Florida Keys

For our animal-loving kids, this visit was an emotional highlight. Both Sophia and Ava fell in love with these sweet creatures, some very badly injured in boating accidents and shark attacks. With battered and broken shells, turtles are nursed back to health here. Ideally, turtles recover fully and are released back into the wild. Unfortunately some do not fully recover, and are no longer able to care for themselves outside the hospital. Those creatures live here for the rest of their days, pampered and loved by staff and visitors alike.

It was fascinating to see the operating room, holding tanks, and dedicated staff caring for these turtles. Most are green sea turtles, some are loggerheads and others are Ridley’s. There were little baby turtles, teen turtles and all the way up to ancient old man turtles. Some live to be as old as 80 years, so caring for them 24/7 is a huge commitment!

staff bandaging injured turtle at Turtle Hospital Florida Keys

The staff bandages an injured turtle brought to the Turtle Hospital for recovery.

Touring the facility, we were able to learn about, observe and even feed the turtles. Our girls were in heaven, and there was even talk of veterinary school in their futures. We’ll see about that, but their commitment to animals runs deep.

Tours run every hour, and admission cost is $25 per adult, kids 4-12 are $12, and children under 4 are free. For more information, view the Turtle Hospital website.

operating room at Turtle Hospital Florida Keys

The operating room at the Turtle Hospital was impressive.

Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory

In the heart of Key West at the very southernmost point in the US, the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory holds court. Fun for all ages, this butterfly zoo is a menagerie of colorful winged creatures and plants. With more than 50 varieties of butterflies on site, there are also moths, tropical birds and two very friendly flamingos (but more on them later).

family viewing butterflies in Key West

Butterflies of every color of the rainbow flit around the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory

As we walked through the thick tropical jungle of plants and flowers, swarms of butterflies swirled around us. Bright blues, deep oranges, hot pinks and vibrant yellows were mixed in with pretty much every other color of the rainbow. It was so peaceful to just sit on a bench and watch as some even landed on us for a moment before floating away again. For kids, there is a great educational video and lobby with caterpillars munching away on their favorite plants. This place is just magical.

Here, the staff is very knowledgeable about all the different species of butterflies, moths, birds and plants. With docents positioned throughout the enclosure, we had tour guides all around as we meandered through. Visitors exit through a very well themed gift shop, where our girls had a field day. We came home with so many butterfly themed gifts for family and friends!

butterfly on pink flower in Key West

Gorgeous butterflies and flowers at the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory.

The Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory is open 365 days a year, 9-5 daily with the last admission at 4:30. Ticket prices  are $12 for adults, kids 4-12 are $8.50 and children under 3 are free.

Flamingo Encounter in the Florida Keys

The Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory has a special event called Flamingle, offered only to a very small group of people a few times per week. After closing time when all the guests have departed, this small group is led into the enclosure to sit on benches inside the arbor. And then, the two resident flamingos are released from their pen to walk freely around the entire enclosure. Their names are Rhett and Scarlett.

flamingo preens man's hair at Flamingle Encounter Key West

Scarlett the Flamingo was fascinated with Triton’s grey locks.

The most fun part of this? Rhett and Scarlett love people and are very sociable, so they come running right up to check out their new guests. And by right up, I mean up close and personal. Instructed not to touch the flamingos, we sat with huge smiles while they sniffed, preened and tickled us with their gorgeous bills and bright pink features. Really, this is one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences we will be talking about forever.

Ava was a little freaked out at Rhett and Scarlett’s very friendly behavior, and sensing this they left her alone. The rest of us were showered in attention and love. Rhett did this weird thing with his bill, vibrating it on my legs, arms and neck in a way that tickled enormously. He took a liking to me, and kept trying to stretch his long legs and climb into my lap! Scarlett preferred to preen Sophia and Triton’s hair with her bill, separating each hair carefully in her effort to show attention and love. It was very sweet.

flamingo tickling laughing man in Key West

Rhett reeeeeaaaally wanted to get in Jon’s lap.

We can’t recommend this highly enough. In order to reserve your spot, you must contact the team at Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory far in advance. For rates and more information contact Clarisa Fluker at (305) 296-2988 ext. #11 or

Ernest Hemingway’s Home & Cats

Right down the road from our butterfly experience, we walked on to the grounds of the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum. Hemingway is famous for his novels such as For Whom the Bell Tolls, A Moveable Feast, The Sun Also Rises and more. Many were turned into movies of great acclaim. Deceased since 1961, Hemingway’s estate is now a museum filled with his memorabilia and writings. Ever the man of the hour, Hemingway lived an outsized life while traveling the world. On his adventures he collected many things of beauty, and a few oddities as well. Quite a few are on display here.

Hemingway's typewriter at Hemingway Home Key West

Oh the stories Hemingway’s old typewriter could tell.

One of these oddities was his pet cat, Snow White, who was polydactyl. This means she had six toes instead of the normal five or four. Now the Hemingway estate is teeming with her descendents, all with the unusual six toe signature. Over the years, this DNA has spread and there are at least 50 cats on the grounds. Our kids went wild trying to lure these cats into their arms, petting them madly and cooing. Honestly, I think they would have tried to smuggle one out in their backpacks were it not for the eagle eyes of a nearby docent.

girls petting polydactyl cat at Hemingway House Key West

Sophia and Ava wanted to bring all the cats home in our suitcases.

By everywhere on the grounds, I mean these cats are all over – inside and out. Curled up asleep on Hemingway’s bed, a sweet long-haired tabby was dozing . Splayed out across the bathroom windowsill, his cousin napped nearby. In the garden, dozens of their family members roamed about. Definitely not a place for cat-haters or those that are allergic!

polydactyl cat at Hemingway Home in Key West

All the cats at the Hemingway Home in Key West are polydactyl with six toes.

The house is open every day of the year (even holidays) from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets include a guided tour, and cost $14 for adults and $6 for kids ages 6 to 12. Children 5 and younger are free.

Hawks Cay Resort

During our visit to the Florida Keys, we stayed on the water’s edge at Hawks Cay Resort on Duck Key. Located at about the halfway point on the Keys, the resort is easy to get to from either Key Largo near the mainland or Key West at the very tip. Perfect jumping off point for visiting fun family activities in the Florida Keys.

