There’s often someone in the family (hint: it’s usually not the kids) who’d prefer not to camp. But there’s no doubt that camping is a great experience for children. So what do you do if… More
Sequoia National Park
There are so many other amazing distractions in California, it’s easy to forget that world’s largest tree, the General Sherman, lives only about 4 hours away from Los Angeles in Sequoia National Park. That’s right – the world’s largest tree! (Sequoia is also home to Mt. Whitney, the highest mountain in the US, but it will be a few years before we can conquer that!) So add another entry to your bucket list because Sequoia is a must-see for residents of the Los Angeles area.
Sequoia is not a day trip destination, and two nights or more is ideal. Plans must be made well in advance to camp inside the park or stay in one of the lodges, but there is plenty of camping and lodging in Three Rivers, a town only about 10 minutes from the park entrance.
For families with younger kids, once a good place to start your tour is at the Giant Forest Museum. There is parking directly across from the museum. From there you can take a number of short hikes, including the 1.3-mile Big Trees trail, a paved path that leads you through a forest of giant Sequoias.
Look! A bear rock!!
After the Big Trees hike, take the shuttle to the General Sherman tree viewing area. Marvel at it’s size, the largest tree (by volume) in the world. We’re talking about 100 feet wide, 275 feet tall, and it’s well over 2,000 years old. It’s a humbling experience. Once you’ve taken that in, hop back on the shuttle and go to Lodgepole where you can grab a bite in the cafe.
With the family refueled, consider taking the 4.2-mile roundtrip hike to Tokopah Falls. It’s a fairly easy and picturesque hike alongside a rushing river for most of the way. At the end, the trail gets narrow and rocky, but it’s worth it for the view at the end. If you can’t make it to the end, you can still view the falls from other points on the trail.
The park gets crowded on holidays and weekends during the summer, so arrive before 10 am. if you want to get a parking space. Avoid moving your car by taking the shuttle to different areas of the park. Make sure to take note of the last shuttle times, around 5 or 5:30 pm, otherwise you will have to hike back to your car.
Best time to go: May – October
Good for: Kids 5+
Watch out for: bears, icy ground certain times of the year, uneven/ rocky ground
Get there: Insterstate 5 north to CA 65 north
Wear: hiking boots, sunscreen, hat, shorts or jeans
Bring: lots of water, snacks, first aid kit, camera
Nearby eats: Lodgepole Deli; The Peaks Restaurant at Wuksachi Lodge; River View Restaurant outside the park in Three Rivers
Monster Tour @ Descanso Gardens
October is almost here, and that means a whole month for little ones to get their fill of spooks, pumpkins and Halloween cheer. Raise your hand if you love Shakespeare, botanical gardens, wearing costumes and looking for monsters? If you said yes to at least half of that sentence (and your kids for the other half), the Monster Tour at beautiful Descanso Gardens is a perfect fall event for the entire family.
The Ensemble Shakespeare Theatre puts on a not-so-scary production that starts on the stage and takes a short tour through the woods in search of goofy spooks. Along the way, kids learn a bit about botany and conservation.
Admission to the show is free with admission to the gardens, and kids and grownups are encouraged to come in costume. After the show, you can tour the gardens, ride the train and have lunch at the garden cafe.
Best time to go: Late October; Oct. 21 & 22; 28 & 29
Time: 11 am
Good for: Kids 3+
Wear: Halloween costume; good walking shoes
Bring: Water, snacks, layers
Nearby eats: Cafe Descanso
Address: 1418 Descanso Dr, La Cañada Flintridge, CA 91011
Seize September: Go Apple Picking!
Growing up in Georgia, when I wanted to pick apples on a fall day, I simply walked down the street to my aunt’s backyard. In SoCal, while backyards tend to be filled with oranges, lemons, guavas and avocados ripening almost year-round, apples right off the tree are harder to come by. So, if the change of seasons has you yearning to pluck some fresh fruit off the branches, consider heading up to Oak Glen for blue skies, fresh air, and some down-home family apple-picking fun.
While Oak Glen is home to many ranches and fruit farms, Riley’s is often the first to come to mind. There are, in fact, three Riley’s locations in Oak Glen. Riley’s Farm at 12261 Oak Glen Road is open Monday through Saturday and offers living history exhibits that give children a look at what Colonial American life was like. Kids can participate in archery, candle making and cider pressing, and if you want to stay overnight there is Colonial-style glamping available on the farm.
You can also pick your own apples at Rileys, but keep in mind that they sometimes get “picked-out” by early afternoon. If that’s the case, there are plenty of other farms down the road where you can fill your baskets, including Los Rios.
When it’s time to eat, Apple Annie’s Restaurant and Bakery serves home-cooked meals and a famous 5 lb. mile-high homemade apple pie. It’s located within a shopping village that includes fun activities for kids such as a train ride, bouncy slide and petting zoo. There are also several parks where you can picnic or just relax and take in some clean mountain air before heading back to the city.
