Our Santa Barbara Weekend: Perfect Getaway for Families

Though there are many California beach towns, each one has its own attitude and vibe. At this point, our family has explored many of them from cliffs of NorCal to the laidback shores near the Mexican border.
But there’s something about Santa Barbara, located in right in the Central Coast, that is on a level all its own. With the mountains, the gardens, the ocean and a beautifully serene city, Santa Barbara is quiet class. But don’t mistake its peacefulness for boring–there’s SO much to do.

In the past, we visited Santa Barbara as newlyweds, wedding go-ers, wine drinkers and babymooners. This time we were visiting in a really unique moment in our lives and in the world: as parents, as second time babymooners and as the pandemic travel freeze was lifting.

Santa Barbara felt like the clear choice for us looking for a place checked these boxes:

  • A fun trip for our almost three year old
  • An easy trip for a 8 month pregnant mama
  • A safe trip to celebrate the return of “normal” life post pandemic crisis

Just 2 hours North on the Pacific Coast Highway, the scenic drive definitely added to the appeal and weather in April was just perfect for a spring weekend getaway.

As always, I feel where we stay is the most important detail. In the past, we’ve stayed at Santa Barbara properties that ranged from boutique to standard to super luxury. This time our needs were focused around our little girl. We needed something that was comfortable, convenient and it HAD to have a big pool (as mandated by her). Luckily, it wasn’t hard to find the idyll spot.

 

Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort
If you’ve been to Santa Barbara, you’ve driven passed the Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort. It’s located right across the street from the main East Beach area, along a grassy, palm tree studded path. This prime location put us in walking distance to restaurants, to parks, to the beach and a few minutes from the Zoo, a must on our itinerary.

Comfy beds at the Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort

Traveling with a toddler means we will be in the room A LOT. Naps, early bed times and toddler meals all require that we are in the room frequently so having a well equipped, good sized room is very important to us parents. As it turns out, the Hilton’s rooms were perfectly designed for us. Clean and concise, the decor was minimal and modern without those extra flourishes that can sometimes make a room feel dated. The focal point was the space, which I felt was quite large for a standard hotel room. A couch area, rugs like those turkish rugs, and desk, as well as balcony, were well spaced out and away from the king bed.


We brought a Pack n’ Play for Aurora and during naps, made a cozy area for her. The room’s blackout curtains were very effective (and so appreciated) which made her her naps great.
The bathroom was again simple, but has some modern touches giving it a spa feel.
The balcony faced the lush interior of the resort and we could see the ocean in the distance.
Since we are still in the time of COVID, I did appreciate the labels on the door stating that the room had been sanitized.

The main event for us was the pool. We had warm and sunny weather, so us (and everyone else at the resort) wanted to dive into their central oval pool. Due to restricted capacity during the pandemic, we couldn’t just waltz in. We had to put our name on a list and wait to be called for our turn as capacity lessened. Initially we were told it was going to be 3 hours, but luckily we were called after only an hour and managed to entertain our toddler until then. The resort even went the extra mile to offer us free access to beach chairs for use at the beach across the street while we waited.

Hilton Pool

The pool was worth the wait. It was very wide, with easy access via steps on one end. Our daughter was delighted to be floating in this large pool and all three of us were in the water the whole time. The nearby hot tub was a lovely retreat when we needed to warm up as I’m a wimp and felt it was a little cold, but it was actually very nice having a limited capacity as it was a very relaxing experience.
Drinks are served from the pool bar and though they looked good, this pregnant mama and busy dad didn’t have time to grab one. Next time!

If you aren’t in the main building, the rooms are located in free standing buildings throughout the grounds. Landscaping and giant chess and checker boards, as well as several seating areas made it feel very comfortable yet secluded.

We only had one breakfast here and it was decent but we felt a bit overpriced for the quality. It felt understaffed which led to some delays, but I’d have to blame that on the pandemic. However, with so many outstanding food options in Santa Barbara, there is tough competition.

 

DINING

D’Angelo Bakery
Make sure you stop here, even if it’s just for a pastry and coffee. All their treats, including bread, are made on the premises and just so, so good.I am very glad we had a full sit down breakfast because every single dish was great. It was clear that the locals love this spot as there was a line for the pastries when we left. I highly recommend their cappuccino as well–reminded me of Italy.

 

Convivo

Everything about this Italian restaurant is authentic elegance. The exterior under their ivy terrace lets you dine on the handmade pastas, perfectly wood fired pizzas and freshly plucked salads while watching the Santa Barbara sunset. Convivo is a Mediterranean heaven.

Convivo in Santa Barbara

The service was excellent and menu is so mouthwatering, it’s going to be a challenge to choose what to order. Even their bread was outstanding. The quality here is evident in every delicious detail.

Convivo in Santa Barbara

 

La Paloma Café
A bright and buzzy feel, La Paloma is a trendy, welcoming hotspot in the historic Presidio. Serving a combination of California meets Spanish meets Mexican, their menu is artfully indulgent intertwining fresh vegetables with rich meats.

La Paloma

That salty, crispy “fried air” table snack that they bring you is addictive, but I do often think about the all natural Pork Shoulder carnitas main course. And do get those crispy brussels as a side, you’ve never had crispy brussels like these. Given the pandemic, we enjoyed the outdoor seating, enclosed by wildflowers, which was lovely at sunset and I can only imagine equally atmospheric at brunch or lunch.

 

Santa Barbara Botanical Garden

Calling it a garden feels like calling an Alp, a hill. This Botanic Garden is so expansive, you can easily get lost in the Redwoods, meander through meadows and find yourself alone at babbling streams. It’s basically like the prettiest of all the California landscapes in one setting.

Take a map as you wander through and pack a picnic if you are a planner, because you’ll want to spend time in this tranquil, fresh nature. I wasn’t sure it’d be fun for a toddler, but it surely was. Ponds, rocks to climb, so many settings and even wooden house/play structures definitely made it extra fun for the littles.

 

Santa Barbara Zoo
Definitely the most hyped activity of the weekend, we had HIGH hopes for this zoo. Aurora is loves animals and has been to 3 zoos prior, so I was hoping that she’d enjoy the SB Zoo experience. It did not disappoint.

We arrived early, just before opening on a Saturday, so we entered with only a handful of other visitors. The penguins and toucans were excited to see us, the Fennec fox was dancing by the glass window and the majestic lion family were enjoying a birthday treat as they watched us watching them. It’s not a large zoo but it feels very full, with so many enclosures that you can stumble upon within a few steps. The elusive amur leopard came out to see us and we caught glimpses of the gorillas.

However, the highlight had to be the giraffe feeding. We had tickets and got their 10 minutes early so we were first in line for the 10am feeding. They didn’t rush us, allowing us 5 whole minutes to place lettuce within tongue reach of the friendly Audrey, a female giraffe that beelined over to our platform as soon as she saw us. Aurora was delighted, we were enthralled and the whole experience was truly worth the visit alone.

 

Santa Barbara Sailing
With such a expansive coast line, Santa Barbara’s personality is centralized around its ocean. We had to get out on the water somehow and since I was pregnant, we thought a sailing excursion was just our speed.

Santa Barbara Sailing has a beautiful catamaran and a knowledgeable captain that took our group out for a 3 hour sail. Offering up drinks, snacks and an excellent playlist, we took in the sunshine and glittering sea views. I was curious if an almost three year old would get bored on the boat, and she didn’t, enjoying spotting sea lions as we sailed along.

 

Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History
We raced from Aurora’s nap to make the final half hour of this museum because they had an outdoor exhibit we couldn’t miss: the Prehistoric Forest! We followed the walking path into their backyard forest to discover life-sized, animatronic dinosaurs bellowing, roaring and squawking as we approached.

