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.

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! 

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!

The Catalina Island Guide For Everyone

My second time visiting Catalina made me fall even more in love with this island just off the Southern California coast. This time around, I was not pregnant and it was one of my first trips away from my infant daughter–meaning MOM WAS OFF DUTY! I was ready to dive into all the experiences on Catalina that I couldn’t do the first time around.

What always gets me is how This island is popular for all types of travelers–from the wee ones to the older set, the luxury seekers to the adrenaline junkies. With 48 hours to enjoy, I chose to do a little bit of everything.

THE OUTDOOR ADVENTURER

Highlights: I enjoyed a whole new perspective of Catalina from the treetops. The Aerial Adventure ropes course has routes for beginners to the experts. The beautifully designed courses subtly blend in with the surrounding nature. Challenge yourself to jump off platforms, maneuver around and balance feet above the ground.

Tips: Work up your confidence by starting with one of the two beginner routes. Once you get the hang of the ropes and clipping/unclipping, you can move on to the intermediate and advanced routes.

Cost: Adults, $49.95, Children/Seniors/Military: $39.95

Also check out: Zipline Eco Tour

THE LUXURY SEEKER

Highlights: The former Wrigley residence, the Mt Ada hotel is only accessible for those staying in one of the 12 guest rooms– unless you have a lunch reservation. Step inside this former Wrigley residence to enjoy a memorable lunch on their wraparound patio, which might be my favorite view of Catalina Island. The three course lunch includes your choice of champagne, wine or beer.

Tips: Take a golf cart up to the hotel for a scenic drive.

Cost: $62 per person

Also check out: the Island Spa Catalina to pamper yourself poolside.

THE WATER BABY

  • Kayaking off of Descanso Beach

Highlights: The waters around Catalina are crystal clear and a stunning turquoise shade of blue. Appreciate their clarity upclose from your own kayak. You can opt for a guided tour or just taking one out on your own and either way, you’ll be rewarded with a breathtaking coastal views and new appreciation for California’s rugged beauty.

Tips: Take the Journey to Frog Rock tour to be treated to insider knowledge on the island and a stop on a breathtaking beach only accessible by boat.

Cost: $22 Single Kayak, $30 Double Kayak; Frog Rock Tour: $54 Adults, Children 25% off

Also check out: Snorkeling

THE HISTORY BUFF

Highlights: I wouldn’t say I seek out every museum when I travel but I am sure glad that I toured the recently built Catalina Museum. The building itself is a work of art and the exhibits are fascinating. Walk through on your own or take a guided tour to learn about the stories that give this island its unique personality. From Hollywood starlets to presidents, baseball heroes to wartime tales–Catalina’s history is truly unexpected and exciting.

Tips: Come for one of their monthly outdoor movie screenings located on the roof. Do not miss the Bird Park exhibit that shares the quirky history of the exotic bird sanctuary that once existed in town.

Cost: $17 Adults/Children (under 15) Free

Also check out: Wrigley’s Catalina

THE FAMILY TRIP

Highlights: Just under the water, there’s a whole new world of marine life. Dive into it without ever getting wet on the Undersea Expedition. It’s a safe, comfortable way for an up close look at the vivid Garibaldi, the impressive kelp forests and maybe an occasional dolphin if you are lucky.

Photo courtesy of Catalina Undersea Adventure

Tips: Be prepared for lots of photo opportunities both in the submersible and above the water when they sail back on the surface.

Cost: $39.95 Adults/$37.95 Children

Also check out: Glass Bottom Boat Voyage

THE FOOD FOCUSED

Highlights: A circular bar, comfortable booths and water views, the Avalon Grille tastes as good as it looks. Menu signatures include the hangar steak and the pan seared scallops and I particularly loved the tempura green beans.

Tips: This restaurant is popular so definitely book ahead. And order yourself a Wrigley Martini for me.

Cost: Appetizers around $18, Entrées around $35

Also check out: Bluewater Grill

IMPORTANT TRAVEL DETAILS

Where to Stay: The Pavilion Hotel

Personally, I wouldn’t want to stay anywhere else. The waterfront location is an easy walk from the ferry and perfectly situated to access all the main spots in Avalon by foot.

