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EXPLORING Long Beach
Tips for family travel in Long Beach, California

Isn’t it amazing how often we forget to explore the places right in our own backyard? Long Beach is a short 2-hour drive from my home in Southern California and yet this was my first time visiting! I was impressed. Whether you are visiting with the family or looking for a weekend getaway with your special someone, Long Beach has lots to explore.

Westin roomsWhere to STAY

When you’re traveling with the family, you want to spend your time doing, not driving. That’s why the Long Beach Westin is a great choice. It’s easy to get to from the freeway, provides great views of the harbor and is within walking distance of lots of great eats and activities. We opted for two adjoining rooms which helped give my family of five plenty of space — and meant that my husband and I didn’t have to go to sleep at 8 p.m., either! The central location made walking to a yummy breakfast at The Breakfast Bar or delicious deli sandwiches at Modica’s Deli easy.

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Where to EAT

We found the 2nd Street/Belmont Shores area on a whim and wish we would have saved more time to be able to enjoy the many shops, restaurants and street musicians. Thanks to a quick Yelp search, we settled on Super Mex, an affordable Mexican food joint that looks questionable from the front, but has a festive back patio, excellent food and a family-friendly vibe.

Whatever style of restaurant (casual or fancy), location (indoor or outside dinning) or type of food (Mexican, Italian, Middle Eastern, Japanese, etc.) your family wants, you’ll find a place on 2nd Street. We also saw tons of great boutiques, book shops and local stores to explore and interesting musicians on every corner.

Queen Mary

Where to DATE

If you’re looking to plan a special night out with a special someone, you can enjoy amazing five-star dining at the Sir Winston aboard the Queen Mary. The old-world decor makes you feel like you are cruising across the Atlantic, enjoying classics like French Onion soup, a table-side Caesar salad and Beef Wellington.

Guess who’s excited for a kid-less dinner?

It’s not a great place for toddlers or babies, but the food, service and views are impeccable. Since it was chosen as one of OpenTable’s Top 100 Most Romantic Restaurants in America for 2015, Sir Winston’s is the perfect dining spot for a romantic dinner for two.

aquarium

Where to PLAY

I’d heard about the Aquarium of the Pacific for years and had even considered making the day trip down from Ventura for it in the past. It would have been worth the drive. This aquarium is the perfect size to explore for a day in Long Beach. It’s located in a great area called the Pier at Rainbow Harbor which has a combination of shops — the outlets were under major remodel when we were there, but should be awesome — restaurants and activities like the aquarium, a Ferris wheel, and harbor boat cruises.

jelly fish

The aquarium itself offers fun for the whole family. In addition to the special jelly fish exhibit, there are interactive exhibits, tons of tanks, informative movies and expert-led shows and animal feedings. There were also lots of opportunities for kids to touch aquatic life including rays, hammerhead sharks and jelly fish.

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Gondola ride
Where to visit KID-FREE

If you’re traveling to Long Beach kid-less, kick off your romantic evening with a private gondola ride through the Naples Island canals by The Gondola Getaway. The boats are cozily decked out with pillows and blankets, and you can bring your own bottle of wine and snacks to enjoy on your cruise. Gondola Getaway will provide complimentary cups, ice-filled buckets and music. Dress warmly if you opt for a sunset ride, since the winds can come up in the late afternoon — or snuggle close to your date. If you’re lucky, you’ll end up with one of the company’s singing gondoliers to truly transport you to the canals of Venice.

Catalina Island

Where to DAY TRIP

If you’re spending a few days in Long Beach, you’ll want to save at least one day to head out to sea and explore Catalina Island. The hour-long boat ride offers smooth seas, indoor or deck-side seating and gorgeous views of the Pacific. Once you’re out to Catalina, grab some lunch at Mi Casita Mexican restaurant — head upstairs for great views — stroll the oceanfront shops and rent a golf cart from one of the many rental companies to tour the island on your own. Tip: rent it before you go at the Catalina Express terminal in Long Beach — the companies do occasionally run out of available carts. We rented a cart for about an hour, which gives you plenty of time to drive around and explore this island getaway. Be sure to save time for dipping your toes in the ocean waters and a scoop of ice cream from Big Olaf’s.

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Have you been to Long Beach before? What are you favorite finds for families or couples?

SSM was not paid for this post. Our travel expenses were covered by the Long Beach Visitors Bureau. Opinions expressed are our own.

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Exploring Cannery Row Monterey California
Weekend in Cannery Row

If you aren’t already familiar with the area, Cannery Row is a street that runs parallel to the coastline of Monterey Bay in the middle of California, made famous by American author John Steinbeck, who captured the lives of workers and residents who worked in the fish canneries that gave the area its name. Once the area was fished out, the bay was made into a marine sanctuary, but the canneries remained.

