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7 Things To Do In LA With Teens That They Won’t Think are Totally Boring

7 Things To Do In LA With Teens That They Won’t Think are Totally Boring

Traveling to LA with teens? Yes! There is so much to do in the Los Angeles area. It’s a vast place that includes many cities and neighborhoods that run together in a jumble. But the hardest part? Finding things to do in LA with teens that they won’t think are boring.

You will absolutely need a car, patience, and a good mapping app on your smartphone. The rest will be TONS of fun!

7 Things to do in LA with Teens

  1. Santa Monica Pier

The Santa Monica Pier is literally the most photographed spot in all of LA – even more than the Hollywood sign. In fact, you probably recognize the area from dozens of TV and movie scenes over the years. There is a variety of wacky, amusing activities you can try. How about showing off your amazing sense of balance by bouncing on a springy tightrope? Or would you rather roll across the sand in giant inflatable “hamster balls”? Perhaps swinging on giant monkey bars is more your speed? You can do all three things on the beach next to the pier – and much more.

On the pier itself, enjoy the rides at Pacific Park throughout the day and into the night. Restaurants and shops help entertain those who might be less ride-inclined. You can buy a wristband that entitles you to unlimited rides all day for $32 (ages 8 and older) and $17 for kids 7 and under. Otherwise, pay about $5-10 per ride. Admission to the park itself is free.

rolling human hamster balls at Santa Monica

Don’t these human hamster balls look like too much fun?

Or if all that is just too much, just sit down in the warm sand and take in all the sights of Santa Monica. This is the quintessential Southern California beach postcard come to life. The city of Santa Monica has so much to offer off the sand, it’s worth spending the the entire day here. Or even overnight at one of the many awesome hotels within walking distance!

  1. OUE Skyspace Giant Glass Slide

OUE Skyspace is not for the faint of heart. It perches 70 stories above Downtown LA with some exceptional views you won’t see anywhere else. OUE offers outdoor balconies sporting nearly 360-degree views of the Hollywood sign, Santa Catalina Island, the San Gabriel Mountains and more. The star attraction though is the giant slide that curves around the outside of the building. It is a tunnel completely made of high-strength glass. Sliding down means stomach-dropping views through the floor to the streets more than 1,000 feet below. Do you dare? ($25 for adults and $19 for kids 3–12, plus $8 per person for the slide).

girls slides down OUE Skyspace glass slide

We were a little nervous, but the OUE Skyspace slide did not disappoint.

  1. Griffith Observatory

At the famous Griffith Observatory, the solar system and galaxy are on display in various entertaining and scientific ways. Check out exhibits featuring discoveries about the planets, space and our views of them throughout human history. Look for the gigantic telescope to see farther into the stars than you ever thought possible. Along with an excellent planetarium and various shows and events, this is a different kind of “Hollywood star” experience. Cost: $7 for adults, $3 for kids 5–12 and free for those under 5.

Griffith Observatory interior with telescope

In addition to a fantastic Planetarium show, Griffith Observatory has fun exhibits.

  1. Rent a bike

When you’re visiting LA with kids, renting a bike is one of the best way to see the sites. It keeps the kids active and you don’t have to sit in traffic. One of the best places to bike is in Santa Monica along the beachfront path. It’s a spectacular way to see the sites, get some exercise, and enjoy leisure time with the whole family. Take in the wide beaches, waving palms and gorgeous ocean views. For families with younger kids, The Bike Center in Santa Monica offers bikes, tandem bikes and buggies that can seat up to 4 kids!

  1. Hollywood Walk of Fame

Kids and adults alike can have fun experiencing the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It is, after all, what LA is known best for. Look for names you know among the over 2,000 stars bearing celebrity names. The stars are on both sides of Hollywood Boulevard starting at La Brea Avenue and continuing 15 blocks down on Vine Street. If you’ve been to Walt Disney World you and your kids may have eaten at the Hollywood & Vine restaurant at Hollywood Studios. Cost: Free!

Hollywood Walk of Fame with Britney Spears star

Our girls just had to pose with Britney on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

  1. Universal Studios Hollywood

Get ready for a thrill of a lifetime when you spend the day at Universal Studios Hollywood. It is both a working movie studio and a theme park! They are a ton of attractions based on popular movies and TV shows, and something for all ages. For a fun extra, take the Legendary Studio Tour, a tram ride that visits actual TV and movie sets. Cost: $139, adults (age 10+), $133, kids ages 3-9.

family with Universal Studios Hollywood globe at entrance

How could you not smile as you enter Universal Studios Hollywood?