I love the tropical courtyard where you can enjoy their included (hearty) breakfast spread in the cool mornings or toast to a fun day next to the fire pits during the complimentary wine hour. The crisp, nautical rooms are spacious and comfortable and the included bike rental was very helpful for getting around.

Cost:  $180 to $350 per night, dependent on season

Getting There: Catalina Express

The ferry ride is half the fun of going to Catalina, in my opinion. With many departures daily, this hour cruise covers the 22 watery miles in just an hour. Sip on bloody marys in the Commodore’s Lounge or soak up the sun on the outer deck. You might even spot a dolphin or a whale! Cost: $74.50 Adult Roundtrip/ $59 Children Roundtrip/ Under 2 years old Free

The Best things To Do in Santa Barbara

My Tips on How to Explore this California Beach Town

Santa Barbara is a captivating beach town that to me, feels like nowhere else on along the pacific coast. It has a distinct, down-to-earth yet kinda quirky personality that is nestled in the midst of mountains, shoreline and sunshine.  For a Santa Monica resident like myself, I try to escape to SB a few times per year as it is a scenic 2 hour drive and a world away from the touristed, trafficky LA hotspots. Since so many people have asked for my favorite things to do when I go, I decided to post up some highlights.

Surrey the City

When I first arrive in a new town, I usually like to walk, jog or bike the streets to get a feel for the place. But in Santa Barbara there’s an even more unique and hilarious method of getting around– the Surrey! This ‘tuk-tuk meets bike’ is powered by your own two legs, but you can have the help of a partner, or even the whole family! You aren’t in a hurry in a surrey (wow didn’t mean to rhyme) but that is the beauty of it. You sit back, enjoy the scenery and easily stop whenever you want to take a photo or grab a bite.

I suggest taking your surrey along the beach front path and stopping at Shoreline Beach Cafe for delicious bites and drinks, right in the sand. I rented our surrey from Wheels of Fun, conveniently located right near the beach and at the start of the Funk Zone.

Kayaking Along the Coast

Santa Barbara has a spectacular coastline. Cove beaches, gentle waves and palm tree studded stretches of sand. The way the coast curves in and out makes for jaw-dropping views as the sun sets and I always envy the people drifting along the sailboats in the horizon.

I think the best way to appreciate Santa Barbara’s best asset (IMO) is by getting IN it! Swimming is wonderful but I prefer kayaking the deep blue waters to cover more ground, take photos and hang out for a few hours. The on-the-water vantage point lets you appreciate the shoreline to one side, the endless blue to the other and all the marine life all the way to the sea floor, below your paddles.

There are a few good options for kayaking. I’ve paddled the harbor and really liked the “front door” look at the breathtaking boats in the marina as well as the reverse perspective of the town from the water. It is also very family friendly since it relatively calm and can be done in an hour.

It also doesn’t hurt that on our paddle, sea lions were swimming alongside our boat. I’d recommend this harbor tour to set you up with kayaks and a guide

If you are looking for something a little more unique and more adventurous, the four kayak excursion at Refugio State Park might be more your speed. This 3 mile tour covers one of the least developed parts of California’s coast, which means LOTS of wildlife. Your guide informs you about all the plants and wildlife that makes these waters home. I also like that there’s even a stop to have an included lunch on a secluded beach. Learn more about the Refugio State Beach Kayak tour here.

Surfs Up

Whether you are a local looking to improve your skills or a visitor wanting to check off “surfing in California” from the Bucket List, it’s a good idea to pick up a board and head out. You are in California after all.

But many of our waves are no joke and I wouldn’t recommend diving into surfing as a novice–without some guidance at least (I always go out with a guide as I am still learning as well).

Santa Barbara Adventure Company offers that guidance, and the gear, so you can get out on the waves confidently and safely. Choose from a 2 or 4 hour lesson, which comes with boards, wetsuits and instruction– no matter what level you are at. You surf at a nearby beach that has gentle waves and is free from rocks which is a perfect place to learn. It’s also only 15 minutes away so you can still make it back to town for a well deserved post-surf lunch or happy hour.

