Travel Notes — California September 2008

At Yosemite National Park in California

For link to photos, see below.

Los Angeles — JetBlue allows you to sit in the first few rows and pay a surcharge of something like $20 each way. It’s a great deal. We take 4 seats (aisle and window) hoping the middle seats will stay open and they most often do. Long Beach is a good airport to arrive at; the rental cars are right across from the baggage claim. MapQuest is not so useful here in terms of its time estimates; you have to pad it to allow for traffic. On the freeways, the car pool lanes are underused and this is a great help for families on vacation. The Grove is a great outdoor shopping mall right next to Farmer’s Market which also has a great food court. Be sure and catch the dancing waterfall show in the center of the Grove.  Visited Venice Beach; no big deal — kitschy and downscale. Visited a friend’s house on a cliff overlooking the city with 40 years worth of collected artifacts and plants from all over the world. Stayed at the Beverly Hills Hotel; had a beautiful bungalow in a garden setting. A real oasis in the middle of the urban jungle and it is a good location for walks around Beverly Hills. Remains one of my favorite city hotels. My main peeve these days in hotels is the wacky dysfunctional electronics they put into the rooms that nobody knows how to work, such as air conditioning and some of the newer televisions with remote controls from outer space. Lots of hotels with deep bathtubs; we started traveling with our own kiddie bathtub and it is worthwhile. 

San Diego and Lego Land — Hotel Del Coronado (The Del) is on Coronado Island, just on the coast a few minutes over a bridge from downtown. A very nice sedate place to take a holiday, although the nearby naval base causes many planes and helicopters to always be flying overhead. Imagine sitting on the beach with a huge troop carrier plane coming in for a landing just over your head. This hotel won the award for totally dysfunctional appliance design. We gave up on the TV; couldn’t figure out how to work the microwave or the dishwasher and were frustrated by the air conditioner and had to turn on the lights in the middle of the night to figure it out. Otherwise, it’s a nice property with a big beach on the island which is a nice place to walk around and be sure to walk along the seafront and see the pretty and unusual homes along the oceanfront; each is unique. Food and beverage is not so great but there are other choices on the island. We stayed in the Beach Village which has villas good for families. Here are a few tips: Good restaurants in the area include Oceania (great fish place downtown), Il Fornaio (good Italian and great view of downtown from edge of the island), and the Boathouse (good fish item at a marina next door to the hotel). A good chiropractor in the area is Dr. Keiser at Discover Wellness at 5th and Orange Avenue, and they have two masseuses on staff that also work at the hotel spa; get them here for less than half the price and much easier to get an appointment. Call Robert at 619.892.0075. Hard to get baby things on the island. Wash and fold service same day at a good price at the drycleaner next to Von’s Supermarket on the island. Legoland is almost an hour’s drive away; it is a good little theme park for kids and mid-September is a great time to visit as the kids are all in school. There is one good restaurant there with vegetarian lunch options and a beautiful takeout food place just beyond the entrance. Bring lots of sunscreen around; lots of sun here in San Diego. Downtown San Diego is not a bad place; be sure and see the Embarcadero and the statue of the two soldiers kissing; Seaport Village is a nice place to use as a parking spot for strolling to the Embarcadero; Old Town has a nice plaza toward the parking lot and a decent restaurant in that plaza and a feeling of old San Diego and Mexico; Balboa Park with its beautiful cultural center buildings, fountains and landscaping. One of the prettiest plazas in the world if not the USA. We visited the toy train museum; it was a great half hour with the kids. Decided to pass up on the zoo and sea world with little kids as it is too much walking and sun. Sunset Cliffs are worth the drive from the city to see; about 15 minutes beyond Old Town. Downtown is not a bad place to visit in the evenings and you can get a nice view by taking the elevator to the top of the convention center and looking out over the trolley tracks. Oceania is great for fish in the heart of downtown and I would advise using the valet parking. Funny story was that I was getting a ticket for the trolley and the doors closed with my wife and kids on board; they had to get a policeman and a trolley company supervisor to stop the trolley from leaving the station without me. As soon as the trolley started, Jeremy pee-ed all over the place. His mum was not amused.

Yosemite National Park — We flew to Fresno from San Diego. Some of our luggage came a day late; little planes flying full wind up with luggage being tossed off due to weight restrictions. From Fresno it is a beautiful 2.5 hour drive to Yosemite. At this time of year, the waterfalls are mostly dry but the weather is warm and pleasant. We stayed at the Ahwanee, a real historic property in the center of the park. We had a beautiful suite overlooking the mountains and forests. The manager felt sorry for us having lost luggage and the fact that the babysitter didn’t show up the first night and gave us free room service dinner for two. I was wearing Karen’s polka dot underwear and pajamas but by the time the housekeeping service showed up at the door they were not surprised because they already had heard about us. The hotel dining room is old-English and quite famous; it lives up to its reputation. I think you can get last minute reservations after you check into the hotel and for breakfast it is wise to show up before 8:30am. Surprisingly accessible park for kids in strollers; just use the trails with handicapped symbols. Within 15 minutes you can walk to Bridal Veil Falls or Yosemite Falls. Signage is poor in the park; you can drive right past important landmarks without knowing it. There is an open-air tram tour of 2 hours; we didn’t realize how hot and sunny it was in the valley outside the village and we had to abandon the tour after 20 minutes as it drove the kids crazy. Some nice photographer drove us in the back of his truck to the village. The Lodge is the other hotel and it has a great food court and restaurant. You can use your hotel card to charge items all over the park and this makes the whole place feel like a huge resort. Behind the hotel there are pretty meadows and walks. We saw deer and other things but no bears. Saw people climbing one of the big mountains El Capitan. This was a beautiful place to visit, even with little kids. A 5 hour drive through beautiful countryside brings us to Napa Valley.

Napa Valley — The Carneros Inn is a property we found via American Express. We were pleasantly surprised; it turned out to be in a very scenic area. The whole region is a joy to drive around. We had a little cottage adjoining a vineyard and meadow with cows and horses known as the vineyard suite and it featured outdoor showers on the back porch. The drawback was that the two rooms did not connect but we used a baby monitor to keep track of the kids. Elizabeth enjoyed picking apples and figs and feeding the horses.  There was an 18 inch kiddie pool and she really enjoyed flirting with the other kids at the pool. Goodness knows if anyone understood what she said…. The Farm restaurant in the hotel is excellent and in this whole region you have some of the best fruits and vegetables in America. The property also has a very good grocery market. There are family things to do here. Train Town is a choo-choo train and other little rides like a carousel. One man runs the whole show and takes the kids in a group from one ride to the other. The circuit takes almost an hour. Benziger Family Wineries has a good tram tour around its winery and it is a worthy one hour stop. The view from the top of the hill is stunning. Get there before 3:30pm. Sonoma has a park and plaza right at the city center; a good place to have lunch is the Cheese Factory with beautiful sandwiches, fudge and gelato. A good restaurant in Napa was Celadin. My favorite moment was sitting in a hammock at the poolside at night with a sky full of stars above. On the one hour drive to San Francisco airport, you pass by the city and get a nice view of it from the airplane as well. Good food options at the international terminal which houses JetBlue; an airtrain gets you back to the airport from the rental lot. The flight back was difficult; our little boy stayed awake most of the trip and our little girl managed to get home on just 2 DVD batteries. Think of how many batteries it would take to get us to Australia.

To see photos from this trip, click here.


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