  1. LACMA – LA County Museum of Art

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art is more commonly referred to as LACMA, and it’s very impressive. The permanent collection here is stunning, and then there are constantly changing exhibitions to draw new interest and attention. Be alert, as there are several outstanding Instagram moments outside the Museum that will please your teens even before entering. Cost: $25 for adults and kids under 17 are free.

family selfie with LACMA lamp posts

This installation of lamp posts at LACMA is highly instagrammable.

STAR STRUCK

From free activities to those that may take some financial pre-planning, there is so much to do in LA with teens. And while you’re visiting LA with kids, always keep your eyes open. You’ll never know who you’ll see. Stars, they’re just like us!

And if you must have celebrity photos, there’s always a visit to the Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum on Hollywood Boulevard. Filled with celebrity likenesses, there are plenty of photo opps here for teens and parents alike.

girl with Justine Timberlake wax figure at Madame Tussaud's Hollywood

Sophia was afraid to get close to Justin Timberlake at Madame Tussaud’s Hollywood

 


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Sleep Away Surf Camp is a Huge Hit

Sleep Away Surf Camp is a Huge Hit

For the sixth summer in a row, we dropped Ava at YMCA Camp Surf to spend time in the waves, sand and California sun. She and Sophia both attended for several years together, and Ava fell in love with the experience big time. Since she was 8 years old, Ava has thought that sleep away surf is a huge hit and we can see why.

beach and waves at Imperial Beach

The waves at YMCA Camp Surf in Imperial Beach, CA are perfect for learning the basics.

Not only does she get the freedom of being away from home and family for an extended period of time. She also is immersed in a sport she loves. Triton and I definitely miss her while she is at camp. Yet, we know she’s having a good time, and guess what? We sent Sophia off to her cousins for the week and we got the whole house to ourselves.

Did you catch that?!?!?  WE GOT THE WHOLE HOUSE TO OURSELVES!

Checking in for cabin assignment at Camp Surf

This is Ava’s “please-go-away-now-and-leave-me-alone” Camp Surf face.

Sleep Away Surf Camp is a Huge Hit

Ava has reached the age to be considered part of the Beachcombers group at YMCA Camp Surf, and her stay was extended to two weeks. For the kids under 14, the experience is for one week – kids are dropped off on Sunday and picked up on Friday. In Ava’s case, she and her new Beachcomber friends spent an entire extra week at camp. More laughing, bonding, surfing and doing all sorts of cool camp activities.

checking into YMCA Camp Surf

Check in day at YMCA Camp Surf in Imperial Beach is always exciting.

Kids From All Over

For the first time this year, we realized that kids are coming from all over the country to attend this camp. All over the world actually. There were kids from Germany, Australia, the UK, and of course from many parts of the US. It’s certainly a popular program. In Ava’s cabin, the girls were mostly from up and down California. They all traveled to Imperial Beach for the famous surfing and epic fun.

Camp Surf new cabins

The girls were thrilled to see brand new cabins have been built at the YMCA Camp Surf.

Lifelong Friends

There is so much more to this experience in addition to surfing. The opportunity to bond with other campers and form lifelong friendships is the real bonus. Since Ava has been going to Camp Surf, she has formed strong bonds with her fellow campers. This year, her entire cabin of 10 girls all got along beautifully (!) and formed deep friendships. Maybe because it was two weeks? Whatever the circumstances, these girls have formed a chat group that talks daily. They’ve even all plotted to go back to Camp Surf next year and bunk together again!

settling into cabin at Camp Surf

First come, first serve on the best bunk beds in the cabin!

Activities Beyond Surfing

Truth be told, I don’t think Ava actually stood up on her surfboard for the entire two weeks of camp. Didn’t matter to her at all. She swam, she body surfed, she floated with friends and so much more. Here’s a list of some of the activities they got to do:

  • rock climbing
  • archery
  • kayaking
  • sailing
  • camping on the beach in San Onofre State Park on the weekend between
  • bike rides up to Coronado
  • thrift store shopping
  • skits
  • campfires
  • camp songs
  • years of memories that will last a lifetime

I gotta tell you, I’m more than a little jealous. Camp has evolved since I was a kid going to Camp Blue at Lair of the Bear Family Camp! Do you think they’d still let me in?

Yeah, that’s what I thought.

YMCA Camp Surf sign

The welcome sign at YMCA Camp Surf in Imperial Beach, CA.

