Category Archives: NorCal

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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.

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.


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.

 

The Queen of Christmas Merriment

I don’t know if you noticed, but I like to go places with my kid. Come rain, or come shine, or come the holiday season, we go places. In fact, I’m so good at going places, that I have cleverly made that our family tradition. This smart mami gets out of shopping, baking, and making wreaths by getting out of the house. I know, I know, they should make me queen.

Now the holiday season is well underway, and we are going places. Oh, we have plans to see twinkly lights, and dancing Nutcrackers in tights this December. We will head down to the city (San Francisco, to be exact) and stand in awe of the giant gingerbread palace in the fancy lobby of the Westin St. Francis Hotel, the doggies up for adoption in the Macy’s window display and the congregation of weird Santas in Union Square.

Every family does the whole holiday tradition differently, but this is our thing. Years from now, I hope my kid remembers that sometimes I made lame attempts at baking gingerbread men, and that sometimes I made more successful attempts at finding the darn best light display in town. Hopefully, he’ll forget the Santa with the dog collar and fishnet stockings.

I’m not the only one dreaming of Christmas this week, head on over to Mother of All Trips, the original Monday dreamer always has something good to share.

Today’s Tip: On Winter Driving

Those long car trips with kids can be a big fat drag. When you add snow, ice, road closures, chain controls, and that bumper-to-bumper California traffic, then you have a recipe for a meltdown (yours, of course). I am not a safety or driving expert, but I can share some tips for how I have learned to make the long, snowy drives more bearable, and a whole lot safer.

1. Know the weather and road conditions before you get in the car.

If you’re expecting clear skies and roads, then skip ahead to tip number 2. If you’re expecting blizzard conditions, then you have more to consider (while you drink a soothing, calming tea). You may consider postponing the trip for another weekend, or delaying the departure for the next day. Unfortunately, most people make reservations for lodging that can’t be changed at the last minute without a cancellation fee. If you decide (or are forced to) to change your trip plans because of highway closures, call the hotel to see if they will let you change your reservation without penalty.

2. Carry the right equipment and supplies no matter what the weather forecast says.

Weather conditions change quickly, so sunny skies are not an excuse to be unprepared. Carry chains if you need them. Take along food, water, blankets, maps, and flashlights. And always let someone know where you’re going and what road you plan on taking.

3. Make a pit stop before you begin the climb up to the summit.

The traffic may be flowing, the roads may be clear, and you may be ready to get there already, but make a quick pit stop before you continue your journey to family ski nirvana. Fill up the tank with gas, have the kids take a potty break, and get some food. Believe me, I have been stuck up on a mountain highway for hours, waiting for an unexpected accident to clear up. That’s when I see people climbing through 5 feet of snow at the side of the road, looking for a spot for their potty break. I’m not painting a pretty picture, right?

4. Don’t drive at night or while fatigued.

There’s nothing worse than getting in the car on a Friday night, after working all week, and driving through a snow storm. If you’re tired, don’t get behind the wheel.

5. Timing is everything.

Driving up to ski areas in the winter can mean heavy traffic, regardless of the weather conditions. If possible, you’ll want to travel early in the morning, even if this means leaving work or pulling the kids out of school early. If your trip coincides with a school holiday vacation, then use the extra days to your advantage. You can leave early on a Saturday morning instead of a Friday night, or you can avoid the days before major holidays.

So it’s a lot to think about, I know. But it’s all worth it to see your happy skiers race past you down the hill. Well, kinda. 

What do you do if your car starts to spin, or you get stuck in the snow? I may or may not have some experience with that. If you’re looking for driving tips to help you handle snowy, icy road conditions, then this article has some excellent suggestions. No idea, if I’d actually remember what to do if my left rear wheel started to skid though.

 

Linking up to Talking Trekaroo’s Spotlight Thursday for other family travel news.

Things to Do in California: December Edition

‘Tis the season to take the family to enjoy the Christmas lights, catch a matinee of the Nutcracker, and get that picture with Santa at the mall (unless you have a kid that refuses to get within a foot of the mall Santa). If you’re looking for ways to keep the kids busy this holiday season, you will find plenty of options in California. Here are two of my favorite family-friendly events in California this month. They’re educational too, just don’t tell the kids.

San Francisco

Snow and Reindeer at the California Academy of Sciences from November 23 to January 2.

Kids love to listen for reindeer hooves on their roofs on Christmas Eve, so take them to the east garden of the Academy to meet the reindeer at the Reindeer Rendezvous special exhibit. Then step inside the igloo presentation dome to watch the five-minute video about the North Pole. There are plenty of daily science, animal, and cultural presentations to choose from, but if you go on Wednesdays, you’ll get to meet the scientists that explore the Earth’s coldest regions. Don’t forget to get a picture with Santa Claude, the Academy’s alligator character, and catch the indoor snow flurries.

