Favorite Things To Do With Toddlers in Monterey Bay

Monterey Bay

Monterey Bay Aquarium

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is probably the most well-known attraction on the peninsula, and for good reason! It’s waterfront location provides a perfect place to spot marine life in the wild. During whale migration season in August, it is not uncommon to spot whales in the bay from the aquarium’s viewing platforms. The aquarium has wonderful exhibits that are very engaging and interactive for children. There are touch pools, an interactive create your own fish activity, great kids’ play areas, and various feedings and talks you can see throughout the day. Our favorite to try and attend was the feeding at the Open Sea Exhibit. We would go a little early to find a spot near the glass to sit (it can get pretty packed), have a snack, and watch the fish get their snacks! The aquarium also has a nice, albeit a little pricey, cafe with beautiful bay views.  You can also bring in snacks and water and find a bench outside to eat at too. Many locals buy year long memberships because the ticket price is steep and if you think you will visit more than a few times, it is completely worth it!

 

Caledonia Park

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We lived walking distance from Caledonia Park, so we were there quite often. This is a wonderful park for little kids. It has a fence around it, so no running away. It also has a bathroom and drinking fountain. It’s just off of Lighthouse Avenue in Pacific Grove,  which is the main shopping and restaurant spot in town. So it makes for a good place to let kids burn off some energy. I prefer this park over the more well known “Dennis the Menace” park. Dennis the Menace park is also very fun, but it is much bigger, the playscape are bigger and I felt like I had to be very “on” there because of the size of things and the amount of kids. Caledonia is more manageable and better for small children. Also a short walk from the park is Lovers Point which is a scenic outlook, beach, and start of the Coastal Recreation trail. The park also hosts different little fairs and events throughout the year that bring in petting zoos, bounce houses, and some rides.

Walk on the Coastal Trail

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This is probably the place our family spent the most time, besides our house. We could also walk here and we loved to either walk, run, or bike the trail. I think it is a must do activity in Monterey. It’s very stroller friendly from Lovers Point toward the wharf (inland). If you go from Lovers Point toward Asilomar it is not paved and you may have to deal with some narrow parts, and uneven terrain. You can rent regular bikes or surrey bikes from bike shops near Cannery Row and cruise up and down the trail to the aquarium, Coast Guard pier (where the sealions hang out), the wharf, and all the way around the bay if you really wanted to! Keep an eye out for seabirds, otters, whales, sea lions, and harbor seals from the path. I guarantee you spot at least a couple animals. It is so scenic and beautiful, especially if you are there in April when the “magic carpet” is blooming and the coastline is bright pink!

 

Carmel Beach

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Carmel Beach is my favorite beach of the area. The weather always seemed to be better here (less windy than Asilomar), the water is gorgeous, and it is dog-friendly. Not to mention Carmel-by-the-Sea is just behind it with numerous restaurants, shops, and tasting rooms. It is also fun just to drive around Carmel and look at the thatched roof cottages and premiere real estate! If you are here in October, look for the sand castle contest. It is a local favorite event with everything from very amateur constructions to elaborate and impressive sculptures.

Pizza & Gelato at Cafe Ariana

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Our favorite place for pizza and gelato was Cafe Ariana on Lighthouse Avenue in Pacific Grove. There is another ice cream shop down the road known for its kitschy Beatles decor, but I preferred the always changing flavors at Cafe Ariana. It’s a family owned business serving up salads, paninis, pizza, beer and wine. Sometimes we would walk over after dinner just to get some gelato. The atmosphere is calm and there is some nice outdoor seating on Lighthouse Avenue for people watching. Everyone who travels with kids knows you always need a good ice cream bribe, and this is the place to do it!

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A short drive into Carmel Valley is the Earthbound Farm Stand. We loved coming here for outdoor play time. There is a giant tipi, children’s garden, cut your own herb garden, and of course a place to buy all organic lunches, groceries, and ice cream. Throughout the year the also host fun family events, like a bug walk where you are led through the gardens with one of the farmers to learn about the plants and pollination. At the end, each child is given a handful of ladybugs to release on the plants! This is also a great place for pumpkins in the fall. Look for pumpkin painting and fall festivals through the season. Also next to it is a feed store that you can walk to that has several different farm animals to look at.

