Tag Archives: California

Plan the Perfect Central Coast Camping Itinerary

Looking to create the perfect California Central Coast itinerary? Here is what we did:

Jucy Camper Van // (c) Janeen Christoff
Jucy Camper Van // (c) Janeen Christoff

Day 1: Los Angeles to Cachuma Lake
We picked up our Jucy around 10 a.m. and brought it home, packed up our things and headed out after school, around 3 p.m. I would recommend leaving a little earlier as we arrived at Cachuma Lake Recreation Area around 6:30 and would have liked to have a little bit more daylight to set up and enjoy the camp.

Nature cruise on Cachuma Lake  // (c) Janeen Christoff
Nature cruise on Cachuma Lake // (c) Janeen Christoff

Day 2: Lake Cachuma to Pismo Beach
We visited the Nature Center at Cachuma Lake and did the boat tour of the lake for some great wildlife spotting. We saw a red-tail hawk, a lot of swallow nests as well as grebes racing on the lake.

The blackboard at Chomp in Solvang // (c) Janeen Christoff
The blackboard at Chomp in Solvang // (c) Janeen Christoff

Lunch was at Chomp in Solvang, which is an adorable Danish village in the Santa Ynez Valley. Chomp is the perfect spot for family dining with delicious burgers and fries for both kids and parents.

Burgers, fries and a shake at Chomp // (c) Janeen Christoff
Burgers, fries and a shake at Chomp // (c) Janeen Christoff

There’s a giant blackboard sure to keep the kids entertained if you have to wait for a table. We recommend ordering one of their classic milkshakes which are fantastic and so large there was some left to take with us on the ride to Pismo Beach.

Putting up the tents in Pismo Beach // (c) Janeen Christoff
Putting up the tents in Pismo Beach // (c) Janeen Christoff

It takes less than two hours to drive up to Pismo and we arrived mid-afternoon to Pismo’s North Beach Campground. If you are here during monarch butterfly season, the monarch grove is to the left of the campground. Get a spot on the left-hand side close to the beach and you can take a short walk to the shore for a perfect sunset.

Sunset North Beach Campground Pismo Beach // (c) Janeen Christoff
Sunset North Beach Campground Pismo Beach // (c) Janeen Christoff

Day 3: Pismo Beach to Paso Robles
After lunch in Pismo Beach, we headed for ice cream in downtown San Luis Obispo at Batch — they serve homemade ice cream sandwiches. Then we strolled by the bubble gum wall, a must-see but kind of makes your stomach turn. Put up your own chewed gum at your own risk.

Margarita Adventures Ziplining // (c) Janeen Christoff
Margarita Adventures Ziplining // (c) Janeen Christoff

Next stop — ziplining with Margarita Adventures. This five-line zip over the Santa Margarita Wintery is definitely worth the trip, especially for families with small children. My sometimes trepidatious 6-year-old loved the zipline and the rest of us found each one exhilarating. We followed up our adventure with a wine tasting across the street. Try the rose, it’s delish.

We camped at the Wine Country RV Resort, which is clean and has fantastic facilities as well as a swimming pool. However, in our tiny Jucy camper, we felt a little out of place. A great alternative is a drive to San Simeon and stay at the San Simeon Creek Campground just south of Hearst Castle.

Elephant seal beach // (c) Janeen Christoff
Elephant seal beach // (c) Janeen Christoff

Day 3: Paso Robles to Big Sur
We drove up the stunning coastline between Cambria and Big Sur. Leave early so you have time to picnic, snack and stop at all of the beautiful spots along the way. I recommend stopping at the elephant seals for a short walk, grabbing a snack at Ragged Point, hiking and eating a picnic lunch at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.

Julia Pfeiffer State Beach // (c) Janeen Christoff
Julia Pfeiffer State Beach // (c) Janeen Christoff

There are fabulous state campgrounds along this drive that are all amazing. Kirk Creek is our favorite with stunning views of the sea below and a couple of fun hikes. Watch out for poison oak. Other options include Plaskett and Limekiln campgrounds.