This could have been cheesy. It wasn’t. The dinosaurs were so realistic in appearance and in movement, with no regular patterns or jolty movements that we expected. Aurora’s jaw was dropped, as were ours, as we walked past a T Rex, a Stegosaurus family and Rory’s favorite Parasaurolophus. The museum has a lot more to offer that we weren’t able to catch due to their 4pm closing, but the dinosaurs alone were certainly worth the stop at the SB Museum.

 

Alameda Park
We passed this park in the car and had to pull over. The huge wooden structure resembled a storybook castle in the middle of a park, with wooden bridges, towers and secret passageways. We stopped on a busy Saturday afternoon while a birthday party was going on and needless to say it was high energy and tons of fun for all aged kids.

Alameda Park

We managed to do all of the above in exactly 48 hours, even stopping for ice cream in Montecito on the way home. We had wanted to stroll the Downtown and check out the Santa Barbara Sea Center on Stearns Wharf, but the beauty of this destination is, we can always come back. And after this memorable family weekend, I have a feeling we will be back quite soon.

Top 5 Reasons to stay at Basin Harbor Resort

As a native Vermonter, it always gives me the greatest of pleasure getting to experience hotels in a place that I know so well. Of all the resorts in the state, I think Basin Harbor offers something unique and transporting, that you do not find anywhere else. It is not for everyone–if you don’t like complete quiet save for the birds, sipping coffee as you watch the sailboats, twilight golf rounds or croquet on the lawn, Basin Harbor might not be your speed. But if you crave a wholesome escape, this is the place to go.

 

**Author’s note: Our most recent stay was in Sept 2020, so there were COVID-19 safety precautions. However, as the resort is very spread out and open air, the stay was very similar to our stay previously pre-COVID. The only big differences had to do with dining options being more limited.

 

Here are my top five reasons why you should plan a trip here next year: 

 

1. You will travel back in time

The simple joys of life by the lake have transcended time–quite a lot of time since 1886. Basin Harbor has hosted generations of guests and the entire resort still embodies that simple charm of a bygone era.

Relax on the lawns in an Adirondack chair, just like over a century of guests have done before you or sip champagne in the main lodge in front of a roaring fire. Basin Harbor has a level of rustic, unfussy elegance that does not go out of style. With services like Sodding installation, such a place can be much more beautified.

Basin Harbor’s iconic adirondack chairs

 

2. You can finally slow down

Here you feel off the grid, in a glorious way, where your main concerns are when to swim in the lake, what book to read on your back porch or if you want to play golf or swim in the pool that day. Take your golf cart to  dinner at The Red Mill or at Ardelia’s and sit by the fire after for some s’mores. Let the kids run to beach or play on the playground–all is close by and so safe. There’s no need for big decisions or stress here. Just happy hours to enjoy connecting with your loved ones and yourself. It’s no wonder that families tend to return to Basin Harbor year after year. 

 

3. You can fully immerse in Vermont nature

Guided kayak adventures, hikes in the breathtaking forested hills or narrated daily history tours aboard the EScape, there are so many ways to fully connect with Vermont’s unspoiled nature. Very few places in the world allow you to wake up the waves of the lake lapping on shore and the bird songs and chipmunks rising with the sun. The entire resort is created to honor this nature and it’s up to you how much you want to dive in.


 

4. Stay in a lakeside cottage

As much as I enjoy being out in nature and disconnecting, I do crave a few comforts when it comes to my room. Choose one of the 74 cottages, each one a little different, to find the size, location and style to suit you. There are 45 guestrooms as well, typically with lower price points, but I do recommend the cottages if you are able as it’s a very special experience that you don’t find many other places. 

During each of my stays, I opted for 2 bedroom cottages. My first stay was on the South side and my latest, on the North side. Both had lovely sitting rooms and a little kitchenette area, along with spacious and well appointed bedrooms. 

Outside of size, location is probably the key factor in determining which cottage is for you. Cottages on the Northern side were a bit further away from main lodge but  did offer a lot of quiet and solitude (and with a golf cart, you can access everything easily). However, the southern side had the convenience factor as it was walking distance to breakfast, the pool and firepit. Consult their handy map to take a look at cottages and locations. 

 

5. Choose  your own local adventure

Though I can very easily see how you would never have to leave the expansive 700 acres property, there are quite a few experiences worth a short drive. Take a wagon ride to see all the animals at Shelburne Farms or grab an ice cream cone in the quaint Vergennes. Admire the waterfall as you lunch at American Flatbread in Middlebury or have an open air dinner at Starry Night Café, one of my favorite restaurants in Vermont. If you travel in Fall, you can take advantage of all the autumnal offerings like pumpkin picking, apple orchards and the most colorful foliage (see all my fall recs for this area in this post here).

Maple Creemees from the Basin Harbor general store!

 

Important Note: Basin Harbor is a seasonal resort, open from May to October. They are currently closed for the season but it is recommended to book ahead as there are many repeat families. Summer is high season but I’ve stayed in both early May and late September and found them both to be lovely. You have the resort more to yourself and you can enjoy the fresh spring air or the cozy fall vibes on either end of the season. You can book your stay here

Fall in Vermont: A Trip Guide

Though Vermont glitters under a white blanket in the winter and blooms shocking green in the spring and summer, the most famous season of all is definitely FALL. September and October bring in a fiery transformation that streaks across this state’s many trees. 

Fall in Vermont

But it’s not just pretty. The harvest season also means a lot of activity. Farms, orchards, wineries, breweries, hay rides and more are all underway. And yes, as I visited during the 2020 pandemic, there was less open than usual, but Vermont has always been about the outdoors, so many of my favorite activities are still happening in some capacity.

 

I was in need of a little fall country fun and was delighted to spend a week exploring the autumn bounty in the Northwestern area of Vermont. This region has glittering lake views, sweeping hillsides and picture perfect farms, scattered along it’s breathtaking roads. Adventuring with my 2 year old daughter, we had the most memorable week frolicking throughout the countryside and embracing everything FALL. 

 

When to go?

Last week in Sept – First 2 weeks in October

Peak fall in Vermont usually occurs at the end of September and early October. You might catch some golden leaves in mid September as well. Don’t wait too long in October though! By Halloween, there’s usually been some frost and the leaves lose their vibrancy or most have indeed, fallen. 

 

Where to Visit?

Vermont in the fall

I grew up in Woodstock, which is Eastern central Vermont. The fall in Woodstock is stunning and there is an adorable town to go along with it. But I think the most scenic countryside is along route 7 in Northwestern Vermont. Here you have quiet roads, farm stands and majestic mountains, all set on the backdrop of Lake Champlain, just a couple miles West. It has a full fall experience, all within 20 minutes. 

 

Where to Stay?

Basin Harbor 

Breakfast in our cottage at Basin Harbor

There’s no doubt that Basin Harbor is where to stay if you want to experience the best of Vermont. Quiet renovated cottages perched next to the dazzling Lake Champlain, a historic lodge that serves everything from waffles to sushi and an assortment of adirondack chairs thoughtfully placed with views. The peacefulness that Basin Harbor brings allows guests to breathe in the autumn air and fully immerse in Vermont’s natural splendor.

Basin Harbor’s iconic adirondack chairs

Don’t even bother with your car, use a golf cart to get around this massive resort, from the general store to the pool to the Red Mill restaurant. If you have had your fill of all that lake gazing and cozy fires, there’s actually a lot available for the adventure seekers too. 

Get around by golf cart at Basin Harbor

 

What to do?