Sunset Villas at Hawks Cay Resort

Our room was in the Sunset Villas at Hawks Cay Resort

Our suite was incredibly spacious, with a kitchen, dining area, living room with fold-out couch and large decks both downstairs and upstairs. Upstairs, there were two bedrooms each with ensuite bathrooms. But the views, oh the views! Our deck had stairs down to a grassy area and then the bay, right there in all its glory. We watched boats whizz by pulling waterskiers, jet skis and kayaks and all kinds of aquatic sports. Best of all, the sun set over this view each night and we witnessed a daily light show from our suite.

Sunset at Hawks Cay Resort Florida Keys

Sun sets over the Florida Keys as we watch from our deck at Hawks Cay Resort

Hawks Cay Resort has everything a family would hope to find in a vacation spot. The pool was enormous and serpentine, with areas for play or relaxation. We loved the saltwater lagoon nearby, warm and calm with stand up paddleboards and canoes. Around this lagoon, chairs and umbrellas are positioned for extra lounge areas dedicated to guests who wanted more quiet solitude.

pool view at Hawks Cay Resort

The pool was hopping at Hawks Cay Resort during our visit.

There is even a dolphin encounter on site, located in a private bay where guests can reserve the opportunity to swim with the dolphins. We opted for family time in the gym instead, and loved the fitness facilities connected to the spa.

Rooms at the Hawks Cay Resort start at around $230 per night and go up from there. Our two-story, 2-bedroom suite was approximately $380 per night.

So Much to See and Do

The list of things we share above is only the tip of the iceberg. There are so many fun family activities in the Florida Keys, we think we need to go back for more experiences. Stay tuned for Chapter Two of this story!

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Best Hotels in Mendocino

Best Hotels in Mendocino

Mendocino holds a special place in our hearts. My family had owned property in nearby Fort Bragg for many years, and I grew up with memories of vacations spent on that grassy bluff overlooking a private beach. When my Dad passed recently, we traveled back to the area to honor his wishes to join Mom as ashes in the sand. Of course as we planned the trip, we looked for the best hotels in Mendocino for a long weekend stay with the kids.

Back in the day the family did not have much money. We stayed in motels that did not appeal to our modern standards. Today there are far more suitable options, and plenty of low cost choices that look very nice. We drove past those, heading for two places we consider to the among the best hotels in Mendocino. Mom and Dad would approve. So we packed up the car with snacks for the road trip, and headed up the coast from a stay in San Francisco.

hazy sunset in Mendocino

Watching the sun set through the haze in Mendocino.

Best Hotels in Mendocino

Mendocino is a quaint little town on the Northern California coast, brimming with beauty and creativity. An artist colony since the 1960s, Mendocino has kept its charm and lack of pretense. Visitors are drawn to the area because it’s so laid back and downright beautiful. Here the great California Redwoods descend almost down to the rocky cliffs. Oh, and the local wine from Anderson Valley is award-winning the world over.

clover in the redwood grove Mendocino

Along the redwood forest trails in Mendocino.

There is a ton for families to do in this area. I wrote about all that in a post for The Points Guy entitled Mendocino Activities for the Whole Family.

As for place to stay, let me tell you about our two amazing experiences.

Brewery Gulch Inn

This sweet little Bed and Breakfast Inn is incredibly charming. Perched on a hill overlooking the craggy seas of Mendocino, Brewery Gulch Inn is one of those special places we will always remember. The owner has done an outstanding job creating a cozy environment with just 12 rooms and a great room/lobby/dining room. Designed in an Arts & Crafts style from original growth salvaged local redwood, this qualifies on our list of best hotels in Mendocino because everything is just impeccable. Design. Style. Cleanliness. Attention to detail. We loved it.

Brewery Gulch Inn gardens

The gardens at Brewery Gulch Inn are pretty spectacular

Cozy Living Room

Entering the hotel lobby, guests are met with a roaring fireplace, comfortable leather living room furniture, and a bank of windows with views for days. We could have sat on that sofa for hours, but there was so much to see! Very high ceilings give the room an expansive feel along with gigantic windows all around. French doors open out on to a spacious deck with comfortable seating in the sun or shade.

Brewery Gulch Inn great room

The great room at Brewery Gulch Inn is designed in the Arts & Crafts style.

Ocean-view Deck

Just off the living room, the deck is positioned perfectly to take in the ocean views. Rocky shorelines surround nearby Smuggler’s Cove, with waves spraying high on the rocks when the tide is high. Nearby, a grassy hill is dotted with adirondack chairs in the warm sun. We watched deeply colored Blue Jays swoop down to grab seeds from a well-placed bird feeder. Flowers and shrubs sway in the breeze, and it’s sooooooo peaceful.

bird feeders in Mendocino

We loved watching the birds on the deck at Brewery Gulch Inn

Spacious Rooms

We stayed in the Meadowview suite, a second story room with two bedrooms so the kids could enjoy some privacy. Every space at Brewery Gulch Inn is pristine and spotless, and our suite was no exception. With a king bed in the main room and two twin beds in the second bedroom, our family was very comfortable. The room had a fireplace, coffee machine, small frig, sink and microwave. The bathroom was stocked with spa-like soaps, lotions and treatments for relaxation. To say we were extremely comfortable is an understatement.

Meadowview suite at Brewery Gulch Inn

Our bedroom in the Meadowview suite.

Delicious Breakfast

With a focus on fresh, local and organic ingredients, the kitchen at Brewery Gulch Inn is doing it right. Although we did not taste the simple dinner included with our room booking, it looked delicious. Dinner is served buffet style in the great room, where guests are invited to eat as they please and sit at one of the comfortable tables.

And breakfast. Well the chef knows what she or he is doing, because the food is out of this world. We started with a freshly baked scone, still warm from the oven. Topped with butter and jam, it paired perfectly with a steaming mug of coffee or tea. With table service at breakfast, we were presented with a menu offering a variety of delicious dishes. I chose the huevos rancheros, Ava enjoyed the pancakes and Triton loved the eggs and sausages. Sophia chose to stay cozy in her feather bed upstairs, so we brought her a chocolate chip muffin to eat in the room.

breakfast bar at Brewery Gulch Inn

The breakfast scones at Brewery Gulch Inn were out of this world.