Wharf Marketplace

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The Wharf Marketplace sits along the Coastal Trail nearby the wharf. It carries specialty groceries and serves salads, sandwiches, ice cream, beer, and wine. There is outdoor seating where you can relax. Kids can climb on the big stationary tractor, adults can play bags/corn hole. Our favorite thing to do on a nice day was bike on the trail from Lovers Point to Wharf Marketplace, have lunch and a beer, then bike home. Also look for wine tasting events and specialty food being cooked up on the weekends!

Drive Highway 1

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This is also a must of visiting the area. It isn’t technically Monterey Bay, but Monterey is the perfect jump off point for a drive to Big Sur. Try to aim for a day where it is clear so your view won’t be spoiled by fog. Drive south on Highway 1 AKA the Pacific Coast Highway. Stop at as many or as few lookout points as you want. Once again, if visiting in peak whale migration season (either January or August), bring your binoculars and look for whales! You don’t even need the binoculars though, you can see whale spouts with your naked eye. Bixby Bridge is along this route, a great photo spot but just hold tight to your little ones and head the warning signs about where to walk. Other great stops are Garapata State Park, McWay Falls, and Pfeiffer Beach. The views are unbeatable! We had a great lunch at Cafe Kevah which is the same location at Nepenthe. Both are great and have stunning views!

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Lunch at Cafe Kevah

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How to Plan a Trip to Disneyland

It’s the Happiest Place on Earth, but there is a lot that goes into making your Disneyland trip a magical one. If you’re new to Disney or haven’t been since you were a kid, you may be surprised at all the preparation that can and should be done in advance. There’s an overwhelming amount of information out there. I don’t claim to be a Disneyland expert, but here’s what helped me the most and made our trips so wonderful!

1.Select trip date and length

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Halloween decorations at Disneyland Paris.

Picking when you’re going to make the trip and for how long is the first step. Check out these posts that highlight different pros and cons to visiting at different times of year.

When To Go To Disneyland

Disneyland 2016 Planning Guide

Best Time to Visit Disneyland

Of course we’d all love to visit when the crowds are lowest, but sometimes that’s not possible. Also sometimes low crowd times can mean more ride closures for refurbishment, and shorter park hours. Halloween and Christmas can be extra magical times to visit because of the special decorations and parades, but it can also be some of the most crowded times to visit. The rule of thumb is the parks are most crowded when kids are out of school: summer, Christmas break, and spring break. Decide what works best for your schedule, and your budget, and just go with it!

2.Transportation & Lodging

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If you need to fly, start looking at flights early. Set price alerts. Check Southwest Airlines, sometimes the ticket price is higher but the free checked baggage allowance can even it out. I also love Southwest for their open seating and cancellation policy. The open seating is helpful for families who can board early, thereby avoiding the hassle of not being assigned seats together which has become an issue on other carriers. Also if you had to cancel your trip, the balance you paid for your tickets will be saved to go toward a future flight. This is a much better policy than many other carriers.

If you are driving, don’t forget to factor in that famous LA traffic…it can be brutal! Your lodging choice may also affect whether you need a rental car or not.

Disneyland has three properties the Grand Californian, Paradise Pier Hotel, and the Disneyland Hotel. There are also many “Good Neighbor” hotels that are in close proximity to the parks, many within walking distance. Disneyland’s website is a great place to start to see where these properties are on the map, but I suggest calling these hotels directly for their best rate. I love Booking.com for booking hotels as well, but I always call to see if the hotel can beat the rate I found online. Other options would be to rent a house/condo via Air BnB, or maybe you’re staying somewhere nearby (San Diego, or LA) but driving to the parks just for the day.

Don’t forget to ask about parking fees. Some hotels charge a per night, per car parking fee which is almost as much as the fee to park at the parks.

3. Research

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One of my absolute favorite resources during my planning was DLRprepschool. Casey is a dedicated Disneyland expert who is very helpful to her readers. Check out her website and her Facebook page. She’s in the parks regularly and updates with the latest information.

If you will be traveling with children, it is important to know their heights which will dictate what rides they will be able to ride. Nothing worse than a three year old all excited to ride Radiator Springs Racers, getting there and finding out he’s too short! Meltdown city, let’s avoid that!

Also talk and think about what your priorities are. Maybe one person really wants to meet characters, and someone else wants to ride Splash Mountain 10 times. There is so much to do between the two parks, you likely will not be able to do everything. So decide what are each person’s must dos and make a plan.