Cruise the Lake at Basin Harbor

Boat cruise on Lake Champlain

Many leaf peepers take in the foliage by car or on foot, but I daresay that viewing it from a boat might be the most picturesque. Lake Champlain, Vermont’s largest and in my opinion, most gorgeous lake, is hugged by rolling hills, making it an autumn lovers dream. Basin Harbor offers daily cruising aboard it’s EScape, a 47’ modified lobster boat that can seat up to 48 people (modified capacity during COVID-19). The tour will include the centuries old history of the Basin Harbor and Lake Champlain, as well as highlight more scenic spots along the lake.

Daily narrated cruises on the EScape from Basin Harbor

 

Craving something with a little more speed? Rent a boat to do some tubing or waterskiing, or take out a motor boat with just your family if you prefer to have a more socially distant experience. The calm water and reflection of those leaves will definitely ensure that you have stunning photos!

The eagle’s nest

 

Apple Picking at Happy Valley Orchard

A quintessential fall experience, apple picking is one of those things that is just fun (and easy) for all ages. Great photos, lovely outdoor orchards and using a lot of tasty bites along the way. My toddler loved learning how to twist and pull off the apples on the low branches all by herself.

Apple picking at Happy Valley Orchard

We were told by a local about Happy Valley Orchard in Middlebury (about 35 minutes south of Basin Harbor) and it was perfect.  This cute family orchard has well maintained trees, which were simply full of apples. If you don’t feel like picking, the market has bags to carry out, including the beloved Honeycrisp, and other local specialties. It’d be a tragedy if you didn’t snag a bag of cider donuts to share (or not!). 

 

Pick a Pumpkin: Lester Farm Market

I daresay there’s a place in the country that has prettier pumpkins than Vermont. These beauties are for sale along the side of the road, at local farms and markets everywhere during this time of year. However, I have to give credit to Lester Farm Market.

Lester Farm Market is A+

Their thoughtful display is out of an foliage postcard. Wagons piled high, pumpkin “spiders,” and a pumpkin adorned house big enough to enter;  their market offers so much more than just picking out a pumpkin!  The photo opportunities alone are worth the price of these orange icons. 

 

Eat Well

Pizza and beer are a winning combo, any time of the year. The local favorite, Folino’s Pizza, is a laidback stop for some great slices, and next door, sample a refreshing beer from Fiddlehead Brewery. 

Lunch with a lake view from Mizuchi Sushi at Basin Harbor

If you want some more unique flavors for this area, Mizuchi Sushi is a new offering from Basin Harbor. These exciting rolls and other Japanese dishes from New York Times rated veteran chef Fumitaka Takeshita are absolutely delicious, on their own but I think they are greatly enhanced by enjoying them with a view of the lake. 

 

Hang out at The Historic Marble Works District, Middlebury

The collegiate Middlebury is a charming town, centered around a breathtaking waterfall. Though the town feels very historic, it is also very lively. A particularly fun and innovative spot is the Marble Works District.

Marble Works District, Middlebury, VT

Here you will find a park with picnic benches, art installations, gardens and a prime waterfall view. Bring a meal or some wine, or just stop by to enjoy the fall sunshine. Even better, there are cute shops to browse and the Vermont staple, American Flatbread, which serves outstanding pizza, salads and drinks either outside by a firepit, inside in non-pandemic times or to go!

 

Immerse in Nature on a Hike

Crunching on the crispy leaves as you walk along the Vermont trails is truly spectacular. Get in nature and leave your phones behind. Breathe in the rich air, hear the rustling of birds and let yourself be a part of the Vermont landscape.

A scenic “hike” (walk) with a toddler

 

Learn about local farming at Shelburne Farms

One of the most exquisite farms in all of the state, Shelburne Farms not only provides a beautiful way to experience farm life, including a wagon ride, but they also serve lunch, make their own cheeses (which you can purchase) and even have an inn. During the pandemic, much is closed, save for their hiking trails but if you plan to go at other times, don’t miss their friendly cows, baby chicks and excellent cheeses from their market!

Shelburne Farms wagon ride up to the barns

 

Some of my favorite moments of our week in this beautiful area of Vermont were spontaneous. We pulled over on the side of the road to take a photo of a cow near a fence or drove along old winding roads to be surprised by a stunning valley of red leaves or wandering the quaint town of Vergennes to find a delightful shop with toys and home goods (Malabar). There’s as much or as little to do as you want. And all the while, it was easy to be present in this gorgeously fleeting season, relishing every moment of its beauty while it lasts.

Two happy girls in Vermont’s Fall

Review of the Shade Hotel Redondo Beach

As you might have guessed, I LOVE far flung destinations. Some of my most cherished trips were taken halfway around the globe (looking at you South Africa, Japan, Australia and Greece!) But there’s something pretty amazing about the easy breezy local staycations that give “relaxing trip” a whole new spin. 

When a pandemic forces you to get your head out of the clouds and forgo planes, you discover so much beauty right out your doorstep!

With months stuck at home and limited adventure (and no break from mom duty!) my husband deemed it time for a “mom-cation.” (Maybe he was worried that this abrupt pause on my decades of constant travel as journalist was going to send me in a downward spin…) Luckily, I accepted this surprise invitation and started scouring my local area for a nice, safe place to unwind. It was not long before I came across the Shade Hotel Redondo Beach.

The Shade Hotel was imbued with a laidback luxury and given that it was on the marina AND had a rooftop pool. I was sold.

LOCATION

The Shade Hotel Redondo Beach is located right off of Kings Harbor Marina. That means,  breathtaking views of the harbor’s many yachts, sailboats and the like. There’s something about a marina that is just so glamorous!

I rode my bike to the hotel from my house–yes it was that close. But biking is a big thing at the Shade Hotel. They are located on the protected bike path, making it easy to get to the pier, the beach, restaurants and beyond. Naturally, they also loan out complimentary bikes for all guests. I happily used one of there’s just to try it out when I was heading out for dinner at the pier nearby.

 

PANDEMIC SAFETY

To fully understand the safety precautions, I called the front desk and they explained all that they are currently doing to keep guests safe from COVID-19. You can find all here but here are some of the main points that I appreciated are listed below: 

  • Full-time COVID-19 Manager
  • Masks required in all public areas
  • Limited number of guests allowed on the rooftop and pool
  • Temperature checks for the dining and entering the building
  • No housekeeping until check out
  • Breakfast is fully sealed 
  • Upgraded and extended cleaning of surfaces and in rooms
  • Hand sanitizer stations throughout
  • Amenity kit with mask &  sanitizer when checking in

Love this Amenity Kit at Check-In from Shade Hotel Redondo Beach

 

Now on to the DETAILS OF THE SHADE HOTEL REDONDO BEACH

 

Lobby 

Small but tasteful, the lobby is used for check in, breakfast and to access the elevators to upper levels and the rooftop. 

 

Rooms

I stayed in a ground floor King Suite and was quite impressed the moment I stepped inside. Firstly, it was MUCH larger than expected. It even comes with a nice looking bed which may be perfect for cozy companions like those throws on sale. The entry hall led me passed the well sized bathroom and into the bedroom and sitting area. The bathroom had an enclosed toilet opposite a glass shower  and soaking tub, with a large sink and counter in between.

I liked the surf inspired art behind the bed, which you could even purchase. The mini bar which had some thoughtful additions (artisanal soda? cool!)  and wasn’t jam packed to allow you to add your own beverages.

Of course, the Tempur-Pedic California King bed, which may include a sertapedic, was heavenly, especially for this tired mom! I certainly spread out and enjoyed one of the deepest, quietest, most UNINTERRUPTED sleeps of the past 2 years. 🙂

 

My favorite part of the room? The balcony facing the marina! I sat out here with my morning coffee, an evening glass of wine and loved the sea breezes wafting in my room.  There was a table with two chairs and a soaking tub. I didn’t test out the latter but I wished I’d enjoyed a soak with a view of the yachts. 