Following a period of revitalization, this little section of Monterey now boasts beautiful hotels, restaurants, shopping and other activities, as well as opportunities to explore the water and coastline. Some of the original canneries are still standing, and you can see and even walk in the iconic “crossover” bridges that joined the canneries to the old shipping houses across the street.

Just an hour and a half drive from San Jose airport, Monterey is also home to Monterey Bay Aquarium, the famous scenic 17-Mile Drive, and a marine sanctuary for sea otters, elephant seals, sea lions, and many species of birds. The area enjoys a temperate climate, so it’s a perfect place to bring your family during the summer for a road trip stop or a final destination.

Visiting Monterey Bay in CaliforniaWhere to STAY

The Victorian Inn is located just blocks up the hill from Cannery Row itself, and the higher floors offer views above the rooftops to Monterey Bay. Centered around a large Victorian home built in 1907, the decor of the inn reflects the style of the period. Rooms are spacious and comfortable and each one has a gas fireplace which is nice when it gets chilly at night. There’s free continental breakfast and daily wine receptions in the lobby, complimentary in-room internet, and in-room massages if you need one. There’s no pool at this hotel, so your kids will have to get their swimming fix in the ocean.

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Monterey Bay Inn

A little bit more upscale for adult travelers, the boutique Monterey Bay Inn is perched above the ocean at the southeast end of Cannery Row, adjacent to San Carlos park and beach. Rooms have sleek updated decor and each has a small balcony overlooking the coast – binoculars are provided, too. The bathrooms have double sinks, private toilets, and large showers. With two hot tubs on site, the hotel also provides comfy spa robes ready for you in the closet when you arrive. In-room breakfast is complimentary, as long as you hang your order on the door by midnight.

What to-do in Monterey, CaliforniaWhere to PLAY

When at Cannery Row you’ll definitely want to visit the oceanside. A great way for an active family to see the sights and get some exercise is to rent some equipment from Adventures by the Sea and either paddle around the bay or ride around town. I rented an adult-sized cruiser for maximum comfort (braking by pedaling backwards, which I haven’t done in decades, took some re-learning) and there are also two-person surreys available to rent in three locations along the coast.

The recreational trail that runs 18-miles along the Monterey Bay coast was once a rail line, and you will even see old railroad crossing signs still standing as monuments to an earlier era. In fact, there is an old train car that is now parked right on the trail that is now a bookstore.
lovers point beach

There are many spots to stop and run around and take in the natural beauty, and Lover’s Point Park is a perfect one: a calm beach for young children with crystal blue waters, a spacious green park, a large rocky outcropping perfect for climbing, and a restaurant for dinner at the end of your day.

What to do with kids in Monterey Bay, CaliforniaBecause of the temperate seaside climate, mornings can be foggy or even drizzly in the area, so some indoor activities might be good to have in your back pocket. The aquarium is an obvious choice but if you want to avoid summer crowds, check these out. Monterey Mirror Maze, Lazer Challenge, and Highway 1 Black Light Mini Golf are all within feet of each other right on Cannery Row. Set up like a small Chuck E. Cheese minus the animatronic cartoon characters, these attractions let kids run amok while providing entertainment, as long as they have the tokens! The mirror maze feels like an extended creep inside a fun house, and the lazer challenge can be tough for the awkward adult (okay, me) but still fun.

On the way into the Cannery Row area as you approach from the airport, you’ll pass by El Estero Lake and a colorful children’s play area named after Dennis the Menace – his creator donated much of the money that built this park. Dennis the Menace park is no ordinary park. It has a hedge maze, a climbing wall, an old steam engine, a zip line, and a giant wiggly slide. In the surrounding complex you can rent a paddle boat to cruise around the lake.

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Where to EAT

Almost every restaurant at Cannery Row has a spectacular view of the water so I’ll just go in order of where I ate! Schooner’s Coastal Kitchen & Bar is a full-service restaurant located in the Monterey Plaza Hotel, a spacious throwback in the classic grand hotel style. Local food is the star of the “farm to fork, sea to table” menu, and the locally grown artichokes make a great appetizer.

Servers will kindly suggest a perfect local wine to go with your meal: my grilled scallops, served over etouffee and brown rice risotto, went perfectly with the crisp and fruity Carmel Road “unoaked” Chardonnay. Our party tried several desserts and the standout was the unusual butterscotch banana pudding with housemade “Nilla” wafers. Every table looks out over the water. Before or after your dinner, stroll the patio or enjoy a cocktail by the modern fire pit. Schooner’s is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Fish Hopper Monterey
The Fish Hopper


The Fish Hopper
, open for lunch or dinner, is perched on the far end of Steinbeck Plaza, where a monument to the historical figures that made Cannery Row famous claims center stage. You can stand outside in line to just grab a cup of their rich and creamy clam chowder to go, or enjoy a glass of white peach sangria in the bar before going out to the deck to enjoy a meal. Given where you are dining, right above the waters that supplied fish to the entire world at one time, you’ll probably want to try some seafood, but there are plenty of meat and vegetarian options too.

