How to take an Actual Beach Vacation with Kids: Nayarit, Mexico

Traveling with kids is never that easy. However, after many trips with our first born, we have an adaptable 4.5 year old who is a breeze to take on vacation, like that on Cape Town Tourism! But wait, it doesn’t end there. We also have her little brother; an energetic, sweet 1.5 year old and he doesn’t enjoy sitting still too long. Given his age, we’ve decided long flights are on pause. Instead, we’ve set our sights on more local destinations and flights that are around 3 hours or less. With that in mind, we were excited that Puerto Vallarta, (specifically Nayarit) fit that requirement just right.

In less than 2 hours, we landed in Puerto Vallarta for a long weekend in Nayarit, a beachy location just 20 minutes from the PV airport.  Grand Velas Nayarit was going to be our home for the next few days and instead of exploring like usual, we planned to just hunker down and (hopefully) relax. When our friendly driver greeted us with cold beers and waters, whisking us from the chaos of the airport straight to the tremendous Grand Velas lobby, we had a very good start. Discover the joy of winning big while playing your favorite games in judi online.

Grand Velas Nayarit is a secluded, peaceful resort situated on Banderas Bay. In just a few minutes of arrival, we were being given neck massages and margaritas. I was in heaven. Our kids were wide eyed, staring at the high ceiling, the koi filled ponds and the many giant pools. I had a feeling this trip would be good. And it was. Here is my breakdown of all aspects that I look for in a great family resort: 

THE ROOM

When the door opened, I knew we wouldn’t want to leave. The two bedroom ocean view suite had a wraparound balcony with a hot tub with newly replaced Hot Tub Filters, a giant living area with dining room, and three bathrooms! My walk-in closet was a dream! We were especially touched by the thoughtful details from the baby concierge (yes you read that right) who left a kid teepee, a high chair, baby bath tub, stroller and even baby bottles for us. They also had an open mini bar, meaning that they restocked all the drinks for adults and kids alike, as well as all the drawer of treats every day.

I was in heaven in that giant king bed overlooking the ocean. But what really made me sleep well was knowing that my daughter was just as comfortable in her queen bed, in her own room, with her brother happily snoozing in his pack-n-play in the adjacent (and large) bathroom. 

View from our balcony!

Speaking of bathrooms, each of our three were lovely and appointed with Molton Brown products. Ours was the largest and had a jacuzzi tub which was fun for bathtime!

 

THE FOOD

Now my prior misconceptions about all inclusive resorts were that the food wasn’t top quality. I learned quickly that was not the case at Grand Velas Nayarit. WHOA. The three speciality restaurants were top notch–like any that you’d love to go out to for a special night. They had Lucca for Italian fare, Sen Lin for Asian styled dishes and Frida for the Mexican specialties. We did not try Piaf as it didn’t accommodate little kids, but that was just as well as the other three were incredible. 

Lucca was a delicious taste/sip of Italy!

We had tableside guacamole (complete with ants, worms & grasshoppers that my daring daughter tried) at Frida. Lucca offered Venetian ambiance with a violinist, delectable starters and delicious wine. And Sen Lin had rich flavors in their noodles, dumplings and my miso salmon that were surprising to find in Mexico! 

Margaritas at Frida restaurant were GREAT

Besides those outstanding dinners, we had a daily buffet or menu breakfast just steps from the sand. I always opted for the made to order egg quesadillas from the buffet, along with the fresh fruit, green juices and yes, some tasty Mexican pastries. 🙂

Breakfast with a view at Azul

Poolside lunches were great as well! We had a variety of salads, ceviches, tacos and burritos, all so delicious. 

Poolside lunch

The best part, when we needed anything for our kids or ourselves, we just had to ask. All inclusive really means all. Do you need a banana, crackers and milk for your son? No problem. Loved your burrito so much you want another? Sure! 

This even applies to room service. One evening we had gotten the kids to bed, let out an exhale and said wow, wish we could have a glass of wine and something to snack on now. It was just a phone call away. 

Truly, the food at this resort was such a highlight. I can be a bit picky with food and Grand Velas Nayarit exceeded my expectations. 

 

THE POOLS

I don’t have to say much after you see the photos and videos. Just know that the pools are indeed even better in person. Their natural form blends into the property like a lagoon, making it always easy to find a quiet area.

