the sparkly life: Our West Coast Road Trip, Part Two: California

Friday, October 26, 2018

Our West Coast Road Trip, Part Two: California

cambria air bnb

san francisco with kids

foreign cinema kids menu

I'm finally back with part two of our road trip! Hopefully, you've already read the first part where we hit Seattle, Portland, and Mt. Rainier. (If not, click here.) And now, let's pick back up where we left off...

Day 4: Portland/San Franciso

The guys' original plan had been to drive from Portland to San Francisco, but since it's a ten-hour trip (versus a one-hour plane ride), I nixed it. So we flew into San Fran on an early-afternoon flight and headed to The Fairmont. It is a huge, beautiful, very grand hotel, and the view from our window was insane. But all we could think about was how freaking cold it was: It was in the 50s! In the daytime! In August! (And it felt even colder since we had been in 90 degree weather literally that morning.) 

After settling into our room, we were going to head out to explore a bit before dinner. I went to open up the suitcase that my husband and son were sharing, and then wasn't there. What was there was a suitcase that definitely wasn't ours. My husband had grabbed the wrong one in the airport. (Keep in mind: Ours was gigantic and teal; this one was medium-sized Don't ask. #men) All I could think was, thank god it wasn't me who did that! (Long story short, we got the right bag later that night, but my husband had to go all the way back to the airport to exchange them. Ugh!) 

After the drama, we Uber'd to dinner at Foreign Cinema, which was amazing! Not only is it gorgeous, the service impeccable, and the food incredible (I had foie gras and risotto), but they have the coolest kids menu I've ever seen. For $15, kids get an appetizer, their choice of a main course, and homemade ice cream for dessert. The first course was definitely created by someone who either doesn't have kids or has them but they aren't picky because they are chef's kids, but I appreciated the effort. At the very least, it was entertainment! Each kid got a big plate of various fruits and veggies plus a dipping sauce. My kids didn't go near the radishes, endive, etc, but they loved the more familar things like strawberries and carrot sticks. 

san francisco with kids
san francisco with kids
fisherman wharf carousel
san francisco with kids
chinatown san francisco
china live with kids

Day 5: San Francisco

Our original plan was to visit Alcatraz, but there was a last-minute ticket mixup (again, thank god this wasn't my fault), and we quickly learned that it is essentially impossible to get Alcatraz tickets if you have not successfully purchased them long in advance. So, while the guys headed out to get the van we'd be using the following day (more on that later), the rest of us headed over to the Exploratorium after a quick "what do do in San Francisco with kids" Google. It had all sorts of hands-on science-y exhibits, plus areas for tinkering, stop-motion animation, etc. The kids--and in particular, my son--were in heaven. 

Once the guys came back, we walked to Fisherman's Wharf, which taught us that that's really too far to walk there with a bunch of kids in 50-degree weather. Once there, we walked around a bit, grabbed lunch at some non-special pizza place that I don't even remember the name of, gawked at the noisy sea lions, and took pictures as the kids rode the carousel. We got bored--and tired--fast, and headed back to the hotel to change for an early dinner. 

We walked from the Fairmont to Chinatown for our dinner at China Live. It was so good with kind of a fancy, cool twist on traditional Chinese dishes. We got a ton of stuff to share, and everything was super yummy, but I have to say that the Char Siu BBQ Pork Dutch Crunch Baked Buns were out of this world. They were--by far--the best pork buns I have ever eaten, and I've even had them in Hong Kong and China. They were crunchy on the outside and fluffy on the inside with a slight sweetness that was just perfect. Oh my god. Incredible

road trip with kids

california road trip with kids
pacific coast highway
california road trip with kids
california road trip with kids

Day 6: Pacific Coast Highway

We woke up at the crack of dawn, so that we could get an early start, and man, it was cold. I was going to miss the restaurants of San Fran, to be sure, but I was not sad to be leaving the weather. We piled into the van, which was to be our ride for the next two days. It was a ten-passenger van complete with an X-box and (hallelujuah) USB ports. We headed out, my hands over my eyes, as my husband manuevered that giant van through the steep, twisty streets. 

