Category Archives: Great Outdoors

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

Day Trip Ideas for Spring

Warmer days are here, so we’re all heading outdoors. I can’t stay all cooped up with the birds chirping and the flowers blooming. And since I’m always looking for a good excuse to get out of the house-avoiding all housework in the process-here are our three favorite day trip ideas. Get out and enjoy all of spring’s bounties, they’ll be gone before you know it. 

1. We visit a garden (duh!). This may seem like a no-brainer, but it does take a bit of planning, when you want to see a garden in full bloom. Do you like tulips? Go in April. Are you looking for cherry blossoms? Better go before March. Visit different gardens, throughout the season, to see the wide spectrum of blooming colors. I’m constantly amazed by how much my son enjoys a trip to the garden, but I have a feeling that he may feel a bit differently about daffodils when he’s sixteen. So I’m going to get as many cute garden photos of him, while the gettin’ is good. Our favorite garden is Filoli Gardens, you can read more about it here.

2. We visit a farm. It’s all about the baby animals in the spring. I like to squeal and coo when I see the cute lambs, chicks, and-if I’m lucky-piglets. Now we love to visit Hidden Villa Farm, but there are plenty of other farms within day trip distance of our house. Chances are, you also have dozens of farms near your home as well. Find one and call them to see which baby animals they expect to be born soon. Don’t forget about petting zoos, we were surprised by the adorable eight-day-old lambs at Happy Hollow Park and Zoo on a recent visit.

3. We take a wildflower hike. I’m excited by the upcoming wildflower season in California (a bit nerdy, I know). The rainy winter has made the hillsides extra green in Northern California and the colors are beginning to pop out all over the place. The best part about the wildflower hike is the exercise. Or at least it is, if you’re doing a bit of spring training like I am. The California State Park website has some notes about some of the best parks to see wildflowers in the state. But you don’t have limit yourself to these places, just head to some open space and you’ll find the wildflowers. Heck, I can even see them on the side of the freeway nowadays. But that kind of of drive-by viewing doesn’t count, you can’t smell the flowers zooming past them at the legal speed of 65 mph. So I’m getting out this spring and climbing some hills in search of wildflowers.

Other wildflower resources:

What’s blooming when: California Bureau of Land Management.

Desert Wildflower Report at Desert U.S.A.

Cool Kids’ Calendar Planner: Camping

The weather outside may be blustery, but don’t let that stop you from planning for the sunnier days ahead. Believe it or not, it’s time to take out your trusty calendar and pick out some dates for that summer family camping trip. I already wrote about what happens when you don’t plan ahead and reserve your campsite. Let me recap: you lose.

I checked out the Reserve America website recently and found that some of the popular campgrounds were already filling up for spring and summer weekends. So head on over to Reserve America, to reserve your perfect s’more spot soon.

If you need any suggestions for campgrounds in California, check out my guide to some coastal campgrounds.

I’m hoping to keep adding more campgrounds to that guide.  So if you have any favorite campgrounds in the western states, let me know. I could always use a few good tips.

Cool Kids’ Calendar Planner

IMG_2487All the cool kids know how important it is to keep our beaches clean. They also know about what happens to all those little bits of plastic if they float out to sea: they become the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. One of the best ways to stop this floating garbage patch from growing is to keep our coast and waterways clean.

This Saturday, September 19 is the California Coastal Cleanup Day. Find a drop-in location near you and make it a beach day this Saturday. We got some cleaning up to do.

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.

Things To Do
Yosemite National Park

Today’s Tip: Be a Camping Pro, or Just Look Like One

IMG_2459Even if you’ve never been camping before, or your last camping trip is a distant memory, you can still plan a great family camping trip. I’ve made a handy list to help any of you camping newbies who are hesitant to embark on a camping adventure with kids. I’m not going to pretend camping is easy, but with a bit of planning and practice, you can take your kids out for a night under the starry skies. Read on, campers.

1. Camp close to home. I have found that when you camp with young kids it’s less stressful to keep the travel distances short. On our last trip, we drove for one short, blissful hour to our favorite campground by the beach. At this campground, I struck up a conversation with another mom in the bathroom who admitted that her family had only traveled forty minutes from their home. As she wisely put it: “It’s nice to know that if something happens, you can just go home.” We all hope that nothing will happen when we’re traveling with kids, but experience teaches us that the possibilities are endless: fever, poison-oak, or just plain ol’ anxiety. It’s good to know you have a quick escape route.