 

 

 

 


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Passing On a Lifetime of Palm Springs Road Trips to our Kids

Passing On a Lifetime of Palm Springs Road Trips to our Kids

I’ve been visiting Palm Springs since I was 14 years old, and I never tire of its dry heat, swimming pools and desert beauty. Those first few visits set in concrete a love affair with the Coachella Valley that has endured throughout my lifetime. Passing on a lifetime of Palm Springs road trips to our kids, our family continues to add to those memories.

There is just something about road trips that bonds a family with lifelong remembrances. Songs sung, snacks consumed, roadside pit stops visited. A zillion choruses of “are we there yet?” will reverberate in our memory banks forever. There is just something so powerful about introducing our kids to a place we love so dearly.

2018 White Kia Cadenza

The 2018 Kia Cadenza is a smooth ride with plenty of room for our family of four and all of our stuff.

Passing On a Lifetime of Palm Springs Road Trips

It’s only a two-and-a-half hour drive from our house to Palm Springs, and yet it seems a lifetime away. As we packed up the Kia Cadenza for our latest trip to the desert, I reflected on some of those memory-creating occasions. Maybe some of these will resonate with you too.

Since the kids were super little, we’ve buckled them into their car seats for the drive to Palm Springs. As parents are wont to do, we over-planned for what might lay ahead. Snacks were bundled, sippy cups filled and video entertainment secured in mass quantities as though we were schlepping to the Far East.

date shakes in Palm Springs

When it’s hot out, a date shake in Palm Springs is just the ticket!

Overpack on Snacks

To this day, the first thing our girls ask when we get settled into the car is “Did you bring any snacks?” These days it’s bottles of water, fresh fruit, protein bars and maybe some popcorn that keeps them sated for the drive.

In my younger years, I was the one that would cause friends and loved ones to pack a candy bar on trips. If my blood sugar ran low, the hangry-ness was legendary for its speed and depth. Now we know better and prepare accordingly, so the kids aren’t the only ones that need snacks for the road!

In Palm Springs, my favorite snack place may be gone forever. Does anyone remember Fun in the Sun Candies? They made these caramel covered marshmallows that were THE BEST THING EVER.

Road Trip Tip #1: However your family defines snacks, bring them in quantity. Whether the drive is long or short, somehow a road trip will trigger hunger pangs like no other. If you don’t consume everything, at least you will be stocked up for the hotel room or Airbnb. (Even if it’s not Fun in the Sun marshmallows).

Supply Entertainment Choices

When the girls were little, it was a library of DVDs we would play on the car’s entertainment system. It’s an odd memory for us because we only ever heard the soundtrack. Sitting in the front seats, we couldn’t see the movie but have by now memorized every single word of all the Disney classics. The Little Mermaid, A Bug’s Life, Sleeping Beauty, Toy Story, High School Musical – they have all been engrained in our parent brains.

Palms to Pines Highway from above

The Palms to Pines Highway winds down from the mountain tops to the Palm Springs desert floor.

Now the girls stare at their phone screens with earphones affixed, occasionally looking up to see how far we’ve traveled. We’re considered strict parents for limited their time on devices, but relax our rules for traveling. Still, we do have some road trip limits.

Back in the day, my entertainment on those trips to Palm Springs was looking out the window of an Air California jet from San Francisco. Remember Air Cal? Groovy flower-pattern seats and “stewardesses” with bucket hats and hot pants. I was enthralled.

Road Trip Tip #2: Intersperse entertainment addiction with real life experiences. We know our kids feel like car prisoners, and yet we do make them aware of the journey along the way. We give them time periods to spend on entertainment, and then a break to look out the window. Whether they enjoy the passing scenery or stare into the void, they can learn to enjoy the nothingness. Sometimes a blank mind can bring the most powerful observations, and road trips are perfect for those moments.

The scenery can be pretty spectacular, both horizontally and vertically. The Kia Cadenza sports a ridiculously large sunroof, perfect for watching clouds form the shapes of animals and other objects. We used to play this game for hours while staring at the sky, and even today it can draw their attention for at least a minute or two.

Palm Springs wind farm

The windmills in Palm Springs are massive, and passing them is a sure sign we are close to our destination.

Plan Interesting Stops Along the Way

Depending on what part of the Coachella Valley we are visiting, our lifetime of roadtrips to Palm Springs brings us through different routes. If we are headed towards La Quinta or Palm Desert, we typically take the Palms to Pines Highway (Highway 74). This curvy wonder tracks from the back reaches of Temecula through the high desert, tipping over the rim high above the desert floor. Winding down that road you pass by pine trees, and in the winter sometimes even snow. When you reach the desert floor, your view switches to cactus and palm trees. This, Palms to Pines Highway. There’s several great stops along this path, including a sketchy diner with the best greasy hamburgers.