Make sure to stop by Mom’s country store on your way out for fresh cider if you didn’t press your own!
Best time to go: Labor Day – Thanksgiving (visit website or call for types of apples ready)
Good for: All ages!
Watch out for: Traffic, pedestrians on Oak Glen road
Get there: Interstate 10 East to Oak Glen road
Wear: Pants, layers, boots
Bring: Water, snacks, bags to carry apples, picnic blanket
Nearby eats: Apple Annie’s; Hawk’s Head Tavern
Joshua Tree Rocks!
Need to get away? Is it Spring or Fall? Is it the weekend of Coachella? If you answered Yes, Yes, No, then consider a daytrip to Joshua Tree National Monument. Known for its namesake trees and mounds of boulders, this park boasts a landscape unlike anywhere else in the world. And, it’s so vast, you won’t encounter any crowds.
Under a bright blue sky, the visuals are stunning. In the spring, desert bloom can be found everywhere, sprouting from the Joshua Trees themselves or popping up from cracks. Rocks upon rocks upon rocks will incite questions from kids – how did these get here? So be prepared with an answer.
Well-maintained trails that start from the parking lots are flat and require little to no rock climbing. The popular Barker Dam trail is short and leads you to a picturesque water source (if it rained during the winter). But there’s no doubt you’ll be tempted to go off the path for some bouldering that ranges from beginner level to advanced.
With so many low boulder formations to climb on, this is a natural playground for ages 5 and older. Easy climbs will teach them a different kind of problem solving. When hiking with children, it’s best to stay close to the parking are and have them wear a bike or skate helmet for safety.
The environment can be harsh – extreme cold, extreme heat, prickly cactuses. Check the weather before you go and be prepared with layers of clothing, hats, sunglasses and sunscreen. Dress in jeans, a long-sleeved light shirt, a hat, hiking shoes or shoes with a good tread, a bandana to keep the sun off of their necks.
Eat before or after your day at the park at Crossroads Cafe, a local fave with an extensive menu.
Hey look, a hidden Mickey…
Best time to go: Spring or Fall
Good for: Kids 5+
Watch out for: Cactus spines, agave spikes, rattlesnakes, coyotes
Get there: Interstate 10 to Highway 62
Wear: hiking boots, sunscreen, hat, jeans
Bring: lots of water, snacks, first aid kit
Nearby eats: Crossroads Cafe
74485 National Park Drive
Twentynine Palms, CA 92277-3597
The distance from LA to Ojai used to be described as “one CD away.” These days, I’m not sure what that would be in iTunes language, but usually you can bet on an hour and fifteen minutes to get to there. The town of Ojai is enchanting, with mission-style buildings draped with bougainvillea and the scent of sage floating in the air.
Even better, there’s a shaded bike trail that you can take to explore the entire downtown area. The Ojai Valley bike trail runs 9 miles from Ventura to the heart of Ojai, but for families with young children, a ride through downtown Ojai is an experience in itself. You can access the trail in a number of places, but the easiest access is probably from the park. The trail runs behind Libbey Park and parallel to Ojai Avenue, the main thoroughfare.
And speaking of Libbey Park… the recently renovated playground would easily earn 5 stars from most kids.
You’ll likely be hungry after a bike ride and the playground. Head to Ojai Avenue and start with a honey tasting at the Heavenly Honey Company to tide you over while you choose from one of the many restaurants in the area.
Best time to go: Winter, Spring, Fall
Good for: Kids 5+
Watch out for: streets that cross the bike path
Get there: 101 Freeway to Venture to HWY 126 W to Ojai
Wear: helmet, sunscreen, layers
Bring: bikes, helmets, water, picnic, snacks, first aid kit, camera
Bike Rental/ Repair: The Mob Shop 110 W Ojai Ave, Ojai, CA 93023
Just down the road from Joshua Tree, in Yucca Valley, there’s a peculiar attraction known as Pioneertown. Is this a historic Old West town? Well, not exactly. But by Hollywood standards it’s the real deal – it was built in the 1940s to be an Old West movie set. Nonetheless, kids will love that you can go inside the stores and even pretend to be in jail; sit on a wagon, or simply run around and kick up some dust. It’s usually not crowded, perhaps because anyone visiting Pioneertown is at Pappy + Harriet’s, a popular restaurant and live music venue featuring all-ages shows. You MUST make a reservation well in advance to get into this restaurant on weekends and holidays because it seems everyone wants to eat here, both locals and tourists. This could have something to do with the fact that there’s not much around these parts in the way of food. If you don’t have a reservation and can’t survive a 3-hour wait, an excellent alternative is Crossroads, located near the Joshua Tree park entrance.
Pioneertown is located at 5040 Curtis Road, Pioneertown, CA, 92268