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 camping, 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 a little over two hours from Los Angeles, it’s a perfect escape when you need some new scenery and fresher air. Solvang, a 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. In all, there are nine safari tents to choose from, some with bunk beds. 

The safari tent village has its own restroom and shower facilities, communal fire pits and assigned parking nearby. With all of this, we were officially not camping.

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 picnic basket to the sports field and snacked as we watched the kids play soccer and wiffle ball on the large grassy sports field.  

The Flying Flags area is thoughtfully designed, with a vintage California feel and plenty of tables for having an outdoor meal. As the sun set 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 to 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 fire pit outside of our tent.  And when it came 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.

Santa Ynez

Santa Ynez

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

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

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.

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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.


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


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


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Paradise Falls @ Wildwood Park

Yes, that’s water. Real water. And not just water, but a waterFALL?!  Add this: it’s not far from Los Angeles. One of a handful of waterfall hikes in Los Angeles, Paradise Falls hike in Wildwood Park is an easy-to-moderate 20-minute hike suitable for kids. Some adventurous parents of young kids might even be able to do the hike with strollers, but there are some fairly steep sets of steps.  In all, there are 14 hiking trails in Wildwood Park.

An easy flowing stream tumbles gently over boulder after boulder before it reaches a picturesque 40-foot drop known as Paradise Falls.  The falls can be reached from several directions, but for little legs the Teepee Trail might be the easiest and quickest. if you’ve got time, there are plenty of areas to explore in Wildwood Park, including a natural cave called Indian Cave.  The scenery is spectacular with mountains rising up on all sides, and the trails are lined with native coastal live oaks and the scent of three types of sage.

Wildwood Park is about 30 miles from Los Angles off the 101 Freeway in the city of Thousand Oaks. There are several picnic tables along the trails and water fountains. And another perk, there’s a great playground only minutes away from the park. Because nature is awesome, but to kids there’s nothing better than a playground.

The details:

Best time to go: Fall, Spring, Winter

Hours: 7am – sunset

Good for: Kids 4+

Watch out for: wildlife; mountain bikers.

Get there: 101 Freeway from central LA or the Valley; CA 23 from Santa Clarita and Simi Valley

Wear: hiking boots, sunscreen, hat

Bring: water, picnic, snacks, hiking stick, sling or carrier for younger children, first aid kit

928 W. Avenida de los Arboles
Thousand Oaks, CA  91360