You NEED to know about:

Fastpasses

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The other two resources I loved were Magic Kingdom Mamas on Instagram, and the Disneyland App. I highly recommend both!

4. Food Options

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Character dining at Ariel’s Grotto.

You should expect to spend some money on food. Know what is important to your family. Maybe the budget is most important and you should research low cost counter service food. Or maybe you want to hit all the fine dining places in the parks. On the Disneyland app you can see where all the different restaurants and food carts are and see the menus for them!

Character Dining is a fun, memorable experience to add to your trip. See about the different options HERE.

It’s very important that if you are set on a certain restaurant or character dining experience, to make your reservation up to 60 days in advance. The earlier, the better to avoid disappointment. You can make reservations directly through the Disneyland website or through the app that will link you to the website.

If you have a food allergy or restriction in your party, you’re in luck because Disney is very accommodating! The sit down restaurants will often ask you right at the check in desk if you have any allergies, and I believe the waiters are well versed in substitutions or alternative food options.

However you plan to dine, you should know that you can bring snacks into the parks. Snacks are a must, you might need that snack to give to an upset child in line. Sometimes it’s amazing how a little snack can brighten a mood! You can get free ice water at any of the counter service restaurants, and I recommend bringing water bottles. It will save you from having to buy them multiple times a day.

5. Pre-buy

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Pre-purchased dress on sale for $30 vs. buying a dress in the park for $70.

I highly suggest buying Disney gear before you get to the parks. Buy princess dresses, costumes, and Disney t-shirts at a much lower cost at JC Penny, Target, Old Navy, Etsy, or Ross. Even Disney Store and the Disney Store outlet have things for less than they will be in the parks.

Most experienced visitors also recommend buying souvenirs in advance. Have a few things ready for when the “gimmes” start. Most of the stores listed above will also carry Disney toys. You can find Disney toys almost anywhere these days! Understandably you will probably want to buy at least one or two things in the parks, but you can save a lot of money by buying extras elsewhere.

Also look for light up toys on Amazon and in the Dollar Spot at Target. Undoubtedly your kids will want the $20+ light up toys cast members are selling at the start of any nighttime entertainment. But if you have something ready to give them, you should be able to distract them and keep everyone happy.

6. Show up early

It is in your best interest to arrive 30 minutes prior to park opening. The crowds will be lighter than in just a few hours later. Use that early morning time to ride several rides and get Fastpasses for later while the late stragglers are still in bed!

7. Have fun and be flexible!

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You did it, you’ve done the reading, you’ve made the reservations, and you’re ready to enjoy the magical world of Disneyland. Even with all the planning, it’s important to be flexible. Kids don’t always adhere to your well thought out plans. So if someone needs an ice-cream break, it’s probably better to skip the ride and slow down for a few.

I hope you found something helpful here for your next Disneyland vacation! Feel free to leave your Disneyland tips below!

 

 

Disneyland

When we first moved to California, we took an impromptu trip to Disneyland. We had to go to LA to pick up our car that we had shipped from Germany and we still had an empty house because our stuff hadn’t arrived yet. So we figured we may as well turn the trip to get our car into a fun family vacation! It just so happened that our nieces and nephews in Texas had a school break at the same time, so they flew out and came with us! Getting in some more good cousin time after the kids had a blast together during the summer, was priceless! Here’s an overview of how we spent our 3 days in the parks.

We stayed off property at the Anabella Hotel. We got a great rate, I think around $89 a night, plus about $15 per night for parking. That rate is a perk of going during the slow season. We were able to walk to the parks from there.

Our first morning we headed straight to the Magic Kingdom. Our first few rides were Pirates of the Caribbean, the Jungle Cruise, and the Haunted Mansion. The big kids rode Indiana Jones while I took our daughter through Tarzan’s treehouse. You might be surprised at how many rides babies and toddlers can ride. And surprisingly none of the rides scared our little girl. Perhaps she was too young to know she should be scared!

After a dreadful experience in Disneyland Paris trying to meet princesses, I didn’t have high hopes for meeting princesses at Disneyland. But when we passed by the Princess Pavilion, the wait was only about 10 minutes and there were 3 princesses inside so I decided to give it a try. Luckily this time it went much better! She was still a bit shy and didn’t want me to put her down, but there weren’t any tears and she even seemed a little excited to see the princesses. This was encouraging since I was planning for her to also meet Anna and Elsa!