Speaking of happy hour… THE FuNk ZoNe

It’s no secret that the Funk Zone is the fun place to be, especially from 4:30 to sunset. Every time I visit it, it feels different and to be honest, even better! My last time touring the FZ, I was pregnant, so I had a very sober look at all the wineries, breweries, cocktail bars and little shops in between. Let me tell you, if I thought it was awesome sober, imagine how great it is if you can have a drink or two.

After sipping our way through many, here are the stops in the Funk Zone that stick out.

Figueroa Brewing Company: The outdoor patio and frequent live music made me love this place, even though I don’t love beer.

Kunin: The Cape Cod beach vibe of this place made me fall in love immediately and it was lovely to post up a high top and linger over a glass of local pinot noir.

Test Pilot: I can’t help but love a good cocktail and a good cocktail in a perfectly decorated tiki style bar? My love overflows. Definitely stop here if just to admire the ship wheel lamp that adorns the main bar.

Wine Not?

The ideal way to experience the wine country near Santa Barbara is to do so worry-free. Booking with Santa Barbara Wine Country Tours takes away the hassles associated with transportation, itinerary, and they even provide lunch and cold drinks. You are spending the day drinking wine, so you aren’t driving so you’ll need a shuttle service anyway (much easier than trying to find ubers at some of these more remote locations).

SB Wine Country Tours offers one tour in particular that I think looks incredible. It is a Cupcake and Wine Tour, where you eat your way through a cupcake & wine pairing, explore Los Olivos and have lunch at a small winery. The town of Los Olivos is so charming and perfect for an afternoon visit. Plus the wineries that they takes you too, like Sunstone and Brander, make each stop intoxicating. 🙂

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For more of my favorite things to do, check out my 24 Hours in Santa Barbara video!

What are your favorite things to do in Santa Barbara? I am always looking for new things to try on my next trip!

xo

Kelley

How To do a Day Trip to the Channel Islands


If you’ve been to the Southern California Coast, chances are you’ve seen the Channel Islands. On clear days, they rise up out of the Pacific, faint outlines in the distance. They’ve always beckoned me. I would gaze at them and wonder how could islands exist in plain sight that I haven’t explored? They appeared to be such a California adventure–hiking, kayaking, epic views and immersion in nature. I finally gave into their ‘siren call’ and made the voyage out. This was something that I didn’t think was possible while having a baby girl at home! I did it all in one day and was able to get back home in time to tuck Aurora in. Here’s how.

The Channel Islands

Still cannot believe that this is epic landscape is in my backyard

The Channel Islands are comprised of five individual islands differing in size and together they make up the protected area of Channel Islands National Park. To access them, you take a ferry or boat out of Ventura Harbor. The main island of Santa Cruz, the largest and most accessible, has a campground, 15 hiking trails, and the main anchorage of Scorpion Bay.

Plan Ahead

The island is all pack in and pack out, so it is vital to plan out your day ahead of time. There aren’t any public structures, besides restrooms and changing areas, so you need to have everything you need with you. (see my packing list below) Since I had limited time, I wanted to maximize each moment that I had out there, so I decided to book an experience through Santa Barbara Adventure Company.

Pablo from Santa Barbara Adventure Company

SB Adventure Company is a highly rated mom-pop shop that provides a variety of adventures on the mainland and off, all year round. Their high reviews and years of experience in the Channel Islands put me at ease. It was important to me to have good guides too so I could learn more and feel safe and secure out on the water.

Craving something active–and especially something that I can’t usually do with a little one– I booked the Adventure Sea Cave Kayak tour. This would give me a guided tour of the famous sea caves along the coast of the island. Plus, I love being on the water and this was about as close as I could get, save for swimming in the chilly temps! Guides, kayaks, gear were all included, so all I had to do was show up at the dock!

How to Get There:

It can be done in a day–even from Los Angeles!

