Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park

There is nothing particularly exciting about ditches. People don’t usually go out of their way to stand and ponder ditches, unless they’re the mothers of a soon-to-be-fourth-grader, looking for ways to make California history come alive.

I thought about this as we stood in front of one of the most important historic sites in California: the spot where the carpenter James Marshall found  a few pieces of gold in 1848 in the water of a mill trailrace. It turns out that a trailrace (or at least what’s left of it) is really just a ditch full of muddy water.  This historic spot is commemorated with a worn-out plaque which reads: “Here on a chilly morning in January 1848 a carpenter named James Marshall picked up the small pieces of gold that touched off one of the largest most frenzied mass migrations in history.”

There were no frenzied crowds of tourists or curious Californians visiting Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park on that summer afternoon, maybe they just hadn’t heard about the historic ditch. Or maybe they were all working and knew better than to visit Coloma in 100-degree heat. Go figure.

We braved the heat because I was determined to squeeze in a side trip to this important site, mostly for the benefit of my son who would be learning all about the California Gold Rush in his classroom in the fall. So we toured the historic park, and I reckon he learned a few things.

The town of Coloma grew around the area of the gold discovery site-the ditch-and nearly 70 percent of it lies within the historic park. Clearly, it’s not a bustling metropolis. Nowadays you will find some original buildings, a replica of Sutter’s Mill, the Gold Discovery Museum, and plenty of people cooling off in the American River on hot days.

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The blissfully air-conditioned Gold Discovery Museum and Visitor Center is a good place to start your tour of the park. There are plenty of exhibits to give your kids an overview of Coloma’s history, although there is not a lot in the museum that is interactive. But don’t worry there is a gift shop and penny press, in case the kids need the to whine for some souvenirs.

In the area near the museum, you can take a self-guided tour of the historic buildings. You can peek in and see displays of artifacts showing what life was like for the miners, storekeepers, and other townspeople of the Gold Rush era.

To get to the replica of Sutter’s Mill and the gold discovery site you can walk across Highway 49 to the south fork of the American River, or you can drive to the parking area (hey, it may be too hot to walk). There was a park ranger giving a talk near the sawmill when we went, and he was eager to answer questions and share information.

You can get back in the car and drive past the south end of town to see the statue of James Marshall pointing down to the spot (the ditch) on the American River where he discovered gold. Just take Cold Springs Road past the pioneer cemetery, then take the Church Road/Monument loop past the statue and then past James Marshall’s cabin.

Useful Tidbits

Although there are some stores selling snacks, there are not many food options nearby. You are better off bringing a picnic and parking at some of the picnic areas along the American River. It does get more crowded on weekends, since this is a popular rafting and swimming site.

You can get to Coloma on by heading south on highway 49 from the town of Placerville. Check website for current park and museum hours, and also for special events. Gold panning is still allowed on some portions of the American River and there are lessons available at Beakart’s Gun Shop across from the museum.


Photo Friday: Opening Day

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Team Kids Go West really likes baseball. For us, spring means sunshine, poppies, and baseball. We watch it on TV, we go play it with our Little League team, and we play hooky to go cheer our team at AT&T Park. (Don’t judge.)

It’s opening day here in San Francisco and we’re cracking open our boxes of Cracker Jack to celebrate. Here are a few baseball-inspired photos to get the party started. Go Giants!

Linking up to Delicious Baby’s Photo Friday.

Today’s Tip: Disneyland With Toddlers

Full disclosure: my first trip to Disneyland with a toddler was mostly a bust. My son was three years old when I decided we were ready for our first trip to Disneyland. He walked through the turnstiles, saw the hordes of people, heard the Disney band marching towards us-trombones blaring-and he cried. He covered his ears, asked to be picked up, and declared his trip to Disneyland was over.

So it was, that our first trip to Disneyland together involved a lot more tears and bribery through Mickey-shaped ice cream sandwiches, than the magical memories I’d hoped for. Here are the lessons I learned. Don’t laugh, I was a rookie mom.

1. Just because all the other toddlers are doing it, doesn’t mean mine will. I saw plenty of  bouncing, laughing toddlers float by me on the Pirate of Caribbean boats. They were apparently not the least bit bothered by the realistic pirates, skulls, and the cannon battles. So off we went  into the pirate’s lair. My son hated me the whole day after. In fact, he refused to go on almost all other rides-even the harmless Heimlich’s Chew Chew train (a green caterpillar cruising at 2 mph through giant fruit and yelling in a bad German accent) was too suspect for him to even attempt. I knew my child was super sensitive to most of the Disney movies at that age, why did I think going on the rides would be any different? I let peer pressure get the better of me. Just say no.