 

Rooftop Pool Aquadeck

Understated and stunning, the rooftop is the cherry on top of this luxury boutique hotel. A view of boats, ocean and mountains spans your eye line.  Well spaced lounge chairs and comfy seats made it a cinch to find a quiet corner for my “me day.” I went up in the late afternoon after check-in and settled in a spot, far away from any guests. Since the deck railings are glass, you can gaze at that view even while nestled in your lounge chair. 

The pool deck enforces a limited guest policy so rarely did I see more than a handful of people up there. After breakfast, I decided to take advantage of that morning sun and had the whole deck to myself. In my opinion, the prime spot is in the left corner, with views of Palos Verdes, the marina and the sparkling sea.

Food and beverage was available to-go from the Sea Level restaurant downstairs. 

 

Fitness

I happened to be staying on a Thursday so I was able to enjoy a special workout class on Friday morning. The local Shine Studio held a very high energy, open air class on the Aquadeck. What a treat to have such a fun class come right to the hotel. I was able to get a good sweat in and have fun before returning later to relax and read. 

 

Dining

As I was staying during a pandemic, room service was suspended. Breakfast was set out in the lobby with packaged items like yogurts, cereals and wrapped muffins. Coffee and tea were available as were some fruits. I’ll be honest, it wasn’t a very robust or health minded breakfast offering but considering the pandemic situation and need to have things wrapped, I understand that this probably isn’t the norm. 

Lunch was much better at Sea Level restaurant. Tables are spread out and I enjoyed a mouthwatering salmon bowl and a glass of wine in the afternoon. I chose to go after the lunch rush so I could have more space. 

Though I biked to dinner off site (R10 Social House was a delicious option and 2 minute bike ride away), I do hear great things about the dinner at the Shade Hotel Redondo Beach. They even have a special weekend Izakaya menu, served on the roof. Another good reason for me to return. 

 

Overall

You don’t have to love boast like I do to love the Shade Hotel Redondo Beach. It has an open-air modern elegance and the rooms are pretty fantastic. I can’t say that many can compete in the size.

The rooftop pool and fitness classes offered were definitely the most memorable part of the experience for me. Dining is decent but if you want to check out other options, they are only a bike ride away.

My only real complaint was curt and occasionally slow front desk service, but I suspect the new procedures and pandemic also affected this. I was very grateful when I was able to switch rooms around 10pm when the guests above me where incredibly loud (I had been excited for a good night’s sleep and that wasn’t going to happen!). 

My Corner View at the Shade Hotel Redondo Beach

I am pleased to have found this spot in the South Bay and I plan to recommend it to friends and family, as well as come back for some dinner and that pool!

 

Staying Safe at Hotel during COVID-19

The hospitality industry has been hit hard by the pandemic and hotels have quickly stepped up to ensure that they are adapting their procedures to this new normal. Extra cleaning, masks required, sanitizing stations, no housekeeping, proper waste disposal through services like that dumpster rental in Neenah, distanced outdoor dining, pool reservations, spa closures… these are just some of the measures that have now been instated for guest safety across many hotels. 

During COVID-19 I’ve so far stayed at 3 hotels: one in Santa Barbara, San Diego and most recently, Redondo Beach. These short escapes allowed our family a much needed break from the pandemic monotony. Each instance was a good reminder that travel is possible, but we now have to be hyper careful. I took precautions and did my research each time to ensure that we were not putting ourselves at higher risk than our usual home life. I definitely understand if you aren’t comfortable with hotel stays and of course, staying home is usually safer. However, if you do plan to stay at a hotel, here are some tips. 

 

  1. Choose Wisely 

It goes without saying but some hotels have adapted much faster to this new normal and have already implemented new strategies to keep guests and staff safe. Often the hotel website or its instagram will inform guests what they are doing and also what is not open. I called each of the hotels ahead of time to speak with the front desk staff to learn more about what the hotel was doing. I recommend calling as some of the websites were not updated. 

Love this Amenity Kit at Check-In from Shade Hotel Redondo Beach

I was pleased to learn that Shade Hotel Redondo Beach provided an amenity kit at check in that included wipes and a mask and had sanitizing stations set up around the property. 

 Some hotels have GBAC Stars, which indicate that the Global Biorisk Advisory Committee has approved the cleaning practices and safety measures that the hotel is taking to be safe. San Ysidro Ranch in Montecito, CA has been awarded one of theses. 

 

2. Go Midweek 

My Corner View at the Shade Hotel Redondo Beach

Two of the three hotel stays that we took were on the weekend, which we couldn’t avoid as my husband had to work. However, my stay at the Shade Hotel Redondo Beach was a Thursday to Friday. I definitely noticed that there were less guests on Thursday and Friday morning than when I left Friday afternoon. Many were checking in for the weekend. Less people just means more space–that’s why I always recommend midweek trips, even pre-pandemic. 

 

3. BYO-Wipes

While I don’t doubt that any of the hotels that I stayed in thoroughly cleaned my room, I still felt better bringing wipes with me to give surfaces a quick wipe down. Use your common sense and wipe areas you know you will touch. Since housekeeping isn’t allowed to come in during your stay, you just have to do it once and then you are set.

I’d suggest wiping the following high use areas: 

  • All door handles
  • Room Phone
  • Mini Fridge Door
  • Night table
  • Area around sink
  • Arms of chair
  • TV remote

 

4. Bring Snacks!

Room service was not operating in any of the hotels that I’ve stayed in during COVID-19. I made sure to bring a tote filled with snacks for the whole family. My best work was a full meat and cheese board that we enjoyed for a beach sunset picnic at the Mission Bay Resort in San Diego. However, even just extra waters, seltzer and a bottle of wine that I brought to the Shade Hotel in Redondo allowed me to avoid the inconvenience of leaving. 

Brought all this from home for a beach picnic

If you are traveling with kids, you already know that you have to have snacks. We went so far as to prepare all Aurora’s dinners ahead in compartmentalized snack boxes. This made it much easier for us as we only had to worry about our food and not the stress of a hungry child! 

 

5. Delivery Dinner

My balcony is prettier than most restaurants! (Shade Hotel Redondo Beach)

If your room has an outdoor space, dining on a balcony or patio can be just as memorable as going to the hotel restaurant. It’s also a heckuva lot safer. Check out Yelp and order delivery from a local restaurant to be enjoyed al fresco with the family. The best part about this option–no masks needed! 

 

6. Sunrise Pool Time

Early Morning Pool Time at the Shade Hotel Redondo Beach

Okay, sunrise might be aggressive but if you are craving some pool time and want to be safe about it, check out the pool in the early morning. I found the rooftop pool deck completely empty at the Shade Redondo Beach on a balmy Friday evening. A couple people came around midday and more later in the day, but the hotel mandated that no more than 10 be on the pool deck so it was always relatively quiet. 

 

I know some pools have you reserve your pool time, and though it is limiting, it is a good way to minimize crowds and have more space. 

 

7. Off Peak Dining

As with all restaurants, going to eat at off peak hours will definitely make the whole process quicker as there’s just less people. I had a late lunch at Sea Level at the Shade Redondo Beach and we were happy that there was no wait for our waterfront table. At the other hotels, we chose to order ahead from the restaurant and simply go pick it up when it was ready to enjoy in a park nearby or in our room. 

