California Dreaming: Los Angeles

There are so many things to do in Los Angeles that it was almost too overwhelming to choose what to do on our last day.  After spending the previous day at Disneyland, we wanted something a little more relaxing and the Getty Museum was at the top of the list.  Everything about the museum was perfect:  the setting, the kids' activities, the architecture.  In fact, this is the most kid-friendly art museum we have ever visited. There is a huge area of one wing dedicated to five activity coves that allow kids to make masks, lay on a bed that is exactly like that found in a painting in the museum, or draw on the walls to help illustrate a medieval manuscript.  

We had picked up a series of "Art Detective" cards when we arrived and did a scavenger hunt through some of the galleries.  These types of games really help to keep the kids engaged as we walk though and look at the art and sometimes they actually learn something new.

The guards were incredibly nice throughout the museum and were always suggesting something to help the kids enjoy the experience more.  One of them mentioned that we should take them to the sketching gallery, where real works of art are on display for artists to sketch.  The kids were given a clipboard, paper and a charcoal pencil and invited to choose a piece of art to study.  This was one of the highlights of the museum for them and they really took it seriously.  Once they were done, the docent had them sign their work and rolled it up and tied it with a string to take home.

We had a fantastic lunch on the terrace overlooking the museum's beautiful sculpture gardens and then walked through the gardens to see everything up close.  

We made a quick stop at the La Brea Tar Pits to see some of LA's ancient history.  The kids really  enjoyed walking through the museum and then walking down to the tar pits, which still bubble and smell of tar.  

Our trip was unfortunately coming to an end and we headed back to pack up and get ready for our flight home the next morning.  On the way, we stopped for dinner at Rubio's, a local Mexican food chain specializing in fish tacos, that was near our apartment.  As almost every meal we had on this trip was, the food was fantastic.  The fish tacos were delicious and they had an expansive kids menu that included a grilled veggie burrito, chicken tortilla soup and nachos.  An appropriately great ending to a great trip!

California Dreaming: Disneyland

There are so many blogs and books out there to guide you on your trip to Disneyland, I won't try to provide much advice.  I will recommend the book that we have used for both Disney World and Disneyland:  The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland.  It gives a breakdown of everything in each park from character dining to rides to where to stand to get the best view of the parades.  The most useful things for us have been the suggested itineraries in the back of the book.  There are several for each park and each plan is geared to who you are traveling with (kids in strollers, teenagers, two adults only).  The Itineraries provide a plan of attack, letting you know everything from what order to tackle the park to what ride to Fast Pass to when to grab lunch, without pushing everyone to total exhaustion.  My only other advice is to get an early start.  We were there in the middle of the week in February and it was still very crowded.  

We had a good lunch at Rancho del Zocalo in Frontierland.  Serving Mexican food, the food was pretty tasty and the portions are huge.  The kids had a choice of a bean and cheese burrito or a chicken taco and fish tacos were on the menu for the non-meat eater in our group.  

Photo courtesy of Disneyland

Photo courtesy of Disneyland

On our way out of the park, we ate at La Brea Bakery in Downtown Disney.  Delicious sandwiches, salads and artisan pizzas are all excellent choices after a long day of walking around.  We watched the fireworks show from the parking lot before heading home.  Ava was asleep before we hit the highway with Jack following quickly after and as any parent knows, that is truly the sign of a great day.

California Dreaming: Santa Monica

Once we arrived in LA we had a little time to kill before we could check into the apartment we had rented in Venice.  We were all hungry and when I saw we were staying not far from Huckleberry Cafe, I knew that's where we had to go for lunch.  I had read a lot about Huckleberry on blogs and travel articles so I was excited to check it out and we weren't disappointed.  

After lunch we wanted to drop off our bags and check out our apartment.  We have rented several houses/apartments over the years and this was one of the best places we have ever stayed in.  There was plenty of room to spread out, everyone got their own bedrooms, and best yet, there were lots of toys and games for the kids to play with.  Once we got there and they saw all the kiddie stuff, we just hung out for a few hours so they could play and unwind.

Once everyone was sufficiently relaxed, we drove back over to Santa Monica to play on the beach and have dinner.  We walked along the Santa Monica Pier and then Alan and the kids headed down to play in the sand and watch the sunset while I did a little shopping nearby.  