2. You will travel 7 hours, spend hundreds of dollars, and your child will want to ride the Monorail 5 times (and the Jungle Cruise 6 times). I quickly found that my very active three-year-old boy was not captivated by most of the Fantasyland rides, he would rather run around Tom Sawyer Island, ride the train, and pretend he was an explorer in the Jungle. I altered our ride plans after our first horrid day, and went with his natural interest in trains, dirt, and running like crazy through jets of water. Our day was a lot less filled with princesses and pirates, but a whole lot easier. You may not like where your toddler will take you, but just go with it.

3. There are crowds and then there are holiday crowds. I didn’t realize that the crowds during Easter week would make our visit three times harder. The seas of people, umbrella strollers, and noise were too much for sensitive little guy to handle. I wasn’t too fond of it either. If you don’t get to visit Disneyland often and have invested a lot of money into your trip, you don’t want to spend your precious time standing in line for the parking tram.

4. Plan or perish. I made a lot of mistakes on that first trip, but my lack of planning is what really did me in. The extent of my planning involved printing out a Disneyland map and checking out some of the ride descriptions on their website. I didn’t give too much thought to making a plan for our day. Because of our ill-fated first trip, I have learned a whole lot more about the best ways to enjoy Disneyland (at any age). Do your research, there are a lot of resources online to help you.

5. Nobody took my Mother of the Year award away from me. Sure, I made mistakes on my first trip, but there were things I couldn’t have foreseen. My son’s reaction was all his own, and maybe no amount of planning and preparation would have prevented it. Toddlers are lovable but unpredictable little anarchists. Do what you can to make your toddler’s first trip to Disneyland enjoyable, and if else fails buy him a Mickey-shaped popsicle. Then find yourself a shady bench.

Gratuitous Spring Shot

Spring is right around the corner, and so is my return to the blogging world. In the meantime, enjoy the view.

Santa Rosa With Kids: Safari West

I’ll admit that after going to Safari West, I fail to be impressed by the other safari outings I go on. Well that’s because I haven’t been to Africa yet. I’m sure I’ll find that even more impressive. But until I can get myself and my son to Africa, taking a trip to Safari West in northern California is as close as we’re going to get.

Safari West is a privately-owned wildlife preserve primarily dedicated to the propagation and conservation of endangered species. It is home to over 80 animal species that roam the 400 acres of California foothills near the city of Santa Rosa. I am a mother primarily dedicated to finding every cool place within driving distance from the Bay Area. This little family safari excursion did not disappoint and of course I’m going to tell you why.Here are some things we loved:

We got to ride in a jeep. It was a real Jeep, that  trudged up and down hilly terrain, often making us feel as if we were going to tip over. That’s the good part though.

We got to touch an ostrich egg and we were also given the opportunity to touch dried animal dung. I opted to let that particular opportunity pass me by.

We got very close to some animals. The giraffes strolled past our window, and the herd of zebras ambled a few feet away. We even forgot that in the golden hills of California you’re not supposed to see a herd of zebras.

Look, Ma! I didn't even have to zoom in!

 

We learned a few things. For example, we learned that ostriches like to peck at shiny things inside Jeeps, and their tiny heads are a lot more intimidating than one might think. We actually did learn a lot about the animals from our guide. Just don’t ask me to teach you any of it, I didn’t take notes.

Some things to consider:

A tour will cost you quite a bit more than a trip to the zoo, but I found the price comparable to many other special tour or animal experiences at a zoo.

You have to be there early. So you can either leave at the crack of dawn to get there on time, or you can stay in Santa Rosa. There is lodging at Safari West, and it looks pretty cool to stay in the tent cabins. But since that was out of our price range at the time, we stayed at another motel in Santa Rosa.

You will be in the jeep for about 2 hours and that is more than many small children can handle, or enjoy. I went when my child was five (going on six) and he did just fine. A year, or even a few months earlier, and it would’ve been a different story altogether. You’re the best judge of how much your young child will be able to sit through.

This is not a zoo, but you will be able to walk up to some of the animals. You will see mostly birds, but also the giraffes and the cheetahs in enclosures near the entrance.