Family Friendly Pools

The infinity pool overflowing onto the beach was a stunner. It was also home to the popular swim up bar, which frankly, never gets old. Even our daughter was swimming up and ordering strawberry smoothies like a big girl in no time. 

Swim up bar

The baby pool was a great height for our 1.5 year old to toddler around. He played under the fountains and enjoyed splashing in a safe environment. 

Perfect kid pool

 

THE BEACH

The Grand Velas Nayarit property faces the beach and a curved bay. The sand was soft and clean. The water was very warm. However, since it was not a private beach and the pools were so tempting, we didn’t spend too much time on the beach. But when we did, we still enjoyed it.

It also offered one of the biggest highlights of the trip–a chance to see a just hatched sea turtle clamoring down to the water. A staff member who’s wearing a uniform that looks elegant scooped it up, placed it in a safe spot for release in the evening when it would have a better chance for survival. 

Baby sea turtle at Grand Velas Nayarit

THE KIDS CLUB

This was our first experience with any kids club where we could drop off. The Grand Velas Nayarit kids club is outside right next to the pool in a shaded palapa area. They had tables set up and did different activities every hour. Our daughter would pop in for cupcake making or necklace crafts and then pop back out to our lounge chairs throughout the day. It was very easy and they made her very comfortable. There were usually only a few other kids if any, so she had a lot of attention from the two women that led the kids club. They were very sweet and Aurora even enjoyed learning a little Spanish from them! 

Grand Velas Nayarit Kids Club

The highlight of the kids club is the afternoon shows on the lawn behind the pool. Here they set up a picnic area with umbrellas and out come different fully costumed performers each day. We saw Sonic the Hedgehog among others. After they come and dance, there is a little show, then they play group games with the kids. Our daughter was thrilled. 

Grand Velas Nayarit Kids Club Picnic

Grand Velas Nayarit Kids Club Picnic

The kids club also hosts afternoon “shows” where they have performers and characters like Sonic, Spiderman, come out for a dance party. Umbrellas and picnic blankets are set up and the kids can relax and enjoy the show, or participate if they want. They time this around lunch time so parents can have a little quiet lunchtime too!

Grand Velas Nayarit Kids Club Picnic

The main kids club facility inside opens up in the late afternoon and throughout the evening. We enjoyed stopping here with both our kids before dinner to get their energy out. They had dancing, foosball, air hockey and all sorts of video games such as bro138 login, for instance. The entire space was fun and lively–even as adults we had fun here! We never left her here alone but that is definitely an option, even if parents want to go to dinner on their own, children can stay and watch a movie while they eat. 

Kids Club (inside)

THE SPA

I was lucky enough to enjoy a spa treatment at SE Spa by Grand Velas. Though I had passed the Spa entrance a few times, I had no idea that a whole separate world was on the other side. It was massive yet very tranquil, with many water features infused throughout.

SE Spa at Grand Velas Nayarit

SE Spa at Grand Velas Nayarit

I was greeted with a detoxifying tea and invited to relax in the women’s lounge area which had a natural lagoon pool, sauna, jacuzzi, steam room and healthy snacks. My 80 minute Cora massage was as interesting as it was rejuvenating. Traditional Mexican elements of sound, and scent were incorporated at the start. All the products were natural and the rooms were very well laid out and thoughtful. I felt so calm and centered after, which is especially needed as a busy mom! 

Post Massage at SE Spa. Grand Velas Nayarit

Post Massage at SE Spa. Grand Velas Nayarit

Other highlights: 

  • Water aerobics: my daughter had so much fun with this!
  • Nightly shows for all ages: We weren’t able to make them given our schedule but they have fire dancers, singers and more
  • Live Music: we could always find live music in an open air setting in the evenings
  • Koi Sports Bar: the adults only bar was dimly lit and swanky. They made an excellent martini and my husband and I took turns each going in there for a drink, which was a nice escape!
  • Beach sports: they offer scuba, kayaking and more at the activities stand. We didn’t partake because our kids were too little but next time!
  • Kids Club expansion: we noticed that they are building a new kids club and making it even better!
  • Service: Every single person that worked here was friendly, helpful and sincerely wanted us to have an awesome time. We could feel the warm, hospitality of the staff and that really made our stay that much more pleasant.