For lunch, I had a poached pear salad with seared scallops, a perfect light dish with just enough protein to keep me fueled for more walking around this colorful town. Paired with another local wine, a Blackstone Sauvignon Blanc, it was perfect. The kids’ menu includes some nice choices like grilled chicken and fish & chips along with the usual suspects of burgers and fries.

Where to eat with kids in Monterey: Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.
Bubba Gump Shrimp Company

Great for families with kids who don’t like to be quiet or necessarily sit still at the table, the well-known Bubba Gump Shrimp Company is full of things to see and touch, all in homage to the award-winning movie “Forrest Gump.” Naturally, one orders the shrimp. To keep it real I had Mama Blue’s Southern Charmed Fried Shrimp with French fries (and stole my dining companion’s remoulade dip), and I paired it with a signature cocktail, Tennessee tea (iced tea with Jack Daniels served in a pedestal Mason jar glass). Mama’s Bread Pudding was the favorite dessert, and the kids’ menu has popcorn shrimp on it. The servers make it fun by grilling you with Forrest Gump-related trivia. Our table was tough to stump.

Taking one for the team

Taking one for the team

This isn’t just another tourist trap – it was the very first location of this restaurant, so it’s worth checking out the water’s edge view, the gift shop, and the kitschy photo op – put yourself in Gump’s shoes.

Where to eat in Monterey: Cannery Row Brewing Company
Cannery Row Brewing Company

My favorite of the restaurants we tried was Cannery Row Brewing Company, which is one block up the hill from the main drag. Once a popular barbecue joint, CRBC has preserved its original smoking oven and still serves smoked barbecue wings – which are pretty spicy and delicious. The restaurant has an extensive beer list, although none are brewed on site, and a tasting flight includes a surprisingly ordinary choice of Sam Adams’ cider. Still, the Seadog Blueberry wheat ale and the Youngs & Co. Double Chocolate stout made it eclectic enough. But this is a post about family travel, so for the kids in the house, CRBC has an open, chill vibe that makes it great for dining with your children.

Outdoor seating includes a large round fire pit if your kids are old enough to be trusted not to throw themselves into the flames, and room to move and spread out. There is a children’s menu but it’s not on the website – it has a long list of choices including PB&J and chicken noodle soup. Overall, the food is satisfying and unique. In fact, the restaurant’s tasty giant pretzel has been featured on the Food Network show Diners, Drive-in’s, and Dives (although I wouldn’t characterize CRBC as any of the three). The cheddar bacon biscuits with chipotle-maple butter are a must-try, and the burgers are juicy and delicious, and customizable.

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For a splurge – come on, you’re on vacation – you must visit The Chart House at the southeast end of Cannery Row for a luxurious dinner. This location of the small chain of fine dining restaurants is true to its waterside nature here in Monterey Bay – a seat at the best table in the house feels like you are suspended over the ocean itself, and affords a prime view of the stunning sunsets here. The service is impeccable and the food lives up to the Chart House tradition. A trio of flavored hummus comes with plaintain chips and pita bread.

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One dining companion declared the coconut shrimp the best she’d had in the area – and she had sampled it almost everywhere we ate. The salad bar was a popular option for this party. You can choose it as your entree or as an addition to a main meal. If you’ve had enough seafood during your seaside stay, the Chart House filet mignon will be a nice counterpoint. Served with mashed potatoes or steamed fresh vegetables, it’s decadent and delicious. Desserts include the signature lava cake, which at our meal came out overcooked (but still chocolatey).

Where to shop on Cannery Row in MontereyWhere to TREAT

Shopping and sightseeing up and down Cannery Row can take a long time because there is so much to see and do and buy. The olive oils and balsamic vinegars at Monterey’s Tasty Olive Bar are sourced from all over the world and you can taste them before you purchase. Gifts and body care items at La Dolce Vita in Steinbeck Plaza make great souvenirs for the adults in your life. And candy stores abound – inside the Monterey Canning Company building, The Candy Factory makes their chocolate covered bacon right there in-house! (Only one sample of fudge per person, be warned.)

ghirardelli chocolate ice cream shop monterey

To take a load off, enjoy the endlessly beautiful water view, and indulge in an old-timey treat, visit the Ghirardelli Chocolate & Ice Cream Shop. Resistance is futile, really, since the aroma of baking waffle cones pulls you in as you pass by the entrance. The ice cream itself is delicious but the combination sundaes, like the sea salt and caramel sundae topped with a truly remarkable fresh whipped cream, will make you battle for the last bite, if you’re sharing at all.