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After meeting princesses, we found a spot on Main Street and waited for Mickey’s Soundsational Parade to begin. While we were waiting, my Little Miss took a few strolls down Main Street, I’m pretty sure she thought all those people were sitting there to watch her!

That evening we stayed late to watch Fantasmic. It was a really exciting show and the perfect end to our first day at Disneyland. The next day began with the requisite meltdown:

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Who knows what it was about, but meltdowns and tantrums are bound to happen…even at the Happiest Place on Earth! She rebounded quickly, thank goodness! The big kids wanted to do Buzz Lightyear and Space Mountain when we got in the park, so I went shopping for Mickey ears and then took my girl on a couple Fantasyland rides and then made my way to Toontown.

I didn’t realize that Toontown opened later than the rest of the park. So when I got there the rope was still up. A minute or two before 11:00 Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy, and Goofy all came out and mingled in the crowd! This was a total surprise to me and I was so disappointed that the rest of the family wasn’t there because my little girl just lit up and got so excited to get a hug from Minnie. And I wasn’t able to take any pictures of it because I was holding her! Lesson learned!

The other great thing about being there at that time is we walked right into Minnie’s house and did not have to wait at all for pictures. We caught Pluto on his way to take a break. I was so surprised how much my daughter loved these characters. She didn’t really know who they all were before going, and she was intimidated by the princesses. However, she had no hesitation giving these guys big hugs! Later we met back up with everyone and got our group shot with Mickey!

After all this, it was about time for our reservation at the Blue Bayou. If you’ve never been to Disneyland, this is a fancy-pants restaurant that overlooks the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. The atmosphere is really magical, like you’re really out on the bayou. The food is also delicious, not your typical theme park fare. If you want to dine here be prepared for the steep prices and make sure you make a reservation well in advance! We got lucky with an opening the day prior, but we were also there in the slow season. Something else magical happened during the meal, our daughter fell asleep on the table! This NEVER happens, and has not happened since! Most of the time she either has to be in bed, in the stroller, or in the carseat to sleep. All the excitement must have really gotten to her!

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That afternoon was spent at California Adventure. The big kids rode Tower of Terror a few times, and we took a spin the big Mickey wheel. At that time they were doing refurbishments on World of Color so we weren’t able to see it.

The next morning we went back to California Adventure. We raced to get Fast Passes for the Anna and Elsa meet and greet and then raced to get Fast Passes for Radiator Springs Racers. While the big kids re-rode the Tower of Terror, Moms and little kids took a spin on the carousel, and on Toy Story Midway Mania.

The Anna and Elsa meet and greet went well. My girl wasn’t as excited as I thought she would be but I think that was partly due to timing. Our Fast Pass time was for lunch/nap time, so she seemed a bit out of it. We also met Olaf at California Adventure and he gave us a nice warm hug!

Maybe the most fun my little girl had that whole day was that evening after dinner. The big kids were riding Tower of Terror…again, so it was just her and her cousin. He busted out the lightsabers and she thought they were the funniest thing she’d ever seen. We sat at the tables watching these two cousins crack up at waving their lightsabers around and knocking cups off the table. Hilarious!

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One more little piece about our trip. Uncle L decided our little girl needed this giant Olaf balloon. What I mean by that is, he thought it would be hilarious to watch my hubby (his brother) drag this inconvenient monstrosity through the crowds. A word to the wise: if you are going to get a balloon, get it at the end of the day so you don’t have to deal with it hitting you and other people in the face. But the bonus is, this balloon lasted a good month after our trip. Making it a very worthwhile souvenir in my opinion!

We had so much fun at Disneyland, and we were so happy that family could join us on such short notice! It was a trip that we will remember for a long, long, time and hopefully not the last one! I’m in the midst of planning one more trip to Disneyland before we move back to Europe…stay tuned for more on that!

Roaring Camp Railroads

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If you live within an hour of Felton, CA and have little ones that like trains, this is the place for you! Just about 45 min-1 hour away from where we live is Roaring Camp Railroads. It is a popular place to go for a steam train ride. We’ve heard about it since we arrived in Monterey, but just recently made it up there. We hemmed and hawed about whether to do it or not (the tickets aren’t exactly cheap) and we weren’t sure if our daughter would get much out of it. Recently we had a group of friends that wanted to do it, so we jumped on the bandwagon and decided to do it too.

