Category Archives: NorCal

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Christmas in the Park

In our household, it isn’t Christmas without a trip to Christmas in the Park. This San Jose tradition celebrates its 30th anniversary this year and I hope it stays around for another thirty years. You hear that gingerbread people? Don’t go anywhere. Here are the reasons we love this holiday event.

1. The Christmas displays are the main event. The whole reason for going to Christmas in the Park is to check out all the retro displays. We love the Santa Claus train, Caribbean Christmas, and Gingerbread House displays. Keep your eye out for the winners of this year’s community-decorated Christmas trees that can be viewed throughout the plaza. The trees are sponsored by all sorts of groups, from Girl Scout troops to high school art classes.

2. The lights are pretty. While you can visit the holiday displays all day long, the best time to go is right at dusk. Have some hot cocoa with your afternoon snack and take a stroll trough the plaza when the lights start to twinkle on all of the trees.

3. And there are rides. Yes, be prepared for a little whining from your kids when they lay their eyes on all of the carnival rides. There are things that spin, things that go, and things that may clean out your wallet. The rides are located usually located on side streets by the Tech Museum and the Fairmont Hotel.

4. The festive decorations can also be found indoors. Stroll on over to the Fairmont Hotel right across the street from the plaza to check out the gingerbread house that’s big enough to walk through.

5. It’s all (relatively) free. There is no admission charge for Christmas in the Park. There are, of course, plenty of things around the plaza to spend your money on: the rides, the plastic reindeer toys, and the delicious churros.

Just the facts: Christmas in the park is in downtown San Jose at Plaza de Cesar Chavez Park. It runs November 27 through December 27. Check out the website for more information.

San Jose Family Travel Tips

Lazy Fall Weekends…

IMG_0947_2…are my favorite. The weekdays are full with work, errands, and homework, so that by the time Friday comes around, I feel like a deflated balloon. That’s when I need to take a weekend trip, and head outdoors to get my vitamin D, sunshine fix. It turns out that these weekend mini-trips are also good for my kid. He needs to catch his breath and reflect on the difficulties on being a third grader (which is not an easy job these days).

I was reminded of this when, browsing through my photo library, I landed on this Lake Tahoe scene. In this photo, he is a wee kindergartner, lazying around on a Saturday by the lake. The photo reminds me of how I would like this weekend to be: gloriously unproductive.

So we’re being a bit lazy this weekend. Right after we clean the house, get groceries, reorganize some sock drawers and click over to Delicious Baby’s Photo Friday to check out all the other travel photos. I know we’ll get it all done somehow.

Meet Hasani

I have this thing for gorillas. Maybe it’s my inner Dian Fossey itching to get out, but I could spend hours watching the gorillas at the zoo. So you can imagine my excitement, when I first saw Hasani, the baby gorilla at the San Francisco Zoo. He was born last December and has been at the zoo’s gorilla exhibit since July.

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He is your typical youngster: always moving, playing, and putting on a show. Don’t miss Hasani if you’re in San Francisco anytime soon. I’m sure he’d love a visit.

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Hasani and I are linking up to Delicious Baby’s Photo Friday. Go there for more travel photos from all over the world.

Today’s Tip: California Academy of Sciences

IMG_2686Once upon a December, I tried to go to the California Academy of Sciences the week after Christmas. That story didn’t have a a fairytale ending: we didn’t get in, the scene outside the Academy was wicked, so we headed to some quieter places in Golden Gate Park. But I was determined to take my son for a visit, so we made a second attempt this last summer. This time, we came prepared with my plan of attack, and we had a great time. With only one trip under my sleeve, I am not an expert, but I did gain a few insights that I can pass on to you.

1. Buy your tickets online. On very crowded days, the Academy will stop selling tickets soon after it opens. Pre-purchase tickets to save yourself from the disappointment of being turned away or the possibility of standing in another line to purchase them there.

2. Queue up early. I don’t need to tell you that the early bird gets the worm. There will be a line at the entrance before the museum opens. You need to be in that line, so that you can be one of the first groups to get inside and enjoy some of the exhibits before it gets unbearably crowded.