If we are staying in Palm Springs proper, it’s better to take Highway 111 from Interstate 10. This winds us through the enormous wind farms with giant propellors spinning as far as the eye can see. Just before exiting Highway 10, the kitschy life-size dinosaurs come into view. A stand-out for as long as I can remember, the Cabazon Dinosaurs have become a tourist attraction. They’ve even been featured in many Hollywood movies including my favorite – “PeeWee’s Big Adventure”.

The first big stop on the way to Palm Springs that I remember was to get a burger and shake from Bob’s Big Boy. There was something so perfectly Southern California about the giant statue of a little boy with his hand in the air. So kitschy. So delicious. What ever happened to Bob’s?

Road Trip Tip #3: Take a moment before you get in the car and plan a couple of potential stops along your route. The kids will appreciate something to look forward to, and you will probably need a bathroom break long about that time anyway. Sometimes we let the kids pick where they want to stop, and sometimes that idea backfires horribly.

Build Family Traditions

Our family tradition nearly always includes a stop for date shakes on the way into town. Other folks prefer to stop at a farm stand and pick up some fresh fruit and vegetables. Maybe you have a special favorite restaurant in the area, and it is your family tradition to go there each time you visit?

pool at Riviera Hotel Palm Springs

Sometimes the hotel pool is a perfect spot for watching the kids swim while we lay in the sun.

For us, that restaurant in Palm Springs in the Blue Coyote. Known for its delicious Mexican fare and strong margaritas, the Blue Coyote is a good solid favorite. For some reason, this place gets requested by our kids every time we are in town. It’s not earth shattering cuisine, but it’s memorable.

Another tradition is driving through the center of town  – at night – down Palm Canyon Drive, music blaring and the windows down. There’s just something about that warm desert air blowing into the car, and singing ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ at the top of our lungs.

Road Trip Tip #4: Pick a tradition that is easy to uphold, and one the kids will love and look forward to. It does not have to be elaborate or difficult – it’s the small things that matter!

There are so many great things to do with kids in Palm Springs. Our family loves the Red Jeep Tours, the Living Desert Zoo, and just hanging out and walking around in Downtown Palm Springs. Hope you are able to build great family road trip traditions, regardless of where you choose to roam!

girls in hot tub

Ever since the girls were babies, we’ve been road tripping to Palm Springs.

 


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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.


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Low Tech Things To Do On A Road Trip

Low Tech Things To Do On A Road Trip

Summer road trips are our family’s jam. We love to hit the road for long weekends, visiting fun California places within easy driving distance like Santa Barbara, Palm Springs, Hollywood and more. If you are traveling by car with your family this summer, you’ll want to plan some on-the-road activities that don’t involve staring at a screen. It’s easy to let our kids get lost in their smartphones while on the road, but a family trip is also an opportunity to connect and engage in some low tech things to do on a road trip.

2018 Kia Cadenza

We are ready to hit the road in this snazzy new Kia Cadenza, outfitted perfectly for any road trip. #KiaPartner

 

Here are a few of our favorites:

Low Tech Things To Do On A Road Trip

1. Good old-fashioned reading

Ebooks are easily accessible on the road, but there’s something to be said about the feel of paper and reading a book jacket to find out what you’ll find in the pages. Whether you use a bookmark or dog-ear pages, there’s something special about reading a book. Our daughter Ava loves to read, and she’ll pack some of her trusty  young adult favorites for the road.

desert road sign to nowhere

Whichever way you choose, it’s about the journey not the final destination.

2. Sing-a-long

Although music involves electronic components, there’s no need to bring out the phones or tablets when the Kia Cadenza has a premium stereo system and available Sirius XM Satellite Radio. Your kids might roll their eyes a little when you blast the ‘90s on 9, or you can turn up the latest pop tunes and partake in some carpool karaoke. (Cue teen eye rolling).

3. Scavenger hunt

Before you hit the road, have your family make a list of things you may see on your route. Pick some obvious items for the younger kids (like semi trucks or slug bugs) or more obscure items like a labrador in a truck or a red Ferrari. Try to plan out some monuments or special tourist attractions along your journey. Using our Kia Cadenza’s state-of-the-art navigation system, we were even able to map those locations and make it easy for the driver to find the stops along the way.

pin in a map for road trip planning

Having the kids be part of planning the road trip route helps them be interested in following along from the back seat.

