2 Day LA Itinerary for Families

Take in the view, where to go in LA with kids.
Take in a the views along with the sun in LA on your next getaway with the kids.

Tell the kids you’re stargazing for your next family getaway, then hand them sunglasses and a bathing suit. Los Angeles offers families epic beaches, a unique cultural experience along with top museums wrapped in a SoCal vibe that tweens and teens crave. That’s why I’ve added LA to my kids bucket list. Need some help planning a trip, I’ve pulled together a two-day itinerary with where to go in LA with kids.

Day One The Shuttle and the Surf

It’s a vacay so eat like the calories don’t count.

Grand Central Market

317 S. Broadway
8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

How to get there: From your centrally located hotel, head to S. Broadway in Downtown LA.

As a downtown landmark since 1917, Grand Central Market provides a hum of early morning activity and some solid breakfast options, like Eggslut as well as coffee counters and bakeries.

After breakfast, time to explore like an astronaut.

California Space Science Center, where to go in LA with Kids.
Kids love space so explore the California Space Science Center. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

California Science Center

700 Exposition Park Dr.
Free, except for special exhibits and $2 tickets to see the Space Shuttle

How to get there: From Grand Central Market, take E. 3rd St. to I-110 South and continue for 3 miles. Take the W. Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. exit (20A exit) and park in the paid parking lot.

As one of the locations to see retired Space Shuttle, this is a must for the adventurers in your car. With half of the facility dedicated to space exploration, the California Science Center is a must for families.

The Space Shuttle Endeavor requires an additional ticket but don’t miss it. And don’t forget the external tank outside the building.

The Ecosystems exhibits walks kids through 11 different ecosystems. So don’t miss the kelp forest with touch tanks mimicking tidal pools. The desert display features a mock flash flood that kids love too.

Know before you go: Since this is a free museum, it’s a favorite with school groups. Buy tickets for special exhibits and the Space Shuttle at Will Call or the Ticket Window.

After exploring the earth and stars, head out for some art.

Tour the Getty Center. where to go in LA with kids.
The Getty Center offers a lush garden along with an extensive art collection. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The Getty Center 

1200 Sepulveda Blvd.
Free  

How to get there: From the California Science Center take W. Exposition Blvd. to Normandie Ave. and head north to I-10 West. Head west on I-10 for about 3 miles to the I-405 North. Continue for about 10 miles on I-405 North then take exit 57B for Moraga Dr. Then take a left on N. Sepulveda Blvd. and then another left on Getty Center Dr. Park in the paid parking lot and take a tram to the museum (free).

Savor the beauty of LA in a beautiful place to see beautiful art overlooking a beautiful view. The Getty Museum is more than an art museum, it’s a work of art itself.

Designed by Richard Meier, The Getty Center is a top architectural delight as well as the gardens and courtyards. As a favorite among locals, sit in the grass and enjoy a sunny afternoon.

With an extensive art collection including Van Gogh’s Irises, you could spend all day so keep it limited to your interests or stroll the gardens instead.

Time for lunch.

Stop for Kye's on Montana, where to go in LA with kids.
Try a uniquely SoCal treat, a Kyerito, a combo lettuce wrap and sushi roll. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Kye’s on Montana

1518 Montana Ave.
Open 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily

How to get there: From The Getty Center to Kye’s it’s a 5-mile drive. Start out by taking a right on N. Sepulveda Blvd. then take a right on N. Church Lane. Next take a right on Sunset Blvd. and then take a left on S. Westgate Blvd. Finally take a right on Montana Ave. Park at metered parking where available.

Grab a Kyerito, a hand-held wrap with a host of yummy fillings, including gluten-free, wheat-free, diary-free and soy-free options. Due to the special wrapping technique, your Kyerito wrapper, romaine lettuce, nori or collard greens, remains crispy for the trek to the beach.

Head to the Santa Monica Beach for the afternoon.

the beach is where to go in LA with kids
A Southern California sunset tops my list for must dos in Los Angeles. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Santa Monica Pier and Beach

Ocean Ave. at Colorado Ave.