2. Pick your campground wisely. If you are a newcomer to the world of tent camping, then you will want to consider the campground’s amenities. Basically, you will want running water, showers, and a spot you can pull your car into. It may also be easier to camp somewhere without any bears, in other words, stay away from the mountains. There are beautiful campgrounds in those places, but you do have to work a bit harder to bear-proof everything. If you’re a beginner camper, you may not be ready for the additional hassle. Check out my list of great campgrounds along the coast of California.

3. Get to know your gear. I say this with love, because I’ve made this mistake: practice putting up your new tent at home. When you’re with young kids, you don’t have the luxury of swearing and ranting as you throw tent poles around. If you do practice putting up your tent at home, don’t forget to put everything back in the bag. Again, I speak from experience.

4. Lists are your friend. You will need to make a list and check it twice. Even then, you will probably forget something. That’s why you chose a campground near some sort of market, because it’s good to know you can run to town to get batteries, marshmallows, or ice.

5. Keep the menu simple. This is not the time to plan five-course dinners, but you don’t have to eat canned soup for three days. If you do want at least one fancy meal, you could prep some of the ingredients at home. Maybe you want to make stew, so just precut the veggies ahead of time. You can also bake muffins or other baked goodies, and feel like Martha Stewart when you unveil them at the campsite. But since you’re not going to Camp Martha, remember that kids love sandwiches, hot dogs, and spaghetti.

6. Timing is everything. It’s easier to plan for a camping trip that’s three nights or less. You will have to take less food, less firewood, and less pairs of socks. Our magic number is usually 3 days and 2 nights. It’s just enough to get a taste of the camping good life, but not so long that your kids will need any serious bathing. If you’ve ever tried to bathe a toddler in a coin-operated shower, you know that the less times you actually have to experience this, the better.

I’m still finding new tricks for doing things better every time I go on a camping trip, so I’ll keep updating list. If you have any great tips, please do share in the comments below.

When Your Child is Afraid of the Big, Bad Mountain Lion

hikingLike all proud parents, I was just thrilled to pieces when my son learned to read. Then I quickly discovered that my little, independent reader was going to read EVERYTHING, and suddenly I couldn’t hide some inconvenient truths.

This became evident while on a hike of Fern Canyon in Van Damme State Park. I was treated to my kindergartner’s anxiety attack when he read a trail sign that said, Warning: Mountain Lions. These warning signs are posted on almost every trail in California, and although a bit ominous, they are intended to keep hikers alert. Some will give you useful tips on what to do if you encounter a mountain lion, such as:

  1. Keep children close to you. Mountain Lions are especially drawn to small children.
  2. Do all you can do to appear larger. Shout or make a lot of noise.
  3. Do not crouch or bend over.

While I was aware of how to handle a possible mountain lion encounter, I had not shared that knowledge with my five-year-old. So when he read all the useful information on the sign, he flipped out. That’s putting it mildly. I tried to reassure him. I told him we were taking the precautions: we were hiking in a group, he was staying close to me, and we were making some noise. 

That’s when he started to sing and shout his little lungs out. Our peaceful hike through the magical Fern Canyon, had turned into an episode of American Idol. If you look at this picture, you will see my adorable son demonstrating how to keep any mountain lions, squirrels, birds, or deer away. But if you look even closer, you will notice that behind my smile, is a look of quiet exasperation.

Our hike that day, was cut short. But we all learned a valuable lesson. I had some discussions with my son about mountain lions, and other safety precautions for the great outdoors. I still wrestle with teaching him wilderness safety, while not increasing his anxiety. I want him to enjoy being out in nature, and not see it as a scary place. 

I don’t want him to think the big, bad wolf is hiding behind every tree. Now I know how Little Red Riding Hood’s mom felt.

The Cool Kids’ Event Calendar: Get Outdoors

Point Cabrillo



What are the cool kids doing this week? Hopefully they’re getting out with their wild selves, to learn about nature.