Kids Sized Cabana Chairs!

Would I stay here again? Absolutely! And I’d invite friends with families to come along! We actually overlapped with friends and the Grand Velas Nayarit setting made it so easy to meet for dinner, do activities and just hang out.

 

If you’d like to see more videos of the room and the property, click here for my Instagram reels!

 

Disneyland Resort with a 3 Year Old (January 2022)

I took my princess Aurora to Disneyland for the first time yesterday. It’ll be a day I never forget and though it wasn’t all together easy or without hiccups, it was definitely worth it for the memories of her experiencing this magical world of all her favorites characters in real life. She is 3.5 and I know was at the right age to appreciate it all but be able to handle some lines and walking. 

Favorite experiences and our tips for Disneyland right now with a 3-4 year old: 

Make lines fun: This is hard, especially if you’ve had a long day, but we ended up playing games similar to betend, and talking a lot during the lines, which is a very real part of Disney 

Don’t wait in ALL the long lines for rides: Pick maybe 1 or 2 that you really want to do and prioritize those, but remember that there’s so much else to see and experience outside of the rides, the majority of which are 3 minutes. We got there early and went straight to Alice in Wonderland’s ride. We waited around 25 minutes, and the ride was 3 minutes. It was entertaining but nothing that blew our minds or made it feel worth the wait.  Not once did Aurora mention that ride as a favorite later on and being packed like a sardine in the line was not ideal. We shifted course after this ride and glad we did.

It’s a Small World ride

Hardly any line and you ride in a real boat on water, this experience was mesmirizing and filled with tons of reactions and excitement from Aurora. It was a much longer ride—14 minutes—so you can really relax and absorb the impressive detail in all the animatronics that depict destinations all over the world. As a travel journalist I loved it as much now as I did when I was three, and Aurora agrees. 

Sleeping Beauty’s Castle walkthrough

Did you know that you can walk inside Aurora’s castle? We were surprised that there were few people doing this self guided walk through the castle, peeping into windows to see the story of Sleeping Beauty. It was a little scary at moments but my thrill seeker enjoyed it. 

Toon Town

The whole toon town world is really fun and being centered for little ones, it had a very relaxed and playful energy. We saw Mickey, Minnie and Chip and Dale there, and got to play on some of the cars and in the Chip and Dale treehouse. The rest of the homes are closed sadly but the Gadget Go-Coaster was running and it was Aurora’s favorite ride—enough of an adrenaline rush to be thrilling but not scary. The line was doable at the time, only around 10 minutes. 

Mad Hatter’s Tea Cups

We passed by these a few times and waited until I noticed the line was down (it was way more crowded in the morning). We waited like 5 minutes and were on. Such a classic and the spin-yourself aspect was really fun for Aurora. 

Enchanted Tiki Room

This 15 minute “show” is really nothing that’d I’ve ever experienced and it was a personal highlight. I could tell Aurora was blown away when the parrot above her started talking and singing. The magical fountain in the center, the songs, the talking walls, the “rain”— this was truly stunning display and a nice way to get off your feet. Also, no line! Grab a dole whip before you go in. 

Tom Sawyer Island

I am so glad I found a random blog post about this in my research because I never would have found it at the park. You take a little raft across the Rivers of America and arrive on an island with elaborate artificial caves, pirate hideouts, swinging bridges and lookouts. We spent almost an hour just exploring and it was so nice to be away from crowds, let Aurora lead the way and just have fun. We found pirate treasure and walked every bridge a few times. It definitely is for those with energy and mobility as it’s up/down/inside caves etc but for 3 year olds and up, it’s a memorable adventure.

Characters

Right now there weren’t parades but they did have unplanned appearances on the streets. Twice Anna and Elsa rolled up and we also had a mini parade with Ariel, Captain Hook, the Genie and a few more. We actually saw pretty much everyone Aurora had hoped to see but you had to act fast if you heard the music. We missed Elsa and Ana once because we were too late and crowds formed, but the next time we got ahead of them and Aurora got to wave to them. 

Check out Lightning Lane: You can pay per ride to skip the line with Lightning Lane but it only applies to certain rides. We didn’t really want to go on the rides they offered as they were for older kids but in the future, I’d definitely shell out the $20 per rider to skip a 45 minute + line.