A trip to the beach is a must for LA. And a SoCal sunset is legendary, it will totally make up for any hiccups in parking.

How to get there: From Kye’s head south on Montana Ave. towards the Pacific Ocean. Take a left on Ocean Ave. Continue for about a mile to the pier, parking is available on the pier or use metered street parking.

Take a surf lesson, where to go in LA with kids.
The teens want to learn how to surf on vacation so sign them up for a lesson. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Surf lessons

If surfing is on the kids list then arrange for a surfing lesson from one of several surf shops that offer lessons. Don’t worry about special gear, the shop arranges all that for you, like spring or wet suits and surf boards.

I have three kids, 10, 13 and 15, and all benefitted from surf lessons. Though like any new sport, practice is the key and kids must be proficient swimmers.

Walk along Santa Monica Pier, where to go in LA with kids.
An evening walk along the Santa Monica Pier tops my list for family fun in Los Angeles. Photo Credit: Pixabay

Santa Monica Beach and Pier

After surf lessons, explore the Santa Monica beach and pier for the rest of the afternoon.

I recommend renting bikes and taking a guided tour of Santa Monica. Great way to explore and the dedicated bike lanes make it safe for families. Several rental shops next to the pier.

After a bike tour, rent a couple of chairs and watch the sunset. Let the kids play in the sand or chase waves.

After the sun sets, head to the Santa Monica Pier for dinner and family fun. It boasts carnival rides and food in abundance. I’m partial to the carousel though I found a Ferris wheel and a roller coaster.

Grab the sunglasses and a bathing suit and hop a plane bound for Hollywood with the kids for your next getaway. Got all the family fun with 2 day itinerary in LA with kids.

Day Two Hello Hollywood

Start your second day in Los Angeles with the stars. While the crowds are still sleeping hop in your car and head for breakfast off Sunset Blvd.

The Griddle Café

7916 Sunset Blvd.
Opens at 7 a.m. weekdays, 8 a.m. weekends

How to get there: From your centrally located hotel, head north on U.S. 101 and exit Sunset Blvd.

A drive down Sunset Blvd. is a must for its icon LA vibe. As a bonus, it’s early so the driving should be easy going.

Since it’s a favorite, arrive early to satisfy your breakfast dreams. The Griddle Café offers a huge menu with pancakes in every flavor along with French toast and egg dishes.

Head around the corner to see a bit of Old Hollywood history, built in the 1920s. The Château Marmot, 8221 W. Sunset Blvd. is iconic LA hotel. As the backdrop to numerous movies and a celebrity hangout, it’s a must.

Time head to the theater, so drive north and turn right on Hollywood Blvd. As home to several famous theaters, it’s a bucket list destination for movie goers.

Start with TCL Chinese Theatre’s (formerly Grauman’s) stars’ footprints, at 6925 Hollywood Blvd. Then walk to the home of the Academy Awards at the Dolby Theater, 6801 Hollywood Blvd.

Hollywood Walk of Fame, where to go in LA with kids.
Find your favorite star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. Photo Credit: Pixabay

Hollywood Walk of Fame

Hollywood Blvd. between La Brea Blvd. and Vine St.
Free 

After walking by the famous theaters, find the brightest stars in California. With three-and-a-half miles of brass and granite stars, spend a few minutes finding your favorites for a star selfie.

Drive by Capital Records Building, 1750 Vine St. to see the record label’s headquarters. Built in 1956, the round building looks like a stack of 45s before changing gears and heading south.

After stargazing, take a walk through LA’s infamous tar. A must-do for generations, La Brea Tar Pits topped my list since I was 10.

La Brea Tar Pits is where to go in LA with kids.
A must for the Dino-loving kids, visit the Le Brea Tar Pits. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

La Brea Tar Pits

5801 Wilshire Blvd.
Admission

How to get there: From Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, drive west on Hollywood Blvd. to N. Highland Ave. and head south to Wiltshire Blvd. Head west on Wiltshire Blvd and park in the shared La Brea Tar Pit/LACMA parking lot.

