Tag Archives: California

Ty Warner Sea Center

The Ty Warner Sea Center is the aquatic branch of the Santa Barbara Natural History Museum, and is located right over the Pacific Ocean on Stearns Wharf. It is a small aquarium, but what it lacks in size, it makes up with engaging and accessible exhibits.

At the shark touch-pool, my son got to touch a harmless swell shark. The tidepool tank had viewing windows that were accessible to even the youngest toddlers and an underwater tunnel for them to walk through as well.

Older kids enjoyed some of the computer-based exhibits throughout the first floor of the center. We also spent some time with some other aquarium youth volunteers as they pulled up samples (of mostly seaweed) in netted cages attached to ropes. They were all great about answering questions and giving information about specimens they had for viewing under video microscopes. 

The second floor of the aquarium was a special exhibit called Superpowers, about animal adaptations, which included another touch-pool opportunity. The 39-foot model of the gray whale and her calf hangs in the main entrance, right over the gift shop.

Useful Tidbits: Admission for just the Sea Center is currently $8 for adults and $5 for children ages 2-12. You can also get a Santa Barbara Nature Pass and get admission for the Sea Center and Natural History Museum for two days. Parking is free for the first 90 minutes with validation from the Sea Center. Check the website for current information.

Pismo Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove

I saw the first Monarch Butterflies fluttering around the streets of San Luis Obispo, about fifteen miles away from the Pismo Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove. I’m glad that I did, or I would have completely forgotten that they start arriving at their winter home in the groves of Pismo Beach in early November. So then I would have just driven right by them on Highway 101, and I would have missed the best pit stop ever.

If you’re in the Pismo Beach area between the months of November and February, follow Highway 1 to Pismo State Beach and the North End Campground entrance. Find the free parking in the campground and follow the marked path. Besides seeing trees full of butterflies, you’ll find docents, displays, and some binoculars set up for the kids to get a closer view.

I have already written about our annual visits to the Natural Bridges Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary in Santa Cruz, California: here, here, and here. I know that I’m a little obsessed with these orange buggers. It’s just that they’re so darn cool. So what are you waiting for? This winter, go find a butterfly grove near you.

Spawning Kokanee Salmon in Lake Tahoe

Every autumn the Kokanee Salmon of Lake Tahoe, make their triumphant but tragic journey up Taylor Creek to fulfill their spawning destiny, and every year I drag my son out to see it. Maybe I’m just giving him one more reason to hate me when he turns sixteen, but I’d like to think I’m teaching him all about one of nature’s most fascinating cycles. So far, my son thinks the whole thing is pretty cool.

Throughout the month of October, you can walk the trail along Taylor Creek and come within inches of the salmon as they swim upstream. There are sections of the creek that turn red, they’re so full of salmon. The trail goes through the Stream Profile Chamber, where you can get an underwater view of the creek and a look at a few informational exhibits on the wildlife of Taylor Creek. Did you know that the Kokanne males develop a humped back and a hooked jaw to help their chances with the whole mating thing? Well you and the kids may get a close-up view of this distinct hooked jaw through the aquarium windows. They will also enjoy looking at the 180-degree diorama mural of Taylor Creek and spotting the animals hidden throughout the room.

I have to admit that besides witnessing the exciting journey of the Kokanee, I enjoy our autumn visits to Taylor Creek because of the beautiful views of the aspens in their fall colors. There are not many places in California where I can walk in forest of golden trees, so the Rainbow Trail at Taylor Creek is one of my favorite fall foliage destinations. The trail is paved, an easy hike for all ages, and begins outside the Visitor Center. There are other trails that fork out from the visitor center, including the bike trail that leads to Tallac Historic Site.

I hope I can make a visit to Taylor Creek again this year (haven’t asked my son, though). I’m penciling in a weekend in October, packing my picnic basket, and looking forward to a brisk autumn afternoon with the Kokanee.