3. Get your tickets for the shows as soon as you walk in. From the entrance, go left to the planetarium and snatch your tickets. You can choose which show time you prefer, so you don’t necessarily have to go to the first show. You will want to see the aquarium or the rainforest exhibit early, so opt for a later showtime. We were not able to see the 3-D Bug Show, but they do sell out of those tickets early as well.

4. The fishes don’t mind the crowds, but you might. After you get your tickets, head directly to the Steinhart aquarium. It is dark in that section and the design makes the crowds seem even more unbearable. This is the section where you want to especially hold on to your toddlers so that they don’t get lost. I know you want to enjoy some quality time with the jellyfish and not the museum security, so go to the aquarium early.

IMG_27395. Ready, set, go: Rainforest. The rainforest exhibit opens an hour after the museum, and although museum employees discourage people from queueing up too early, people do anyway. For us, this was the highlight of the museum, so I don’t recommend you skip this. The butterflies are the main attraction, and they are more plentiful in the higher levels of the dome. They will land on you, so don’t go if you get queasy about insects. My son stood there for about ten minutes, waiting for the butterflies to land on him. One finally did. IMG_2725

6. Bring your own lunch and seat. The meals are pricey and the dining areas are small. It’s common to see families eating their lunch on the floor of the Academy Cafe. We bought a snack, and had a bigger meal outside the museum afterwards.

7. The penguins are as crowded as the people gawking at them. After you hit the three main areas, head over to Africa Hall for a stroll through a very quiet African savannah. This is the retro part of the museum and the home of the penguins. They are cute, even I’ll admit it.

8. Take a breath on the Living Roof. If you need a break, go up to the trademark plant-covered roof. It is a lesson in green design and offers some good views of the plaza. IMG_2743

The Monarchs Are Back

The trees are not resplendent with as many fall colors here in California, but that’s because our foliage turns another kind of orange: the fluttery, migrating kind. See Exhibit A: a cluster of Monarch butterflies hanging from their winter home in the eucalyptus grove of Natural Bridges State Park in Santa Cruz.

IMG_0873They arrive sometime in October and hang out until February, unless a rare California storm evicts them a bit earlier. We go visit our fluttery friends at least once a year, because their grove happens to be at one of my favorite California beaches. We never tire of our visits. The truth is that the butterflies are just so darn mesmerizing. We lay on the wooden deck and look up.

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We sit still, breathe, and watch the monarchs fill the sky above with beauty. Those moments are rare and make our frequent trips to the grove oh-so-worth-it. And anything that can get my kid to sit still and meditate quietly, even if it’s only for 5 minutes, can truly be called awe inspiring.

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I’m sharing these photos at Delicious Baby’s Photo Friday. Go there to check out all the other inspiring photos.

Today’s Tip: Making Video Lemonade

Every year we take a day trip to visit the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary in Santa Cruz, California. I have been making that same trip since I was a kid, so I have it down to a science. I remember to pack a picnic, check that the weather will be warm enough to see the fluttery, little buggers, and to bring the binoculars.

On a particular trip last year, I wanted to capture my son and the butterflies on video. I made all sorts of plans for my first video blogging production. So, of course, I forgot the video camera. I got mad-and said a few choice words-when I remembered that I had forgotten the one piece of equipment I didn’t want to forget that day. But, I was determined. I decided to get some video footage with the seldom used video button on my point and shoot camera. I was trying to teach my son that when the going gets tough, the tough makes lame attempts. It’s a lesson I have taught him well. Sigh.

I couldn’t let the idea for a butterfly video production die, so I edited last year’s crappy attempt into this week’s video. I should title it: Our Trip to Visit the Butterflies, A Comedy of Errors. But, that’s just too long.

The butterflies are back to their winter homes all along the California Coast in October. If you’re planning your own visit to the sanctuary in Natural Bridges State Park, then read my tips post. Just add one more tip, don’t forget the video camera.