 

8. Splurge for a Cabana

Day Bed at Mission Bay Resort, San Diego

We decided that we wanted a day bed during our weekend at the Mission Bay Resort in San Diego because we wanted to be away from other people. We were able to select the exact day bed that we wanted, which was far away from the chairs and pool, in order to have a private, relaxing pool day. It was definitely worth the extra $80 to have a reserved, cleaned area just for us. 

 

9. Wear a Mask 

Stating the obvious but I do feel that some people tend to forget when they are on vacation. For example, we noticed a lot of mask wearing in the lobbies and public spaces but not much at the pool area in the San Diego Mission Bay Resort. As a reminder, wearing your mask at the pool is just as important as in other spaces. But if that’s not something that you want to do, consider hotels that have cottages or bungalows where you can enjoy your room and not need to be in public settings.

We have glamping on our list next and cannot wait to have a family experience in the fresh air!

5 California Escapes to Take Post-Quarantine

I’ve been dreaming about the days of traveling and not living in fear of germs, and though I know our world will never go back to those carefree (and naive) days, travel will resume once again. To start, I think we will focus on shorter, nearby trips to our home in Los Angeles. I’ve put together a list of places that I cannot wait to return too, all of which are great for kids (or without!). 

And yes, I lied. The last one is not in California, but it a very popular destination for us So-Cal folks!

 

 

  • Channel Islands

    Kayaking Santa Cruz Island

 

You really won’t believe what lies just off the coast. These rugged, uninhabited islands are brimming with life on land, in the sea and in the air. They even have their own species, that exist only on these special islands. Book a day trip with a company like Santa Barbara Adventure company or if you are feeling intrepid, spend the night and camp at the campsite on Santa Cruz Island. Note that you can’t buy anything there, so pack it all in (and out) and store your phones because you won’t have service! Don’t forget your camera because the wildflowers and cliffside views are spectacular. 

 

 

  • Catalina Island

Descanso Beach Club

 

It was love at first sight from the Catalina Express ferry and after my third time, I can safely say that this is not just a passing crush. Catalina has so much history (check out the Catalina Museum), outdoor adventures and laidback island vibes that you really do forget the mainland exists. Descanso Beach Club, the newly renovated Hotel Atwater and the Mini Golf Gardens are not to be missed. If you are looking for a posh stay, Mt Ada is worth it for it’s transporting decor and harbor views–plus a stay includes your own golf cart!

 

 

  • Santa Barbara

 

Stunning hikes, quiet beaches, charming shops & a whole neighborhood dedicated to good wine (and good food), it’s hard not to love Santa Barbara. There’s a slew of hotels, b&bs and rental houses but I recommend sticking to those within walking distance of the pier so you can access the beach, the Funk Zone and many parks on foot. Douglas Preserve and San Marcos Preserve are both excellent family hikes, the former being flatter and better for younger kids. Definitely add Shoreline Cafe to your list for a meal with your toes in the sand. And Figueroa Mountain Brewing, Test Pilot Cocktails and Deep Sea Conway Family Winery are our favorite spots for an adult beverage!

Douglas Preserve

**Note: If you want some local wine delivered, Santa Barbara wineries have some excellent deals like $10 and free shipping. Check this list here to find your favorite wineries. 

 

 

  • Sonoma

Dutcher Crossing Vineyard, Sonoma

 

I am hoping that fall will be feasible for a trip up to Sonoma. There’s really nothing quite like that fall sun glinting off the ripened grapes, ready to be harvested. There’s a jovial atmosphere as all the vineyards are buzzing during the crush and visitors are excited to sip and see it all happen. Healdsburg and Sonoma are where to stay if you want to have restaurants and shops within walking distance. I’d recommend Harmon Guest House in Healdsburg and MacArthur Place in Sonoma if you want an excellent room, great food and a perfect location. 

 

 

  • Los Cabos

Montage Los Cabos

 

Whenever flying feels safe, I think we will first opt for a short flight versus longer routes and that’s when Mexico is the perfect getaway. Far enough to have a different language, culture and scenery but close enough to only spend less than 2 hours on a plane; this seems like our obvious option. Montage Los Cabos is a remarkable stay that you will remember all your life, with its unparalleled dining options and that very rare, sandy beach (also the pools, the spa…) but there are many other incredible hotels at all price points. Also on the list to check out is the Viceroy Los Cabos. When you go, plan a night for dinner at Flora Farms–and book this in advance!

Wherever you go, you will have special memories that feel even more important during this time. I always take a TON of photos, as you might have guessed, to hold on to these memories.  Recently I’ve been printing my favorite photos and making books, canvases and calendars to remember all these travel moments. It’s a great way to cherish these moments when you are back home. I usually use Snapfish to make these special albums and if you want, I have a discount link here!

Happy Travels my friends–don’t worry. They will come soon enough!

Santa Monica’s Best Hotel: A Hidden Gem

Being a local resident in one of the most famous beach towns in the world is quite a special position. I know a LOT about Santa Monica and have a lot of advice and recommendations for those coming to visit. I have been on almost every street in Santa Monica, dined at the top spots, seen its most stunning sunsets (and its foggiest of mornings) and have run up and down almost every inch of the beach. I frequent street fairs, farmer’s markets, beach concerts and parties where people are wearing items like that one piece swimwear, pier events and promenade parties. I am a very active part of this community because I love it here!

Now as a mom, I am at the playgrounds, parks, public libraries, splash pads with Aurora–and generally out and about all day.

Since so many friends, family and followers visit Santa Monica, I’ve made it my duty to be well equipped to answer that most important question:

“So…where should I stay?”

Some of my favorites are Fairmont Miramar, The Huntley, Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel, Palihouse, The Proper, Shutters on the Beach and Viceroy Santa Monica. Each have unique qualities and advantages, depending on the type of stay that you are after and your budget. I’ve stayed and/or dined at all so I can point you in the right direction if you need. 

However, there’s one that I think is truly a cut above the rest right now. It’s not actually new as it’s been a fixture for decades, but  Oceana feels brand new. It has recently undergone a 30 million dollar renovation (!) elevating it from very good to absolutely OUTSTANDING.

During my parents’ week stay in one of their oceanfront suites, I was able to experience (and analyze) all aspects of this hotel and here’s what I found. 

 

AMBIANCE

The ivy clad exteriors makes it feel like Oceana is a living and breathing part of this ocean front avenue, yet after entering it’s hard to remember that there was ever a world outside. The vivid, modern coastal aesthetic was surprising–in a good way. I appreciated the nautical touches and also appreciated that they were subtle. 

Throughout the property there’s a touch of whimsy, from the rope swing seats in front of interior facing suites to the vivid cloud blue onyx that adorns the fireplace and bar in the restaurants. And there’s always a fireplace nearby to remind guests that they can relax because they are home. 

 

ROOMS

Oceana has 70 suites, and I experienced the Ocean View Suite on the top floor. I wasn’t prepared for what was behind that white door. A lapis and tan sitting area with ample seating, bar armoire, updated flooring which may have utilized the best paint to care for real wood floors, dining table and floor to ceiling windows. The bed faced the ocean, and though there was a large flat screen, I’d prefer the view of the waves and swaying palms. 

The tiled bathroom was fresh and polished. An oversized walk in shower is always a nice touch and the bathroom was tucked out of the way to be discreet. 

Nightly chocolates by the pillow and speedy room service were other bonuses. 

 

POOL

There’s no doubt that the pool is the focal point of the hotel. Low cushioned loungers encircle this deep pool (8 ft on one end) and the banana palm pillows transported me to the tropics. Though it’s not heated, we still swam almost daily even on overcast November days, and we enjoyed the poolside dining and drinks. Note: the pool was especially great for our little girl!

