Like many other ex pats we spend most of our summers packing for the rain, flying to Heathrow and visiting friends and family in the motherland for our summer vacation. While these trips are important to us it’s increasingly becoming a lot of work to take those long haul flights and stay in multiple locations every summer. So this year, with two toddlers in tow, we vowed to take it easy.
Pre-babies we’ve done four or five trips down to Southern California – soaking up golden beaches, vintage vineyards and LA night life. This time we planned to experience it in a slightly different way! No flights, no hotels and limited restaurants. Instead we spent those funds on renting the comfiest family house we could find – with a large fenced in garden and a big fat grill. Sound glamorous?! It was 100% kid-focused…. and at the end of it we surprised ourselves by agreeing it was one of the best holidays we’ve had in years!
First stop was Sequoia National Park for a couple of nights, to break up the 10 hour drive south. We snuck through San Francisco while the city was still asleep and got to our house in time for a late lunch. Sequoia is honestly not as accessible as good old Yosemite, nor does it have quite as much bang for your buck on the big vistas. But the Three Rivers area at the entrance to the park and located in the Kaweah River canyon, just above Lake Kaweah, is just perfect for families with plenty of cabin rentals dotted along the water and the most stunning white water views.
We spent Day 1 exploring part of the national park by car (it was 101 degrees by 11am!), being wowed by views along the river and managed a great toddler-friendly hike to the ‘world’s biggest tree’ the magnificent General Sherman. This one hour round trip through redwood giants is really magical. There’s nothing like some really big trees to calm the soul and California really does them best!
Day 2 and we headed off on the six hour drive south to lovely Laguna Beach and our home for the next 10 days. The kids were reasonably chilled in the car despite the long hours, mainly thanks to Julia Donaldson’s audio books. We’ve long been fans of her more recent hits, The Gruffalo, The Gruffalo’s Child, Room on the Broom and Stick Man. This time round we tried some of her older short stories – frankly they drove M and I crazy – but these ones were their favorites;
Night Monkey, Day Monkey
Follow the Swallow
The Wrong Kind of Bark
The Quick Brown Fox Cub.
To be perfectly honest the biggest success of this vacation was lounging around at the rental house (me), BBQing (dad) and making piles of stones in the garden (kids) with no plans at all. But we made it out at least once a day😄 for an adventure.
The beaches down there are superb but nearly every other day we found ourselves at our favorite, ‘Baby Beach’ at Dana Point Harbor near Laguna Niguel. The marina here is perfect for families. It’s partly made up by The Ocean Institute which has a real ‘pirate ship’ (aka historic tall ship The Pilgrim – the ship is open to the public most Sundays). Facing the Ocean Institute is a long shallow harbor beach with lovely clean sand, warm water and no waves. There are paddle board and kayak rentals right there – which our kids loved! As well as easy parking right next to the beach, clean toilets and wash areas and a great grassy picnic area for once everyone has been de-sanded.
Other big hits were lunching with the locals at the Urth Caffe www.urthcaffe.com in Laguna town, skipping over the waves on Laguna Beach and Newport Beach and a day out to San Diego Zoo and Safari. (Best Zoo Ever.)
After over a week of So-Cal living we were ready to head back north and cool off, but first we spent two days in a gorgeous old ranch house on the way home, just north of the old wine country town of Paso Robles. While it’s generally associated with wine tasting tours and other such grown up activities (fortunately our kids are well practiced at playing around wineries thanks to our rather regular Napa trips back home😄) we managed to keep it chilled and kid-friendly by roaming around searching the old property for rattle snakes and ghosts… fortunately neither were found!