There are different options of train rides. The one we did was a 90 minute round trip ride through the redwood forest. There is also an option that takes you out to the Santa Cruz boardwalk and back. They do various other special rides throughout the year too like holiday rides and Thomas the Train rides.

When we arrived at the station, I was surprised to see how many buildings were there. There was a ticket booth, a general store, and several little play houses and photo cut outs for kids to play with. Plenty to entertain the littles while you wait for the train.

The train itself was open air, meaning no roof over your head. It makes for a great view, but a chilly ride, so bundle up! We boarded the train and off we went! We chose the first car, right behind the engine. The kids were all very excited and loved riding the train and hearing the whistle. We rode 45 minutes through the woods up to a little stop where we got off with just enough time for a potty break and some pictures before heading back down to the main station. There was also some entertaining narration, giving us the history of the area and pointing out special things along the ride.

Everyone really had a fun time and we were glad we forked out the money to do it (about $75 for 3 tickets). The kids all loved it and talked about it for days afterward. After our ride was over, we hung out near the station. Our friend bought some duck food and we went over to the pond to feed the ducks. Some kids like ducks, and then there are kids like my daughter who think it’s normal to try to pick the ducks up to hold them, as if they were her pets. Yikes, don’t forget the hand sanitizer!

After we had exhausted our duck feed supplies, we stopped into the nearby town of Felton for lunch. We ate at The Cremer House. I would happily eat there again anytime! The food was great, and they also brew their own beers and artisanal sodas. The one I had was Grapefruit Mint-yum! We sat on the patio and munched on burgers, sandwiches, pretzels and fries.

Check out the website for Roaring Camp Railroads HERE. And if you’re looking for a good place to eat when you’re up there, stop by The Cremer House.

 

How to Spend a Day in Palo Alto with Kids

At the tail end of summer, after bringing our son home from the NICU in Austin, I had to take him to a follow up medical appointment at Stanford University. Stanford is in Palo Alto, California about a 2 hour drive from where we live. So instead of hauling my babies up there for a 30 minute appointment and then just jumping in the car to come back, I decided to try and make a fun day trip out of it! At first it was a little hard to decide what to do, but here’s how we spent our time.

After sitting in the car for 2 hours, we were ready to get out and stretch our legs. So our first stop was to the Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo. This small zoo and interactive children’s museum is free,  and just asks a suggested donation of $5. The indoor museum had some animals on display as well as insect costumes for dramatic play, and a few machines that moved balls around and spat them out in interesting ways. Outside is a small zoo, we’re talking really small. But for my 2 year old, there was just enough to be entertained without having to walk long distances.

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Observing the cockroaches.

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Oh look, a tarantula!

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Snuggling up to the bobcat statue outside.

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And here’s the real bobcat!

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We saw the rats with their hairless babies.

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The snake decided to give an up-close hello.

I was expecting there to be a little more to see at the zoo, but for the price and for my daughter’s age it was enough. There were many other toddlers there, but I think older children might be in and out of this place in 15 minutes. The zoo had a couple shady spots to sit and have a snack, and a nice big pond in the middle with fish, birds, and turtles.

After about an hour at the zoo, it was time to head to the doctor’s office. Once we were all good to go there, my daughter and I were starving so we headed to University Avenue. There you can find plenty of restaurants, anything from casual grab-and-go food, to upscale dining. Based purely on parking location and immediate need to eat, we ended up at the Cheesecake Factory! Honestly we were both very satisfied with our food, but here are some other restaurants on University I was interested in trying:

*Oren’s Hummus Shop

*SliderBar

*Crepevine

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Kids’ meal at the Cheesecake Factory-chicken “muggets” and fruit!

And since we were already there, I couldn’t help but make a stop by CREAM, a shop known for their ice cream cookie sandwiches. You can choose your flavor of freshly baked cookies as well as choosing the type of ice cream that goes inside. For my first time I stuck with the classic chocolate chip cookies and vanilla ice cream. It was as delicious as you would imagine it to be! But it was also so big that I had a hard time finishing it, and I normally don’t have that problem with desserts! I saw people who came in after me order a half a sandwich. If I were to go back I would order that instead of the full size one, or split the full one with a friend. This place is known to have a line out the door, but luckily for us there wasn’t one when we got there…but there was when we left!