GYM

Though small, the gym packs a punch! This is the perfect place to exercise while taking a plant protein powder.

Rarely would I call a gym “beautiful” but this one is definitely attractive. Peloton machinery, Technogym equipment and the coolest wood clad weights that I’ve ever seen. 

DINING

The color palette of the Dining Room was delicious. The coral hues and blue tones set an elegant stage for breakfast, lunch or dinner. I found their breakfast to be delicious (order the benedict!) and their burger was a winner for lunch. 

We had poolside hummus and guacamole, both of which I’d order again. 

 

Drinks can be enjoyed inside or out, alongside of the pool. The elevated seating area with fireplace is the perfect place for a sunset cocktail.

 

LOCATION

Possibly the best location in all of Santa Monica, Oceana has access to all the highlights but is not in the thick of it. Just removed enough from the hustle and bustle of the Pier and Promenade, yet walking distance to both. Oceana is also a few blocks from the locally loved shops and dining of Montana Avenue and directly across from the Palisades Park (best sunset viewing spot in the city). There’s also a beach path located right in front for easy access to and from the beach. 

 

TRAVELER TYPE

I’d recommend Oceana for couples, solo travelers and families alike, but specifically for those individuals that appreciate a calm home base with very high quality rooms. You will want to spend time in the rooms here because these suites are expertly designed by professionals similar to that Wellesley Interior Designer. This hotel isn’t for a “scene” or for meeting clients or for the budget conscious. Oceana is decidedly built for the discerning luxury traveler that wants to be in the heart of this beach town, but not in the thick of the crowds. I truly think if you stay here, you will be more than impressed.

 

 

BONUS: SUNSET TERRACE COMING SOON! 

Oahu Travel with Toddlers: Our Favorites as a Family

At this point, our 14 month old has 15 flights and 15 hotels/rental houses under her tiny belt. I wouldn’t say it has gotten easier, but we all have learned –often the hard way– how to travel together, better. The most important lesson that we learned when traveling with her is to pick the right destination for her interests and stage in her development. We made a little checklist on where we can go now with our little energizer bunny and that is how we selected our big summer trip this year.

Note: It’s challenging to anticipate your child’s needs when you plan trips in advance because we don’t always know where they will be emotionally/physically/mentally in months from now, but it is important to make your best guess and adjust your destination around that finding. 

Braving the flight!

Our checklist for travel with Aurora at 14 months:

  1. Not too far by plane (under 5-6 hours direct)
  2. Lots of outdoor areas for play including water
  3. Relaxed atmosphere where most things will be nearby 
  4. Culture that embraces family life with lots of child friendly activities, hotels and dining

Where did we land?

HAWAII! Oahu to be exact. Just about 5.5 hours on one of my favorite airlines–Hawaiian (not an ad)– and we were in a warm, tropical, kid friendly paradise. Aurora’s favorite thing to do is touch, splash, drink or generally be immersed in water so that led us to be thinking of warmer climes with lots of pool and ocean possibilities. Oahu has the ideal mix of accessibility for kids, a really strong, welcoming culture and some of the most beautiful beaches that I’ve ever seen.  

We spent 7 full days on this island, exploring (in between naptime) and here’s our top list for best experiences with a toddler. 

 

OUTDOORS

WAIKIKI BEACH, HONOLULU

Beaching in front of Hilton Hawaiian Village

This may seem surprising but Oahu’s famous beach is also an ideal place for children. With Diamond Head soaring at one end, a lively vacation atmosphere, and the novice surfers catching waves further out, the whole beach feels iconically Hawaii.  Since these island are also known for warm water year round (during our late August the water was in the 80s) the temperature is extremely comfortable. The waves are gentle enough to be safe for young kids, under parental supervision. We could carry Aurora in passed the break and then use her swim floaties, or a small inflatable tube with leg holes, to help her float. 

The only drawback is this beach is naturally, very popular. To avoid the crowds and have more space, we loved spending time at the beach in front of the  Hilton Hawaiian Village. This is the widest stretch of beach and a bit away from the busiest central area of Waikiki so we could always find ample room for our towels and sand toys.

Beach chairs are available to rent but we spent most of the time in the water or digging in the sand, so it wasn’t necessary for us. 

The sand is very clean and quite soft but be careful as it can get HOT during the day. We always had Aurora in covered swim shoes while we were at the beach to protect those tootsies. 

 

SUNSET BEACH, NORTH SHORE

Just under an hour from Honolulu, the North Shore is home to world renowned big wave surfing. That doesn’t mean, however, that all of its beaches aren’t kid friendly. It just depends on the time of year. From May to September, waves are much smaller, making the North Shore beaches ideal for families. 

Sunset Beach is a pristine stretch that runs along Kamehameha Highway. It actually took my breath the two times that I’ve stopped here. The sunburnt coral sand, the vividly blue water, and the palm lined backdrop made this whole place feel like it was a dictionary definition of paradise.  There are no facilities nearby so pack what you need– especially water, towels, beach toys and sunscreen– so you can make the most of your time here. 

We drove up North early and arrived at Sunset Beach before 9am so we could enjoy two blissful hours of frolicking in the water, building sand castles and collecting seashells before the sun even reached its peak.  

 

DUKE KAHANAMOKU LAGOON,

HILTON HAWAIIAN VILLAGE WAIKIKI BEACH RESORT

I didn’t think that a man-made lagoon, set just off the real beach, would be where I’d want us to spend time but I was wrong! The Lagoon is actually a great place for families with young kids. For starters, there are no waves–just a very gradual incline. This allowed both my husband and I to sit on the sand and watch Aurora splash in the shallow water, without worry. She loved this independence as she freely walked around, sitting in the shallow water and giggling at the fish flitting near her toes.

The Lagoon is great for little mermaids

At the Lagoon, the Hilton Hawaiian Village also offers kayak, SUP, paddle boat and aqua biking rentals. We tried out the paddle boat and kayak, both with Aurora on board. The kayak turned out to be more kid friendly as it was easier to keep her sitting still on our lap since we didn’t have to paddle with our feet. 

 

EXPERIENCES

 

WAIKIKI AQUARIUM

I wasn’t sure how Aurora would react to her first aquarium visit but I was astounded by how much she loved every minute we spent here. The Waikiki Aquarium is set on the water next to a living reef and it 115 years old–the second oldest in the US. Though there are over 3000 marine specimens, inside it is not overwhelming and doable in a morning or afternoon. Inside, many tanks have padded ledges, allowing little ones to get a better view of the aquatic wonders in the tank.

A highlight was catching the octopus feeding, when we saw an incredible day octopus devour his shrimp and change colors just inches from us. We learned that he is given toys for enrichment and sometimes his food is given in a jar that he has to open–what!

Octopus Feeding

Aurora also was fascinated by the top predators tank, the largest in the aquarium, which gave an up close view of jacks, grouper and shark in the same space. I was amazed to see a chambered nautilus, a prehistoric species that has been unchanged for millions of years. 

Top Predators Tank

Outside, a rescued Hawaiian Monk Seal swam and played in the waters as Aurora happily clapped on in awe. The aquarium has attempted to reintroduce this monk seal back into the wild but the efforts have failed, so she’s happily hanging out in her habitat at the Aquarium and in doing so, sharing the plight of this critically endangered species. 

Details:

Adults are $12 and Children under 3 are free! 

Waikiki Aquarium Website

 

HONOLULU ZOO

Kid Petting Zoo

It’s hard to believe that there is a full zoo right in the heart of downtown Waikiki, but it is true. We stopped here after a healthy breakfast at nearby Da Cove. This was Aurora’s first zoo experience and she was very interested in all the wildlife especially the gibbons. Overall, highlights were the elephants, tiger and the rhino. There is also a petting farm and Aurora was able to pet some friendly goats. 