Useful Tidbits: The Taylor Creek Visitor Center is off Highway 89 in South Lake Tahoe, just north of the Tallac Historic Site. The Kokanee Salmon Festival will be held on the weekend of October 2-3 this year. Although I have never gone, there are plenty of kids’ activities, food, ranger talks, and Sammy the Salmon Mascot. This weekend may be more crowded, so check website link for more information. Oh, and there are bear sightings during the spawning season, so take precautions.

Lawrence Hall of Science

What: Lawrence Hall of Science

Where: Berkeley, CA

Why: I had lived in the Bay Area for over 25 years and had never, ever gone. Go figure. Besides, we were looking for another stamp in our science geek passport (which we made ourselves).

My Kid’s Picks: He enjoyed the Kapla exhibit where he built a tower with wooden blocks, the special exhibit (which was all about boogers and other gross things at the time), the outdoor water exhibit, and the animal discovery room. This room was really a classroom downstairs, with a few university students there to talk to the kids about the animals on exhibit. The big whale sculpture just outside the museum entrance was also fun to climb on.

Mom’s Verdict: The view was my favorite part. I loved the outdoor exhibit area-Forces that Shape the Bay. While the kids try their hand at controlling the water flow from the Sierra Nevada, you can take in the views of San Francisco across the bay. Any science museum with a Zen-like outdoor area is a winner in my book. I also liked that the museum was small enough to tackle in a couple of hours and that it did not overwhelm kids with too many exhibits. This makes it much more accessible for younger kids. There is also a small planetarium, but we didn’t have time to take in a show.

Useful Tidbits: The new special exhibit-Scream Machines-is all about the science of roller coasters and will be open from May 22 to January 2, 2011. We may just have to make another visit to check it out. The museum is open daily from 10 to 4, but check the website for the Animal Discovery Room hours and planetarium show times. Admission prices are $12 for adults and $6 dollars for children ages 3 to 6.

We also made a stop at the University of California, Berkeley Museum of Paleontology to take a peek at dinosaur fossils on display there.

Linking up to Trekaroo’s Spotlight Thursday, lots of family travel ideas there. Go check it out.

Berkeley Things To Do

Point Lobos State Reserve

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Sometimes you stand on a windy cliff, overlooking glassy blue waters, and you forget that this beauty has already been discovered a million times over. You don’t remember all the others who have stood on that same cliff  (or are standing right behind you trying to snap the same picture). You forget that you’ve already seen these scenes before. The sight of these beautiful places will erase all memory and let you experience their grandeur all over again. I don’t know about you, but I need to experience a bit of grandeur every once in a while.

To experience all this beauty head over to Point Lobos State Reserve just off Highway 1, past Carmel-by-the-Sea, at the beginning of the Big Sur coastline.

I’m trying out this new slideshow feature, just in time for Photo Friday at Delicious Baby. Let me know what you think. Is it easy to view the pictures? Do they load quickly enough? All comments are appreciated.

Monterey Family Vacation

San Francisco Cable Car Museum

What: The San Francisco Cable Car Museum

Where: It’s located high up in the Mason and Washington cable car barn in (you guessed it) San Francisco, California.

Why: We wanted to learn more about those famous cable cars, without having to actually stand in one of the long lines to board one.

My Kid’s Picks: The penny machine. Yes, there seems to be one of those wherever we go. He also enjoyed seeing the wheels that turn the cables and checking out all of the maps and grids for each cable car line. In the downstairs viewing area, he checked out the cables that entered the building from the channels under the street. This is a trip underground.

Mom’s Verdict: The museum is often overlooked, mostly because it is not near any other major attraction. You can, of course, ride up in a cable car and then back down. In addition to the behind-the-scenes look at the machinery that keeps those cable cars moving, there are a few antique cars on display. It is worth a stop if your kids are into learning about modes of transport, and if you’ve already seen many of the other attractions in San Francisco. School-aged children will get the most of out of the visit. Oh, and if you can’t guess from watching the video: it’s loud.