Beautiful Grounds

During our Springtime visit, the grounds of the Brewery Gulch Inn were ablaze in color. Blooms in all shapes, sizes and varieties were opening in the sun  to greet us. As we entered the drive off the main road, a picturesque old wooden water tower looms over a small pond. From the looks of it, this pond must be home to a few friendly frogs and turtles. Nestled against a nature preserve, there is nothing beyond the Inn except meadows, trees and sky. Beautiful.

Little River Inn

Just down the road a bit, the Little River Inn was one of my parents’ favorites. When they would return to Mendocino after they sold the property, this is where they would stay. The Inn itself has a rich history, and has been in the same family for five generations!

family on Mendocino beach

On the beach near Little River Inn.

Generations of Hospitality

Little River Inn is celebrating 75 years in business. The amazing main home was originally built in 1857 by Silas Coombs, and was converted to a hotel by another generation of the family. Situated on 225 wooded acres, the old Coombs home is now the reception area and lobby sitting room. On the property are 65 ocean view rooms, a dining room and bar, nine-hole golf course with pro shop, and day spa.

Little River Inn entrance

The original house now serves as main entrance at Little River Inn.

Cottage-style Rooms

The rooms here are housed in buildings old and new, all designed in the classic Victorian architecture of the original home. Lattice work and gingerbread top many of the buildings closest the ocean, and all rooms face this tremendous view. Rolling lawns tip down towards the coast to give great vantage points from virtually any spot. We stayed in a double room with giant balcony, positioned at the top of the hill near the golf course. What a treat it was to wake up each morning and sit on that patio, watching the sun light up the gardens.

ocean view Little River Inn

The view from our balcony at Little River Inn

Our room was comfortable and well-appointed, with a fireplace and club chairs as well as a dining table. And the bathroom was huge! Full soaking tub with jets, as well as a nice shower with good water pressure. The girls loved having a nice hot bath at night. After all, the Northern California coast is still chilly in the Spring.

Fantastic Dining

The Little River Inn is known for its restaurant and bar, and rightly so. Not only did guests enjoy dining there, but locals and guests from other hotels also came for the inventive menu. Executive Chef Marc Dym certainly knows his way around the kitchen. We loved breakfasts here the most. I became so addicted to his thin and delicious Swedish Pancakes that I ordered them two days in a row. I even tried to replicate the dish at home, but did not reach his level.

For dinner, I tried the Chicken and Gravy which was superb. Tender, juicy and served with mashed potatoes, the dish was so comforting. Triton liked his fresh, locally caught salmon very much, rubbed with spices and herb and cooked to perfection. For dessert, the girls begged for chef’s famous olallieberry cobbler. We held back though, so there’s another reason to return here for further feasting.

Ole's Whale Watch Bar at Little River Inn Mendocino

Locals and visitors love Ole’s Whale Watch Bar at the Little River Inn in Mendocino.

Golf Course & Spa

At some point in its history, Little River Inn added a 9-hole golf course. Improbable as it sounds, the course winds up from the coast and through the redwoods. Not golfers we, so we did not play but saw that many others loved it. I think if we were to take up golf (again) this might be a great place for us. Not too difficult, gorgeous, and conveniently located next to a renowned spa for relaxation afterwards!

Speaking of the spa, we were so busy sightseeing we did not have time to indulge. The services offered here look inviting, with massages, body treatments, facials and more. From the looks of the spa menu, a number of treatments are seaweed based – how appropriate. We love hotels with spas onsite, so we can stagger to the room after our treatments rather than get in a car and drive somewhere.

iris blooming in Mendocino

The flower beds at Little River Inn were so colorful

Spectacular Views

One of the things that kept my parents coming back to the Little River Inn were the views. This area of California is so picturesque, with literally dozens of gorgeous scenes from sun-up to sundown. Pines twisted and bending from the ocean breezes. Rocky cliffs tumbling into churning blue and white oceans. Beaches made of sea glass, and others offering tidepools full of sea life. Fishing boats bobbing in the ocean with their catch of the day. Gorgeous blooming rhododendrons and azaleas in bright colors. Towering redwood trees and fern-covered trails.

All of these views are available either from your lounge chair at Little River Inn, or in very close proximity. This is one of the primary reasons people love to visit the Mendocino area. There is no amusement park, no cineplex, no shopping mall. This is nature at its finest, and places like Little River Inn have continued to grow in popularity because of the surrounding natural beauty.

calla lily Mendocino pond

This pond was full of pollywogs and tadpoles.

Well worth the leisurely drive up the coast from San Francisco, the Northern California coast is like no other. And now you know where to stay when you visit – at the best hotels in Mendocino! (In our humble opinions anyway).





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Releasing Baby Turtles in Puerto Vallarta

Releasing Baby Turtles in Puerto Vallarta

Sometimes those unplanned activities turn out to be the best memories of a vacation. When our family was in Puerto Vallarta recently, we were invited by the Marriott Puerto Vallarta to visit their onsite Sea Turtle Rescue Program. Of all the amazing things we did in this great destination, this was truly a very special experience. Releasing baby turtles in Puerto Vallarta was a huge hit with our whole family – and it’s free and open to the public!

family at baby turtle release Marriott Puerto Vallarta

Those baby turtles at the Marriott Puerto Vallarta beach were so darn cute!

Releasing Baby Turtles in Puerto Vallarta

We’ve been fortunate to swim with sea turtles in several places around the world, including Kauai, Costa Rica and Playa del Carmen. Puerto Vallarta delivered a plussed-up experience that we will never forget. By the time the girls were nudging these little critters into the water, we were all smiles with maybe a few happy tears.

girl holding baby turtle at Marriott Puerto Vallarta

At the Marriott Puerto Vallarta, Ava bonded instantly with her baby turtle as she prepared to release him into the sea.