Redwoods in Big Sur // (c) Janeen Christoff
Redwoods in Big Sur // (c) Janeen Christoff

We made the whole drive that day and stayed at Big Sur Campground & Cabins, an idyllic little spot buried in a redwood forest and located along a small river with tubing and a giant playground.

Big Sur Campgound & Cabins // (c) Janeen Christoff
Big Sur Campgound & Cabins // (c) Janeen Christoff

Day 4: Big Sur, Monterey and Home.
We wrapped our journey with a trip to Monterey Bay Aquarium and then headed home. Definitely buy your aquarium tickets in advance to avoid a long line and arrive early to avoid the crowds.

Where to Go for Thanksgiving Break in California

Yosemite is a fun place to visit for Thanksgiving.
Yosemite is a fun place to visit for Thanksgiving. Photo courtesy of Guy Francis.

In Southern California, Thanksgiving is usually too early for powder skiing but too late for swimming at the beach, so where does one go for a local Thanksgiving break? Of course, I aksed my very opinionated kids – Disneyland. “But it’s crowded,” I said. “We will only go on one ride,” they answered. “Ya, right,” I thought.

I love Disneyland, and I love the magic in my kids’ eyes when they go there. It is, after all, the penultimate weekend getaway for families with kids in Southern California. In fact, fall is one of my favorite times to visit Disneyland. But if Disneyland isn’t in the cards or you want to avoid crowded amusement parks, here are a few magical alternatives.


While the falls might not be raging, Yosemite can still be an awesome place to visit in November. It’s ideal for families looking for smaller crowds and more isolated hiking paths. Especially if you are a California native, a weekend in Yosemite during Thanksgiving break can offer the brood a brisk adventure – and if you live in the San Fernando Valley, like me, it can offer some much-needed chillier weather. That being said, the weather is somewhat unpredictable – it could be snowy or it could be fairly dry – so be prepared for any type of adventure.

And for those who don’t plan on cooking at home, there are several options for Thanksgiving meals at The Awahnee, Yosemite Lodge and the Wawona Dining Room.

Tenaya Lodge, located just outside the park, also offers Thanksgiving dining as well as holiday activities such as gingerbread house decorating, a Christmas tree-lighting ceremony and sleigh rides, weather permitting.

www.yosemitepark.com; www.tenayalodge.com

San Luis Obispo

I love the historic charm of downtown San Luis Obispo and nothing gets me in the holiday spirit more than the cozy weather of California’s Central Coast (obviously, I must be a Cali native). So, heading to SLO for a few days to escape the L.A. smog and bask in the crisp coastal air is my idea of heaven. It also doesn’t hurt that there are some cool local events nearby to go along with the visit such as the Holiday Craft Bazaar in downtown Paso Robles on Nov. 28 as well as a tree-lighing ceremony with Mrs. Claus herself at the bandstand at 5:30 p.m.


Mammoth Mountain

With the drought in California, who knows if Thanksgiving will be a banner year an Mammoth Mountain for skiers. But it’s never a bad idea to beat the holiday heat in L.A. with a trip to the Eastern Sierra. And who knows, maybe those desperate to hit the slopes can get in some turns before Black Friday and also take advantage of early-season booking rates.


10 Perfect Activities for Families Visiting California’s Central Coast

Wine Coast Country is the ideal place for families.
Wine Coast Country is the ideal place for families.