Useful Tidbits: Admission is free. There is only street parking so we parked in a garage on California Street (a few blocks away). The whole tour of the museum took less than twenty minutes (including a bathroom break and penny machine session). There is also a small, inexpensive cafe across the street. We stopped there for a panini and Italian soda for lunch.

San Francisco Family Vacation

On Board With Trekaroo KidsMobile: San Diego

If you’re a traveling parent and still haven’t visited the Trekaroo website, then you’re missing out. Big time. I’ve had them listed under travel resources, because I think that their parent reviews of destinations, hotels and restaurants come in pretty handy when I’m planning a trip. You can also create your own Passport Page and chime in with your own reviews. I know you’re dying to put in your two cents. Their travel lists are also a superb resource, so I joined in with one of my own.

This week, a fab group of blogging moms came together for a San Diego list-off, otherwise known as the Trekaroo KidsMobile. Go check out all of our San Diego tips.

Trekaroo families  have been voting for their favorite kid-friendly activities and hotels in and around San Diego.  We’ve tallied their votes for 2009 and here’s the line up!

Top Activities for Kids in San Diego, CA – voted by parents

Top Kid-friendly Hotels in San Diego, CA – voted by parents

Living in San Diego leaves local families little excuse to stay home.  These moms bring you their personal recommendations of the best places to take kids in their hometown.  Want the local scoop?  Here it is!

Bridget Smith, the author of The Unauthorized Legoland Guidebook not only shared with us her Top Tips for a Legoland Adventure with Toddler and Preschoolers, but now gives us some great ideas about Fun Things to  Do After Visiting Legoland, California. Bridget spent countless hours in Legoland one year and made more than full use of their family’s season pass to bring us the blow-by-blow of making the most of your visit to Legoland.  Follow their family’s other adventures on her blog:  Family Adventure Guidebooks

The Q Family  isn’t local but lives to travel.  If you have 5 days to spend in San Diego, here’s their list of the Must See Attractions with Kids in San Diego. This is a family who’s constantly on the go!  The Q Family Adventures Travel Blog chronicles their adventures with wonderful photos, fun stories and helpful tips.

Balboa Park is a wonderful urban park that families love.  But when hunger strikes, Carolina has a list of Kid-friendly Dining in Balboa Park.  She is the mom behind the blog Kids Go West.  As a public school teacher, mom and freelance travel writer, she shares her insider tips on all the totally awesome places to go with kids in her home state of California. Bookmark her blog if you’re heading to California.

Rockinmama loves to mix fun and learning.  She recommends these 5 Fun and Educational Kid Activities in San Diego.  On her blog Rockin Mama, she writes with great humor about pregnancy.  She also write prolifically about parent-friendly products.  If you’re looking for the inside scoop on new products for parents out there, this rockin mama’s got it.

Amie O’Shaughnessy of Ciao Bambino brings us San Diego: Favorite Family Hotels . Ciao Bambino is a one of Trekaroo’s favorite partners because we share a common passion – inspiring families to travel.  Ciao Bambino provides tips and advice around all things related to traveling with kids and is a guide to the best kid-friendly hotels.

Wylsa runs Toddler’s Travel – a local baby equipment rental company for visiting families.  Naturally, she’s a guru on Fun Activities for Toddlers in San Diego.  Instead of lugging all those bulky items on the plane, rent it when you arrive from Toddler’s Travel.

Colleen of TravelMamas has the scoop on the 5 Best Family-friendly Restaurants in San Diego County.  Her blogTravelmamas blog gives tell-it-like-it-is tips about traveling with kids.  Gathering information from travel experts (with kids), moms who’ve been there she got loads of practical advice on traveling well with kids.