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Ice cream sandwich for Mom, and chocolate ice cream for baby girl-though we easily could’ve shared!

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Sweet treat for a well-behaved little girl!

By the time we finished our frozen treats, it was time to get in the car to head home. It doesn’t seem like we did that much, but I assure you the day was full! When you’re getting 2 kids in and out of the car, changing 2 diapers, feeding a toddler and a baby, and pumping in the car…your day goes by pretty fast! Forgive my iPhone photography for this post. I was wearing a baby in the ergo, carrying a diaper bag, and holding a toddler’s hand. Carrying the full size camera was just a little more than I could handle that day!

Check out this list for more things to do in Palo Alto! I’m still hoping to go back just to explore Stanford’s campus, hopefully we will find the time soon!

Takeoffs & Toddlers at the Monterey Airport

As a mom of a 2 year old, I find myself constantly looking for ways to entertain my little one that are fun for me too. Sometimes you need a change from the usual park you always go to. Or to do something fun in the middle of the week to break up days of running errands. One place we’ve discovered as genius place to take little kids is to the local airport!IMG_3436 The Monterey airport has a large observation deck with a restaurant connected to it. We sometimes go and let the kids watch the airplanes take off and land and then sit down for an outdoor lunch. The airport mostly has small private planes flying in and out, so the noise isn’t too loud. Sometimes the commercial planes pull right up to the observation window, so close the pilot starts waving to the kids!IMG_3440

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Big observation deck with a lot of space to move around.

It has the magic combination of open space for kids to walk around, while still being contained. I love that I can sit on a nearby bench, change the baby’s diaper and still see my toddler the whole time. IMG_3445 IMG_3446 The Golden Tee is the restaurant that connects to the observation deck. It has tables outside or you could go inside and sit in the dining room. Then menu is mostly various sandwiches and burgers. They’re known for their sand dab (type of fish) sandwich. They also have a kids’ menu with various selections.

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Bye-Bye Airplanes! Time to eat lunch!

When you go, park in the short term parking lot and bring your parking ticket with you. If you eat at the restaurant, they will validate your parking. It’s a great way to spend a sunny morning.  Watch the planes, eat a little lunch, and be home in time for a nap!

Sonoma Valley with Kids

Sonoma Valley-3When we first moved to Monterey, we talked a lot about all the nearby places we might want to visit. One place that came up more than once, especially when talking about friends coming to visit, was Napa Valley. At the time I was pregnant and the idea of going to wine country when I couldn’t enjoy the wine did not sound fun. Add the idea of chasing a high energy toddler around and I had pretty much written off the idea of visiting wine country during our time in California.

Fast forward several months: I’ve had the baby, we’re getting back into the groove of taking small trips, and we had the chance to visit one winery in Paso Robles. After our experience there went so well, I started to open back up to the idea of visiting either Napa or Sonoma Valley. Based on the advice of a couple friends from the area, we decided to visit Sonoma over Napa.  Sonoma was described to us as being more mellow, more family friendly, more authentic (less touristy), and less expensive.  All things that were music to our ears!

So after some planning, researching, and talking with our resident expert friends we set off on a long weekend in Sonoma Valley! Our first stop was not exactly in Sonoma Valley, but it wasn’t that far off. The Jelly Belly Factory is in Fairfield, California and is a working factory with free tours. Our daughter LOVES jellybeans, especially when they come in princess packages! We thought this would be something fun for her to do on a weekend where most of the activities would revolve around the adults wine tasting. The visitor center had a surprisingly long line for the tour which concerned me a bit.  However, it moved fairly quickly and within 20 minutes or so we had started our tour. I stood in line while my husband entertained our daughter by looking around the gift shop and sampling jellybeans and fudge (yes they have a chocolate shop inside too!).