Wine Coast Country, as California’s Central Coast is often known, is the perfect destination for families and the area’s new Stewardship Travel program is filled with fun, authentic, and inspiring activities hosted by area historians, scientists and specialists. There are more than 70 unique activities and/or contribution opportunities in more than 10 locations that families can take advantage of. So, if you are like me, and are looking for something unique for the family to do during spring break but somewhere that isn’t too far away, Wine Coast Country is the place. Here are 10 perfect activities for families:

1. Elephant Seals Docent Talks (San Simeon) 
• Safe up close views of hundreds of seals playing, rolling in waves, flipping sand, and calling.
• Long viewing boardwalk for walks and talks.
• Docents help kids learn and share pictures to illustrate peculiar seal behaviors.
• Find out why there is a “loser’s beach.”
• Live Webcam for kids to track seals when they go home (www.elephantseal.org/Rookery/livecam.html)

2. Costal Discovery Center (San Simeon/Cambria)
• Hands-on exhibits and learning centers designed for all ages near sheltered state beach.
• Docents on hand to talk to families and answer their questions about marine life.

3. San Luis Obispo Kid’s Botanical Garden (Los Osos/Baywood)
• Features a kid’s garden and programs such as “Garden Fresh Family Cooking” and “Kid’s Garden Candy.”
• Lots of fun walking trails in and around well labeled botanical garden, a garden store, and an outdoor amphitheater for educational programs.
• Playground equipment and small rock climbing area nearby for kids to enjoy when they are done learning about plants.

4. Audubon Sweet Springs Nature Preserve Days (Los Osos/Baywood)
• Monthly Steward’s Day for the whole family – gathering seeds, planting seedlings, weed eradication activities depending on time of year. • Fun, relatively short hiking trails with little bridges, creek to ocean views on small “pocket” preserve.
• Great wildlife viewing – possible sightings include: great blue herons, pond turtles, snowy white egrets. Exhibits that show the history of San Simeon Bay from the Native Americans who lived in his area up to 10,000 years ago, to the Mission Era, the shore whaling era, and the Hearst Castle era. Citizen Science programs so families can help and learn about water quality monitoring. 
• Donation opportunities to help with preserve’s conservation and ongoing restoration and more.

5. El Moro Elfin Forest (Los Osos/Baywood)
• Five miles of safe, looping wooden boardwalks for waking with spectacular views of Morro Bay.
• See special “pygmy oaks” in the forest with 199 other plants, 110 kinds of birds, 22 species of mammals.
• Free self-guided plant and animal guide for walks.
• See historic Chumash Indian shell middens (shell heaps).
• Educational docent-led trips available.
• Conservation donation opportunities.

6. Avila Beach Free Stewardship Cleanup Kit & Tote Bag Gift (Avila Beach)
• Families can pick up the Stewardship Clean-up Kit at most Avila hotels/resorts and head to the beach (especially after a storm) to find and pick up interesting flotsam, jetsam and litter to help protect wildlife and keep beaches pristine.
• Have fun together by filling out the Cleanup Checklist (in the kit) and return to hotel for free tote bags.
• Older students can check with schools to receive educational credits for volunteer efforts.

7. Central Coast Aquarium – Avila (Avila Beach)
• Hands-on exhibits and learning center designed for all ages near protected beach.
• Aquarium staff on hand to talk to families and answer their questions about marine life.
• Fish and jellyfish aquariums along with live shark tank (stay for feedings).
• Exploration backpacks available for families to check out: includes field guides, hand lenses,binoculars and more.

8. Natural History Boat Cruise and Fishing Clinic in Lopez Lake Recreation Area (Edna & Arroyo Grande Valleys)
• Two-hour boat-cruise with Park Ranger for all ages (even the family dog is invited).
• Learn about local wildlife, forests, history on cruise – cleanup options available, just ask the ranger.
• Special fishing area for clinic with stocked fish (especially good for positive experience for youngsters who want to learn how to fish with parents).
• Learn about “leave no trace” fishing.

9. Museum of Natural History Morro Bay State Park (Los Osos/Baywood) 
• Ideal and fun central location above Morro Bay Estuary with fantastic views.
• Short walk to nearby Heron Rookery.

