My family recently spent some time in Southern California with our rising kindergartner. Here are some Smarty tips for making the most out of your trip to the Golden State!
Disney’s California Adventure Park
The call of Disney beckons every family and California Adventure Park was just the right amount of Disney for our family. Both Disneyland and California Adventure Park are significantly smaller in size compared to Disney World and a variety of hotels are within a 10 minute walk of the park. We booked two nights at the Courtyard Marriott Anaheim Theme Park and spent one day at California Adventure Park. (For more details see next week’s blog on Disneyland)
A Day Trip to Laguna
Laguna is a stunning seaside artist community in southern Orange County with a wealthy bohemian vibe. Many reality TV shows have been featured here, but it’s natural beauty and upscale art scene is the real draw.
Crystal Cove State Beach is three miles of pristine natural coastline, shimmering tidal pools and undulating hills. The Beachcomber Restaurant is one of the few eateries right on the beach. Reservations are hard to come by and the wait can often be over an hour. With a few friends and beach toys it’s the perfect way to spend an afternoon and a meal that’s worth waiting for. The filet mignon chili was unforgettable on a windy and cool afternoon, my husband devoured the fish and chips while Audrey delightedly told our server that it was the most delicious hot dog she’d ever had. The true joy came when the s’mores dessert was delivered to the table.
Main Beach is in the heart of Laguna’s Art Galleries. There is a playground right on the beach and an ice cream shop across the street. This stunning coastline is dotted with tidal pools that are sure to entertain any young visitor, just be sure to leave all living creatures, rocks and shells as their protected by the Marine Life Protection Act.
1000 Steps Beach is where we ended our day in Laguna. It’s located at Coast Highway and 9th Avenue. There is street parking and 234 concrete steps down to an expansive beach dotted with palm trees and golden cliffs reflecting the setting sun. There’s a cave to explore on the south end of the beach as well as tide pools, but the sunset is the reason we made this trek.
Hermosa & Manhattan Beach
Nestled between Redondo and Manhattan Beaches, Hermosa is an understated gem. A quintessential California beach town where life is played out on the sand and on The Strand. It’s a paved pedestrian path that stretches along the beach for miles of biking, dog walking, skating and skateboarding. For locals and tourist alike, volleyball, sunbathing, surfing and paddle-boarding aren’t just things to do here, it is a way of life.
Book a waterfront room at the Hermosa Beach House. It’s ideally located right on The Strand. The second floor and up have the best views of the ocean and sunsets. There’s an incredibly delicious breakfast spot called The Good Stuff right next door. A few blocks away are a variety of bars, restaurants and shops ready to please your palate and empty your wallet. Rent bikes next door to the Beach House and bike to Manhattan Beach for lunch at Nick’s Manhattan. There’s a water fountain in the courtyard kids can play in while you enjoy the warm California sun. You must order the asparagus fries, it’s a Nick’s original. After lunch, browse the boutiques and shops in town. Be sure to walk out onto the Manhattan Beach Pier to catch a glimpse of Beach Volleyball Champion Plaques molded into the walkway. You just might find the three time gold medalists Misty May Treanor and Kerri Walsh.
Beverly Hills is LA’s most famous neighborhood, known for its palm tree-lined streets, sunshine and atrocious property values. It is a playground for the rich and incredibly famous. Beyond the designer boutiques and swanky cafes of Rodeo Drive, lie the exclusive star studded mansions hidden in the hillsides.
The Beverly Wilshire is a Four Seasons property more famously known as the Pretty Woman Hotel that anchors Rodeo Drive. The classic green and white window awnings solicited flashbacks of a movie I hadn’t seen in 20 years. I managed to score a nights stay at this iconic landmark through credit card points. We arrived before our room was ready, so we left our belongings with the valet and walked Rodeo Drive. To our surprise, Audrey loved window shopping almost as much as Disney. Rainbow sparkles drew her in like eye candy in Jimmy Choo where she discovered the Cinderella Pump glittered in Swarovski crystals fetching $5000 a pair. You can imagine my shock when the giddy store clerks encouraged her to hold it and try it on. Drawn to all things that sparkled she then led us into Harry Winston and Cartier, bubbling with excitement and entertaining the sales staff with her ooohhs and aaahhs.
For dinner we went to La Scala, “it’s legendary” our driver says as he opens the door to the Hotel’s Mercedes S Class 500 sedan. La Scala is a cozy Italian eatery that feels like a private club with it’s U-shaped leather booths and vintage décor. Popular since the 1950s, it’s known for its chopped salad, homemade pastas and celebrities. After dinner we walked to Sprinkles, a popular ice cream and cupcake shop. Although the cupcake shop was closed, you could still purchase a cupcake through the ATM outside it’s doors. Audrey opted for the mango sorbet.