In 2002, the Marriott Puerto Vallarta established a Sea Turtle Rescue Program on site at the hotel. The beach in front of the hotel is a rich breeding ground for Olive Ridley sea turtles, with hundreds of mother turtles crawling on to the beach each season to lay her eggs in the sand. Predators knew this too, and would prey on the eggs and baby turtles before they could make it into the water. Heartbroken from watching this happen, the folks at the Marriott Puerto Vallarta did something about it, working in conjunction with the National Institute of Fisheries and the Fishing & Marine Biology Station of the University of Guadalajara.

Puerto Vallarta Turtle Conservancy

Marriott Puerto Vallarta established a true Sea Turtle Rescue Program, hiring a trained staff and biologists to oversee the program. Each night during the season, which stretches from May – December, the team watches mother turtles lay their eggs on the beach. Once they depart, the team carefully extracts the eggs from their original nest and relocates them to a protected enclosure nearby. Safely buried in the sand there, the eggs can mature in their natural habitat and release around 100 baby turtles per nest. Once the babies start hatching in about 45 days, the Marriott team gathers them each night, releasing baby turtles in Puerto Vallarta warm ocean waters of  Banderas Bay.

baby sea turtle release with girl in Puerto Vallarta

Sophia named her baby turtle “Sophia”, and her namesake was soon paddling away into the sea.

Protecting Olive Ridley Sea Turtles

It’s amazing to see all the baby turtle nests, organized in lines within the enclosure and labeled by date and number of eggs. Another number indicates the count of how many nests have been rescued within the season. When we visited the latest count was 871 nests this year alone! Figuring an average of 100 eggs per nest, that’s a total of nearly 90,000 eggs rescued in 2018. That is a LOT of baby turtles!

The rescue team carefully recreates the conditions of a turtle nest in the sand of the enclosure, carving a hollow jug-shaped pit in the wet sand about 12-14 inches deep. Inside, the eggs are carefully laid together with a small opening like the mouth of a jug – this is how the hatchlings exit to the surface.

The Sea Turtle Rescue Program at the Marriott Puerto Vallarta has been very successful. In natural circumstances, about 40% of the baby turtles might hatch and make it into the water. In this program, they release more than 95% of their baby turtles in Puerto Vallarta waters. After about 20 years, the mothers return to the exact spot on the beach where their egg was first laid – and they lay their eggs in that spot too. Nature is so amazing.

turtle hatchery at Marriott Puerto Vallarta

Inside the turtle hatchery, this starburst-shaped hole in the sand is a turtle nest where the babies had already surfaced.

Baby Turtle Release

On the night we visited, Sophia and Ava were very lucky to learn that two baby turtles had recently hatched and were ready to be released. On a night in mid-season, there might be hundreds. We visited in November, at the end of the season when almost all the hatchlings had been released into the sea.

After scrubbing their hands vigorously with wet sand from the beach, Sophia and Ava were first allowed to each hold a baby in their cupped hands. Our new friend Cristina from the Marriott Puerto Vallarta told the girls to name their baby turtles – Sophia chose “Sophia” (go figure) and Ava chose “Gael”. Wishing them safe travels and with a tearful goodbye, the girls placed each baby turtle at the edge of the waterline.

baby turtle released on sand at Marriott Puerto Vallarta

Baby Turtle Sophia makes her way to the water’s edge, planning her first swim in the warm Puerto Vallarta ocean.

From there we watched, waiting patiently for a gentle wave to come up the beach and give “Sophia” and “Gael” their first taste of saltwater. And we waited. Finally, a stronger wave made its way up the sand, and whoosh – little Gael was  swimming his heart out. We waved goodbye with no small amount of emotion. But Sophia the Turtle was still beached and waiting, so Sophia the Girl helped her out by moving her closer to the water. And just like that, the next wave carried her out to sea.

A Tearful Goodbye

We stood and watched the waves, imagining our new little friends swimming instinctively out to sea. Would they stick together? Would they go it alone? We prefer to believe that all their brothers and sisters were out there waiting for them, so they could swim together like those baby sea turtles in “Finding Nemo”. With a last wave goodbye, we walked back up the beach towards the Marriott for dinner.

Beach sunset at Marriott Puerto Vallarta

As the sun set, our little baby turtles swam away from the beach and off to adventures under the sea.

Celebrating Over Dinner at Mikado

At the Marriott Puerto Vallarta’s excellent Asian-inspired restaurant, Mikado, we celebrated the release of Sophia and Gael with a spirited dinner. Sitting at an exhibition-style kitchen surrounding a hot cooktop, we reveled as our chef put on a show with knives, fire and incredible feats of cooking showmanship. It was a delicious and entertaining meal, and Ava and Sophia even got into the act.

Cooking demonstration at Mikado Puerto Vallarta

Sophia got into the action, cooking us some dinner alongside her new chef friend (!)

First Ava and then Sophia took turns cooking with our chef, and they did a great job! Feasting on their hard work, we all enjoyed a delicious meal of many courses and lots of interesting Asian flavors. We highly recommend Mikado at the Marriott Puerto Vallarta if you get a chance to visit.

See You in 20 Years

Our family made a pact right then and there. In 20 years, we are coming back to the Marriott Puerto Vallarta to visit the Sea Turtle Rescue Program at night. We’ll sit on the beach and wait for Sophia and Gael to return, as Sophia crawls up to lay her eggs and Gael stands guard from the shallow waters. Our turtle experience will have come full circle!

*For other things to do with kids in Puerto Vallarta, read our story Puerto Vallarta Won Our Family’s Hearts.

Bailey-Klugh family at Mikado Restaurant Marriott Puerto Vallarta

After our dinner at Mikado, they presented us with this amazing rendition of our logo made entirely from sugar. Wow!

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Hotel Review: W Hotel Fort Lauderdale is Breezy Chic

Hotel Review: W Hotel Fort Lauderdale is Breezy Chic

I’m always disarmed when entering a hotel lobby only to discover it’s not the lobby level. The lobby at the W Hotel Fort Lauderdale is actually located upstairs on the fourth floor, and guests must take an elevator to reach it. However, the W Hotel Fort Lauderdale is breezy chic in a fun and comfortable way that makes up for this minor inconvenience. In town for a quick business conference, my time was limited in this beautiful city and the W Hotel Fort Lauderdale was a great front door.

patio at W Hotel Fort Lauderdale

On a break from my conference, I wandered out to the patio off the lobby and thought about sitting in one of these chairs for 4 or 5 hours.