Have you been to Monterey or Cannery Row? DO you have a favorite I missed?

 


Disclosure: I enjoyed most of the above attractions and restaurants as a guest of the Cannery Row Company. All opinions (and full tummy) are my own.

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Go local, or go home

You love your city, your state and your little corner of this big, beautiful country with every ounce of your body and you want to shout it from the rooftops… or maybe you just want a cool city-centric tee for your tot. Either way, these t-shirts that feature different cities are hot right now, for kids of all ages (and even adults!). Grab one for the place you call home.

Where do you call home?

City Shirts for Kids

1. New York: Brooklyn Toddler T-Shirt, HighFidelityDisCo via Etsy, $20
2. Boston: Wicked Awesome Kids T-Shirt, SickFeet via Etsy, $20
3. California: Boys Surf Graphic Tee, Old Navy, $13
4. Portland: Heart Portland Kids T-Shirt, Little Bay Root via Etsy, $18
5. Chicago: I Heart Chicago Shirt, SamAndCoop via Etsy, $25
6. State Shirts: Kids Home T, The Home. T, $28
7. Los Angeles: Loyal to Los Angeles T, Smash Trasist via Etsy, $22

Find your own city

Don’t see your hometown? Head straight to Etsy where you’ll find the coolest, most original selection of city- and state-centric shirts for your kids. And the best part? When you order a shirt for your hometown, it’s likely that it comes from a local designer or seller!

How do you show love for your hometown?
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Last year I saw Andrea’s post on taking her family to Disneyland during their special Halloween season. I thought that looked like such a fun memory that I couldn’t help but think I’d love to take my kids there next Halloween. Her pictures showed the best of Disney but in Halloween style. Why wouldn’t I want to go right? Well this year I’m lucky enough to be invited to heir special Mickey’s Halloween Party at Disneyland which starts tomorrow night (9/27).

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mickey-parade
mickey-treats

Mickey’s Halloween Party invites adults and children to dress up in costume and trick-or-treat at Disneyland Park, as part of the annual Halloween Time celebration at the Disneyland Resort. Mickey’s Halloween Party is a separate-ticket event held for 13 special nights beginning Sept. 27, 2013, and including October 31, offering dance parties, some Disney characters in their Halloween attire and even the Disney Villains.

It gets better though because this time of year Disneyland adds Halloween themed yumminess for the whole family to enjoy. We can’t wait to taste everything and enjoy a few of the great adventures they have in store like:

  • Take a spooky stroll down Main Street, U.S.A., which is transformed into a Pumpkin Festival with hundreds of hand-carved pumpkins on display—and no two alike.
  • Meet some Disney villains as they are conjured up in a sideshow tent at the Halloween Carnival at Big Thunder Ranch in Frontierland.
  • Create Halloween crafts and enjoy some not-so-spooky activities for kids at Halloween Carnival at Big Thunder Ranch. Plus, watch pumpkin carvers and meet some of your favorite Disney Characters in their Halloween costumes.

If you live in the SoCal area stop by one of the 13 nights, and buy your tickets early before it’s sold out.

Disclaimer: I was given tickets to the Halloween party for me and my family. The above savvy sassy opinion is my own.

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San Francisco Grafitti Art

Have you ever dreamed of being dropped off in a city and told to just wonder around and eat, drink and shop for 48 hours?  Well I have. In fact, it’s a reoccurring dream for me.  So, when Cracker Barrel Cheese told me I was going to get to do just that in San Francisco, I pinched myself.

If you’ve been paying attention, I have been working with Cracker Barrel Cheese over the last few months creating some creative content focused around the culture of cheese.  We kicked things off by eating and drinking our way through Chicago, learning about the history of cheese and the passionate people who make Cracker Barrel Cheese.  Since then, I have been sharing my food and wine discoveries, party planning tips and how to host a wine and cheese party.

My next assignment was to visit San Francisco and literally eat, drink, shop and be on the look out for all things cheese. Here is a taste of what I experienced in exactly 48 hours in San Francisco.

Bay Bridge San Francisco

The Ferry Building

The Ferry Building is a must when visiting San Francisco, it is located along the Embarcadero at the foot of Market Street very close to the Bay bridge. It is filled with amazing culinary delights and unique shops. Go there hungry. Ciao Bella Gelato is a must for gelato or sorbet and Minette is famous for their salted caramels, among other delicious confectionery treats.  Not only is the Ferry building filled with great places to eat but it is a great place to find unique gifts, great books and even fresh produce from Farm Fresh to You.