It’s not large and there are some renovations going on so certain exhibits were closed, however we felt it was still worth a stop especially with animal-loving kids!

Details:
Adults are $19, Children under 3 are free!

Honolulu Zoo Website

CULTURE

ALOHA FESTIVALS

For the entire month of September, Oahu hosts events, parades and festivals that celebrate Hawaiian culture, tradition and history. We were lucky enough to be in town for the opening ceremony and Royal Court Investiture. A new king, queen, prince and princess were crowned in a regal ceremony modeled after the historical ceremony of Hawaiian royalty. All of this took place on the lovely grounds of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel.   

Royal Investiture

Aurora loved the live music and hula that followed the Investiture. While she might not have understood the historical significance of this event, she was definitely interested in the bright costumes and lively atmosphere. 

Opening Ceremony for the Aloha Festivals

We won’t be in town for the following events, but the block party and flower parade look incredible!

All the Aloha Festivals are listed here

 

WAIKIKI STARLIGHT LUAU

A luau is more than just dinner and a show. It’s a chance for the whole family to learn more about Hawaiian culture through the stories, dance and music. The Waikiki Starlight Luau takes place at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, with a view of the ocean. 

Waikiki Starlight Luau

The children’s buffet was the right height for kids and had a lot of kid friendly options. The hula was wonderful and seeing Aurora try to dance along with the performers brought many smiles from onlookers. 

Details:

$111 Adults, $71 for Children 4-11, Children under 3 Free

Website: Waikiki Starlight Luau

 

DINING 

 

While there’s a lot of restaurants on Oahu that we have on the mainland, we found some incredible local fare that also worked well for young appetites. 

The Street Food Hall by Michael Mina

The 12 food stalls inside this modern, vibrant food hall has something for everyone at all hours of the day. We came here 4 separate times at different times of day–breakfast, lunch, happy hour and dinner!

Breakfast at Mi Almita

The food is prepared to order, using fresh ingredients and at affordable price points. They also have a  Street Party pass that allows you to sample 7 of the restaurant stalls and 3 of the bars, at a 

Burger Hale at The Street Food Hall

Our favorites were: 

  • The Myna Bird a tiki bar with great $5 piña coladas
  • Mi Almita for a delicious al fresco breakfast including mochi pancakes and loco moco
  • Burger Hale for sliders and hand cut fries–this was great especially for Aurora
  • Little Lafa for an easy grab and go savory lafa

    These piña coladas are incredible at The Myna Bird

Details: 

2330 Kalakaua Avenue, Suite 330
Honolulu, HI 96815

Website: The Street Social House

 

HIGHWAY INN

With local owners and a long legacy of serving up authentic food in an approachable setting, the Highway Inn is a must stop for those that want to taste real Hawaiian food. 

Local Specialties at Highway Inn

We stopped in the Kaka’ako location for lunch and tried out signature dishes like lau lau, poke and kalua pork. Each were rich, flavorful and different than we had anywhere else. Aurora was a fan of the lau lau and kalua pork and I couldn’t get enough of their sesame poke. The restaurant was packed, with local residents and tourists alike. If you are in the know, you come here.

Next time, we are coming for breakfast because we saw the pancakes go by and look amazing. 

Details:

680 Ala Moana Boulevard #105
Honolulu, HI 96813

Website: Highway Inn

 

da COVE HEALTH BAR and CAFE 

da Cove is another local favorite serving up fresh smoothies and juices, unique omelettes and a wide variety of acai bowls. For keiki, they offer omelettes and Aurora really liked the smoothies! We went to the location near Diamond Head, which is close to downtown.

Healthy spread at da Cove

Details

3045 Monsarrat Ave #5,
Honolulu, HI 96815

Website: da Cove Heath Bar and Cafe

 

Moku Kitchen

Family friendly restaurants can be COOL and that certainly is the case at Moku Kitchen. The busy atmosphere, wide variety of mouthwatering dishes and drinks and attention to kids here made Aurora and her parents very happy. I can’t say enough about the delicious food–I had a steak that I’ll never forget. However, I think Aurora had the most fun. They have table toys that they let you borrow to keep your little one occupied. When Aurora is occupied, her parents can relax. This restaurant understands the needs of families!

Details

660 Ala Moana Blvd,

Honolulu, HI 96813

Website: Moku Kitchen

 

ABC STORES

These “everything” shops are all over Honolulu and they helped us out on several occasions. From pool floaties, to organic milk, string cheese to fruit, they made it easy for us to grab what we needed on the go. There are so many locations, you will definitely see at least one. 

ABC Stores are so useful!

 

HOTELS

 

HILTON HAWAIIAN VILLAGE WAIKIKI BEACH RESORT 

If you have children, the Hilton Hawaiian Village Resort is resort is fantastic for your needs.  As mentioned above, the expansive property is on a wide stretch of beach, that is not trafficked by many others as it is the far end of Waikiki Beach. In addition to the Lagoon, there are multiple pool areas and even a pool with water slides. All the pools are very kid friendly and your child will have lots of other kids to play with!

Our view from the 14th floor of the Alii Tower

In addition to all the fun water experiences, the HHV also has well landscaped walkways, ponds and streams so just walking through the property is fun with children. There are ducks, turtles and all sorts of colorful fish to admire. Occasionally we could see several parrots and macaws that had their own areas in the center of the resort. 

Exploring the HHV grounds

We stayed in the Ali’i Tower, which made this large resort feel a bit more intimate. This tower has its own check-in and concierge, as well as priority seating at some restaurants. It’s also very centrally located on this widespread property, making it a breeze to walk to the restaurants, shops, pools and beach. Guests in this tower even have access to their own pool, restaurant and bar on the second floor. This unique access made it easy for us to take a quick dip in the pool, grab some food or always find an available lounge chair. 

The living room of our suite.

Our room was great for Aurora. It was a king suite on a high floor so our view was astounding. There was no balcony, which we preferred, as balconies with kids can be scary. A crib was provided and the living room, 2 bathrooms and bedroom were very spacious. The mini refrigerator was crucial for storing milk and snacks for Aurora. We converted the desk area to her changing area. We were in a suite so the two rooms was a lifesaver for us when Aurora napped and went to bed. We were able to eat takeout, watch tv and move about in our own room. 

Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort

2005 Kalia Road

Honolulu, HI 96815

Website: HHV

 

THE LAYLOW

For a more boutique experience with that just exudes style, The Laylow is a special find in Waikiki. The stylish coffee bar and open air restaurant, Hideout Waikiki, is a huge draw unto themselves, but for kids, the POOL is definitely the place to be. Daily free shave ice and frozen fruit treats are offered complimentary. There are lounge beds in the water which turned out to be endless fun for our little climber. 

Great beds at The Laylow

The rooms have retro Hawaiian vibe that I really enjoyed and since we opted for a Corner Suite, we had a separate area that worked well for Aurora’s crib, which the hotel provided. The was ample space and two balconies with views. 

Daily free shave ice by the pool

The location is excellent as well. Just next to the International Marketplace, we were steps from many dining options, shops and coffee, as well as just a five minute scenic walk to the beach. Valet parking handles the cars and were very efficient, so it was easy to come and go when were headed out on an adventure. 

