In a move that was part insanity, part inspiration, we decided to take our kids on a two-week road trip down the coast to Southern California. It turned out to be a HUGE success–this is a part of the world that is absolutely packed with stuff to do! Here were some of my favorite things:
Everybody has heard of this world-famous zoo, right? Well, I’m happy to say it lived up to the hype. What I noticed was the density of exhibits. You couldn’t walk any kind of distance without seeing tons of animals (I’ve been to many zoos where it felt like you had to walk miles just to get to the next exhibition). Somehow, they managed to accomplish this at the same time as housing the animals in habitats that recreated their natural environments. My boys loved the Skyfari overhead gondola, and the bus tour (we sat on the top level, open-air) was excellent. There was plenty of opportunity to learn about conservation, also.
I admit it, I loved the show The OC. I started watching it in the middle of the night while I was up breastfeeding my second baby, promptly got hooked, and then went through the whole series on DVD night after night. It was my escape and my mental break from all the exhaustion of life with a newborn. So it was fun to visit the actual place itself. It’s a beautiful area of the country, and a great place to bring kids. We took a little ferry (3 cars max!) across to Balboa Beach where we played in the waves and watched the beautiful people. We had frozen bananas (a la Arrested Development) on the boardwalk, and just generally had a sunshiny, relaxing time.
This was the centerpiece of the trip for my 8 year old, and really, the only reason we went to California in the first place (from his point of view, anyway). My husband and I were expecting to mostly endure this part of the trip–but it was actually fantastic. What I highly recommend is staying in the brand-new LEGOLAND hotel itself. Disco elevators, themed rooms, a lobby full of castles and pirate ships and more LEGO than you’d know what to do with (and a café surrounding the perimeter of the play area so parents can enjoy a cappuccino and watch their kids). Plus the best part about staying in the hotel? Access to the amusement park an HOUR before the general public. That’s when we jumped on all the rides that, the day before, had 60+ minute waits.
I love a good Italian-style pizza, and I’m pretty picky about it…but the pizza we picked up from Little Italy–a really cool neighborhood–was excellent. Nice thin crust, fresh-tasting sauce, a little more New York style than truly Italian, but that’s to be expected, I think, from an American city. I would have loved to spend a little more time in San Diego’s Little Italy, but, alas, young boys do sometimes have meltdowns…(ah, the charms of family travel).
Sadly, we didn’t actually stay at the iconic Pink Palace, we just stopped in for a look around. My husband wasn’t sure we’d be allowed to do this, but I assured him if we just acted like we belonged it would be fine. And it was! (Looks like I’ve learned a thing or two from the protagonist in my book, har har.) Anyway, the history of this Old Hollywood landmark is fabulous. Katharine Hepburn once did a back flip into the pool in her tennis clothes. Sidney Poitier did a barefoot dance in the lobby after winning an Oscar. Elizabeth Taylor honeymooned here–six times. I loved walking up the red carpet under the green and white striped awning, checking out the Polo Lounge restaurant, ogling the Maseratis and the Aston Martins in the parking lot. The great tragedy was that I didn’t see any celebrities. Next time.
Parking here was a royal pain. But it was totally worth it once we finally found a coveted spot to ditch the car. The pier and boardwalk was great–a carnival atmosphere complete with rides and a ferris wheel, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co (the original is in Monterey, California), ice cream and arcades. Third Street Promenade, just a couple blocks up from the beach is a wonderful place to stroll: a pedestrian shopping area brimming with cafes and street musicians. A little more low-key than Rodeo Drive, to be sure.
It was totally cliché, but we had to do it. And, I gotta say, it was really fun. I was worried that Hollywood was going to be a completely seedy and scary place to bring my kids, but that was a non-issue. Mostly, I think, because tourists outnumbered weirdos by at least 20 to 1. Spotting the sidewalk stars of names we recognized–past and present–was great, as was standing in front of the ornate TCL Chinese Theater (formerly Grauman’s Chinese Theater, where all the biggest celebrities have their handprints in the sidewalk), and the Dolby Theater (formerly the Kodak Theater, where the Academy Awards have been held for the past decade or so). Too cool, right?
We’re already dreaming of when we can go back to California next. Tell me–have you been to SoCal? What’s on your must-see list?
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