4. Journal

Writing about travels is a great way for your family to reflect and make memories. Encourage your kids to free write about the trip. You may want to pass a notebook around so everyone can share their own special memories as you drive across the country or region. The best part is looking back years later on the fun times you shared. Add pictures when you get home to document your journey with both words and photographs.

journal about travel adventures

When driving to multiple road trip destinations, the time spent in the car is a great opportunity to journal about the trip.

5. Crack the code

Have one family member choose a code word before you begin your trip. Pick something that is not too common but likely to be said somewhere along the journey. Once one person cracks the code with the secret word, they become the new code word creator until another person says their word. This is a fun way to pass the time on a trip while having fun, engaging conversations!

6. The license plate game

Since our girls were very little, our family has loved to play the simple license plate game. Just calling out the name of the US State when you see it first can get pretty competitive. The girls have gotten very good at spotting license plates from faraway places like Maine and Florida, or more obscure ones like Alaska or Hawaii. Me? I never win because I’m usually the driver and keeping my eyes on the road for safety reasons. I just randomly yell out “Alabama!” so they think I’m still in the game. (I think they are on to me).

New Mexico license plate

Some license plates are more colorful than others. Extra points?

It’s not necessary to break out an iPad or fancy phone to keep your family occupied on a long drive. These low tech things to do on a road trip are fun and easy ways to interact or entertain your family on your journey.

Enjoy your vacation with your family with these unplugged activities!


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Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort Great for Families

Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort Great for Families

* We were guests of Hilton Hotels & Resorts for this stay and as always, these are our own thoughts and views.

Santa Barbara is one of our family’s favorite places, and over Memorial Weekend we visited this beautiful beach city along the California Coast for a little getaway. We were told the Hilton is a Santa Barbara beachfront resort great for families, and we set out to see for ourselves.

We have actually stayed at this property a couple of times before, when it was formerly known as the Fess Parker Doubletree Resort. With a recent remodel and room upgrade, the property has been reborn as the Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort. And as Hiltons go, this is one of the best we’ve experienced in the US.

SUP in Santa Barbara

A stand up paddle board lesson on the calm waters of Santa Barbara Bay, taken from Stearns Wharf.

SANTA BARBARA BEACHFRONT RESORT GREAT FOR FAMILIES

There’s a bunch of reasons why the Hilton is a Santa Barbara beachfront resort great for families:

Fantastic Location Across from East Beach

I lived in Santa Barbara years ago, and one of my favorite beaches was always East Beach. The Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort is directly across the street from this beach, with green lawns on either side. A short walk down the sand is Stearns Wharf and the base of State Street. Triton and I got up each morning, grabbed a Starbucks from the lobby and enjoyed a nice quiet walk at the waters’ edge. Later in the day when things warmed up, that same beach served as the ideal spot for some sunbathing and splashing around in the Pacific Ocean.

Helpful Hint: Ask for a room on the third floor for the best ocean views.

sunrise East Beach Santa Barbara

This little seagull friend helped us greet sunrise at East Beach in Santa Barbara.

Activities to Keep the Entire Family Busy

The pool and spa at the Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort are spacious. Families with kids of all ages played in the water and lounged poolside with cold drinks. Nearby on property, the bicycle rental beckoned us to go for a spin down the boardwalk. We happily rode along under the palm trees, watching a band of standup paddle boarders practice their moves. Out on Stearns Wharf, visitors can spy the occasional dolphin swimming among the sailboats headed out to the Channel Islands. Or pop into the Natural History Museum’s Sea Center to see some ocean life up close.

Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara

From Stearns Wharf, you can see the beach, the Santa Barbara Riviera and mountains beyond.

Later, we enjoyed a stroll on Lower State Street, checking out the cool shops, restaurants, and historic train station. Also not to be missed is the gigantic Moreton Bay Fig Tree – awarded as the largest and oldest in the country.

Moreton Bay Fig Santa Barbara

This Moreton Bay Fig tree in Santa Barbara is thought to be the largest and oldest in the US.

Helpful Hint: Right next to the train station, pop into the lobby of the little known Ronald Reagan Museum. Right inside the front door, they have the largest piece of the Berlin Wall in existence outside of Berlin.

Fresh New Rooms

The remodeled Hilton Santa Barbara has all the bells and whistles, and our kids are the ones that notice the most. Both girls inspect a hotel room as though they were the management. We find them looking in every drawer and opening every closet and cabinet.