A must for families, see the strange bubbling tar churn and spew into puddles and pools at the La Brea Tar Pits. Start with a walk around the property to see the tar pits in different sizes. Though be prepared to cover your nose, the tar reeks.

After walking around the tar pits, head into the museum to look at prehistoric animal bones found on the property. And the discovery isn’t over, La Brea Tar Pits remains an active discovery zone.

Since the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) shares a parking lot with La Brea Tar Pits. Walk through the museum next.

Tour the LACMA, where to go in LA with Kids.
See a Warhol after checking out the La Brea Tar Pits. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)

5905 Wiltshire Blvd.
Adult admission, kids under 17 free

How to get there: Located in the same complex as the La Brea Tar Pits so walk to the entrance.

Don’t let the name confuse you, the LACMA (as the locals call it) is the largest art museum in the western U.S. With separate buildings dedicated to different eras and styles visitors could spend all day. I recommend hitting the highlights and check in with a docent upon arrival to tailor your visit to your interests.

After a morning with the stars, some tar followed by the arts, it’s time for lunch. For the kids, I recommend Pink’s hotdog stand, a LA icon. Hop back in the car for a 10-minute drive.

Drive by the Petersen Automotive Museum (6060 Wilshire Blvd.) before heading to lunch. The building opened in 2015 and resembles a red car racing around a corner, can’t miss it.

Eat at Pink's, where to go in LA with Kids
Grab a dog with the kids at Pink’s for messy cheap eats. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Pink’s Hot Dogs

709 N. La Brea Ave.

How to get there: From La Brea Tar Pits, take Wilshire Blvd. at S. La Brea Ave. take a left. Street parking in front and parking around the back, though watch that meter!

I will admit, I’m not a hotdog enthusiast though I enjoyed Pink’s.

First, pick a celebrity named dogs, like the Martha Stewart Dog. Then give your order to the ladies working the counter, many who have worked the stand for years.

Grab a table out back under an umbrella. And bite into an experience. Are the hotdogs messy? Yep but the kids will love it.

Griffith Park

4730 Crystal Springs Dr.
Free, attractions extra

How to get there: From Pink’s, head north on La Brea Blvd. then take right on Santa Monica Blvd. Continue east on Santa Monica Blvd. until N. Western Ave. and take a left. Continue to Fern Dell Dr. into Griffith Park. Located west of Interstate 5 and south of SR 134 (Ventura Freeway) Use the DASH Observatory Shuttle ($.50) to get around the park since parking can be hard to find, especially at the Griffith Observatory.

As one of the largest municipal parks with an urban wilderness in the U.S. Griffith Park offers days of exploring.  Depending on your family, I would choose one attraction in Griffith Park–the Los Angeles Zoo or the Griffith Observatory.

Los Angeles Zoo

5333 Zoo Dr.
Admission

Since 1966, families explore the zoo with over 250 animal species across 133 acres. Take a spin the vintage carousel with the kids too (additional ticket).

Griffith Observatory

2800 E. Observatory Rd.
Free

With amazing views of Downtown LA and the Hollywood Sign, a visit to the 1935 Griffith Observatory tops many must do lists for LA. Free to visit, the building is an Art Deco jewel and includes science exhibits including telescopes.

For the train lovers in the family, visit either the Griffith Park and Southern Railroad (4400 Crystal Springs Dr.) for a ride on a miniature train.

Another must do for train lovers, Travel Town (5200 Zoo Dr.) offers an outdoor facility with several full-size train cars to explore.

After exploring Griffith Park for a few hours, head back and stop for dinner at The Original Farmer’s Market.

The Original Farmer’s Market

6333 W. 3rd St.
Free

How to get there: From Griffith Park, head south out of the park on Fern Dell Dr. and onto N Western Ave. Continue until Beverly Blvd and turn right, headed west. At Fairfax Ave. make a left.