These special holiday activities are all included with general admission tickets. Check the website for more information and schedules.

Los Angeles

The Science of Gingerbread at the Discovery Science Center in Santa Ana from November 23 to January 3.

Kids know how darn cute (and yummy) houses can be, so take them to the Discovery Science Center this month, so they can see the entries of the gingerbread house competition displayed throughout the center. On weekends, kids get to check out the gingerbread decorating demonstrations, and try their hand at baking at the measure-and-mix learning station. There are also daily shows and presentations, such as the “Matter of Taste” show. If you want to  participate in a special gingerbread house workshop, check out their website for more information.

 

Linking up to Trekaroo Spotlight Thursday, where other bloggers are sharing their lists of favorite holiday events.


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.

Be An Aquarist for the Day

I may not be able to get my son a backstage pass to the Diary of a Wimpy Kid movie set, but I have been able to pull a few strings to get him a behind-the-scenes look at some of his favorite aquariums. No, I don’t know some very important aquarists, but I do possess a very powerful credit card. I’m here to tell you that participating in the special programs offered at many aquariums is well worth the cost, so save your pennies and get ready to handle some squid.

Morning Rounds at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

You have to be eight years old to participate in the Morning Rounds tour of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, so my son waited patiently for years to get a very special look at one of his favorite places on earth. He wasn’t disappointed. As soon as the tour was over, he wanted to know when we would be back to do it again.

In this program, you arrive at the aquarium about an hour before it opens to the general public, put on an apron with a special eau de fish, and get a a very memorable tour of a very quiet aquarium. Our group of 12 wannabe aquarists was led by an education specialist and an aquarium volunteer to take a look at some of the exhibits before the general public came in. We saw the aquarium’s newest rescued sea otter pup-a.k.a. as 502, for its number as the five hundred and second sea otter rehabilitated at the aquarium-playing with it’s adoptive mother. You don’t get to feed the otters, and on the morning we went, the sea otter pup was getting a check-up from the vet.

Then we got right to work feeding the anchovies, the bat rays, the rainbow trout, the sardines in the Kelp Forest exhibit, and the fish in the Monterey Bay Habitats tank. Feeding the bat rays in the touch pool, was the most interactive of all the feedings, since we held shrimp and squid under the water and waited for the rays to come slurp them up out of our hands. The whole experience was a bit squishy, but we were soon petting the rays like they were a family pet (move over Hermie the hermit crab). Feeding the fishes in the bigger tanks involved throwing handfuls of juicy krill and squid, so we were thankful for our aprons and good aim.

Inside the aquarium’s food-prep area, we slipped the penguin’s vitamins inside some fishes. I know that most mom’s will have no trouble relating to the old hide-the-vitamins-inside-the-food trick. We didn’t get to feed the penguins ourselves, but that’s alright with me, since I don’t think it smells all that great inside those penguin tanks anyway.

We were only aquarists for a couple of hours, but we managed to get a glimpse about what it takes to keep this world-renowned aquarium ticking and learn at thing or two about some of the animals. For more information about the Morning Rounds program, or other behind-the-scenes tours, click over to the Monterey Bay Aquarium website.

Sea Turtle Mania at the Maui Ocean Center

Most families make a stop at the Maui Ocean Center while on their Maui vacation, but a few lucky ones may get to visit when the aquarium offers some of their behind-the-scenes programs. We visited the Maui Ocean Center in August, when the aquarium has special activities and tours that focus on the sea turtles. The programs have a changed a bit since the year we went (they actually got cheaper), but the main activities of their Sea Turtle Package are similar to the one we participated in a few years ago.

On our tour, we learned all about how the aquarium’s sea turtles are cared for, and also got to prepare the food that we fed to the turtles in the lagoon exhibit. Feeding the sea turtles was a much less smellier experience than our fish feedings at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, since the sea turtles like to eat their veggies. He was only five years old, when we did that tour at the Maui Ocean Center (there is no age limit for the Sea Turtle Package tour) but he was captivated by his visit to the aquarium kitchens and those hungry sea turtles.

Looking over the Maui Ocean Center website, I noticed that they now offer the Amazing Aquarist Tour on some months, as well as other package tours that take guests behind the scenes. Check their calendar section and click on the month you will be making your visit on, for more information.

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

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Please Note:

  1. I have never had a deep fried Twinkie.
  2. Riding on the new swing ride is the closest thing to flying over the beach like a seagull.
  3. I was very brave to go on the sky ride and the swing ride on the same day, since I loathe hanging from any high wires.
  4. Keeping your flip-flops from falling off your feet and landing on someone’s cotton candy is one of life’s essential skills.
  5. They may sell Texas-size donuts at the Boardwalk, but the caramel apples are the only dessert worth eating.

Linking up these photos of one of our favorite summer past times to Delicious Baby’s Photo Friday. Please note that there will be more fabulous travel photos to be found there.