Our first stop was Stanford. My niece loves it, dreams of going there someday, and wanted to quickly check it out and buy a sweatshirt. Turns out, it's stunning--all Spanish-style buildings and green, open spaces. It looks like the high school in Beverly Hills 90210. 

Next stop was one of my only requests for the entire trip: Winchester Mystery House. I had gone there twice as a child, and was obsessed back in the day. We had tried to go again about six years ago when we were nearby for a friend's wedding, but got there right as it was closing and weren't allowed to enter. So I wasn't going to miss it this time, dammit! If you're not familar with the amazingness that is WMH, here's the deal: It is a gigantic sprawling mansion built around the turn of the century by Sarah Winchester, who was heir to the Winchester Rifle company fortune. Legend goes that she visited a medium who told her she was doomed to be cursed by the souls of all of the people killed by Winchester rifles, and that her only way to keep the spirits at bay was through constant, noisy construction. So for decades, she kept building, adding on to her home and creating weird architectural quirks (stairs to nowhere, doors that opened to big drops or brick walls, etc). You take a tour where you walk through much of the house and learn about her life. If you like spooky stories, cool, old homes, or just generally crazy stuff, it's the best

After Winchester, we hit the road again, caught some beautiful PCH scenery (impossible not to think of Big Little Lies when you see those cliffs!), stopped at a (delicious) hole-in-the-wall taco place, drove some more, and then stopped for a break at Cannery Row in Monterey, CA. The dads took the kids to the aquarium (at $50 a pop for adults, the moms decided to sit it out). Instead, we did some window shopping and a ton of walking, grabbed some Starbucks, and had a delicious cinnamon roll at Lily Mae's Cinnamon Rolls.

We ended up spending longer there than originally intended, so we were a bit behind schedule. We drove some more and went straight to dinner at Centrally Grown in Cambria, CA. It was good, but we were all so tired. Plus, I was stressing out about driving to our AirBnB in the dark. 

And it was stressful. Our AirBnB was "off the grid" (help) up a long, narrow, winding, private road that meandered through the mountains and had zero street lights. And we were in a giant van! It was so scary. But perhaps even scarier than our drive was the house itself. It was way older/shabbier than the AirBnB photos had let on, the front door was broken, and--by far the worst part--it was 90 degrees inside. And I'm not exaggerating. That is what the thermostat said. NINETY DEGREES. The heat was blasting when we arrived, and it wouldn't turn off. It was broken. We had also been banking on doing laundry there but there was no washing machine in sight. (We finally found it later in the basement when we were looking for a fan. It was hidden in the back under a hoader's worth of stuff. We were exhausted, hot, and scared of this house. We decided it would just be easier to buy clean underwear when we got to L.A.) We opened up a bunch of windows and fell asleep.

california road trip with kids
california road trip with kids
california road trip with kids
california road trip with kids
Day 7: PCH/Los Angeles

Once again, we were getting a very early start, but before we left, we got a quick glimpse at the one very cool thing about the house: the stunning views. We also got a better look at the steep drops that we had driven blindly by the night before. Yikes. 

We piled in the car and headed out, grabbing breakfast at the gas station, and vowing to power pretty much straight through to L.A., which we did, pulling into our hotel, the SLS Beverly Hills, a few hours later. (BTW, the hotel is very nice, kind of "rocker cool." It's definitely not a hotel geared for kids, but they did fine there.)

After settling into our rooms and grabbing a quick lunch in the lobby restaurant, we Uber'd to Venice Beach and walked around for a while watching the street performers, then headed to Santa Monica to check out the pier. (The kids rode some rides and played some games, then we quit when one of mine threw a fit when the other one won a stuffed unicorn. Sigh.) We finished the day with yummy tacos, much-needed margaritas, and kind-of hilariously awful service at Punta Cabras (the guy was a clearly born to be an actor, not a waiter, so we kind of got the full L.A. experience there). Then we headed back to the hotel--everyone tired and cranky, including the adults--and went to sleep. 

california road trip with kids
california road trip with kids

california road trip with kids

Day 8: Disneyland

I had known the guys had hired someone to take us around Disney to help us avoid lines, and I was annoyed about it. It seemed like such a waste of money, and I was terrified they had been inspired by this story that ran years ago in the New York Post. Turns out, he had hired a young (able-bodied) guy named Tommy from Stone Vacation Services, and though definitely not cheap, it turned out to be so worth it. 