More than a fresh produce market, The Original Farmer’s Market is a foodie destination. Stocked with unique and familiar purveyors, find everything from fresh seafood to cold brew coffee.

Since so many quick service eateries are in one location, this is the ideal place to feed a family. For the teens in the family, The Grove, is next door. Offering the possibility of seeing a starlet or two (189 The Grove Dr.).

Since it’s a vacation, reserve tickets to your favorite pastime.

Walt Disney Concert Hall

111 S. Grand Ave
Admission

The only way into the concert hall is to attend an event. So if the LA Philharmonic is in season reserve tickets to the architectural marvel, sheathed in stainless steel. Designed by Frank Gehry in the Deconstructivism style, it’s an architectural icon.

While at Walt Disney Concert Hall, drive by the newer The Broad, located across the street at 221 S. Grand Ave. As a contemporary art museum, the building looks like a honeycomb.

Watch a Dodgers Game, where to go in LA with kids.
Take in a baseball game if the LA Dodgers are playing. Photo Credit: Pixabay

Dodger Stadium

1000 Vin Scully Ave.
Admission

If a concert sounds boring, get tickets to the Los Angeles Dodgers for a home baseball game. Another place to enjoy a perfect SoCal evening.

 

A Family Guide to Skiing Squaw Valley

Enjoy Squaw Valley with kids where to take kids skiing in Lake Tahoe.
Squaw Valley offers families the place to ski big with lots of family friendly runs and terrain parks. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Where to Take Kids Skiing in Lake Tahoe

Squaw Valley is a legendary Olympic resort in Lake Tahoe that boasts 6,500 acres to explore. Their runs top lists across the world, like the KT-22. It’s a bucket list destination for skiers from around the world.

Squaw is the resort where locals take their friends when they want to ski big. A day at Squaw is a day kissing the clouds while the snow and the lake try to out sparkle each other.

Squaw Valley where to take kids skiing in Lake Tahoe
Been working with my kids for years to reach the point when we could ski Squaw Valley as a family. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

But what about the kids? My family loves this resort, part of it is the allure of Old Tahoe, the make-you-smile vibe that resonates with today’s kids as much as it did 50 years ago. The other is telling the kids back home you got to ski Squaw.

What I love about Squaw Valley Ski Resort

  • The skiing can’t be beat. Known as one of the top North American Ski Resorts.
  • It’s Olympic history as the host of the 1960 Winter Games.
  • The Village at Squaw Valley offers lots family fun with restaurants, shopping and activities.

What I wanted from Squaw Valley Ski Resort

  • More green skiing in the SnoVentures area, near the Ski School
  • Ice skating in The Village.
  • More discounts for families.

Squaw Valley by the Numbers

2017 Lift Tickets at Squaw Valley Ski Resort
Ages Online Advance Tickets
18 to 64 $129
13 to 17 $112
5 to 12 $78
65+ $112
The Mountain Statistics
Base Elevation: 6,200 ft. Summit Elevation: 9,050 ft.
Vertical Drop: 2,850 ft. Skiable Acres: 3,600
Type of Terrain Percentage of Runs
Green 25%
Blue 45%
Black 30%
Total Named Runs: 170
Lifts: 29 total:

1 aerial tram, 1 funitel, 1 high speed 6-pack, 3 high-speed quads, 1 quad, 9 triples, 3 doubles and 5 surface lifts

My Visit to Squaw Valley

Squaw Valley where to take kids skiing in Lake Tahoe
With views of Lake Tahoe and the Squaw Valley area, I take a moment to savor the view. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Skiing with three kids can be a challenge at a large resort. Keeping the kids corralled requires a Mom with wings, not skis. And I will admit I shied away from the larger ski resorts when my kids were younger.

I can report that my kids, 9 12 and 14, had the best day on the snow at Squaw Valley Ski Resort in Lake Tahoe. During our two-day visit, we spent our first day on the snow getting our ski legs underneath us again at the SnoVentures area its beginner lifts and green runs.