Balcony view at Hilton Santa Barbara

Our balcony at the Santa Barbara Hilton overlooked a grove of olives, a string of palm trees, and the Pacific Ocean.

My pet peeve is when there are not enough outlets for charging our many (many!) devices. These new rooms had plenty of options. Now if we could just get our girls to stop draining the batteries on their phones from overuse!

Helpful Hint: Each room has a nice mini fridge that fits snacks and drinks. Just down the street is a produce market, where you can buy fresh-picked organic fruit for snacks in the room.

Friendly Staff That Remembers Your Name

To me, hotel staff makes all the difference in the quality of our stay. When team members remember us from previous visits and go out of their way to remember our names? Well, that is hospitality at its finest. From the valet to the doorman to the housekeeper, the team here is exceptional. Real authentic smiles from people that look you in the eye are so rare these days, and our entire family was impressed by this team.

Helpful Hint: Valet park your car. It’s only $6 more per day, and the staff is so wonderful you will appreciate them having your car ready when you want to scoot out.

Close to all the Action

Want to play some beach volleyball? It’s right across the street at East Beach. Or perhaps try some of that famous Santa Ynez Valley wine? There a scores of wine tasting rooms scattered throughout Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone, the coolest neighborhood in the city. The Funk Zone is filled with trendy restaurants, fun cafes, craft breweries, galleries and shops, all within walking distance of the Santa Barbara Hilton.

Wine tasting in Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone is a blast when you’re with your friends.

A short car ride away and we were able to reach downtown Santa Barbara in minutes. The shops of State Street, the gorgeous architecture and gardens of the County Courthouse, and the historic adobes of the original settlers are all here. Up the hill a bit is the gorgeous Santa Barbara Mission and its ocean views.

Helpful Hint: If you visit the County Courthouse (and you really should) go all the way to the top for views from the tower. This historic landmark has some surprisingly beautiful tile work and other adornments that make it a must-see for any Santa Barbara visitor.

How to Get There:

  • Car: 2 hours from LAX (without traffic) and 3.5 hours from San Diego.
  • Train: 3 hours from Union Station in downtown LA.
  • Air: Santa Barbara International Airport welcomes flights from many major US cities and beyond.

Where to Stay:

The Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort offers rooms starting at $ and suites starting at $.

 

East Beach Santa Barbara

Sunning in the warm sand at East Beach in Santa Barbara, looking cool in my new StitchFix clothes.

 


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Downtown Palm Springs is a Great Destination with Kids

Downtown Palm Springs is a Great Destination with Kids

*Our visit to Palm Springs was hosted in part by the Hyatt Palm Springs, and our views expressed here are, as usual, our own.

I’ve been visiting Palm Springs since I was 14 years old. Believe me – that spans many years, tons of good times and a LOT of visits. Now continuing those fun adventures with my own family, we’ve stayed in many different parts of the Coachella Valley. We are convinced that Downtown Palm Springs is a great destination with kids.

After a gazillion visits since the girls were babies, we’ve instilled this same love for Palm Springs in Sophia and Ava. They beg to drive over from San Diego for the hot desert sun, cool swimming pools, date shakes and warm nights outdoors. One of the big draws for them is the downtown Palm Springs area, because there is so much to do, see, eat and explore. Everything is located in an area we can easily walk (or drive when we’d rather ride in air-conditioned luxury).

Hyatt Palm Springs

The Hyatt Palm Springs is located smack dab in the middle of all the action of downtown Palm Springs.

We recently had the opportunity to stay at the Hyatt Palm Springs, right downtown on East Palm Canyon Drive in the heart of Palm Springs. Our experience was awesome because we were right in the middle of it all.

Downtown Palm Springs is a Great Destination with Kids

With so many activities, great restaurants and shopping right outside the front door of our hotel room at the Hyatt Palm Springs, we could easily have parked the car for the weekend and never seen it until time to go home.

Here’s a sampling of why our family thinks Downtown Palm Springs is a great destination with kids.

Lulu California Bistro in Palm Springs interior view with colorful art

Three levels of dining at Lulu California Bistro allow for plenty of colorful people watching!

Downtown Palm Springs Offers Great Restaurant Choices

Downtown Palm Springs is so walkable, we never had to get in the car to head out for a meal. This is a huge plus especially for families with stroller-age kids. Though our girls are much older now, we can still remember the packing up, buckling into carseats and folding strollers into the back of the car. Here, we were able to walk outside and choose from any number of restaurants within a five minute walk.