I left my house a little after 7am and jetted up the PCH to Ventura Harbor. Watching the surfers catch early waves and the sun yawning up the sky made the drive very scenic and quick! With the detailed directions of where to meet at Ventura Harbor, I had no problem finding SB Adventure Company when I pulled in.

Island Packers is the ferry service that brings you out to Santa Cruz Island and they have several ferries back and forth throughout the day. As I was doing this in March, a lower season, there were less ferries scheduled than in the summer, for example. We had planned to take the 9am out there and the 3:30pm ferry back.

The ferry itself is a lovely ride! Coffee is served on board and the hour ride was smooth and breathtaking. We even had a surprise escort of dolphins on the way over. What a refreshing start to the day.

First steps on Santa Cruz Island

Santa Cruz Island

This island is simply majestic. It was in full bloom from the recent rains, so the hillsides were covered in wildflowers as our ferry pulled up to the dock.

View of Scorpion Bay

Once on land, our guide walked us over to changing area where we could get the necessary clothing for kayaking. They had wetsuits, water shoes, helmets and life jackets waiting for us. They even had waterproof holders for cell phones, which I definitely recommend!

Ready to GO

I opted to wear a wetsuit just on my legs, to make sure I wouldn’t be chilly in the water. However, the sun was out so I didn’t zip it all the way up–a long sleeve shirt was perfect. I brought along water and all my GoPros.

Kayaking

Down at the beach, the kayaks were waiting for us. After a quick safety briefing, my guide, Pablo, was pushing me into the clear waters. As there were a few other tours that day, we opted to go in the opposite direction first to get an unobstructed access to the caves.

The glassiest water

With the water so deep and clear, the impressive kelp forests engulfed us. Pablo told us about this incredible plant and he even encouraged me to give them as taste. Honestly, it was not bad!

Floating snacks 🙂

We ventured into our first cave–following his lead and turning once inside. I had been worried that it would be difficult to turn but it wasn’t bad at all. We just had to time it with the waves.

Incredible kelp forests

We passed around an island where there is loud and quite impressive blowhole. This blowhole was formed by years of sea water crashing into the rock and needed a way to get out. You can get close to it but be warned, you will get wet!

The Blowhole!

Pablo pointed out endemic plants and birds as we paddled by. It was nesting season so we noticed one cave full of birds nests and hungry chirping baby birds. Having a guide like Pablo point out and explain more about specific plants and animals gave so much context to the whole experience that would have been lost if I just went out on my  own.

Learning about the unique flora and fauna on these little islands

We stopped at Geology Cove, a quiet area where you can see clearly see history of the formation of the island through the delineated layers of Earth. Pablo explained how animals used to be able to walk here from the mainland, and over time, the ocean rose and the channel between the islands and the rest of California grew deep, stranding many types of plants and animal here such as the scrub jay, the deer mouse, the spotted skunk and the adorable islands foxes!

Pitstop for a quick viewpoint hike

Our next pitstop was at a rocky beach, where Pablo helped us pull in our kayaks for a quick viewpoint nature walk. The 360 degree views of the island from here were well worth the stop. The beach itself even had some of the most beautiful seashells that I had ever seen!

Elephant Belly Cave

Our last kayak adventure was to Elephant Belly Cave. This was by far the largest cave that we saw. We paddled inside and even shot through a narrow path way for a little adrenaline rush! I didn’t think I could do something like this but Pablo made it simple and put my fears at ease.

Shooting through the passage

Hiking and Picnic

Back on the island, we changed into dry clothes for a short hike and lunch. Visitors are required to stay on one of the designated hiking trails in order to minimize human impact on the island.

We elected to take the hike along the cliff over Scorpion Bay for those photogenic views. A special treat was because it was springtime walking through the waist high wildflowers was truly an experience I won’t forget.

Up here we found the perfect spot for a picnic. Channel Islands Provisioners, the recommended food provider of SB Adventure Company, had supplied us with adorable, trash free packed lunches. The vintage napkin and farmers market sourced ingredients won me over right away! After all that paddling, it was nice to have a delicious, healthy lunch all packed and chilled in an individual cooler just waiting for me.