Enjoy Squaw Valley where to take kids skiing in Lake Tahoe
Skiing with these two requires a Mom with some stamina and a little bit of skill. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The SnoVentures area is perfect for families since it’s next to the parking lot. Making trips to the car for forgotten items is no big deal.

The SnoVentures area features a separate lodge with some indoor seating along with a microwave and a hot water spigot. I found outdoor picnic tables and a couple of food vendors so I didn’t have to hike back to the Village.

Most of the skiing at Squaw Valley is mountaintop skiing that requires a ride up an aerial tram. I checked out my kids and reassured myself that they knew how to stop and turn before we headed up the mountain.

This area also offers mini snowmobiles, snow tubing, and cross-country ski trails as well.

High Camp with Kids

Ski Squaw Valley where to take kids skiing in Lake Tahoe
The High Camp area offers wide open skiing with lots of green runs just right for families. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

On our second day, we wanted to head up the mountain so we boarded the aerial tram for High Camp. I double-checked I had everything I needed to keep my three kids happy for the day. It’s a hike back down to the car.

For this ride, skiers and boarders carry their equipment and don’t wear it since High Camp features a lodge where the tram loads and unloads. The tram ride up the mountain includes a sway that might frighten some younger kids though my 9-year-old was fine. And remember to hold on.

Enjoy Squaw Valley where to take kids skiing in Lake Tahoe
Even during busy holiday weeks, I found lift lines easy to manage, especially early and late in the day. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The High Camp offers sweeping views of Squaw Valley along with peeks of Lake Tahoe beyond. It features the Olympic Museum, an ice-skating rink, a seasonal pool and hot tub (spring through summer) and several options for lunch or dinner.

The High Camp area offers lots of green runs, beginner terrain parks and several different lifts. My kids loved the mountaintop skiing and snow boarding including my 9-year-old.

Ski Squaw Valley where to take kids skiing in Lake Tahoe
Be prepared to ski at a higher elevation at High Camp with googles, a neck gaiter or scarf and thicker gloves. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

At 8,200 feet, the winds can be an issue at High Camp, especially on the lifts. I suggest goggles for all, even on sunny days. I could see smaller kids having possible issues with the wind.

For our trip, my kids covered lots of the green runs using the Bailey’s Beach, Mountain Meadow and the Belmont lifts. I found the skiing open and uncrowded on the busiest week of the year.

During our visit, we used the Squaw Valley app that features real-time information. I could find my teen skiing even with spotty data coverage.

Squaw Valley Terrain Parks

Enjoy Squaw Valley where to take kids skiing in Lake Tahoe
Catching air is tops for my kids when skiing and boarding in the terrain parks. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

I’m a boy mom. So I’ve learned about terrain parks over the last few seasons. They’re not as crazy as I originally thought.

I will admit, when my daredevil son told me he wanted to check out a terrain park a couple of years ago, I envisioned something I’d seen on the Olympics. Don’t worry, think of terrain parks like snow playgrounds.

At Squaw Valley, my kids, 9, 12 and 13, started on the terrain features at the High Camp Start Park. Then they moved on to the Belmont Park near the Belmont Lift. And stayed there the majority of the day.

Sure the kids want to SKI Big but what's it really like to ski with kids at Lake Tahoe's Squaw Valley? Got all the details from lessons to terrain parks along with places to eat.

As a Mom, be sure and check out the terrain park signs to see if your kids are in the right playground. Most resorts install several terrain parks with differing levels of difficulty. Take it easy, start small and keep an eye out for the more advanced teens.

Squaw Valley’s Terrain Parks
  • SnoVentures Start Park
  • High Camp Start Park
  • Belmont Park
  • Gold Coast Park
  • Mainline Park

Night Skiing at Squaw Valley Ski Resort

Try night skiing at Squaw Valley, where to take kids skiing in Lake Tahoe
Squaw Valley offers night skiing and boarding on a 3.2-mile blue trail. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

My 12-year-old begged for hours to snowboard down the Mountain Run, a blue run that’s a whopping 3.2-miles long. After talking with several ski instructors, I said yes and made his day.