 Steamed Pork Belly Bun at Watercress Vietnamese Bistro

The steamed pork belly buns at Watercress were out of this world, or as they are properly known, Bánh Bao Thit Heo Kho. (The cocktails there were darn tasty as well).

We particularly enjoyed our meals at Lulu California Bistro, The Tropicale Restaurant, and Watercress Vietnamese Bistro. All were delicious in their own ways, kid friendly, and a short walk from the Hyatt.

The Tropicale Restaurant in Palm Springs

Toasting another fun visit to Palm Springs at The Tropicale Restaurant.

Palm Canyon Drive is a Shopping Mecca

For decades, East Palm Canyon Drive was the center of it all. Teeming with shops and restaurants, the area has enjoyed a resurgence of interest in the last several years. Now it’s is a vibrant and exciting area for strolling and shopping again. Fashion, art, gifts and mementos can all be perused within a several long and interesting blocks. The sidewalks are even decorating with stars that honor famous people who have lived in Palm Springs.

Adding color and fun, the mid-century modern architectural movement is highly celebrated in Palm Springs. There are several galleries and shops downtown that feature decor from that era, now popular again and selling better than ever. Here’s a handy shopping map of Palm Springs to guide you.

Some of our favorite shops are Trina Turk/Mr. Turk, Greetings cards and novelty gift shop, and Modern Way mid-century furnishings.

Palm Springs Art Museum

Right behind the Hyatt is the new location of the Palm Springs Art Museum. This new building contains a surprisingly great collection of pieces, full of color and story. During our recent visit, the museum was hosting an Andy Warhol exhibit with some of his finest and most famous works.

On regular display is a collection of works by such masters as Marc Chagall, Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Alexander Calder, Henry Moore, Robert Rauschenberg and Ansel Adams.

Bike Accessible for All Ages

If the kids have mastered the art of riding a bike, downtown Palm Springs is a safe and easy place for a cruise. Bike rentals can be reserved at several places, and the Hyatt even had a collection for free use by guests. Our family has always loved riding along the flat streets in back neighborhoods, in the areas behind the Hyatt against the mountains.

Palm Springs home of Leonardo DiCaprio

Celebrity homes abound in Palm Springs, like this one belonging to Leonardo DiCaprio.

Many Hollywood celebrities have owned homes in these areas. Today, bike routes can be planned to ride past the current Palm Springs home of Leonardo DiCaprio. Other celebrity homes easily seen from a bike include the former homes of Elvis Presley, Elizabeth Taylor, Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe and many more.

And if you are uninterested in riding a bike (like one of my kids) you can take an air-conditioned tour of movie star homes with Palm Springs Celebrity Tours. They take you to all the hot spots, and even fill you in on the scandals and stories behind the homes. Plus you get to stop for a date shake, which is a Palm Springs specialty. If you haven’t had one, you must!

The King of all the Starbucks

This story is not complete without a shout-out to the gorgeous new Starbucks in downtown Palm Springs. We’ve been in a few Starbucks locations in our travels, and this one takes the prize. The architectural design is significant in its own right, and it appears that many sustainable elements were used in construction. Fronting on a public plaza, this Starbucks has plenty of seating inside and out. We enjoyed an ice coffee drink outside under the shade of date palms, while watching the world go by.

Starbucks Downtown Palm Springs

The Starbucks in downtown Palm Springs has got to be the most beautiful one we’ve ever visited.

Swim in the Pool

With kids, sometimes these little forays into civilization need to be balanced with pool time. The beauty of staying at a hotel like the Hyatt Palm Springs is that you are steps away from the pool. Several times during our stay, we returned back from shopping or a meal to take a dip. After all, there is nothing like floating on your back in a Palm Springs pool. With the hot sun on your body and the view of purple mountains rising nearby, there is something magic about this place.

Pool view at Hyatt Palm Springs

The pool at Hyatt Palm Springs beckons us on a hot day.

 

We’re already counting the days until our next visit!

 

 


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The Living Desert is a Zoo Like No Other

The Living Desert is a Zoo Like No Other

*Our visit to The Living Desert was graciously hosted by them as part of a great tour organized by Visit Palm Springs, and we are grateful for the experience.

When people think of the desert, they typically envision endless sand dunes, scrubby little plants, some cactus, a bunch of rocks and maybe a lizard or two. But a zoo in the desert? Yep, and it’s awesome – The Living Desert is a zoo like no other. Located in Palm Desert near Palm Springs, The Living Desert is an amazing destination right in the middle of the blazing sun and dry, dry, dry conditions.