Cowgirl Creamery Sign 2

Cow Girl Creamery

Cowgirl Creamery is the award winning makers of artisan cheese and is located inside the Ferry building, we stopped by for a cheese sampling. They even have a 30 minute Cowgirl Creamery Experience which includes the story of Cowgirl Creamery, their experiences in cheese-making, a tasting of three cheeses and a special item from Sidekick, their adjacent, cheese-centric eatery.  This is very much like being in cheese heaven.

Wine Merchant Wine Flight

Next, we headed over to The Wine Merchant and ordered a wine flight sample. The Wine Merchant is a retail store filled with wine from around the world that also has a wine bar that also serves a variety of small plates with Cowgirl Creamery cheeses, Acme Bakery breads and a selection of charcuterie and olives. They host regular special events where you can meet some of the local winemakers and they also offer educational classes to learn even more about wine and the art of entertaining.

SPQR Japnese Kobe Beef mushrooms and shaved black Australian truffle

SPQR in San Francisco

It was very close to dinner time and we searched on Google for the top restaurants in San Francisco. A restaurant called SPQR was highly recommended one review even recommended trying to get a seat at the Chef’s table.  Without high hopes of getting a reservation (since San Fran is a foodie haven) we were shocked to find out they had two spots just open up at the chef’s table at 7:30pm, we were in luck! They ask if we were celebrating anything special or the reason for the visit and I told them I was a a writer in town for the weekend and had heard wonderful things.

SPQR Saffron Rotini
SPQR Carmel Penacotta

From the moment we sat down we were greeted with a warm welcome and escorted to the chef’s table.  The chef’s table is a high top counter overlooking the kitchen where you get to see all the action. There were about five chefs all bustling around the small space but it appeared to look like everything was in total sync.  We noticed one dish being plated several times, it was the saffron rotini with veal bolognese. Since it looked to be like a crowd favorite, that’s what we ordered!

Our server did the wine pairing for us based on what we ordered and we started off the meal with a teaser of an appetizer, a spoon with Japanese kobe beef, mushrooms and black Australian truffle, compliments of the chef. It was wonderful and if that was any indication of the rest of our meal, I knew we’d be very happy. I started with the treviso di verona salad which included honeyed bacon, goat cheese and pecans.  My saffron rotini was as good as it looked and with my first bite I instantly knew why it was so popular.  The deserts were out of this world.  We ordered almost all of them.  Do yourself a favor and order both the blond panna cotta and the cinnamon bombolini.  You will not be disappointed.

Call to make your chef’s table reservation now!

Clos du Bois Wine Barrels Savvy Sassy Moms

Wine tasting at Clou du Bois, Sonoma CA

We had a car pick us up and drive us to Sonoma, which is about an hour and half drive outside of San Francisco. It was the perfect day for a drive out to wine country. I highly recommend taking the time to get outside of the city to visit one of the local wineries. We had a private wine tasting at Clos du Bois and a very special lunch created by the chef.  Thanks to Cracker Barrel Cheese, this portion of the trip was set up ahead of time.

We arrived and our host was delighted to have us and from the moment she started talking I could hear the passion for wine in her voice.  She gave us a brief history of the Clos du Bois brand and the founder, Frank Woods who was devoted to bringing the french style of wine making to California.  Famous for their Chardonnay and Pinot Noir they are also very well known for their award winning sustainable agriculture, eco friendly practices and solar initiatives. The Clos du Bois winery includes 4 acres of solar panels that provide 85% of their energy.

The tasting room is open daily and anyone can schedule a wine tour and tasting, including private group tours, picnics or a chef’s lunch.

Next we headed over to Healdsburg…

HealdsburgShopping
Healdsburg, CA

Let me start off my saying…I want to live here. This quaint little town of Healdsburg is what you might just call – perfection.  The center of this town square has a park and the streets are lined with wine tasting rooms, restaurants, boutiques, bookstores, coffee shops and even a very retro candy store that will leaving you feeling very nostalgic.

The Shed Healdsburg, CA
The Healdsburg Shed is a gorgeous new lifestyle store that features a variety of culinary foods, books, kitchen and garden supplies as well as cooking classes.  You can also grab a bite to eat, have a coffee or enjoy a glass of wine.  Upstairs is an event space for educational classes or private events.

Cheese Plus
Cheese Paper

Cheese Plus

While walking along Polk Street, well known for it’s coffee shops and local restaurants and bars we stumbled upon Cheese Plus. This is a one stop shop for cheese, meats and accompanying foods like jams and treats. This is a great place to stop and pick up some things before heading out for a picnic in the park by the waterfront near Ghirardelli Square where you can take in a great view of the Golden Gate Bridge.  And who knew there was specific cheese paper?

Blue Bttle CoffeeBlue Bottle Coffee

Next up on our adventure, we hit up a famous coffee spot called Blue Bottle Coffee. Blue Bottle Coffee will only sell coffee that has been out of the roaster for 48 hours so that every cup is guaranteed to be delivered at it’s peak flavor. A part of this coffee shop looked a little more like a science lab than a coffee shop. All of this serious coffee making made a  flavorful and powerful cup of coffee.