Dad accompanied him down the mountain. My son had no problems but Dad felt his age (40+).

Night Skiing lift tickets can be purchased for an additional fee and are valid from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. The aerial tram transports skiers and snowboarders. Night Skiing is usually available the week after Christmas and Saturdays through March.

Squaw Valley Ski School

Learn to ski at Squaw Valley where to take kids skiing in Lake Tahoe
Squaw Valley’s covered surface lifts top my list for premium features of the best ski schools. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Squaw Kids, the Squaw Valley Ski and Snowboard School, offers programs divided by age. All lessons begin at their separate facility, located between SnoVentures and the Village.

For the youngest skiers, ages 3 to 4 (potty-trained kids only), the Pioneers program focuses on fun with first-timers, full-day and half-day programs available. The littlest skiers will be on the snow and in lessons for several hours and nap time is not included.

Family Skiing at Squaw Valley where to take kids skiing in Lake Tahoe
Heading up the First Venture lift right after we get to the SnoVentures area. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

For the 5 to 7-year-olds, kids can choose from skiing or snowboarding. The Explorers Ski Program and Grommets Snowboard Program is for more active kids and broken down by ability–green, blue or black-level runs. A lunch break is included for all-day students.

Kids 8 to 13-years-old explore the mountain trying lots of runs alongside similarly-skilled kids. The Mountaineers Ski Program and Jibbers Snowboard Program will be on the snow the majority of the day and includes a lunch break for all-day students.

All kids’ programs (ages 3 to 13) feature an afternoon first-time package. Teen group lessons are available though they meet in the adult lesson area.

Squaw Valley Programs and Clinics

Squaw Valley features a couple of programs geared towards Moms looking to move up the mountain. For blue or black-level skiers, check out the 3-day Women of Winter Camp in January.

Looking for a guide to showcase the best that Squaw Valley offers? A non-instructional guide and priority lift access will allow for more exploring. A complimentary jacket is included and guide services are for blue or black-level skiers.

Private lessons are available and accommodate up to four people. Discounts for multiple days are available.

For families with a special needs child, Achieve Tahoe offers private lessons for kids with physical, sensory or intellectual challenges with adaptive ski and snowboard equipment and trained instructors.

Where to Eat at Squaw Valley Ski Resort

Rocker Where to take kids Skiing in Lake Tahoe
My kids ate big after a day on the slopes at Rocker in the Squaw Valley Village. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

At the end of a killer day of skiing, I love to grab a bite to eat before I head back. The Village at Squaw Valley offers lots of options for families.

During my visit, we ate at Rocker and my kids dominated a plate of nachos as big as the state of California. With a little kids’ menu, big kid pleasing hamburgers, a choice of farm fresh salads, the whole table left happy.

Snacks for kids where to take kids skiing in Lake Tahoe
We love crepes and I found lots of tasty treats across Squaw Valley Ski Resort for families. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

For snacking during the day, I stopped by the Euro Snack trailer for savory and sweet crepes. Of course, I ran into Starbucks for coffee and hot chocolate. I also found pizza, sushi and grill options.

For adults looking to unwind, the Auld Dubliner Irish Pub draws a crowd along with several other bars in the Village area. Be sure and visit the World’s first ski-in, ski-out Starbucks located in the Gold Coast Lodge at the top of the Gold Coast Funitel, the only funitel in the U.S.

Squaw Valley’s Olympic History

Olympic Museum where to take kids skiing in Lake Tahoe
Learn a little ski history at the Olympic Museum at Squaw Valley’s High Camp and remember to grab a gold win selfie. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Squaw Valley’s skiing is not the only thing that’s legendary. Their successful Olympic bid is as legendary as the games themselves.