The tour starts out by handing everyone a Jelly Belly hat that must be worn inside the factory.  Shockingly, our daughter did not protest said hat. You are then brought upstairs to look at several jellybean mosaics of famous people. Next you are walked over to a green screen and a model of Mr. Jelly Belly the jellybean for a family photo (for purchase after the tour). Then after a few more minutes of waiting and a sample jellybean, you are led into the factory to see where all the action is.  If you take this tour, it’s best to be at the front of the group. We were toward the back and consequently could not hear some of the narration by our tour guide. Throughout the tour there are video monitors playing clips of information and videos, we also missed out seeing some of those because of our positioning. All in all the tour was fun, we enjoyed seeing the process of making the candies and seeing the shear quantities of jellybeans in production! My other recommendation for visiting is that you check the calendar, the factory itself is not in operation on the weekends and holidays.  So if you tour when the factory is not operating, you will not see the machines running or anything being made.  You will just see stationary machinery and the videos on the monitor.jellybelly

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A happy girl after getting her free bag of jellybeans after the tour!

From the tour, we drove a few minutes into town to a local Mexican restaurant for lunch. The Jelly Belly visitor center has a cafe that has good reviews on TripAdvisor, but we were in the mood for something different. After lunch we started our drive into the wine region. Our winery for the day was Larson Family Winery. A winery recommended on a few blogs as being good for families. larsonwineryThe setup of the winery and tasting room was great for families. There was an indoor tasting room which led to an outdoor courtyard. It was enclosed enough that children were contained with still having room to let them wander a bit and stretch their legs. The winery also has three friendly labs roaming around looking for bits of shade to lay in or a dropped piece of food to gobble up. There were many picnic tables around and a large turf area with cornhole boards set up. The afternoon we were there a few other large parties of young, childless, singles were also visiting. The language was a bit colorful, and once the games of cornhole started, it became harder to keep our daughter out of the line of fire. So after our wine flight was finished, we didn’t waste time picking up and heading out the door.

We continued our drive to downtown Sonoma. There is a quaint square in the center of town lined with shops, tasting rooms, and restaurants. We happened to park in front of the Sonoma Cheese Factory, and spur of the moment decided to pick up picnic supplies there and walk them across the street to the park to let our daughter play. Sonoma Cheese Factory had everything we needed to make a tasty picnic dinner. We grabbed paninis, olives, cheese, grapes, and of course a bottle of wine! It turns out in Sonoma it is legal to sit at the park with a glass (or plastic cup) of wine! Our daughter played while we ate and sipped on a bench. It turned out to be the perfect way to do dinner that night.

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The next morning, we drove a few minutes down the road from our hotel to Lumberjack’s in Petaluma. This probably isn’t most people’s first idea of where to eat breakfast in wine country, there are certainly more gourmet, quaint, and refined places to eat. But the food at Lumberjack’s good, cheap, and portions were big. Just like the sign says, “where the big boys eat.” Go here if you’re looking for a quick diner style breakfast.

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I couldn’t resist making my husband take a picture in front of the sign! Hilarious (to me)! Also, jam packets make excellent toddler distractions.

Next up, we drove up Highway 12 to Landmark Vineyards. Along the way we passed several other wineries that looked like they would’ve been fun to visit. I had Landmark on my list of places to go because they do horse-drawn carriage rides on Saturdays. The property itself is very beautiful. The courtyard has colorful flowers, manicured shrubs, and a gorgeous aqua fountain. It felt very mediterranean to me. It just so happened we ran into a lady from my running group who was also in Sonoma for the weekend with her family. We had intended to only be at Landmark for a short time before visiting another place, but because we ran into friends we ended up staying almost the whole day!

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The front entrance to Landmark Vineyards.

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Entertaining the little one while we sip wine.

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The stunning courtyard at Landmark.

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There was indeed carriage rides around the property!

By the time we left Landmark, our baby girl was in need of a nap and it was late in the day. So instead of pushing our luck and trying to drag her to another winery, we decided to take a scenic drive out to the coast. We drove River Road along the Russian River all the way out to Jenner and then down Highway 1 to Bodega Bay where we turned inland and headed into Santa Rosa. This was a beautiful, scenic drive. River Road was enclosed in trees with leaves changing color. We passed vineyards turning a gorgeous shade of gold. And once you get to the coast, you’re treating with ocean views and coastal scenery. We chose to stop in Santa Rosa for dinner so we could visit a place a friend of ours had raved about-the Russian River Brewing Company. It is an award wining brewery with a line out the door to prove it. We waited in line at least 30 minutes just to make it inside to speak to the hostess. It was then another 30 minutes or so before we were seated at a table. It would’ve been shorter if we didn’t have the kids, but because we did we had to be seated in the dining room instead of the bar area. I should note that there is open seating on their patio out front if you can find a table. The wait didn’t bother us much though, luckily our daughter was in good spirits and the free garlic cheese bread seemed to satisfy her until we could order our pizzas. While it was family friendly, I don’t know if I’d make this place a priority unless you have some serious beer enthusiasts in your family. It might be a place more suited for the kid-free population.  Most of all, go early! The line is no joke!