  • At this site you will find a year-long calendar for family events at California State Park, and some in Oregon as well. Coming up is Duck Days in San Diego and the Mendocino Whale Festival. Remember Point Cabrillo Lighthouse is a great place to go for whale festival events.
  • If you live in the San Francisco Bay area, check out the schedule of events for the Golden Gate Recreational Area. 
  • If you live in southern California, check out the winter schedule of events for the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. Coming up on Saturday, March 7 is a Fun With Nature program for kids at Malibu Creek State Park.

Of course, you don’t have to wait for a special event to get outdoors. Just go.

Getting Out: Nature and Stuff

Henry CowellThis week, my posts have been mostly about camping. I could probably go on a few more weeks writing about camping, and eventually I will. I spent a lot of my childhood traveling, from Vancouver to Baja California, in a motor home with my family. I have a few tales to tell.

Let me be honest, I’m not really into extreme outdoor adventures, but I am trying to change my sedentary ways. I already bought the Merrell hiking shoes, now all I need is the bike and the kayak. My incentive for becoming an extreme outdoor enthusiast is my son.

Any way you cut it, spending time outdoors with your kids is important. I try to plan a camping trip every summer, that is, when I don’t forget to make reservations on time. There is a bounty of beautiful campgrounds out west, so I don’t have any excuses. 

This is a photo of our last camping trip at Henry Cowell State Park, in the redwood forests of Santa Cruz mountains. Photos don’t really capture the awesome beauty of these trees. As far as the redwoods are concerned, you have to see to believe.

This unbelievable photo of the redwoods is linked up to other great photos at Delicious Baby’s Photo Friday. Go check them out.

Kids Go West Guide to the Best Campgrounds in California

Redwood Trees

I’m a little hesitant to write this guide, because then I’ll have more competition in trying to score reservations for these awesome campgrounds. Lucky for you, I welcome the challenge.

I’ll start off my guide with a list (in no particular order) of some coastal state campgrounds in California. Sadly, I have to leave out the beautiful, Big Sur campgrounds because of last year’s wildfire. Those state parks are closed to campers for the time being.(*Update: Pfeiffer Big Sur is now open for summer reservations)


  1. Sunset State Beach: This beautiful, isolated beach is 16 miles south of Santa Cruz, on Highway 1. The campground is divided into 3 sections. We enjoy camping in the south camp loop, because it’s a close walk to the beach. It can be cold, and foggy in June and July, so bring warm clothes. If you have a hard time finding spots at this beach, try nearby  Manresa State Beach. 
  2. Henry Cowell State Park: This park is known for its redwood groves, but the campground itself is in a chaparral environment. This park is in the Santa Cruz mountains, near the city of Felton. You can drive to the day use part of the park for a hike on the redwood trails. If your kids love trains, hop over the tracks to Roaring Camp and take a ride into the redwood forest. If you want to actually camp in a redwood forest try, Big Basin Redwoods State Park. This park fills up more quickly though, and requires a longer drive on a winding highway.  
  3. Van Damme State Park: This north coast park is on Highway 1, three miles south of Mendocino. The campground is right across the street from the beach, in a stunning, fern canyon. You can hike along the miles of trails, taking in the lush scenery. The location is an ideal base for many adventures in Mendocino county.
  4. Pismo State Beach:  The main attraction at this beach are the dunes. This is a popular beach with ATV goers, and with wintering Monarch butterflies. The park boasts the biggest monarch butterfly grove in the United States. The campground is in the town of Oceano, but the nearby town of Pismo Beach is a good place to take the kids if you need a break from the sand dunes.
  5. Carpinteria State Beach: This mile-long beach is located 12 miles south of Santa Barbara, and is host to seals, sea lions, and tidepools. The daytime temperatures range between 60 to 80 degrees year-round.
  6. South Carlsbad State Beach: This campground is on the coastal bluffs of Carlsbad, about 20 minutes north of San Diego. It’s near LEGOLAND, but you don’t have to let your kids know if you’d rather stick to the nature thing. This whole coastal area brings out the southern California beach bum in you, and you are likely to find great weather most of the year.

This list is a work in progress, open to recommendations, and subject to updates.