Glamping: A Perfect Happy Medium

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 one parent says no to camping? There’s always RV, but if you’re not ready for that quite yet, how about glamping

On a recent trip to Flying Flags campground in Buellton, California, I realized there are a variety options for getting the camping experience without actually going camping. From primitive camping to very luxurious guest houses, glamping falls somewhere in the middle and is truly a unique experience.

Let’s first talk about Buellton. Just north of Santa Barbara and about 2 hours from Los Angeles, it’s a perfect escape when you need some new scenery and fresher air. Solvang, the quaint Danish village is only a few miles down the road from Buellton, and a fun place to stop for lunch before you settle in to your camping trip. 

At Flying Flags campground there are RV sites, primitive campsites, cottages and safari tents for glamping. The prices for the safari tents are much higher than primitive camping, but when my son excitedly unzipped the safari tent exposing a room that looked like it was straight out of a Ralph Lauren or Restoration Hardware catalogue, I knew it was going to be worth it.

Our glamping tent included two queen-sized wrought iron beds with very comfortable pillows, a TV, wi-fi, microwave, cooking supplies, heat and air, a front porch with chairs for relaxing, and a back porch with a large dining table and gas grill/ food prep area. 

There are nine safari tents to choose from, some with bunk beds. 

The safari tents share a grassy area with fire pits and shared bathrooms each with a toilet, sink and shower. Assigned parking next to the safari tent area made unloading and loading a breeze. With all of this, we were officially not camping.

From the safari tent area, it’s only a short walk to either of the two heated pools, the playground or the sports field. The day we arrived, we took a basket of h’orderves for picnicking next to the sports field and watched as the kids played soccer and whiffle balls on the large grassy sports field.  

The common area is thoughtfully designed, with a vintage California feel, with plenty of tables for having an outdoor meal. As the sun set and the and the warm air turned cool, crisp and scented by lavender and sage, campers began firing up their grills. Little by little kids left the sports field for dinner, and when it was nearly dark, we headed back to the tent and cooked dinner on our grill. The rustic outdoor tables are large enough for two families eat together. And with cutlery and dinnerware provided, you can skip the paper and plastic. Washing up is easy in the outdoor sink next to the grill.

After dinner, we pretended we were “real” camping by roasting marshmallows over the firepit outside of our tent.  And when it became time for bed, the one biggest difference between this and camping was: a warm shower!

This was only day 1, and the following days consisted of swimming, relaxing, swimming, playing on the playground and sports fields, swimming and more swimming. The swimming pool next to the check-in and general store is better for older kids who might want to take a break in the game room or hit up the ice cream parlor.

We took a short trip to Santa Ynez and walked around the quaint town known for its wineries, restaurants and boutiques.

Even closer to flying flags are several restaurants in the area if cooking on the gas grill is still more work that you want to do. A local favorite Pea Soup Anderson is very close to the restaurant, and the Firestone Brewery will take only a few minutes by car to get to.

Now that we’ve been glamping, can we ever go camping again? Of course we could… but do we have to?

The details:

Best time to go: Year Round

Good for: All ages!

Watch out for: Cars driving around the campground; mosquitoes in the summer; raccoons if trash left out

Get there: Highway 101 North to CA 246 toward Lompoc/ Solvang; Right on Avenue of the Flags

Wear: Layers, insect repellent, sunscreen, swimsuit, sunglasses, hats, flip flops, athletic shoes

Bring: Water, groceries, lighter, tablecloth, picnic basket, balls and sports equipment

Nearby eats: Campfire Cafe (on-site), Pea Soup Anderson, Firestone Brewery, Taco Roco

Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Hollywood

by Tom Brennan

Believe it or not, my son and I saw a two-headed calf and some shrunken heads on Hollywood Boulevard!  While odd things aren’t that unusual to see in Hollywood, you can find them all under one roof at Ripley’s ‘Believe It, Or Not!’ museum.

The Ripley’s ‘Believe It or Not!’ odditorium is one of the main attractions along tourist-friendly Hollywood Boulevard.  You can’t miss it—it’s the building with the green t-rex head poking through the roof on the corner of Hollywood and Highland.  The museum hosts an array of unique artifacts and strange tales collected from around the world by journalist/writer/cartoonist Robert L. Ripley

Upon entering, my 8 year-old and I were greeted in the lobby by none other than President Donald J. Trump– or rather a wax figure of the former T.V. icon.  I am not exactly sure what Donald Trump’s connection is to Ripley’s other than “Believe it or not, he is our president,” but it does make for a fun photo-op, and it sets the tone for what you’ll find inside.

Once through the turnstile, my son and I were off on a self-guided adventure.  I was immediately blown away standing beside a life-sized replica of Robert Wadlow, the tallest man who ever lived (8’ 11”). The model is proportional to what the “Alton Giant” looked like in real life.  Holy cow, he’s big! 

 

Some of the other incredible items include a cyclops goat, that two-headed calf I mentioned earlier,  a toilet paper dress, and much more.  The Hollywood Ripley’s also features a host of pop-culture memorabilia including a room dedicated to Marilyn Monroe.  There are also a lot of interactive exhibits, games and puzzles, which we really enjoyed. Bring some quarters for the shooting gallery.  And look for a box with a mystery inside—open at your own risk!