The next morning we headed out to Forestville with the intent on visiting a nearby winery. However, plans got changed last minute but since we were there we stopped in at a cute outdoor patio restaurant called Backyard. This place was delicious! Every plate I saw come out looked amazing. They are known for their donuts and chicken and waffles, yes please!

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Sunday brunch at Backyard with mimosas, coffee, and princesses!

After asking our waiter for some advice on wineries to visit, we drove out to Iron Horse Vineyards. I was excited about this one because they are known for their sparkling wines which happen to be my favorite! Down a small one lane road littered with potholes, and up a hill sits Iron Horse. This vineyard wasn’t really set up for young children. There weren’t many tables to sit at, and everyone seemed to be crowded around the outdoor tasting bar. I’m not sure if there was an indoor tasting room, if there was it didn’t appear to be open. It is also perched on top of a hill. Great views of vineyards, but no railings to keep curious toddlers from falling down the hill. There was also an oyster bar which my hubby would’ve loved, but we decided this wasn’t the place for us so we loaded up and headed out to the next stop. I would return here if I had a kid-free weekend though, it looked fun!

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Pumpkins overlooking the vineyard at Iron Horse.

Our next attempt was at Korbel. We had been told that the property there was very beautiful with gorgeous gardens. Korbel offers free tours of the cellar hourly and only a few times of day for the gardens. Since we had visited a few champagne houses in France, I had an idea of what the cellar tour would be like and it didn’t sound all that appealing to try and bring our restless two year old. We decided to walk over to the tasting room and see if there was a good area to sit and taste. There’s plenty of picnic tables outside, but there isn’t anyone to pour tastings for you should you choose to sit there. You can do complimentary tastings of up to four varieties inside the tasting room standing at the bar. Again, this wasn’t quite the set up we were looking for so we tasted one or two types of champagne and plotted our next move.IMG_3652

We noticed on the map that we were close to Rodney Strong. We had been given a bottle of Rodney Strong in Germany by a friend who grew up in Santa Rosa. And if you notice the picture from our picnic in Sonoma square, we bought a bottle for ourselves just a few nights prior. So we decided to just take a chance and go out to the property. We were very pleased when we arrived. This was just what we had been looking for. There was a terrace with an outdoor bar and large grassy area. We loaded up some snacks, diapers, toys, and a blanket and plopped ourselves right in the middle of that grassy lawn. The gentlemen at the tasting bar were kind enough to bring our pours out to us on the lawn and we were free to just relax and let our daughter play.IMG_3699 IMG_3708

We stayed until it was closing time about 5:00. Everyone enjoyed themselves. That evening we found a small Nepalese restaurant not far from our hotel. We gorged ourselves on naan, and then retired back to the hotel room to get a good night’s sleep for the drive back home in the morning.

We loved visiting Sonoma! It’s the kind of trip that doesn’t require a well laid out itinerary. Half the fun is coming and going as you please and just relaxing in a beautiful environment. Older kids may need some more entertainment than our young children. I wore our son in the baby carrier pretty much the whole time, and our toddler was content to run around open spaces, look at books, or watch a video on the iPad. We tasted some great wine, enjoyed the scenery, and relaxed with our family. All in all a wonderful way to spend a weekend!

Trip Recap:

Where we stayed-Hotel Petaluma, a historic hotel under construction in downtown Petaluma, the price was right, room was comfortable, but there’s no parking! Be prepared to carry your luggage!

Where we ate-Sonoma Cheese Factory (downtown Sonoma, paninis, coffee, ice cream, snacks, and wine), Lumberjack’s (Petaluma, inexpensive diner), Russian River Brewing Company (in Santa Rosa, award winning beer and decent pizza), Backyard (Forestville, lovely patio and delicious dishes)

Wineries we visited-Larson Family Winery, Landmark Vineyards, Iron Horse Vineyards, Korbel, Rodney Strong Vineyards