This was an incredible 48 hours and as you can see, we really packed it in. I realize now that this trip was not really about San Francisco but more about passion and people living their passion.  Every piece of food, wine, coffee and cheese we indulged in was hand crafted and created by deeply passionate people. I wish more people could experience what I experienced in these 48 hours because witnessing so much passion is a bit infectious. I know for me, it has only fueled my desire to get busy living my passion even more.

SanFranciscoTrip2013

 

 

 

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I know I’m moving to Costa Rica… but if I wasn’t, I might have to seriously consider moving up to Valencia, CA. No really. Even though most people that live in Los Angeles think of Valencia as another planet, just like when I tell people I live in Pasadena. I might as well be in Nevada.  But there is much more to Los Angeles than the westside people. Valencia is only 30 minutes north of Los Angeles, it’s really not that far considering some people sit in traffic for that long on their daily commute.

I love living in Pasadena for it’s old world charm, the eclectic houses and rich history.  So, in real estate terms that means, small, old and cold.  Some families need or want a lot more space than what they can afford in places like Santa Monica or Pasadena.  You can get a lot more house for your money up in Valencia that’s for sure!  Which is why there has been a growing number of Los Angeles families moving up to the Santa Clarita and Valencia area.  With the growth and demand home builders like K B Homes are building some pretty incredible homes to meet the needs of these families looking to in some ways, upgrade their home or lifestyle.
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I was able to take a tour of two new model homes in the latest River Village neighborhood.  Both of these homes are nothing short of fabulous. You want a walk in pantry, formal living room, family room, entertaining room, guest room suite and lavish bathrooms and and outdoor living space?  You can have it. All of it.  If you’ve ever dreamed of building your a dream home, K B Homes will help you build it. The best part is that you don’t have to take exactly what they have already designed.  It’s not cookie cutter, your options are endless. You work closely with a team choose the floor plan, bedrooms, floors, counter tops, light fixtures, doors and windows.  They guide you through every single step and even take you to your home site multiple times throughout the building stages.

The home itself is of course top quality and even exceeds the eco-savvy efficiency standards and I am not here to sell you a home, so let’s talk about the style. I took so many pictures of the interior design in this home so I could take you on a virtual tour.  The design team  who stages these homes has one of the best jobs in the world.  Every room was picture perfect. Clearly, you would not theme your entire home in one color palette, but I LOVED it for these model homes and it just gives you some home style inspiration.

Decorating your home is one of the best parts of buying a house, it’s how you make it a home.  So to me it’s just as important as the energy efficient light bulbs.
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*The Charleston community is designed to reflect what KB Home’s customer surveys have told them home buyers are looking for – bigger homes with more bedrooms, state-of-the-art energy efficiency, higher-end options, and flexible floor plans that allow for personalization. This community of new homes is part of the gated RiverVillage and features recreation centers, parks, river trails, and a small neighborhood retail center as well. RiverVillage is designed with traditional small town character theming in its landscape and architecture.

Disclosure: I was invited to take a media tour of the homes and was compensated for my time.  All my savvy thoughts and sassy opinions are my own.

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By far and away one of our favorite, favorite, favorite spots to go for a little staycation is the Monterey Bay Aquarium. It is about an hour and a half drive from the Bay Area but always gets the “2 thumbs up” from our little man. Our general itinerary looks like this (yes, we go that frequently):

Intercontinental Monterey

9:00 Depart San Francisco

10:30 Arrive at the Intercontinental, check in and buy tickets for the Aquarium (they are 2 days for the price of 1).

11:00 Walk over to the Aquarium which is a block away

12:30 Meander over to El Torito for some great sea otter and dolphin sightings while dining

2:45 Head Back to the Aquarium to see various animal feedings at 3

4:00 Let the smell of Nestle Toll House guide us across the street for some warm cookies and milk

Monterey AquariumAbout the Monterey Bay Aquarium

It was founded in 1984 by four marine biologists and gift funding from David & Lucile Packard, and based in the former Hovden Sardine Cannery, The Aquarium’s goals are to educate people on the marine-world that makes up Monterey Bay and beyond through the use of state-of-the-art aquariums, displays, interactive exhibits, and presentations. There is a huge emphasis on everything being done tastefully, humanely and educating in a manner that everyone can understand. Some of the exhibits thatwe love are the sea otters, penguins, sea horses, jellyfish and the feeding of the kelp forest.

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Depending on the nature of our trip, we generally stop at the Aquarium for a couple more hours the next morning before heading back home. While, we generally center our trip around going to the Aquarium several times per trip; it is nice to make a pit stop with the whole family in Carmel or Pebble Beach.