La Jolla is one of the most beautiful suburbs of San Diego and La Jolla Mom shares with us her list of Things to Do in La Jolla With Kids. Her blog La Jolla Mom has become a meeting place of sorts for local moms looking to connect.  Her Family Fun section is full of popular and off the beaten path places to go with kids.  Hop on over and see why La Jolla is a town you must stop at when visiting San Diego.

Other Resources for San Diego, CA

Which Hotels came up at the top?

Top Activities for Kids in San Diego, CA – voted by parents

Next stop, Denver, CO (that’s right, the launch of Colorado is coming soon)

KidsMobile_jumponThe Trekaroo KidsMobile is a blog carnival with a twist. It’s designed to provide a unique opportunity for mom and dad bloggers to be featured on Trekaroo while

1) expressing their unique point of view

2) getting a web of link exchanges.

Join us for one of our next stopovers.

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

Today’s Tip: Recommendations From My Road Trip

IMG_2774We’re back from our road trip to Southern California and on the long way back home I had plenty of time to come up with a list of some important things to consider when planning a road trip in California. Lucky for you, I’m willing to share my top three recommendations:

1. Take some sunscreen and put it on your left arm. You’ll be spending so much time in the car, that you may begin to suffer from a driver’s tan, or worse, a sunburn. Add an extra layer for those driving hands.

3. Be beach bag-ready. It’s not over until there’s sand in your beach bag. Lots and lots of sand. I like to pack a beach bag with our swimsuits, sunscreen, travel towels, and even my beach book. So whenever we see a good beach, we pull over and make that our pit stop. Don’t be caught fishing in your luggage for your swimsuits.

4. Make the perfect California song playlist. This is a state that has gotten more than its fair share of songs written about it, so you’ll have plenty to choose from. When you’re driving through Los Angeles traffic, you’re going to want to be singing “Nobody Walks in L.A.”. You’ll want to break out into song, because the alternative is breaking out into tears. Trust me.

Today’s Tip: Cheap Date at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk


Ahh…sun, surf, and caramel apples can only mean one thing: it’s summertime at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. This classic seaside amusement park advertises its free admission, but sometimes the best things in life aren’t free. You aren’t going to go all the way to the Boardwalk for your kids to just walk and watch all the other kids have fun. If you go on any ordinary day, you can expect to pay $2.25 to $4 for each ride, or if you’re staying for a while, you can get the unlimited rides wristband for $29.95. That’s not taking into account what you’ll pay for parking ($10 in the lot) and food.

Don’t throw in your beach towel just yet. There are some ways to make this California kid dream come true. During the summer, my favorite way to save money is to make this an evening affair by going on “1907 Nights” or “Pepsi Nights”. Every Monday and Tuesday after 5 p.m., you will pay only one dollar for each ride and also for hot dogs, Pepsi, and cotton candy. On Wednesday and Thursday evenings after 5 p.m. you can get an unlimited rides wrist band for $9.95 if you bring in a Pepsi can.

I save the most money when I go on “1907 Nights” because my young child can’t go (or won’t go) on over half the rides. It doesn’t make sense for me to buy the unlimited rides wristband when I’m going to be mostly hanging around at Bulgy the Whale or Cave Train Adventure. Besides, I can’t pass up one dollar hot dogs.

As a bonus tip, I’m going to let you know that they only sell the specially priced hot dogs and Pepsis in certain lines of the dining areas. This always bugs me, because if you want anything else besides hot dogs (I just gotta have my fried artichoke hearts) you have to stand in two lines. This is so not what a tired mommy wants to do when dealing with whiny, hungry kids. I find that the best thing to do is be there right when the big hand hits the 5 on your watch. That way you’ll get shorter lines for the food, and still have time give those hot dogs in your tummy a spin on the rides.

Parking Tip: The parking is also cheaper or free in the evenings. You don’t have to pay the parking meters after 6 p.m.

Good to know: “1907 Nights” are from June 21 to August 31 and “Pepsi Nights” are from June 23 to September 2.