For brunch the next day we went to The Ivy’s in West Hollywood. Our hotel driver praised us for our “iconic” selections as we stepped out of the beautiful Mercedes like celebrities and onto the country cottage chic terrace obliterated by ivy and floral décor. Before being seated we were handed complimentary glasses of champagne, presumably to ease the sting of the prices on the menu. We ordered the fresh mozzarella omelette with tomatoes and basil. While there was no kids menu, Audrey happily split ours with us as they were larger than we could eat.
Before we left Beverly Hills, we couldn’t resist a drive through the neighboring hills along the palm tree lined streets of Bedford and Mulholland Drive. A quick google search gave us the names of streets famous actors lived on and we continued on through Benedict Canyon and Carolwood Drive.
Santa Monica’s blend of surf, sand and sun attract nearly everyone to it’s beaches, boardwalk and shopping plazas. One could easily spend a week here and fail to take in everything this city has to offer. We kept to Ocean Avenue and the Santa Monica Pier. Staying at the Loew’s Hotel, we were steps away from the Santa Monica Pier and Tongva Park which had a unique and modern kids playground. Our room was steps down from the pool deck with an outdoor fire-pit, making for cozy evenings with cocktails after we put Audrey to bed. The warm weather and sunshine made lounging by the pool the main attraction here. By nightfall we made our way to the Pier to ride the Ferris wheel and roller coaster. Early the next morning, I took a class at SoulCycle, a boutique spin class known for its cult-like following of meditative, rhythm based choreography on a bicycle that doesn’t go anywhere. The experience however, certainly lived up to its hype. It was soulful and excitingly fun. The irony was not lost on me that I left a spin class to ride a bike to Venice Beach with the family.
A Monday morning is probably not the time to visit the World Famous Venice Beach boardwalk. Stretching a mile and half along the ocean, Venice Beach is usually an eclectic mix of vendors and musicians, street performers, jugglers and mimes break dancing or walking on broken glass. It’s supposed to be seedy and stare worthy and was the most anticipated people watching of our trip. Instead we only witnessed a homeless man shout expletives at a passerby and another barely clothed homeless woman dancing to music no one could hear. Muscle Beach is typically an exciting highlight on the boardwalk, it’s an outdoor gym with fitness equipment with a front row seat to massive bodybuilders honing their craft, but it was empty and in desperate need of a facelift. We’d forgotten the bike locks on our rental bikes, so we nestled up to a table at the Sidewalk Café for brunch. Sitting right on the walkway we could keep an eye on our bikes and the mix of people passing by. There’s a tinge of regret not heading to Venice first to take it all in on a Sunday, but there will be a next time.
The laid back trendiness of Malibu stretches along it’s twenty one miles of coastline. Hollywood stars and top athletes live in oceanfront homes with the elegant veil of privacy on long strands of beach. The Santa Monica mountains rise up like the back bone to this cozy beach retreat, inviting hikers with an expansive trail system that includes waterfalls and old movie sets. Malibu deserves more than the few hours we could give it the night before our trip ended. Our dinner reservations at Geoffrey’s weren’t until 6:30pm, so we wandered through the shops at the Country Mart, an upscale outdoor mall with a sand filled playground. When we arrived for dinner we were treated to an expansive patio perched above the pacific. The Malibu mint cocktail was a twist on a new favorite drink with Malibu rum, pineapple, lime, soda and a dash of simple syrup. I had two of them. Audrey ordered the butter noodles, while Evan and I both had the filets along with potato leek soup and a wedge salad. When the waiter asked how we liked our food, our candid daughter said “My taste buds are going pretty wild up there.” After a bite of my steaks she says “Mom, there was one that was really pink and super chewy and it was the best one of all of them.” We toasted the setting sun and said goodbye to Malibu, knowing we’d be returning for a much longer stay.
LA Road Trip Playlist
Disneyland – Five for Fighting
Dizz Knee Land – Dada
All I Wanna Do – Sheryl Crow
California – Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
Beverly Hills – Weezer
California Girls – The Beach Boys
California Girl – Tristan Prettyman
LA Woman – The Doors
Hollywood Nights – Bob Seger
California Dreamin’ – The Mamas & The Pappas
Surfin’ USA – The beach boys
Hotel California – The Eagles
Sitting on the Dock of the Bay – Otis Redding