Tommy knew Disneyland like the back of his hand and had so many tricks. He scheduled our entire day (we did both Disneyland and California Adventure), handled our Fast Passes like a ninja, and we never waited in line once. He even got our kids into the Star Wars Jedi Training experience, which apparently, is really tough to do. It was amazing! All in all, it was a very fun day, as we got to do everything we wanted to do, and had minimal complaints from the kids as we were constantly busy and we could just throw up our hands and say that Tommy made the schedule, not us or them. 

My favorite rides were the Incredicoaster, Radiator Springs Racers, Pirates of the Caribbean (so much better than the one at Disneyworld!), Thunder Mountain, and Soarin'. My adventure-loving daughter loved the Incredicoaster (she went on it three times!), Guardians of the Galaxy (that one's a hell-to-the-no for me), and Space Mountain (I love that one, too, but had to sit it out because my son wouldn't go). And my adventure-adverse-"Does this go fast? Does this have drops?" son loved Pirates, Jungle Cruise, Peter Pan, and Mater's Junkyward Jamboree

hugo's west hollywood
california road trip with kids
sls pool cabana

somni potato croissant

somni tomato bread
Day 9: L.A.

We grabbed an early breakfast at one of my all-time favorite restaurants, Hugo's in West Hollywood. (The Pasta Mama--which is BREAKFAST PASTA--is truly one of my favorite meals ever.) Then, we split up. The men and the kids headed out to do a Hollywood tour (the sign, Hollywood Boulevard, and a few celeb homes), but as I had lived in L.A. years before, I didn't want to do that sort of tourist-y thing. So Kerri and I went to MiniLuxe (which I first told you about here) for pedicures, followed by a trip to Amanu where we had beautiful, custom sandals made on the spot (I did an entire separate post on that experience. You can read about it here.) Then we went back to the SLS for an afternoon of relaxation (finally!) at the pool.

The guys had rented a cabana for the day, which was nice since the kids could lounge in the shade when they weren't splashing in the pool. Speaking of kids, while the SLS rooftop is a total scene, it also happens to be pretty great for kids since the two pools are really shallow. For once, we didn't have to be in there with them; we could just watch them from the side. After a few hours of lounging, sipping cocktails, and snacking, we headed back to the room to change for dinner. 

Our au pair was watching the kids for the night (thank you, Pau!), so that we could go to Somni, Jose Andres' super fancy restaurant right there in the hotel. It was a 20+ course dinner (!), and everything was so inventive and crazy and delicious. Some of my favorites were chicken skin and foie gras, potatoes formed to look like a croissant, kohlrabi with snap peas, and pan con tamato and jamon.

harry potter world
california road trip with kids

Day 10: Universal Studios Hollywood 

Guess what? Tommy does Universal, too, so he came back! (And since Disney had been such a success with him that I was fine with the expense this time.) Once again, thanks to Tommy, we zipped through the park, waiting in pretty much zero lines. My nephew and daughter are both Harry Potter obsessed, so they were truly living their best lives at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. (I loved it, too. It's very cool.) All of the kids got wands and my daughter and nephew got the robes. (Joke was on them though. They had to wear those things in the 90-degree weather. But they both still stubbornly did so for most of the day!) The Harry Potter and The Forbidden Journey ride is amazing, but definitely scary! (My son sat it out, obvs.) The rollercoaster is kind of lame (he still sat that one out, too). We ate lunch there, too, in the Three Broomsticks restaurant. (Note: The line there looked terrifyingly long, but it goes super fast.)

Beyond Harry Potter, I actually thought Universal Studios was kind of just okay though. There's not a ton for a young kid who is scared of a lot of rides. My son even found The Simpsons too scary, and then refused to even go on Minions. Weirdly, he loved Transformers and THE WALKING DEAD --a thing I was too scared to go on--though.  He also loved The Kung Fu Panda movie experience (the seats shake and move slightly), and everyone enjoyed the WaterWorld show. (Do not sit anywhere near the front though. They literally pour water on you in the  "splash zone" and it doesn't get you any sort of better view anyway.) 