There are over 300 artifacts on two floors to discover.  The facility has an elevator if you need help getting around, but one of the highlights was a set of stairs where the steps play notes when you like piano keys.

As with all good things in Los Angeles, be prepared to deal with parking challenges. There is no dedicated parking lot at the museum so you have to utilize one of the lots nearby, which are a few blocks away, and might make for a longish walk for a little one.  We parked across the street from the museum at the Hollywood and Highland complex, which sports a few popular stores and eateries as well as access to theaters, including the Mann’s Chinese.  If you park beneath the Hollywood and Highland complex, however, be sure to get your ticket validated at one of the stores on site or the movie theater, otherwise you’ll pay a hefty fee to bail your car out—Ripley’s does not validate. An even better idea is to ride the Metro red line, which has a stop directly under Hollywood and Highland, and Ripley’s is just across the street!

The museum is open daily from 10am to Midnight.  You can purchase tickets on-line, but walk-ins are more than welcome.

Believe me when I tell you that the Ripley’s ‘Believe It or Not’ odditorium is a great LITTLE ADVENTURE in Los Angeles that you and your child will keep talking about long after your visit.

The details:

Hours:Open 364 days a year (not open the night of the Academy Awards ceremony); 10am – Midnight.

Admission Price:Adult (12+) $25; Children (4+) $15

Good for: 7+.  Some of the exhibits might be a little intense for real little ones.

Watch out for:Traffic.  The corner of Hollywood and Highland is a very busy intersection.

Nearby attractions:Mann’s Chinese Theater, Hollywood Walk of Fame, El Capitan Theater, Hollywood Wax Museum, Roosevelt Hotel, Guinness World Records Museum, Metro red line station.

Nearby eats:Hard Rock Café, Baja Fresh, Dave & Buster’s, Mel’s Drive-In Hollywood

https://www.ripleys.com/hollywood/

CicLAvia- Check this off your Biking Bucket List!

IMG_5375.jpg

Imagine – LA’s major thoroughfares wide open and car-free. Bikers glide through greenlit intersections while parents stroll their babies along the streets with little worry; toddlers pedal their trikes furiously on the pavement instead of the sidewalks. It may seem like only a dream, but this dream comes true several times per year in Los Angeles.

We recently experienced the last CicLAvia of 2017, a trip down iconic Wilshire Boulevard. This 8-mile route extends from between Western in Koreatown and Fourth Street downtown, with MacArthur Park marking the mid-way point.  With 6- and 7-year-olds, we easily made it from Western to MacArthur Park where we stopped for a snack and took advantage of the play structures.

IMG_0572.JPG

All of the cross streets are blocked off so no need for bikers to stop at any lights or stop signs. However, there are a few main intersections that open intermittently for cars to pass. At these lights, police officers are there to halt bike traffic and make sure cars are stopped before opening up the bike route again.

Traffic flows in both directions, and bikers of all levels will find the routes pleasing to be on. There is no race involved. And pedestrians are welcome, too!

Even though CicLAvia takes place on Sunday, many  stores and cafes along the route that would normally be closed open up for business. Additionally, food trucks hang out along the route, particularly at the mid-way point.

Metro sponsors the event and offers pop-up bike rental tents at each end of the route, in case you need to rent a bike.IMG_5396.jpgIf you bring your own bikes, consider taking a Metro train to the stop nearest on of the ends of the route. It’s important to plan the parking/ getting there part of your trip well, particularly if you have kids in tow, because with many streets blocked off, parking can be difficult. If you do drive to the route and plan to go the entire distance, consider taking two cars, parking one at each end of the route. Or there’s the option of driving to the route and taking the metro back to your car.

With younger kids, it probably won’t be  about going the distance but instead about experiencing the rare beauty of LA with no traffic, no fumes and no honks!

The details:

 

Time: 9am – 3pm, several Sundays throughout the year

Good for: Kids 4+

Watch out for: Traffic on the side streets (on your way to or from the main bike route); Streets reopen promptly at 4 pm

Get there: Varies, depending on location

Bring: Bike locks, helmet, tire pump, bike tools, water, snacks, cash/card, Metro card

 

For info and upcoming events, visit: 

http://www.ciclavia.org

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 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.

 

 

IMG_3806.JPG

The details:

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

https://www.descansogardens.org/event/monster-tour/

 

Seize September: Go Apple Picking!

IMG_5098[1]

Growing up in Georgia, when I wanted to pick apples on a fall day, I simply walked down the street to my aunt’s back yard. 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-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. IMG_3710.jpg

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.

IMG_3712

Make sure to stop by Mom’s country store on your way out for fresh cider if you didn’t press your own.

The details:

Best time to go: Labor Day – Thanksgiving (visit website or call for types of apples ready)

Good for: Kids 1+

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

http://www.oakglen.net

 

 

 

 

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!!

IMG_4599.jpg

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.

img_9243-1.jpg

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.

IMG_9272 2.jpg

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.

 

The details:

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

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.

IMG_4262.jpg

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…IMG_4298.jpg

The details:

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