10. Visit 50,000 Monarch Butterflies near Pismo State Beach (Oceano/Nipomo)
• Relatively small protected area for butterfly exploration.
• Between late October and February 50,000 butterflies stop at Eucalyptus grove while migrating.
• Educational docents available to tell the butterfly story – some butterflies migrate 1,000 miles to this site.
• Family dog welcome on leash.


StarLight Festival Puts the Sky in Focus in Big Bear

StarLight Festival will take place in Big Bear in May. // (c) 2014 Astronomy Outreach
StarLight Festival will take place in Big Bear in May. // (c) 2014 Astronomy Outreach

At my daughters’ school they tried for almost a year to host Space Night but, in possibly a first for Los Angeles, it was cloudy and rainy every time — even in the early fall and late spring. Big Bear, Calif.’s recently announced astronomy festival — the StarLight Festival — sounds like it will more than make up for it — and be a fun way to get kids excited about space, science, the atmosphere and the stars.

The StarLight Festival event, organized by AstronomyOutreach network, takes place in Big Bear Village Saturday, May 24 and Sunday, May 25, 2014. It’s a cosmic festival for all ages that combines science and astronomy with art and music to create a fun atmosphere that is both educational and entertaining. Some of the highlights of the event include guest speakers and panelists from NASA and Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), lectures about current space programs, opportunities to tour the Big Bear Solar Observatory, “sidewalk” astronomers, STEM educational activities, major manufacturers display the latest and greatest scientific equipment, intergalactic-style art exhibits, live music, and thousands of dollars in door prizes.

The StarLight Festival is Saturday, May 24 from 10 a.m. to 12 midnight and Sunday, May 25 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Big Bear Village. Lectures and panel discussions are held at The Cave and Northwoods Resort. Admission to the StarLight Festival is Free. RTMC Astronomy Expo is from Thursday, May 22 to Monday, May 26. Admission to RTMC Astronomy Expo is $25 for adults, $12 for kids ages 5-13, and kids under five are Free. For details about the StarLight Festival including a schedule of events visitwww.starlightfestival.com. For more info about RTMC Astronomy Expo visit www.rtmcastronomyexpo.org. For all there is to see and do in Big Bear, make lodging reservations or request a free Visitors Guide log on to www.bigbear.com or call 800-424-4232.

Mammoth Mountain Celebrates 60 Years With New Enhancements

Mammoth Mountain is getting ready for the 2013/2014 winter season // (c) Janeen Christoff
Mammoth Mountain is getting ready for the 2013/2014 winter season // (c) Janeen Christoff

I am so happy to hear that one of my favorite ski destinations is celebrating 60 years and that June Mountain will be reopening this season. With so much going on in Mammoth this year, it makes me wish we had purchased season tickets. Regardless, we will definitely be spending a lot of time in the Eastern Sierra when the snow starts to fall…Let the condo searching begin.

In addition to the reopening of June Mountain, Mammoth’s winter air service now includes L.A., San Diego, San Francisco and Orange County. The mountain will also be a training ground for U.S. Freeskiing and U.S. snowboard teams, which means that youngsters heading to the mountain have a chance to see some amazing athletes in action – it also means that Unbound and Adventure Zones will be in top form.

Guests will have an enhanced experience at the Mammoth Mountain Inn as well as new culinary adventures. Both foodies and winter sports enthusiasts alike are treated to an array of new options including celebrated chef Mark Estee’s CAMPO restaurant in The Village at Mammoth. Estee’s original CAMPO, located in Reno, was recently named one of Esquire’s best new restaurants in America. The Lakefront Restaurant has a new chef as well and has partnered with local, organic farms to offer a new seasonal menu.

Late-night entertainment will also be renewed with the opening of the Underground Lounge. Music is the focal point of the Lounge, which accommodates a live music venue along with a bar, lounge, and VIP area. A contemporary menu features signature cocktails and Provencal comfort food highlighted by “tappatizers,” Chef Frederic Pierrel’s unique blend of tapas and appetizers.


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