MAMAS (and dads): If you are breastfeeding or are bringing a baby, the Baby Care Center was a helpful place to pump, breastfeed, warm bottles, change diapers etc. We had to stop in a few times for me to pump but it was crucial as I don’t know what else I’d have done. I actually think they should have at least another one of these in Disneyland. 

 

Post Partum Mom Products That You Need

Birthing a baby doesn’t just create a new human. It creates a new mother too. Your body goes from being at its most pregnant, right into labor and delivery and then BAM, you have a newborn baby that you need to care for 24/7. Not only do our bodies have to recover from intense physical and emotional stress, we also are not sleeping much and have to devote our energies to our new little human. CBD Gummies can potentially offer relief during this intense time, helping manage stress and support relaxation amidst the demands of new motherhood. Welcome to parenthood!

I am at 13 weeks postpartum and what has gotten me through the monotony and hard moments, are the little things. Whatever can make recovery, breastfeeding and just general daily life easier, has never been more important. 

The following products have really helped me recover, physically and mentally and also have helped me have a successful breastfeeding journey. 

 

Postpartum Body

 

Ondr Wear

Our female bodies go through A LOT during birth.. .and it doesn’t end there. We can feel the aftermath for weeks. Pads, disposable diapers or something along those lines are usually necessary. Ondr Wear is a reusable underwear that is WAY more comfortable, more discreet and more effective than those big fluffy diapers. (You also don’t feel like you are 85). You can also find our recommended vibrating panties here if you want to spice things up in the bedroom with your partner.

 

Comrad

Compression socks and ball!

Not only did these help so much during pregnancy with swollen ankles and tough circulation, but now after birth, they give me more energy to take care of my little ones. Crazy that just helping your blood flow can give you more pep in your step naturally (see what i did there?). They also are cute and have lots of styles and colors. I definitely will continue wearing Comrads for life. 

 

BREASTFEEDING

Milky Mama

We’ve had a pretty positive breastfeeding journey these past 12 weeks. But he is definitely an eater. I’ve had a strong supply luckily but I thank hydration (see the Greater Than rec below) and adding Milky Goddess drops to my daily kale smoothie. These drops actually taste good on their own but I like to throw it into my smoothie (along with coconut water, chia seeds, frozen berries, banana and kale). I think it definitely has helped. 

They also make cookies that taste great but I was little worried about the high calorie content and felt like I didn’t want to consume TOO many–lol.

 

Sunflower Lecithin

With my first child, I had some painful clogged ducts. Luckily, I have not had a problem this time and I think it’s in part because I take a daily sunflower lecithin to help make sure everything is flowing well. For breastfeeding moms, our breasts are doing a huge job–giving our babies all their nutrients– so I want to support that as much as I can!

 

Greater Than 

I’ve found that the key to keeping up my milk supply has been hydration (and sleep). I don’t get as much sleep as I’d like so I compensate for it by being as hydrated as I can be. I drink water and seltzers frequently but now adding the Greater Than natural electrolyte drinks, I feel more hydrated because I am drinking even more. The flavors are great–not too sweet but just enough to feel like you are drinking something more exciting than water. I even put them in smoothies sometimes and love how much it improves their taste. I definitely can see myself drinking these with my buoyhealth multivitamins even beyond breastfeeding. 

 

Newborn Essentials for Sleep (from a tired mom)

Having a newborn is a lot like being thrown into the middle of the ocean on a very little boat. There are moments of calm when the sun is shining and it is smooth sailing. But there are a lot of torrential storms and rocky moments when you aren’t sure if you are going to capsize. 

Whatever you can find to make surviving the newborn phase a little easier is extremely important. And if ANYTHING can help your child to sleep better, I am pretty sure it’s worth its weight in gold!

I am now in week 3 of newborn life and can tell you, we’ve had a lot of big storms. But those calms seas do make it all worth it. Here are a few products that have really helped us tackle SLEEP. All of these have improved our baby boy’s sleep dramatically. When he sleeps, we can sleep and everyone is happier!