In 1954 Alex Cushing, the chairman of Squaw Valley, saw a newspaper article announcing Reno as the possible site for the 1960 Olympic games. He threw his resort in the mix, boasting only a single chairlift and a couple of rope tows at the time.

The place to beat—Innsbruck, Austria, an international favorite. Cushing had the U.S. vote since the State of California backed the cause. Though it took a scale model so enormous it couldn’t get into the presentation room to win over the rest of the Olympic Committee.

After the successful bid, roads and facilities had to be built and fast. Even Walt Disney helped make the 1960 Olympic Games a success by orchestrating the pageantry.

After an unseasonable warm winter a fierce snowstorm dumped the much needed snow days before the start of the Olympic Games. Then the games needed the clouds to clear to light the eternal flame.

As if orchestrated by Disney himself, the clouds cleared and the torch was lit. Then 2,000 doves rose into the air above Squaw Valley signaling the start of the 10-day long games.

Be sure to walk through the Olympic Museum at High Camp. The Olympic podium offers a perfect picture spot for kids.

Family Fun Without a Lift Ticket:

family fun at Squaw Valley where to take kids skiing in Lake Tahoe
I found lots of family fun at Squaw Valley that doesn’t require a lift ticket. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Taking the entire family skiing requires more than a few lift tickets. Squaw Valley Ski Resort offers a village packed full of fun for everyone on a family ski getaway, not just the skiers and boarders.

During my visit, I found a spa, yoga and shopping for Mom and Grandma. The kids can craft at the craft studio, roast marshmallows, sled, snow tube, and ride a mini-snow mobile.

Try a new sport. I found dog sledding, cross-country skiing, and snow shoeing. I even found trampolines and climbing walls.

If celebrating the holidays, Squaw Valley offers horse-drawn carriages, Santa visits and special seasonal performances. Nightly fireworks are a must. And the chefs at Squaw Valley turn out special holiday meals.

Is it Your First Family Ski Trip?

What do you need to pack for family ski trip? I’ve been there. And here’s a list to prep and pack.

 

Need some advice on picking a ski school for your kids? I’ve got some tips for families to find the best program. 

More Lake Tahoe Fun for Families

A day at the resort is fun but so is finding a perfect sled hill in a nearby forest. Got a couple of my favorite spots to share.

Mt Rose

Spooner Lake

Granlibakken 

Northstar

Diamond Peak

Then discover a quaint town to spend an afternoon, like Tahoe City.

Where’s Squaw Valley Ski Resort

Squaw Valley Ski Resort is located at 1960 Squaw Valley Road, Olympic Valley, California. Squaw Valley is 12 miles south of Truckee, California, along California Highway 89. Tahoe City, California, a quaint mountain town on the western shores of Lake Tahoe is 10 miles away.

If flying into Reno-Tahoe International Airport (RNO) to visit Lake Tahoe, Squaw Valley is 48 miles from the Reno-Tahoe International Airport via Interstate 80.

Parking Available
General Parking Free
Premier Parking $20
Valet Garage Parking $30 or $40 holiday

Disclosure:

Squaw Valley hosted my family for one ski trip. Though I have skied Squaw Valley on numerous occasions without any sponsorship.

Know Before You Go: 

  • Reservations are required during holiday breaks and long weekends. Ski School sells out.
  • Arrive early to ski school to allow for smooth transition.
  • Kids helmets are mandatory in Squaw Valley’s Ski and Snowboard School.
  • Pack lip balm, googles, a small snack and an extra set of gloves for your kids.
  • Kids in ski school (ages 3 to 13) will ride ski lifts when they can turn and stop.
  • I found several fire pits so pack a bag of marshmallows and a couple of roasting sticks for a perfect for an après-ski treat for the kids.
  • If your kids are afraid of heights, keep them in the center of the tram and focused on the view in front of them.
  • Before heading out check out road conditions at NVroads.com for tire chain requirements. I use Nevada’s website for the Lake Tahoe region since it’s easier to use on a mobile device than California’s website.