Hanging out on the open air roof deck of Hideout

Details:

The Laylow, Autograph Collection

2299 Kuhio Ave,

Honolulu, HI 96815

Website: The Laylow

 

Oahu has hands down been one of our best trips as a family — and that is a BIG STATEMENT since traveling with a toddler is very challenging. We definitely had our share of difficulties–Aurora caught a sickness, she battled jetlag and we had some napless days. But what mattered the most is we were able to spend so much quality time together–whether getting tickled on the bed, splashing in the surf or gazing at the multicolored sunsets each evening. Oahu just made it easy to enjoy our time with each other. It’s so naturally interesting and beautiful, even just a walk together was fun. We found it so easy to get around, restaurants were beyond accommodating to children and if we ran out of swim diapers/sunscreen/milk, there was always a place to grab it close by. The local Hawaiians we met were so kind to us, and showered Aurora with love, it made us feel truly at home here.  The aloha spirit is still in our hearts back at home and I feel that our family bond was only strengthened by this trip together.

Waikiki Sunsets

 

Your Summer Guide to Santa Monica with Little Kids

Santa Monica is one of America’s most famous beach towns and as you can imagine, summer brings an influx of traveling families from far and wide.

As a local and a mom, I spend (almost) every single day here in the summer, figuring out a fun, nearby activity for my daughter. Bonus points if we can find an outdoor activity with water to cool her off a bit!

After lots of trial and error, we’ve found our top summer spots for daytime play with toddlers in Santa Monica.

*All these activities are generally for walkers, but we still did many of them when Aurora was crawling only and still had a great time!

 

Pools

The Annenberg Beach House is only open in the summer but they make the most of it with a ton of family friendly activities, many of which are free! Access to the pool itself is $10 and comes with showers and changing room facilities and access to a snack bar and game room. 

Annenberg Beach House Pool

The pool is a clean, refreshing place to cool off. There are abundant lounge chairs with umbrellas but they are often occupied. This place is popular especially during hot summer days, so planning to go during off times (before noon or after 4pm) if you want to avoid a crowded pool or full lounge chairs. Busy or not, it is still one of the best pool experiences in Santa Monica!

Another great thing to note: the Annenberg Beach House has programming throughout the summer with many free kid friendly events! The Santa Monica Public Library does an especially cute “library day at the beach” (see above) which comes with books, crafts and live storytime. Check the Annenberg events schedule here

 

Splash Pads

Annenberg Splash Pad

Annenberg Beach House Splash Pad

There are two splash pads worth checking out: the Annenberg Splash Pad and Tongva Park. The former is located down on the beach, with tables, chairs and umbrellas as well as a little lawn area which makes it easy for parents to sit and watch their littles running (and screaming) through the water. The water is very warm and the area is usually not too crowded, but I’ve never seen it empty either. Later in the day, there’s often some shade which is very nice for delicate little skin. Bring a bucket or ball for even more fun and don’t forget a towel. 

Tongva Park Splash Pad

Tongva Park Splash Pad

Tongva Park’s Splash Pad is located inside their playground area. Surrounded by rocks, this splash pad is very aesthetically pleasing but note that you (aka the parent) have to push a button to turn the water on and it turns off when you stop pushing. This makes it more environmentally friendly but a little more work. The water here is pretty chilly so make sure it is a warm day! There is usually no shade here. 

 

Santa Monica Pier

Pacific Park

The Pier is the icon of Santa Monica, and I think the Pacific Park rides are the ultimate summer experience for kids of all ages. I was curious if my 14 month old would have as much fun here as older kids, but I needn’t have worried–she had a blast! 

Inkie’s Air Lift

There are 3 rides in the Pacific Park area for little ones with an adult. We weren’t comfortable letting her go alone yet, so we stuck to those three that we could join: Inkie’s Wave Jumper, Inkie’s Air Lift and Sea Planes. Each ride is $5 for both adults and for kids — which can add up quickly — so we picked the two that looked the best to us: Sea Planes and Inkie’s Air Lift. 

Sea Planes ride at Pacific Pier

The Sea Planes ride was the most relaxed, with cute 4 seater planes slowing lifting up and down as they twirl. Inkie’s Air Lift is the same but are you in hot air balloons, facing your little one and can control the spin as you want. We skipped the Wave Jumper though it looked pretty cute, just because the bounces were a little more aggressive than we wanted for our little one but I’m sure it’s great for older kids. You can see a listing of all the rides here

 

Santa Monica Pier Carousel

This historical landmark is 105 years old–built in 1922! The beautifully restored horses really take you back in time and it was a joy to take our daughter on her first carousel experience here. It is only $1 for adults and children under 3 are free, so cost is not an issue. To me, Aurora’s smiles, waving and astonishment at the moving horse was really a worthwhile experience. 

 

Playgrounds

North Beach Playground

Playdate with Ezra at North Beach Playground

This new playground is clean, modern and covered with the soft, spongy flooring that makes it feel very safe for little ones. There are no sand or water features here, but that is okay as you do have a beach access path just across from it. I like the far side for little kids, which has a slide, a teeter-totter, infant swings and some fun swirly rides. This park can get busy, especially on the bigger kid side but overall it feels very safe and clean. The only downside is there is very limited shade. To keep soft flooring in good condition, it would require Wetpour Maintenance

 

South Beach Playground

South Beach Playground with friends

How can you not love a playground that is shaped like a ship! This very large playground is set along the beach path, across from the sand and adjacent to some parks. The whole space huge with swings, sand, grass, trees and a variety of play areas. There are some tables on either end and there’s even a little shade. The only downside is you have to follow your child closely because there’s a lot of obstructions so you can lose them pretty easily. Also, I don’t love that majority of the structures are made out of concrete but still, it’s pretty great regardless. If you want to align the playground with a specific theme or school branding, thermoplastic markings from thermoplasticplaygroundmarkings.co.uk can be customized to match your design and branding requirements.

 

Cayton Children’s Museum

Sienna and Aurora in the ball pit

If you need a break from the sunshine, the brand new Cayton Children’s Museum is a super interesting interactive space for all ages and interestes. From a little market and diner area, to a “vet office” to a ball pit and giant water table—there’s so much to do here. There’s even a real helicopter and firetruck inside for kids to explore. 

Girls at the “diner”

I love the mix of areas that promote imagination and pretend, as well as the tactile areas like the sand and water tables. There’s a playspace that changes as well– sometimes there’s large foam shapes for building, another there’s costumes for dress up and I’ve even seen a sing-a-long music group.

For those under 2 years old, there’s a padded, protected space that is a nice, calm retreat for younger kids.

Under 2 Play Area

The only downside to the museum is it can get very busy, so just be sure to keep close to your little one as some older kids and summer camps are usually running around full speed. 

Firewoman!

 

These are just some of our summer favorites in the area. Hope they help your little one have even more fun in this family friendly beach town!

Luxury Getaway for Families in Los Cabos, Mexico [VIDEO]

I can’t say enough about this resort. The Montage Los Cabos is the ultimate luxurious getaway for families.

A sandy beach, plethora of pools and mouthwatering dining– the new Montage Los Cabos is luxury family travel at its FINEST. On my first trip to Cabo, we brought our 11 month old toddler to this resort, located right on the tourist corridor, in hopes of some rest and relaxation for us parents. I had no idea what to expect from Los Cabos, and what we found was beyond all expectations. Turns out, this property knows how to make families feel so welcome.

Some highlights & recommendations:
-All kids are greeted with a wagon full of stuffed animals for their choosing
-The beach is NOT rocky–very swimmable with gentle waves for little ones
-There is an awesome kids pool and sand area
-The Paintbox Kids center is super fun and has a daily schedule of activities
-We opted for the 1 bedroom King Suite, which had a sliding door that separated the living area from the bedroom, allowing us to have the lights on during our daughter’s naps and early bedtime
-The Montage has recommended babysitters for a much deserved night out
-The Spa Montage is another MUST for the grown ups–get a treatment or just lounge in the serenity pool!