For information on prices and tour times check out their website.

Another Kids Go West approved kid-friendly adventure in Santa Rosa is the Charles M. Schulz Museum.


Santa Barbara Zoo

Honestly, I didn’t go to Santa Barbara to hang out with giraffes; I was only thinking about reading my book on the beach. But since my kid rarely shares my vision of a perfect weekend getaway, I added a few stops to our itinerary that would satisfy his vision as well. So we spent one morning at the Santa Barbara Zoo because kids love zoos (and my kid is crazy about them). Besides, the zoo is only a few blocks away from the beach, so I knew we could just head down for some afternoon napping in the sun afterwards.

The zoo had plenty to see and do to keep us busy for over two hours, but you could certainly spend more time if you have younger kids. The exhibits were all well maintained and accessible for kids. Here are some of of our favorites:

1. The Eeeww Exhibit (Insects and Reptiles)

I have grown to love hissing cockroaches and salamanders because I have a boy who makes me touch all the creepy crawlies, so we enjoyed our stroll through this indoor exhibit to check out some of the world’s most unappreciated creatures.

2. The Penguins

Kids really enjoyed trying to read the name tags on the wings of the warm-weather Humboldt penguins as they swam around their exhibit. There was plenty of room to see the penguins from lots of different viewpoints.

3. African Veldt

The giraffes in this exhibit have the best view of the sparkly Pacific Ocean, and they seem pretty happy about it. Or maybe, it was because we visited while people were lining up for the giraffe feedings.

4. Tropical Aviaries

We walked through indoor and outdoor aviary exhibits and got a close-up view of many birds.

5. Asian Small-Clawed Otters

The energetic otters draw a large crowd. The exhibit has new otter pups, so there’s the extra cute factor as well.

When you go:

The zoo is open 10-5 everyday except Christmas. Current admission is $12 for adults and $10 for children. Check website for updated information. Parking is $5, but there plenty of the Santa Barbara visitor trolleys that stop right in front of the zoo.

Got Nothing But Love

Dear Stick-in-the-Sand Poet,

I couldn’t agree more.

Love,

Carolina

P.S. This is San Francisco’s Ocean Beach in January.

Linking up to Delicious Baby’s Photo Friday.

Take the Kids to the de Young Museum of Art

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The de Young Museum of Art in San Francisco houses over 25,000 works of art, but most kids will only appreciate a few of these during their visit. That’s fine. It doesn’t take a lot to foster a love of art.

I’ve been taking my son to the de Young since it reopened in its new building in 2005, and we have found new reasons to enjoy our visit each time.

The Works of Art

There are eight major galleries in the museum; housing works of art ranging from Mesoamerican ceramics to Contemporary American art. In other words, there are plenty of opportunities for kids to find a piece they like. Sometimes my son gravitates towards the masks in the Art of Africa gallery, while other times he is drawn to the Superman painting in the modern art wing. You can rent the family audio tours, or just view the art at your own pace.

The Osher Sculpture Garden

Who says that you have to be inside the museum to appreciate art? When he was five years old, my son loved to run around the apples in the sculpture garden and eat cookies at the cafe tables outside. Heck, you wouldn’t even have to pay admission if you just wanted to stroll through the sculpture garden. There will, however, be an additional cost for bribery through cookies.

The Observation Tower

Even if your child isn’t inspired by the works of art, he may be taken in by the views of Golden Gate Park and San Francisco from the observation deck in the North Tower. This is my son’s favorite part of the museum. He comes for the views, while I sneak in some art. There’s no rule for how to get kids to like art museums. Again, there is no admission cost for anyone to take an elevator ride up to the tower.

When You Go

When visiting art museums with kids, it’s always a good idea to go at their pace. Luckily, you won’t feel so bad that you only see half the museum, since the admission is free for children under the age of 12.

The museum hosts special family art programs on Saturdays. Check website for more information. On Friday nights, the museum is open until 8:45 and has some art-making activities for all ages.

 

Na Aina Kai Botanical Gardens

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I would like the Na Aina Kai Botanical Gardens to be in my backyard. But since I don’t live on 240 acres of oceanfront land in the tropical isle of Kauai, I’m going to settle for a visit from time to time.