W Hotel Fort Lauderdale is Breezy Chic

Beach Vibe

I think we can all expect that a W Hotel located right on the beach in Fort Lauderdale is going to have a great vibe, and this one did. The lobby was bright, airy and full of interesting and colorful art. I heard many different languages being spoken by guests on their way to and fro, including French, Portuguese, German, Spanish and proper British. All were there for the same reason though – the cool beach vibe. And the W Fort Lauderdale delivered.

Lots of windows and balconies to enjoy the ocean views and beach scenes, including a huge lobby terrace and sun deck for people watching. The see-and-be-seen gang is alive and well here, and looking good. Definitely the W Hotel Fort Lauderdale is breezy chic.

At sunset, the balcony view from my room at the W Hotel Fort Lauderdale was a combination of blue ocean waters and warm golden sunset colors.

Chill Decor

W Hotels always have a way of incorporating the surrounding environment into their design. Since this is Florida beach front, it’s natural the decor would be beach-themed. In this case, we’re not talking shells and fishing nets. It’s a much higher vibration of that ilk, with light colors, washed fabrics, natural woods and lots of bright, natural light from huge banks of glass windows.

The bars and seating areas are comfy with soft furniture and places to relax. I sat down here in between meetings and just relaxed, breathing in the salt air and the beautiful surroundings. At night the beats play at just the right levels for slinky dresses, open shirts and tanned skin.

W Hotel Fort Lauderdale lobby bar

The lobby bar area at the W Hotel Fort Lauderdale is spacious and bright.

Cush Rooms

My room was on the ninth floor (of 23 floors total) but did not feel lowly to me in any way. I liked it immediately upon walking in, with white linens, white surfaces, white furniture and blue swirling carpets. It felt very indoor/outdoor so I immediately opened the sliders all the way and let in the slightly humid evening air. With lounges and tables on my balcony, it felt like the space was far bigger than it’s actual square footage.

guest room interior W Hotel Fort Lauderdale

Degrees of blue with white accents make my room at the W Hotel Fort Lauderdale beachy and modern at the same time.

Rather than go out by myself, I just ordered room service and enjoyed the quiet. With a pretty limited menu, room service was ok but not earth-shattering. I did devour my buffalo chicken wings, which were just the right amount of spicy. The caesar salad was a flat no-go. Food downstairs in the restaurants and banquet facilities was far better.

In what seems to be a very common hotel trend these days, the shower in my room shared a glass wall with the bedroom. Etched in the right places, the shower gives the room just a hint of mystery. I liked this design solution better than some in which the shower shows everyone literally everything you’ve got.

bathroom at W Hotel Fort Lauderdale

The bathroom design in my room at the W Hotel Fort Lauderdale is clean, bright and white.

Sweet Location

Situated right on Fort Lauderdale Boulevard with the beach just right there, the W Hotel Fort Lauderdale is ideally perched at the edge of the Atlantic. Just down the street is all the crazy mix of bars and restaurants, drawing tourists and locals from all over. It reminded me of my hometown San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter, with people spilling out of restaurants on to open-air balconies. Music thumps, hips grind and laughs are loud and infectious. I like all that, just not directly next to the hotel where I am staying. Luckily, the W is down the block a bit – close enough to walk but far enough for a peaceful slumber.

Across from the hotel, the white sand beach is long and wide. The ocean is very tame here, with warm waters lapping at the shore in non-threatening rhythms.

W Hotel Fort Lauderdale exterior

The architectural design of the W Fort Lauderdale is impressive, with almost every room offering an ocean view.

Kids or No Kids?

Ah, this is always the question with a W Hotel. However, the W Hotel Fort Lauderdale is one that can go either way. It’s not such a club scene that I would be uncomfortable bringing my kids. The pool is fun and big enough for playing around, and there is always the beach just right there. I saw some families in the hotel, and the kids seemed to be having a blast. If I have the chance to come back to this cool city, I’d love to visit with my family and stay at the W again. I know they would like it just as I did, and there are a lot of things to do with kids in Fort Lauderdale.

See you soon, Fort Lauderdale. You’re the kind of Florida experience I could enjoy on the regular!

Map showing W Hotel Fort Lauderdale

Positioned right on the beach, the W Hotel Fort Lauderdale is in a pretty awesome location.


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Puerto Vallarta Won Our Family’s Hearts

Puerto Vallarta Won Our Family’s Hearts

*This post was sponsored by Visit Puerto Vallarta and the opinions expressed here are our own, as always.

The last time Triton and I were in Puerto Vallarta was before the kids were born. Part of a large group of 14 people, we rambled around the city en masse as we tanned, swam, feasted, caroused and slept. Largely in that order. Recently back for our first time to visit Puerto Vallarta with kids, we experienced a fun and more family-oriented vacation. It could not have been much more perfect.

Westin Puerto Vallarta pool at sunset

Sunset lounging by the pool at the Westin Puerto Vallarta – both beautiful and relaxing.

From the ideal weather to the fun activities and delicious food, our family fell in love with this sweet Mexican town. Truly, Puerto Vallarta won our family’s hearts. Our decision to visit Puerto Vallarta with kids was an ideal way to spend our Thanksgiving holiday.

Puerto Vallarta Won Our Family’s Hearts

As a family, we’ve visited quite a few destinations in Mexico, and there is something special about Puerto Vallarta. Maybe it’s the warm, swimmable ocean and fantastic undersea views. Or maybe we love the array of activities for families both in downtown and out on the water. Maybe it was the plentiful wildlife and colorful tropical birds. There are so many reasons to visit Puerto Vallarta with kids, we’re already planning to go back!

Here’s a few things that made our visit really special.

Boat Trip to Las Caletas

We really didn’t research our trip to Las Caletas very much. Hosted by Vallarta Adventures, the tours to this remote private beach are only reachable by boat. As we boarded the boat with about 200 other visitors, we got worried this was going to be “one of those” tours. Visions came to mind of men in Bermuda shorts and black socks alongside women in giant sunhats and zinc-covered noses. (Well ok, maybe there were one or two of those couples.)