Farmer’s Market sourced lunched from Channel Island Provisioners!

Exciting Ferry Home

After a slew of photos, it was time to board the ferry back to the mainland–but the adventure was not over then. On board, just as we were cheersing a day well spent with beers, the captain alerted us that he saw whales. Before I knew it, we had changed course and were speeding in the direction of 3 gray whales, migrating up the coast. They crested and dove, giving us a show of tails and spouts. Who knew that this was a whale watching tour too!

What a DAY

The dolphins wanted some attention too and just after, we saw a mega pod of around 700 dolphins–the most that I’ve ever seen and probably ever WILL see. It was literally jaw-dropping. They bounded in our wake and swam up along side the boat, leaping out of the water with joy. I was giddy!

This photo does not do justice just how many dolphins we saw!

We pulled into Ventura Harbor at 5pm and it was a coastline drive home. On my ride back, I couldn’t believe how much I’d done and seen in just 8 hours. It renewed my love and appreciation for California, for nature and for making time for mini adventures throughout our lives. I believe it is always important to take a step back from the day to day grind and just immerse in nature. It is good for the soul, the body and the mind.

Thank you SB Adventure Company for taking all the stress out of planning this epic California day for me!

Ventura Harbor

Packing List:

  • Sunscreen
  • Refillable Water bottle
  • Fast drying athletic clothing for kayaking
  • Sneakers
  • Sunglasses
  • Backpack
  • GoPro (if you are like me and want to photograph on the water)
  • Lunch & Snacks!

***Note to Moms: I know many of you follow my adventures with my daughter and know that I am still breastfeeding. I was able to pump and preserve all my milk during the trip–no problem. SB Adventure Company was very flexible and helpful when it came to making time for me to pump and finding privacy. For that I am very grateful as well.

How to do Easy, Fun, Local Trips with Babies

As new parents, you are home more than you’ve ever been. And if you are anything like me, you’ll get stir crazy. I also am very used to traveling a couple times per month, so this whole “staying home” thing gets to me quicker than most.

I’ve found that in lieu of longer trips, which take a lot of mental and physical preparation, as well as the return adjustment period; easy, local trips are the way to go. You want to avoid planes, time changes and long car rides–especially if you have a baby that doesn’t love being in the car (ours does NOT).

Find a Nearby Destination

For us, that means locations that are 2 hours or less in driving distance from Santa Monica. Luckily, we have lots of great options. We can do the desert, the beach, the mountains and lots of unique places in between. This is a major reason why we moved to California! Regardless of the distance, you need to be extra careful when driving with a baby. If you get injured in a vehicular accident, you may need to hire a car accident attorney Michigan to ensure that your rights are protected.

 

So far for our local trips, we’ve taken Aurora to (not counting anything on a plane):

Venice (3 weeks)

Lake Arrowhead (2 months)

Idyllwild (5 months)

Huntington Beach (6 months)

Newport Beach (8.5 months)

 

Book an Upgraded Room

Okay, so you’ve found that perfect location but what do you now? Renting a hotel room works but realize that if you are going to share one room with your little one, you will need to have lights out at bedtime. This means, you also will either go to bed at 7pm or you will have to tiptoe around and hang out in the dark. Not the best option (though we’ve done that in Huntington and let’s just say, we ate room service in the bathroom… not awesome). If you are going with the hotel route, definitely upgrade your room so you can have a separate room with a door where your baby can sleep peacefully while you order room service in the other room.

 

Book a House

Usually more affordable option, and often more comfortable, is booking a house. Even if you book a tiny bungalow or a 1 bedroom, you’ll be able to let your baby nap in a separate room. This means that you can actually enjoy nap times and also, have a nice dinner, watch a movie and basically take advantage of all that sleeping time to relax with your partner. You also will have a kitchen, which is very helpful for baby food preparation and cooking in.