Right along the beach is a group of restaurants owned by the Blue Plate Restaurant Group.  We were all in the mood for seafood so we chose to eat at Blue Plate Oysterette.  The food was delicious and the decor was classic New England meets Southern California cool.  

Photo courtesy of Blue Plate Oysterette

Photo courtesy of Blue Plate Oysterette

Photo courtesy of Blue Plate Oysterette

Photo courtesy of Blue Plate Oysterette

California Dreaming: Santa Barbara to Los Angeles

Since we weren't even spending 24 hours in Santa Barbara, I didn't do a lot of research about where to stay.  Luckily, I found the Agave Inn, a remodeled motor inn located on the outskirts of the city.  It was perfect for what we needed and came with the added bonus of being across the street from a fantastic French bakery, Renaud's Patisserie. 

We decided to pass through Ojai on our way down to L.A. and it is a gorgeous drive through the mountains from Santa Barbara.  We spotted all sorts of wildlife along the way including a coyote!  The town itself has a funky, new-ageish feel and is home to many spas and spiritual retreats.  One of our main reasons to visit Ojai was Bart's Books, the largest independent outdoor bookstore in the country.  

On our way out of town we spotted The Farmer and The Cook, an organic market and restaurant.  We picked up snacks for the road, the most delicious sun-dried tomatoes and some olive oil from Ojai Olive Oil.  Made locally in the surrounding hills, the ranch where the oil is made is open for tours on Wednesdays and Saturdays, but we had to settle for just buying a bottle at the market.  

As we approached Los Angeles we couldn't resist pulling over at one of the many beaches along Hwy 1 and dipping our toes into the surf along with the seagulls and pelicans.

California Dreaming: Paso Robles to Santa Barbara

When we started researching our trip, I was intrigued by the town of Solvang, which was settled by Danish immigrants who travelled west trying to escape the midwestern winters.  I didn't quite know what to expect but as we pulled into town it felt like a part of Denmark had been plunked down in central California.  

We walked around town, stopping in at some of the shops and a great used books store, The Book Loft, with a museum dedicated to Hans Christian Andersen on the second floor.  There is a nice history of his life and work and some beautiful cutouts that he created.  

A good tip we use often is to stop into used book stores and let the kids pick out some new (to them) books to read in the car.  We usually can get several book for less than $20 and at least a couple of hours of quiet during the car ride.  That was the case here but we also picked up some new books of Andersen's fairy tales that Ava really enjoyed.

There are Danish bakeries throughout the town so we just picked one and stopped in.  We all had a little   treat while we checked out the history of the Danish monarchy on the wall outside.

As we headed out of Solvang, we spied Ostrichland, an ostrich farm/zoo and the kids begged us to stop. While Alan waited in the car, I took the kids through it and bought a tray of food and we spent about 15 minutes with the ostriches and emus.  This place is the definition of a tourist trap but sometimes you have to just give in and go with it.

This area has lots of wineries and we drove by The Hitching Post restaurant, prominently featured in the film Sideways.  We would have stopped for lunch but unfortunately we passed by too early for that.  

Once in Santa Barbara, we toured the Presidio.  It was built by the Spanish in the late 18th-century and contains the second oldest building in California, El Cuartel, a two-room soldiers quarters.  After the tour, we spotted Handlebar Coffee across the street.  The iced coffee was delicious and we grabbed some of their in-house roasted beans to take home.  

The kids needed to burn off some energy and Alan found the most amazing playground in a local park.  It is called Kid's World, located in Alameda Park and it was one of the best playgrounds we have ever seen.  It has a two-story wooden castle to climb through and explore, cable slider, tire bridge, a large whale to climb on and lots of seating on the periphery for adults to sit and enjoy an iced coffee.

For dinner that night we went to Brophy Bros. located at the head of Santa Barbara Harbour.  Serving all manner of seafood, the restaurant was packed and lively, i.e., perfect for a family.  The fish and chips and fried calamari were big hits at our table.

After dinner we went for ice cream at Rori's.  Made with all organic ingredients, every flavor sounded better than the next, from salted caramel to root beer float to my favorite, peanut butter chocolate candy swirl.