Family Travel Tips:

1.  Buy Aquarium tickets at the Intercontinental: 2 days for the price of 1 or purchase them ahead of time at AAA or at the Intercontinental Hotel

2.  Check out the Gilroy Premium Outlets on your to or from the Bay Area…one of favorite outlet stops is Lululemon 🙂

3.  Snag a window seat at El Torito and one is sure to see sea otter cracking clams on their chests, whales and pelicans galore

4.  Check Travelzoo for great hotel deals on the Intercontinental or Portola Hotel and Spa

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Next up in this blog series is from Katie Dillon, and she is taking us to La Jolla, California.

La Jolla Shores Beach

I often forget that not everyone knows where La Jolla is, let alone how to pronounce it. La Jolla (La-HOY-ya) is a seaside community in San Diego, California that’s known for pretty beaches and an upscale-casual lifestyle. With everything our little slice of heaven offers, it’s difficult to leave. Here are my personal favorite things to do.

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Mimi & Red, located in Bird Rock, provides women with reasonably-priced, stylish finds from maxi dresses to fun, everyday accessories. The owners clearly have an eye for what’s in season, as it’s tempting to take entire displays up to the cash register for purchase.

Lululemon seems to power the entire La  Jolla mom community from luon pants to over-sized shirts that are both comfortable and flattering.

Tijon

Tijon is a new addition to the La Jolla shopping scene. Get this: You can design your own perfume in a real lab setting. Grab a white coat, pipettes and experiment away under the direction of experts. They’ll also keep your perfume recipe on file in case you need a refill. The store is full of neat jewelry and other gifts, too.

Sweet Treats

Come On In Cafe La Jolla Desserts

Come on In Cafe! is known for casual breakfasts outside, lunches to go and half-priced bottle of wine nights on both Mondays AND Tuesdays. However, the cake is to die for. Get banana, carrot, lemon blueberry or coconut and thank me later. An entire 8″ cake is just $30 and I’ve been known to buy, slice and freeze for single-serve portions later.

Froglanders has been the popular fro-yo spot for as long as I can remember. The parking lot is terrible, but there’s  something about the silky low or nonfat treat that makes 17 three-point turns worth it. Get the nonfat peanut butter flavor.

Kids Stores

Geppetto’s is where I buy birthday presents, mainly because with locations across the county, I know the gift can be returned if it doesn’t work out. Also, they dish out excellent advice. I often run in and tell the sales person that I need a gift for, say, a 2-year-old. They pick out a popular favorite, wrap it and I’m out the door within 10 minutes. Priceless.

Hillside Artisans is an adorable,  upscale boutique geared toward kids ages 0-8 with an emphasis on the younger end. As the name implies, they focus on great design and rich colors. Skip Hop and Tea Collection are a few of the brands they carry. This might be a good stop for the mom who doesn’t have a baby registry or the kid who has everything.

Date Night

Whisknladle’s excellent yet not overwhelming wine selection plus the artisan cheese and meat cutting board tend to win us over on date night. We sit in the cozy space, chat and nibble on charceuterie. Eventually, we’ll moved on to some sort of fabulous locally-sourced specialty entree and mind-blowing dessert, like the butterscotch budino.

Herringbone Whole Fish Ceviche

Herringbone is one of Brian Malarkey’s seafood-oriented restaurants. The indoor-outdoor ambiance and earthy-chic decor almost outshine the food. I mean that as a compliment. Try the whole fish ceviche–it’s worth every penny of the $25 price tag.

Hotels

La Valencia remains the belle of the ball, rich with history and luxurious amenities. It’s in the midst of a renovation, though most of the hotel is open. Situated on Prospect Street, you can walk to the best shopping and dining as well as the beach. The ocean views from the lobby and most rooms are hard to beat. Brunch at the Mediterranean Room is a must-do.

Grande Colonial offers a bit more value, while just a few blocks away from La Valencia. It’s La Jolla’s oldest hotel at 100 years old and quite family-friendly. It’s easy to walk to the Cove and you can see the famous seals lounging from some rooms. Room service comes from NINE-TEN, one of the best restaurants in the city. Order the half-baked chocolate cake and the lemon ricotta pancakes.

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La Jolla Shores Hotel rests right on the big, flat, white sand beach called–you guessed it–La Jolla Shores. It’s here where most of the surfing, kayaking and other water sports take place. Kids can spend ages on the beach and playground here and if you forget to pack anything, the boutiques on nearby Avenida de la Playa can hook you up. The hotel is newly renovated, but doesn’t have much of a pool. You won’t need it with the beach just steps away. The ocean breezes here are amazing.