 

 

Get a Babysitter

Now I have never done this, but I imagine that if you feel comfortable with a hotel babysitter service or finding a local person to babysit, that is a great option for you to have a day or evening out. Personally, I would be a little hesitant to do this unless I brought someone with me to babysit. However, if it were a vetted person that was provided by the hotel, I would consider it. If this doesn’t feel comfortable to you, skip this tip and read below.

 

Go with the Baby’s Schedule

Like all travel now, it will revolve around your baby’s daily schedule. We are on the two nap a day schedule so for us, our day looked like this:

7am: Wake Up

7-10am: Breakfast for baby, cooking breakfast for parents, play time, coffee and hanging out

10am-11:30am: Nap time for baby/Parents could clean (yay!), relax, watch tv or one person could go out for a bit

11:30-2:30: Feed baby then out the door. We used this 3 hour window to explore and have lunch out. One day we walked around Balboa and Aurora got way too many presents at the toy store. The other day we took the ferry over to Balboa Park and checked out the silly rides, walked to the beach and found a playground and found a nice lunch spot.

230-4ish: Baby Naps somewhere in here. Parents relax or one person goes out. 

4-6pm: Sunset stroll. We either put her in the stroller or baby carrier and took a nice walk around the neighborhood. Afterwards, we brought her back for play time, dinner, bath and bed. *Note: the stroll is better with wine.

7pm: Bedtime for baby. Dinner and fun time for parents!

Sunset stroll

 

Have a Stay Home Date

On our recent trip to Newport Beach, I knew that we were going to be spending a lot of time in our Airbnb. We were staying on Balboa Island, which is pretty quiet anyway, so we were looking forward to our nights in.

To make these nights a little more exciting, I decided that we should each take “charge” of a night. The person in charge had to come up with a theme, get the groceries ahead and cook the dinner. (Cleaning up is a bonus!) They must inform the other person of the theme and any “dress code.” Also, if games or movies are involved, be prepared!

Coconut Shrimp

My husband took the first night and went with a James Bond theme as he knows my obsession with Bond movies. We both dressed up, even though we were just in our rental home’s dining room, and drank shaken martinis and ate steaks. We washed it down with a Bond movie.

Night two was my night– I went with a tiki theme and made coconut shrimp, teriyaki pork and had a speciality rum drink. I brought some island decor and sourced local shrimp while down there. With the reggae on, we enjoyed a “tropical” evening, despite the fact that it was raining outside.

A little cheesy? Sure! But if you aren’t able to leave the house, you might as well mix it up and make the nights memorable and different from your usual nights in at home.

 

Try not to Bring a Lot

I say try, because I know that this is hard. It is harder to pack for a baby when you are driving because you are able to pack more! Here’s some advice after overpacking and being buried alive in the car a few too many times.

  • Wash Clothes
    • If you have rented a house, count on the washing machine to save you from bringing too much clothes. If not, I brought dreft packets for some sink washing. However, if you encounter problem with your washer, then you can ask advice for every washing machine problem from a good place like https://appliancehunter.co.uk/washing-machine-repairs-faq/.
  • No tub
    • Check out the sink and bathtub situations and if you can avoid bringing a bathtub, do it. Those things are huge.
  • Bring a clip on high chair.
  • Limit toys.
    • Your baby will be in a new place so that is very exciting already and there’s lots to explore. I have lost so so so many toys on trips.
  • Bring outlet covers.
    • You can’t babyproof a whole hotel room or house, but I did wish I had a few extra things like outlet covers, especially now that we have a very fast crawler.
  • Bring pre-made baby food
    • I didn’t want to be blending my own baby food there and didn’t know what sort of kitchen utensils they’d have, so I brought a freezer pack that had all my own baby food ready to go. I made a few ahead and put them in these small food containers.
    • I also brought along my favorite freshly made purées from Yumi and these excellent fresh pouches from Once Upon a Farm. Both require refrigeration so be sure to get a good size freezer pack for the ride.

Trust me, these little local trips are worth it! They are good for your mental health, your relationship and it is good for your little one to see and do new things! I know Aurora was very excited the whole time and enjoyed all the “new” around her. The more you travel with them, the easier it gets for all of you!