The Living Desert entrance

We’ve been visiting The Living Desert since the girls were babies, and as they have grown so has the park.

The Living Desert serves up an oasis of sorts, a respite where animals that are accustomed to dry conditions can feel right at home. What started in 1970 as a nature trail and preserve has grown and evolved into a legit zoo that is fun and interesting for the whole family. We visited recently and thoroughly enjoyed our experience.

The Living Desert is a Zoo Like No Other

flowers in bloom at The Living Desert

When visiting in springtime, you can catch the desert flowers in bloom at The Living Desert

The Birds and Bees

Across some 1,800 acres of parched land, The Living Desert thrives by showcasing the flora and fauna natural to this climate. The Living Desert’s gardens are vast and lush with plants indigenous to the area, including cacti like Cholla, Agave and Barrel Cactus.

We were lucky enough to visit in the Spring, during the short window when everything is in bloom. Cactus, wildflowers and other kinds of flowering plants were all just beginning to peak, so the area was rich in color and variety. With all these flowers in bloom, there were tons of birds and bees jetting about and adding energy to the mix. We even spied a Road Runner (the real kind, not the character from the old cartoons with Wile E. Coyote).

The Living Desert cactus gardens

Gardens at The Living Desert are artful displays of local plants that can withstand the intense sun and heat.

The Living Desert has several zones planted specifically to nurture species native from the immediate area as well as North American frontiers.  The kids loved the vivid colors of the California Fuschia, Desert Mallow and Indigo Bush along with many others blooming bright pink, yellow, deep blue, red and more.

Animals Adapt

Those desert critters are a resourceful bunch. In order to withstand the intense heat and drought conditions of desert living, they learned to avoid heat and retain water. It’s amazing to see how they reserve energy, keep themselves cool when it’s more than 100 degrees outside, and still thrive.

One of the things we loved witnessing while at the Living Desert was the Cheetah Run. Three cheetahs, sisters who have been inseparable since birth, are housed in a spacious enclosure planted with grasses and heavily shaded with trees.

cheetahs relax at The Living Desert

The three cheetah sisters at The Living Desert conserve their energy while relaxing in the cool shade.

Once a day, their keepers encourage them to get exercise by running from one side of the very long enclosure to the other. And boy can these girls run – it was breathtaking to see how fast they are, and how cool they stay despite the hot sun. When their run was finished, they went back to relaxing in the grass just as comfortable as before.

Feeding Time

In several places throughout the park, guests can participate in feeding the animals. In the colorful lorakeet exhibit, guests are invited to entire the aviary carrying a small cup of nectar. Lorakeets are so attracted to this nectar that they fly right over to the guests and land on their heads, shoulders, arms and hands – trying to get a delicious sip. If you like birds, this is an incredible experience. If you don’t like birds, this is your worst nightmare. Good thing we like birds!

giraffe feeding time at The Living Desert

Giraffe feeding time at The Living Desert is fun for the whole family.

Over at the giraffe area, the Living Desert has built a special viewing platform so guests can be eye-level with this stately creatures. At certain times, guests can feed the giraffes a special cracker they seem to love very much. The kids had a blast watching the giraffes’ long black tongues reach out of their mouths and grab the cracker like a hand. Evidently, their 20-inch tongues are prehensile just like a monkey’s tail – they can move them far more independently than we humans. We were all fascinated and could have watched for hours!

The Model Train Display

The Living Desert model train exhibit

The model train exhibit at The Living Desert is massive and fascinating, with more than 3,300 feet of tracks.

Not really a desert-specific exhibit and certainly not an animal, the working model train sets on display in the center of The Living Desert are nothing short of fantastic. Their sets are miniature versions of towns, lumber yards, stations and even a scaled version of Mount Rushmore. With more then 3,300 feet of track laid, they criss-cross and wind around each other in constant motion. Kids and adults alike are fascinated at the intricacies of this display.

How to Visit The Living Desert

For all of these reasons and many more, The Living Desert is a zoo like no other. There is plenty of parking, and lots of shade but it’s always a good idea to bring a hat and sunscreen.

The park is open every day October 1 to May 31 from 9:00am to 5:00pm, and in the summer months every day June 1 to September 30 from 8:00am to 1:30pm.

Entrance fees are $19.95 for adults, $9.95 for kids 3-12, and kids under 3 are free.