Vallarta Adventures boat to Las Caletas Puerto Vallarta

Vallarta Adventures’ boat to Las Caletas was cozy but really fun. The entertainment was pretty hilarious (in a good way).

But my gosh, were we surprised when we skirted the coastline south of Puerto Vallarta and passed the famous Los Arcos National Marine Park. What came into view was a tropical paradise, and a huge one at that. We didn’t realize this private beach and playground was dedicated solely to our boat full of people. Suddenly, 200 guests seemed like a tiny number.

There is so much to do at Las Caletas. After settling into comfy lounge chairs on the beach, Triton and the girls swam out to a floating pier complete with hammock and umbrella. I stayed on the beach and nursed a gigantic piña colada, watching a flock of green parrots settled onto a nearby post. Kayaks, paddle boards, boogie boards, snorkel sets and even scuba equipment were all available for our use. Later, Ava and I walked up the stone stairways along the water until we reached another beach. Strewn with hammocks, this beach is restful and away from the laughter and happy squeals.

Las Caletas private beach Puerto Vallarta

The view looking North along the beach at Las Caletas, with the swimming beach on the right.

Around the bend further are the kids and teens areas, each with their own set of activities. Kids can play all sorts of fun games both in and out of the water. In the teen area, guests can zipline, ride the waterslide, jump onto a giant water pillow and more.

Even the food is great here, all included in the ticket price of $49 per person. Really, this place is a must if you visit Puerto Vallarta with kids.

man swinging hammock on floating platform Las Caletas Puerto Vallarta

Guests can swim out to several floating platforms off the beach at Las Caletas.


  • Bring your own towels – they don’t supply them for you.
  • Sit on the main floor of the boat near the front left – there are surprises and you’ll be happy you did. Plus good views from the left side.
  • Tip the staff – they work hard to please.
Dinner at Casa Kimberly’s Iguana Restaurant

For a truly nice dinner in downtown Puerto Vallarta, make advance reservations at the Iguana Restaurant at Casa Kimberly. This place ranks among the best meals and restaurant experiences our family has ever had.

family dinner at Iguana Restaurant Casa Kimberly Puerto Vallarta

Everything about our dinner at Iguana Restaurant was fabulous. Look at that view!

I guess we should have expected something special when we learned Casa Kimberly is located in movie star Elizabeth Taylor’s former home. While filming The Night of the Iguana in Puerto Vallarta with her future husband Richard Burton, they fell in love with each other and this town. She bought this home high on the hills overlooking downtown and the ocean. To be discreet since they were still married to other people, Burton bought the house across the cobblestone street. They built a bridge between the two houses over the street to enable their midnight trysts – how Old-Hollywood of them!

Elizabeth Taylor painting at Casa Kimberly Puerto Vallarta

The Lady Elizabeth herself presiding over our dinner at Casa Kimberly, famous violet eyes and all.

The 5-star Iguana Restaurant is all white linens and china, with impeccable service and the highest quality of food and drink. Open air and with gorgeous views, the main dining room is elegant and casual at the same time. Serving delicious dishes with a hint of Mexican influence, the chef has created a broad menu even this kids were happy with.

But then came the mariachis – my family and friends know I am not a fan. However, these mariachis are another level. With at least a dozen quality musicians, this band put on a spectacular show that stunned us all. Even the vocals were exemplary, backed by a group of six violinists and the rest. Go. Go for the view, the food, the history of this building. And go for the mariachis. (I never thought I would actually type that sentence).

mariachi violinist Casa Kimberly Iguana Restaurant

The mariachis serenaded our table at Casa Kimberly’s Iguana Restaurant.


  • Take an uber because it is very hard to find and some taxis even get lost.
  • The front entrance is unassuming. Pull the rope to ring the large bell and someone will come to open the gate for you.
  • Walk around the courtyard and gander at the old Hollywood photos and posters from Taylor’s own collection.
The Original Downtown Tour

Our family loves a good taco, and this food tasting and cultural walking tour of downtown Puerto Vallarta did not disappoint. We met our guide Shawnie of Vallarta Food Tours in the gazebo of Lázaro Cárdenas Park, and she handed us a map of the eateries we would visit. There were nine of them! From there, we were off to our first stop and our tummies were happy all day.

Taco stop at Bierreria Robles in Puerto Vallarta

Taco stop on our food tour – catch the tshirt on our guide in the back: I wonder if tacos think about me too!

I’ll go into more detail on another post dedicated to this tour, but suffice to say it was a fantastic collection of deliciousness. From street tacos to fresh seafood and everything in between, our taste buds were singing from start to finish.

A quick overview of our tour (the routes and stops can vary):

  • street tacos
  • aguas frescas
  • seafood tacos
  • local chocolates
  • ceviche tostadas
  • mole enchiladas
  • and much more
walking food tour downtown Puerto Vallarta

Our last stop on the food tour in Puerto Vallarta was a house-made candy shop.


  • Eat a light breakfast that morning. The tour starts at 10:30 and supplies plenty of food.
  • Wear comfortable shoes. I wore flip flops which was a mistake.
  • Bring your swim suits. The tour ends back at the beach and you can take a nice dip.
Swimming with Dolphins in the Wild

At another location in Mexico, we had an unfortunate experience with captive dolphins. The girls were super upset at that place because the dolphins were kept in a swimming pool-like tank. In the case of Dolphin Tour by Wildlife Connection in Puerto Vallarta, the experience is completely opposite. These bottlenose dolphins are observed in the wild, part of a large pod numbering at least 60 members. Our guide and boat captain took us out to the bay where this pod lives, so we could observe them in their natural habitat.

They were majestic, and as we approached it seemed almost that they were welcoming us! Some dolphins jumped completely out of the water and dove back in, while others swim gently in the waves. We saw dozens of them, and at some points they were everywhere around us.

swimming with dolphins Puerto Vallarta

Dolphins swim off the coast Puerto Vallarta, and if you are lucky you can swim with them!