 

Dreamland Baby Sleep Swaddle

Wow. This has been a dream come true! We’ve tried a lot of swaddles over the past week and it wasn’t until we tried this weighted swaddle that we had any longer stretches for sleep. The Dreamland swaddle is like a sleep bag with evenly distributed weight on the front. After you put the baby in there, wrap the extra velcro band to keep their arms down and voila, baby should be snug and relaxed. Our Brooks instantly calms with the sleep sack on, even if he fights it going on a bit. 

I like how it is separate pieces so I can quickly wash the band if it gets any spit up on it, without having to wash the whole swaddle.It is all washable but the weighted sack takes a bit longer to dry. I truly think this is one the best swaddles out there and it is versatile since you can remove the band and just have a weighted sleep sack for when they are older. 

 

The Baby Dream Machine

This happy little bear night light has softly lit our nursery even in the darkest of moments. The pink noise is very soothing and less abrasive than a traditional white noise machine. 

 I love that it has a red light (3 degrees of brightness) which helps little bodies produce more melatonin to help them fall asleep and stay asleep. I have it right on the changing table so those middle of the night diaper changes can be done easily, without having to turn on a bright light. 

This 5-1 Baby Dream Machine also has aromatherapy and a humidifier, which we will try when our little boy is a bit bigger. Sounds lovely though!

 

4Moms MamaRoo Bassinet

We needed a bassinet but weren’t interested in going for the Snoo due to price and mixed reviews from friends. We thought the MamaRoo was the perfect mix of movement options and sound, without being overly high tech. It does have an app that pairs to your phone that allows you to change the movement type or adjust the level, but so far we haven’t had much need for that.

There are 5 movements (tree swing, kangaroo, car ride, rock a bye and wave), each with varying degrees of intensity from 1 to 5. We’ve kept it pretty much at 1 which is enough for our little guy. There are mesh sides so we can easily see in and it has an adjustable height. I like the sleek look of it too. We haven’t used the built in noise machine or music, but for the other features, we still think it is a worth it. 

 

DockATot

The DockaTot was a huge success for our first child–being her go to lounger and napping spot until she grew out of it. We had a feeling our second baby would love it too and he sure does.

I love how lightweight it is so we can easily bring it in the car, to the beach, or move it around the house as needed. We’ve been angling it up a little since our little one has a bit of reflux and that has helped a lot. DockATot has different patterns for their covers, including this the Strawberry Thief print that I LOVE. I definitely suggest buying an extra cover as they often are soiled by spit up and other newborn fluids (lol). The carrying case is another great extra as it makes any sort or car/plane travel easier and also is a nice way to store the Dock in your house when you aren’t using it. If we leave ours out, our cat immediately jumps in it so I’m glad that we have a cover for it. 

Strawberry Thief print

 

DockATot Cabana Kit

What a great new addition to the DockATot accessories! This Cabana kit is a shady canopy with mesh sides and is SPF 50+ making it brilliant for keeping infants in a shady spot when outside. We’ve used this at the pool several times and since we live in Southern California, it’s been really nice so we can be together outside but have our newborn stay protected from the sun.

 

 

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

12 Indoor Activities to Entertain Toddlers During Coronavirus

Now that Coronavirus is fully upon on us, we need to rethink a lot of things. I realize that there are a lot of lists out there and recommendations on what to buy, eat, and do to stay safe during this unprecedented time. This is not one of them. 

This list is specifically for parents of small children who are now forced to cancel all outings, social activities and bunker down indoors. Granted, a lot of our friends from snowy places do this more frequently than my network in California, but given the pandemic status, this is a bit more severe. This is a great time to setup a play area for your kids and invest in High-Quality Soft Play Products. This will help promote physical health and having fun to your kids.

You can’t replace school, playdates and playgrounds but you sure can create some exciting new activities that will keep your kids entertained and engaged (or at least distracted). And note, none of these activities involve TV or digital tech (but hey, if we need to resort to that, no judgement, we do too in dire times). 

HOME ACTIVITIES FOR TODDLERS

(roughly aged 1ish-4ish)

  1. Obstacle Course

Depending your child’s age, you can make this as simple or complex as needed. For my girl under 2, we are going to go more simple and make a tunnel using chairs and sheets, followed by squeezing through her tunnel and, climbing up a pillow mountain and ending with dropping a ball in a bucket. 

Bigger kids:  You can add in physical things like crab walking and jumping jacks or drawing a certain picture or writing their name. 