The big question:  If I’m planning a trip to San Diego, should I visit La Jolla? The answer is that it depends on your budget, time on the ground and whether or not your family is of the power-tourist variety.  If the latter, maybe skip it. But if you’re looking for family-friendly lodging that skews slightly upscale, gourmet eats within walking distance, ocean views, and boutique shopping, definitely put La Jolla on your itinerary.

125headshotKatie Dillon writes La Jolla Mom, a lifestyle site dedicated to luxury travel, parenting, food and local happenings. When not traveling, she lives in La Jolla, CA with her husband, daughter and dog. She freelance writes for Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, Trekaroo, 10Best (a division of USA TODAY Travel) and Red Tricycle. Find Katie also on Google +, Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter.

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Last month when I attended the grand opening of Cars Land I was also able to explore California Adventure a bit more and take in the brand new Mad T Party, which was a party unlike any other!  I knew it was going to be amazing when I saw gigantic pink ostriches strutting down the streets of Hollywood Land and Twiddle Dee and Twiddle Dum as the bouncers!

From the moment you arrive at the Mad T Party you’ll feel like you’ve just been sent down the rabbit hole and into the whimsical world of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland.  This party was an explosion of color with a Dj dressed as the white rabbit and live from the main stage was Alice on vocals, the Caterpillar on keyboard and the Cheshire Cat on drums!

I was like a kid in a candy store, I was loving this!  Maybe it was my inner party girl or the fact that I LOVE theme parties in general, but they really knocked it out of the park on this one, in my opinion.  The party also had a second stage built as a house of cards with dancers and an incredible performance by a human slinky.   Yes, a human slinky and I got video of the whole thing!  You have got to see this…

The Drink Me Bar was open for festive cocktails and every drink came with a glow in the dark ice cube, which I knew I was going to have to drink at least two drinks to get one for each of my kiddos!  This was a media event and so their were special treats and they were incredible!  (Not sure if those are provided daily)  This party even comes with a full Mad Arcade!  You do need to pay to play, just FYI.


 

This is a MUST SEE  Mad T Party!

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*The Mad T Party happens inside California Adventure near Hollywood Land nightly from 7:00 – 9:00pm but check the Entertainment Schedule before you go!

Savvy Sassy Note:  Unfortunately my husband and the kids were not allowed into this press only event so I don’t have pictures of them enjoying the fun, which was a bummer because my kids would have LOVED this!

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Last weekend the Savvy Sassy family was invited to the opening weekend of Knott’s Soak City, in Orange County and well, we never turn down a waterpark!   We have been to a few other water parks including a fantastic indoor water park in Minnesota in the middle of the winter!  So, we grabbed our suits and lathered up our sunscreen to see what Soak City had to offer….

When we first arrived we headed right over in the Gremmie Lagoon first, aka the toddler section.  This area is for children under 54 inches tall.  The entire pool area is very shallow and safe for all the little ones to splash around, but still has many lifeguards on duty. The submarine in the middle has three little slides and the kids can even go in and out of the submarine, which also sprays water.  There are plenty of lounge chairs all around gremmie lagoon and we even grabbed a spot under one of the tents for some shade.

Parent Perk:  This area also has a large grassy area right next to it, so it is perfect for setting up a blanket and large sun umbrella for a nice comfy place to let the little ones nap if they need to.  You can even bring in your own fold up chairs if you want.

We hit up Sunset River next, and we got there while it was still practically empty.  I loved how wide this river was and how long it was, a perfect amount of time to sit back and relax.  Both of my kids are under 48 inches and the river is only 3 1/2 feet deep , meaning they could both touch the bottom but they had to wear a life jacket.  My daughter can completely swim so she was a little bummed. While my little guy still needs a little help so I felt much more safe with him wearing one for sure.

Since the lazy river wasn’t quite enough action for the kiddos, they wanted to check out Tidal Wave Bay, which is the large controlled wave pool.  This happened to be wear we spent most of our day.  My kids loved crashing into the waves and body surfing.  Once again, life jackets were required for my little monkeys – safety first!

Parent Perk:  The lifeguards were really on top of things and you could find one everywhere you looked.  They are all over the park and I noticed how serious they took their jobs an how alert they were.  I was impressed.

If you have older children and want a little bit more of a water park thrill, don’t worry they have plenty of  high, twisting and terrorizing slides as well.  The laguna storm water tower, malibu run, old man falls and the pacific sun all are for the thrill seekers.  The pacific sun was this crazy looking funnel and I had my eyes on it all day, but unfortunately never made it on.  Maybe next time.

Parent Perk:  if you are looking for a little bit more of a VIP experience there are cabana rentals that also include a waitress/server.  There are also lockers to rent for any of your valueables and a gift shop with plenty of swim essentials in case you forgot your sunscreen.

Click through the slideshow and check out all the fun we had!

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For all you Southern California families – Act fast and buy a season pass for just $59.99


 

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