After the dolphins got used to our boat, we slipped into the water quietly so as not to disturb them. Armed with scuba gear and flippers, we swam out into the group. Playful as ever, they surrounded us and swam circles around our family – they were curious about these humans in their midst. We could even hear their calls to each other, that unmistakable high squeal. Some dove beneath us, encouraging us to come along. Others jumped in the air near us, daring us to do the same. Our favorites were the friendly ones that circled us, very close but never touching.

Of all the things our family experienced in Puerto Vallarta, this was a true highlight. Rarely do we see both our teen girls smile so broadly at the same time. Winning!


  • Small boat. If you get a little seasick, prepare in advance with Dramamine or wrist bands.
  • The marina where the boat picks you up is random without good signage. It is directly across the street from the Westin Puerto Vallarta if you get lost.
  • Be respectful. Do not touch or try to feed the dolphins – they are wild animals and will not benefit from too much human interference.
If You Go

There are so many great places to stay and things to do when you visit Puerto Vallarta with kids. We wished we had more time to do them all!

Westin Puerto Vallarta from water view

From the water, the view of the Westin Puerto Vallarta architecture and grounds is impressive.

Our home base at the Westin Puerto Vallarta was an ideal location. Near enough to the airport that we could get there in 10 minutes, it was easy to arrive and exit. Downtown was a short uber or taxi ride, and the dolphin encounter is directly across the street. If your family plans a lot of activities in Puerto Vallarta proper, we suggest not staying farther north than Nuevo Vallarta. The drive times are long and you will have to leave your hotel very early to reach the excursions on time.

Westin Puerto Vallarta rates start at $108 USD.

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Activities in Aruba With Kids

Activities in Aruba With Kids

*Our adventures in Aruba were sponsored in part by Aruba Tourism and DePalm Adventures Aruba, and as usual the opinions expressed here are our own.

The Caribbean Island of Aruba is downright gorgeous, with crystal blue waters and white sand beaches that stretch on forever. On our recent vacation in Aruba, we were so mesmerized by the beauty of Divi Beach. We almost didn’t leave the Tamarijn Aruba All-Inclusive Resort where we were staying! But venture out we did, and we are so glad for the experience of seeing more of the island and then returning to our beachfront rooms for a dip in the ocean. There are many things to do and activities in Aruba with kids, and we’ve featured a couple here to give you some ideas.

coastline of Aruba's north side

Although the blue ocean waters are the same, Aruba’s north side of the island is much rockier and hardly inhabited.

Activities in Aruba With Kids

Believe me, it was tempting to stay put in our comfy lounge chairs all day on the beach under the shade of palm-thatched palapas. The only thing missing from that whole situation was someone to bring me umbrella drinks and the occasional nosh. Imagine that – we had to actually get up and walk down the beach a few yards to the resort restaurants. Poor us.

We’re so glad we explored more of the island, and enjoyed our adventures out and about. Based on our recent experiences, here are a few activities in Aruba with kids that will make your family happy.

Aruba snorkeling tour

Our catamaran tour of Aruba took place aboard the Palm Pleasure, which dropped us to snorkel in several cool spots.

Snorkeling Tour on a Catamaran

Aruba is famous for being one of the world’s top underwater playgrounds, with scuba divers and snorkelers traveling from far and wide. The island’s reputation holds true, because these clear ocean waters are teeming with brightly colored tropical sea life.

underwater scene in Aruba

The ocean waters of Aruba are crystal clear and the tropical fish plentiful. (photo from Aruba Tourism Bureau)

Looking forward to sailing and snorkeling on Aruba, we hooked up with DePalm Tours Aruba. They picked us up from our rooms at the Tamarijn Resort on a big comfy air-conditioned bus. From there we were transported to the dock where the catamaran was moored. Sunscreened up and ready for a day in the tropical sun, we jumped on board the Palm Pleasure 70-foot catamaran with about 30 others and were on our way.

Now our family has been on a few boat tours, some better than others. This was one of the best we’ve experienced. The boat was in great shape, the crew was friendly and the equipment brand new. We hit several dive spots up the coast past the high-rise hotels, and were treated to amazing underwater views. Right away, we found ourselves surrounded by brightly colored fish of all shapes and sizes. There were pink ones, deep blue ones that looked like Dory, striped yellow and black ones, and many more. I even saw a giant clam!

snorkeling underwater in Aruba

Our family had a blast underwater, snorkeling the clear blue waters of Aruba.

Plenty of Dive Spots

One dive spot was super cool because it featured a sunken shipwreck. Looking down from above, we could see the corroded deck and hull as it listed to the side about 30 feet down. With such clear water, it was easy to make out the details of what once was. Spooky in a way, but super cool – the kids loved it.

After jumping off the boat and swimming with the fishes, we worked up a good appetite. Lucky for us, the crew of the Palm Pleasure served up a delicious lunch of salads, fish, chicken, coconut cake and drinks. The bar featured all kinds of tropical cocktails, as well as punch, sodas and waters.

Tickets for this fun adventure start at $94 for adults/$66 for kids. The entire experience lasted about 6 hours from door to door.

Off Road Adventures

After sitting on the beach for a few more days, we were ready for another adventure. This time, we wanted to take a land tour to the other side of the island where few people live. In fact, it was fairly deserted. Once again guided by DePalm Tours, we were picked up at the hotel – this time in an off-road jeep complete with  bench seats. We were off and running for our Natural Pool Safari.

DePalm Tours Aruba off-road jeep

Our off-road adventure in Aruba was undertaken from this brightly colored jeep.

Heading towards the north side of the island, we bumped and lurched and laughed our way along rocky dirt roads. Up and down hills and into ravines we drove, as our driver/guide told us about the terrain and history of the island. Only about 69 square miles in total, Aruba is an interesting mix of coastlines. On the hotel side, the beaches are long and wide. Over on the other side, the coastline is craggy rocks, crashing waves and tiny sand areas hardly worth calling beaches at all. From our vantage points along the coast, we did find some inviting coves with beautiful small beaches.

natural swimming hole in Aruba

This natural swimming hole in Aruba was filled with tropical fish.