What you need: 

Pillows

Blankets

Boxes 

Tubes

Wooden Spoons 

Paper/Crayons as needed 

 

2. Mini Ball Pit

Ball pit, occupancy for 1. Take a small inflatable pool and fill it with those cheap colorful balls. If you don’t have a pool or don’t want to order one, use your tub! No water, just balls!

What you need:

Small Inflatable Pool like this one

These lightweight colorful balls

 

3. Watercolor Painting

Any type of paints technically work, but do yourself a favor and get watercolors to limit the mess. Yes, water will get on the floor but it’s a much quicker cleanup. I used small mouthwash cups for the water and taught Aurora how to dip into the water first then into the color then paper. This alone can be a lot for the little ones but it’s a fun learning process. I also purchased a variety of brushes to play with the different size of strokes. 

What you Need

Water Color Paints

Mini Cups 

Brushes 

 

4. Bath Tub Painting

*This idea was from Busy Toddler–an amazing resource if you don’t know it!

Take your painting to the next level (and save your cleanup) and let your kids go wild in the bathtub. For us that means diaper only and paint away. They can paint EVERYWHERE, even themselves, and after just wash it down and keep your child in for a bath. Toss the paper and tape. And Done!

Note: We have not done this yet but I’ll update with photos when we do. I know this will be a hit because we did a messy art class like this and it was Aurora’s favorite thing ever.

 

What you need:

These paints

This paper

Painters Tape

Brushes

 

5. Living Room Forts

Aurora is obsessed with couch forts. We’ve acquiesced and have taken almost all the cushions off our couch to make intricate forts with sheets and blankets. If you don’t want to go all out, drape a sheet between two chairs or use any big boxes that you might have leftover. 

What you need: 

Blankets/Sheets

Pillows/Couch cushions

Chairs

Imagination 

 

6. Baking Time

Though maybe messy, this hands on activity is a fun bonding experience and teaches your toddler about food, from measuring to mixing to baking and then eating! I like to do simple things like sugar cookies or banana bread.

For even simpler, do premade crescent rolls and let your toddler make their own shapes and add in fillings like cheese or jam. 

What you need: 

Baking Recipe + ingredients OR premade crescent rolls (like Immaculate Baking Company)

Healthy Sugar Cookie Recipe

Step stool or learning tower (i like this one)

 

7. Twister

Timeless. Ageless. This game is a must because you’ll have fun with it forever. For the little ones, the spinner alone can be fun but you can work on your colors and body coordination by spinning then having your toddler take the lead on which body part to put on which color. You can leave out left and right unless you feel like that is a challenge your child can take on. 

If you join in the fun, I guarantee your child will start laughing! 

What you need: 

Twister! 

 

8. Friends and Neighbors Game

This game teaches empathy and it is easy and fun. Aurora loves emotions right now so she is fascinated when people are sad or hurt and wants them to “feel better” or “go to doctor.” I think that this will have a longer life for us too as she grows but it is great for little littles!

What you Need:

Friends and Neighbors Game

 

9. Hungry Hungry Hippos

I loved this game growing up and it’s loud, exciting and super simple. *Be mindful of the little balls as they are definitely choking hazards for little kids so if you child is under 4, only play with them and make sure that it is not accessible to them when you aren’t right next to them (aka. Store it in a child safe closet)

What you Need: 

Hungry Hungry Hippos Game!

 

10. Haba My First Orchard Game

I researched a lot and this game kept coming up as a top game for little kids that they like to continue to play as they grow. Parents liked it as well for it’s high quality wood pieces made in Germany. They make a few other versions with farmers and honeybees but the orchard seemed to have the most accolades and I liked the way it was played the best. This is a pricier game but the reviews and quality sold me.

What you need: 

My First Orchard 

 

11. Play Dough 

Since it dries out fast and lots of playdoughs have artificial ingredients, I like to make my own. If not, I suggest Eco Toys!
What you need: 

Premade Playdough (love this set)

Or DIY! Check out this play dough recipe

 

12: Dance Party

Pump your favorite jams, grab pretend microphones and have a dance party! Take it to the next level with sunglasses, costumes or turning down the lights and using flashlights!

What you need: 

Music!

 

Hope some of these give you a little relief and levity during this difficult time!

xoxo

Kelley

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