The other issue I had is that a lot of the rides are just different variations on the 3D-simulation-ride theme, so it feels like a lot of the same thing over and over again. And the studio lot tour, which I had loved as a kid, seemed kind of ehh as an adult. (My kids--especially my son--weren't that into it, either.) There were some standouts though! The Mummy--an indoor rollercoaster in the dark--is awesome, and the Jurassic Park River Adventure was fun though you do get pretty wet. (The whole time I was wishing my son had gone on it because it was pretty tame, but then there was a huge drop at the end, which he would have hated.) 

We had an early flight the next day, so we spent our last night at The Westin Los Angeles Airport, which was no SLS (!), but totally fine, and it made the next morning so much easier. 

plane trip with kids

Day 11: Fly home

You know how you don't want vacation to end, but then the morning of, you just want to get the hell out of there? That's how we felt. It had been a great vacay--and I'll always be a West Coast girl at heart--but we were tired and ready to head back to the East Coast...and home. 


So, that was our road trip! It was definitely more jam-packed than I would have planned it, but that had its advantages, too, so I'm not sure if I'd even do it differently next time. And, of course, our road trip had lots of privileges like nice hotels, roomy vans, and flights instead of super long-haul drives.

I think the key things that made a road trip with kids work for us were 1) traveling with people we got along with, 2) traveling with other kids, so that our kids had more options than just their own sibling, and 3) planning things to do with the kids ultimately in mind (a pit stop at an aquarium, restaurants with kid-friendly food, etc. Hell, they probably even preferred the Exploratorium over Alcatraz anyway. At least that's what I'll keep telling myself.)

Have you guys ever done a road trip with kids? Tell me your secrets!

Note: Nothing on this trip was sponsored. We paid for every damn thing ourselves.


candy said...

It is always fun to go but I am always ready to head home. Looks like all of you had a wonderful time

Sarah Bailey said...

I love the idea of taking a Californian road trip, it seems like you got to see so many wonderful places. Hands up i would definitely stop off at Disney too!

Anonymous said...

We went to the West Coast many years ago but had a great time. I'd love to go back one day. Looks like you all had a wonderful time!

AiringMyLaundry said...

I just love your photos. It looks and sounds like you guys had an amazing time in California. I need to get there one day.

Terri Steffes said...

That's one big slice of tree! I love seeing photos of families having fun together.

The Super Mom Life said...

I had such a great time on both of my trips to California. I can't wait to go back.

Kita Bryant said...

I need to visit the west coast. It is such a far away and different place to me!

Ronnie said...

How fun!! We absolutely loved California when we traveled there last year.Universal Studios was a definite highlight but San Francisco as well. Glad you all got to enjoy yourselves as well. :)

Amee said...

Wow! Your family surely had lots of fun. I can't wait to visit West Coast with my kids someday.

Chubskulit Rose said...

That fruit and veggie platter looks very refreshing. California is such a beautiful state to explore with family.

Pam said...

Wow! You really covered all the highlights on your trip. I really enjoyed visiting Chinatown and Fisherman's Wharf the last time I was in San Francisco.

Mary Yaroscavitch said...

I'd love to take my girls to Venice Beach and Disneyland. Looks like you had an amazing trip. I'm glad you enjoyed it even though some places had cooler temps. I know my girls would have loved to see the sea lions on the wharf.

Cosmetic Sanctuary said...

Wow what an incredible trip! I live near San Francisco, and I don't go to the city nearly enough!

Jona Shares said...

Wow, indeed such an amazing moments with your family! I have cousins in Canada and were still planning out or vacation there.

Rika said...

I've been to Cannery Row in Monterey! Sounds like you had such a wonderful trip! My husband always make sure that we visit Chinatown in every city we visit to grab delicious Asian meals.

Tammy said...

WOW!! What a trip. We've had some of those strange "incidents" before while traveling. But we just laugh about it now and keep traveling

Rachel said...

This would be a dream trip for me. I have always wanted to see more of the west coast.

Shannan Powell said...

What an amazing trip! I'm so jealous about the Winchester house! I'm dying to see that place!

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