Natural Pools

We started by visiting a natural pool along the rocky coast. Visitors could easily scramble over the rocks and into the refreshing pond, snorkeling to see tropical fish. Our tour also hit some hot spots including the famous Natural Bridge. (Please note, the rock formation fell years ago so now the visitor’s center is there without an attraction. Still, they do make a great cheese empanada and have super clean restrooms!) We also stopped at the historic Bushribana Gold Smelter ruins, where long ago men melted and forged gold nuggets found on the island. Farther up the coast, we stopped to view the historic Alto Vista Chapel and the California Lighthouse. Both have beautiful views of that famous Caribbean coastline.

view from California Lighthouse in Aruba

The California Lighthouse in Aruba is a favorite with visitors from all over the world.

Tickets for the Natural Pool Safari start at $102 for adults and $79 for kids 8-12. Younger kids are not permitted.

Aruba Butterfly Farm

Another day we were feeling more peaceful, and learned there was a butterfly farm nearby. Actually, it was only about ten minutes up the road from our hotel. Since they were little, our girls have always been fascinated with butterflies so we had to go. Quaint and sweet, the Aruba Butterfly Farm was surprisingly well stocked. Walking through the entrance and gift shop, we were escorted into the netted gardens.

Aruba Butterfly Farm entrance

From the front, the Aruba Butterfly Farm is full of flowers, birds and – yes – butterflies.

Inside there must have been hundreds of butterflies. Just like the many colorful fish we saw while snorkeling, the butterflies swirled around us in a riot of colors. We literally saw every color of the rainbow represented in these delicate creatures. My favorite were the giant blue ones, but really they were all breathtaking up close. Some even landed on us, checking us out to see if we were giant flowers.

butterfly in Aruba

Inside the Aruba Butterfly Farm, we saw butterflies and moths of all shapes, sizes and colors.

At various places throughout the meandering paths, little huts are set up to house the chrysalises and cocoons formed by caterpillars. They looked like little jewel boxes, holding colorful dangling earrings or something. Every 30 minutes or so, a guide leads groups on a tour through the gardens. She told us about the butterflies and moths flying around us, what they ate, how they lived and reproduced. We saw more kinds of caterpillars than we have ever seen in one place.

butterfly chrysalises in Aruba

This cabinet held many different kinds of butterfly chrysalises and moth cocoons.

We sat and watched the butterflies’ peaceful flights for a very long time. Photos were hard to get because those suckers can really move, but we managed a few good ones.

Tickets are $15 per person, and your ticket can be used again for the remainder of your stay on the island of Aruba.

sailing in Aruba

Sailing on a catamaran in the warm Aruba waters made us so happy!

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Visit Hearst Castle with Kids

Visit Hearst Castle with Kids

Hearst Castle is one of those iconic California destinations that seems taken from the pages of a fairy tale. It’s hard to believe the amount of wealth and resources it required for William Randolph Hearst to build a magnificent estate of this grandeur in the 1930s. By today’s standards, it would hardly be possible. Our family loved our tours, and to visit Hearst Castle with kids is a glimpse into a bygone era.

Outdoor pool at Hearst Castle

The Neptune Pool at Hearst Castle holds more than 345,000 gallons of water.

Visit Hearst Castle with Kids

To call it a museum is really a disservice – it’s an experience in history. The architecture, interior design, furnishings, art collection and grounds are each eye-popping in their own right. Hearst even imported his own zoo, and kept exotic animals on the acreage surrounding the Castle.  His personal zoo included zebras, giraffes, lions, tigers, monkeys, bears, ostriches, kangaroos and more. Even today, you can see zebra herds still grazing in the grassland near the park entrance.

Some helpful hints for when you visit Hearst Castle with kids:

Buy your tickets in advance

Tours are popular, and the number of guests in each tour is limited to keep the facilities and grounds from being overrun by visitors. It’s best to book at least one month in advance and pre-purchase your tickets.

Hearst Castle main entrance facade

The front facade and main entrance of Hearst Castle was patterned after medieval European cathedrals.

Plan at least two tours

The buildings and grounds are extensive, and one tour does not cover it all properly. We booked two tours back-to-back, and it was just enough for us to feel we got a decent viewing without the kids spinning out of control. Still, this took about three hours.

We enjoyed the Grand Rooms Tour, which covers most of the opulent rooms in Casa Grande (the main house). Our kids marveled at the enormous living room, with a fireplace so large you can walk right into it. Another favorite was the indoor Roman Pool, complete with real gold tiles among the azure blue designs.

Don’t miss the Upstairs Suites Tour, which features the insane Gothic Suite, the Library and many of the bedrooms. Even the stairways and servants quarters are unbelievable to modern eyes.

Visit the beach before or after

The coastline in this area of California is stunning, and right at the base of Hearst Castle’s driveway is a sweet and quiet respite called William Randolph Hearst Memorial Beach. The ships that brought many of the workers and supplies to San Simeon during construction were moored here, and now still remains a wooden pier, long sandy beach and the occasional sea lion.

Beach near Hearst Castle

The rustic pier on the beach in front of Hearst Castle.

Just up the coast a few miles is another sensation – the elephant seal sanctuary at Pierdas Blancas. During the time of the year we visited, the creatures were not on site but best viewing can be enjoyed January, April and October. These are those gentle giants with the big floppy noses that like to laze on beaches and bark at the waves.

Food is a challenge

Food choices around this area are scarce, and food and drink are strictly forbidden in the exhibit areas outside the visitor center. The Hearst Castle guest center has a few choices, and the food wasn’t bad – not inexpensive, but the quality and menu choices were decent and family friendly. Another option is to bring a picnic lunch and enjoy the many coastline stopping points, including the beaches described above.

Hearst Castle view of California coast

The view from Hearst Castle is breathtaking, when you know all your eyes can see was once part of the Castle grounds.

Take your time!

Relax and take your time, enjoy the drive and leave plenty of time to stop at some of the vistas along the way. This part of California is beautiful and unspoiled, giving a sense of what it was like before our modern craziness.

We hope you enjoy a visit to Hearst Castle with kids as much as we did. In fact, we are planning to go back so we can take the other tours and see more of this amazing and legendary enclave.

Historic pier at William Randolph Hearst Memorial Beach

This rebuilt pier at the nearby was once the dropping off point for supplies that helped build Hearst Castle.