Na Aina Kai was a private garden until it was opened to the public, this includes the Under the Rainbow Children’s Garden which was created for the owner’s grandchildren. This children’s garden is kiddie heaven: with water features, a maze, and super-cool play structures. I picked this as the one garden I was going to visit with my son (you have to tour a garden while in the Garden Isle, after all), and booked the Children’s Garden Family Tour. You can only visit the garden with a tour, and the family tour is the only one you can book with children who are under the age of 13.

During the first hour of the tour, we were guided through the formal gardens and the children were handed a paper bag to put any garden treasures they found along the way. They filled their bags as we walked through a hedge maze, under the rainbow shower trees, and around the beautiful green orchid hanging from a tree. The children were also given the opportunity to feed the poi fish. Oh, and we saw teeny, weeny frogs too.

The second half of the tour was spent in the Under the Rainbow Children’s Garden. Here the kids got to roam free. They played in the water around the 16-foot bronze Jack and the Beanstalk water fountain (bring the swimsuits). Then they wandered through the Gecko-shaped hedge maze, climbed and slid from the treehouse play structures, and played in the covered wagon and railroad train. The adults, well, they sat back and wished they were five years old again.

Useful Tidbits:

Book these popular tours ahead of time, since days and times are limited. The family tours are on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays at 9:30 and 1:30; Fridays at 9:30. Admission prices are currently $30 for adults and $20 for children. Yes, it’s pricey but it was well worth it. The tour groups are small and your kids will have access to their own private kiddie heaven. Check the website for current information.

Letter From the Editor: Still Here

I’ve been the head writer, CEO, dictator, queen and editor of this family travel site for two years now. It’s been nice. Mostly.

The best thing about having my own site is that it’s all mine. I know I tell my son he has to share, but there are advantages to being selfish. I get to publish what I want-no matter how silly-without worrying about what anyone else thinks. I make mistakes sometimes, but I also get to do all the learning from those mistakes.

And I have learned a lot about the great, wide world of the internet in these two short years. There are some things I love about the online community, and there are some things I could do without. I’m not one to rant publicly all that much, so if you want to hear my opinions on blogging and social media, I’ll share those over coffee with you some time.

So as I looked ahead to a third year, I had to ask myself whether or not to keep going. I found myself asking the Google gods: ‘why blog?’. They really didn’t give me any interesting answers. Yes, there are limitations to what the internet can give you. (Although I did read a most entertaining article on pest control the other day.) That’s why it is so difficult to stay motivated when it comes to blogging.

I don’t make any money from my blog. And I decided to keep it that way last year. I got offers for advertisements, but turned those down. I wasn’t ready to turn this blog into a source of income, mostly because I didn’t want to deal with making any changes on my income tax returns. I wish I could say there were loftier reasons, but really I’m just lazy (and a little busy).

So if I’m not in it for the money (I’ve heard how lucrative it can be), then what are my reasons for being here? I enjoy traveling with my son and I like to write about it. That’s it. For now, those are reasons enough to keep on blogging.

But while I still have the motivation to keep at it, I do need some goals to keep me going. Otherwise, I may just turn on my laptop tomorrow and get sidetracked by the latest pest control or celebrity pregnancy article. To keep the blog going for a third year, I’ve got to aim high, baby.

I have been working on cleaning up the site, changing the template, making it prettier and a lot more functional for the readers. When someone is searching for ‘geeky things to do along Highway 101′ or ‘furry socal guys’, then I want them to find what they’re looking for goshdarnit.

So you’ll see some changes with the appearance of the blog this year. I’m awful with the technology, coding, and SEO stuff, so it may take me the whole year. Look around, you may see new categories, new links, and hopefully something about furry socal dudes. That last will be the hardest to come up with, I just know it.

Like last year, you’ll probably see fewer posts than my first year. I have decided that I’d rather have quality over quantity. Again, not because of any lofty ideals, it’s just that I’m less likely to burn out when I have fewer posts to write.

I like the focus of my content so far, and I aim to keep it that way. Though I have found that there are limitations to just writing about one geographical area and how to explore it with kids. So if I’m really inspired, I may branch out to start another blog. Keep your fingers crossed.

I do need a place where I can post more current updates, events, and feverish mutterings. I haven’t figured out the best way to go about that, so for now you can check my social media accounts (look up on the right-hand side of your screen). I especially like the Posterous account as the companion blog, so I’ll probably use that more this year.

Thank you for reading along this year. I’m grateful that anyone takes the time to come back and read my ramblings. I’ll work on making the third year the best one yet.