Hello There

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Just stopping by to say hi. I’ve been neglecting my blogging and Photo Friday duties lately. Why? Summer is here and I’m wringing every last bit of fun out of it. This is a photo from a trip we took at the beginning of summer. It’s Sunset State Beach near Santa Cruz, California. I love this beach because it’s a long stretch of quiet bliss.

I’ve got a few weeks of vacation left. That’s just enough time to make sure I get just a bit more sand in my beach bag.

I’m linking up to Delicious Baby’s Photo Friday. Go there to check out all the other bloggers and their photos. They know a thing or two about finding fun.

Evening in Monterey

IMG_3007I’ve always loved the Monterey Bay Aquarium, but I’ve grown to appreciate it even more now that I have my son in tow. Monterey is a great day trip destination for us, so we’ve been going there since he was a baby. As soon as he could, he began requesting frequent trips to the Aquarium. He had fallen in love with it as well. Nowadays, he walks around like he owns the place.

Because we go so much, I quickly realized it was more economical to buy a membership. Besides all the discounts you receive with your membership, the aquarium does a great job of offering special hours and events for its members. They really treat their members well.

We take advantage of their member nights throughout the year and their member preview days for new exhibits. But our favorite member event of the year has to be their Picnic by the Bay. We went on Thursday evening-with our picnic-to get one of the best dinner views in Monterey: the Kelp Forest Exhibit. They set up candlelit tables all over the aquarium: the Kelp Forest, the huge Outer Bay tank, the area next to the Otters, and outside, for an ocean view. If you brought your own picnic blanket, you can plop yourself down in front of any exhibit in the aquarium. Next year, I may have dinner with the jellyfish.

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Linking up to Delicious Baby’s Photo Friday. Go check out all the cool photos there.

My Kid’s Picks: Best of Yosemite

IMG_2333I may be a guidebook enthusiast, but my recent trip to Yosemite National Park tested the limits of those little books. The reality is that some of the kid-friendly places I had in our itinerary were probably the ones my son found the least interesting or memorable. Kids don’t write the guidebooks, but they can help their moms write blog entries. For this post, I’m letting my seven-year-old expert give a list of his favorite things to do in Yosemite and I’ll write my thoughts on those places. Besides, I had to think of something for him to do while he hovered over me and my laptop.

1. The Waterfalls: Since it was Spring, there were waterfalls tumbling down every bit of granite in the valley. The trail to lower Yosemite Falls was quiet when we did it early in the morning. My son loved the mist and wind at the bottom of the falls. Next time, we just may try hiking a bit further along to the upper falls.

2. Hiking to Vernal Falls: This is the trail that begins just outside the Happy Isles Nature Center. The center has some interesting exhibits, but it’s small. We got through it in about five minutes. If we had gotten there for one of the ranger walks, or we had actually done some of the Junior Ranger activities, we could have spent more time at Happy Isles. We didn’t, so we had plenty of time to hike to Vernal Falls. It was a crowded, paved trail with great views and some steep inclines. As I huffed and puffed up the trail, I thought it was amusing that this was supposedly not the steepest part of the trail. I read in my guidebook, that the hardest part of the trail is past Vernal Falls. Next time, we’ll keep hiking up that part the trail called Mist Trail. I’m going to need some cardio-training.

3. El Capitan: I’m not sure why this made the list, but I suppose it has to do with the fact that my son loves rocks. This is one big rock.

4. The Fuzzy Caterpillar: Ah, you never know when you’ll run into wildlife. We hope this little guy made it to the other side of the bike trail. IMG_2366_1

5. The Village Store: This is the place to go for all of your kitschy Yosemite souvenirs and ice cream bars. Enough said.

Flag over Lake Tahoe

IMG_2655_1Wishing you all a happy Fourth of July from Lake Tahoe, California. I’m looking forward to some rest and relaxation as I spend my holiday here in the Sierra Nevada. This is the flag on the Tahoe Queen, a paddlewheeler boat that we cruised around Lake Tahoe in.

If you’re here in the U.S., enjoy your long weekend and check out Delicious Baby’s Photo Friday.