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11 Tips for Car-free Fun on Amtrak’s California Trains

tips for taking Amtrak in California.
One of the amazing views from Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner in California. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

As a road tripping maniac that’s driven three kids across North America, I hate my car at times. I love to use different forms of transportation. So when the opportunity came up to take the train from Southern California to the Central California Coast, I jumped abroad. After my trip, I came up with 11 tips for taking Amtrak in California.

Tips for Taking Amtrak in California 

1: Book the right train.

On my trip to Santa Barbara and Solvang this summer I boarded two different trains, Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner and the Coast Starlight. Each offering a different experience though they share part of the same track.

Tips for take the Coast Starlight in California
Hop abroad an Amtrak train for car-free fun in California. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The Pacific Surfliner is a regional route that travels between San Diego and San Luis Obispo, California, stopping at most Amtrak stations along the way. It features a business-class car and coach cars with unreserved seats plus an observation car with a snack bar below.

The Coast Starlight runs between Los Angeles’s Union Station and Seattle with limited stops. It offers reserved coach seats, business class, an observation/snack bar car, a dining car, a parlor car plus sleeping cars.

California Driving Ain’t a Dream

2: Ditch the car and go car-free.

Tips of taking Amtrak in California.
Riding the rails instead of battling the roads tops my list of reasons to ditch the car and go car-free. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

As I look at my maps app, I blink again hoping that it’s a joke. But sadly, it’s true. Sometimes driving in Southern California is a nightmare.

With hours eaten up behind the wheel, the dream vacation crumbles as kids melt down in the backseat and this Mom loses it as another driver cuts her off.

I found a solution, ditch the car and go car-free. That’s what I did recently when I grabbed an Amtrak train. With dedicated parking at most stations, it’s easy to park the car and explore California car-free instead.

Transportation that Does More than Transport

3: The customer service difference on Amtrak.

I get it, I used to fly the friendly skies as a flight attendant for a major airline. And those skies aren’t friendly anymore.

What surprised me the most on my Amtrak train, customer service still shines on the rails. The conductor and the train stewards were polite and informative.

Looking to escape from the craziness of Southern California, then hop aboard Amtrak's Coast Starlight. Got all the tips and hints for your trip along with a video.

A steward helps passengers on-and-off the train. If the train hinted at slowing down, the conductor explained what was happening and when we would be on our way again.

I had a coach seat on the train that had to accommodate another train’s passengers when it went out-of-service. Passengers were standing everywhere, in the aisles and on the stairs.

But we were all on the train. There’s relief in that.

The stewards walked up-and-down the crowded train cars and apologized for the conditions. Then they informed us how many passengers would be getting off at upcoming stations. Then they thanked us for choosing Amtrak.

Wow. So simple but so often ignored. The passengers remained calm and even gave seats to the passengers who needed them the most–injured, elderly and those with disabilities.

Not All Trains Seats are the Same

4: If sitting in a seat is important to you, reserve a business-class or reserved coach seat.

Price sells many things in life in the case of train travel, buy up. As I learned on my weekend trip, things go wrong and when they do the train fills up.

Get a business seat, tips for taking Amtrak in California.
Looking for a reserved seat on the Pacific Surfliner then reserve a business class seat. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

If you and your family are traveling with luggage out of the area, buy a reserved coach seat or business-class seat. This guarantees a seat on the train. A regular coach ticket guarantees passage, meaning you could be standing at peak times or off-schedule operations.

Though I will be honest, when the trains went off-schedule the day I was traveling, I was grateful to be on the train.

Did I have to stand part of my journey? Yes, but the train conductor and the rest of the train staff constantly communicated to the passengers what was going on.

In our case, a train had to be taken out-of-service coupled with a big convention. That meant Amtrak had a busy weekend already then another train’s passengers had to be accommodated on my train.

If I had been flying, I would have been stuck at the gate watching planes leave the airport without me. As promised, a lot of the passengers disembarked in LA and I got a seat.

In a situation that could have escalated into some seriously pissed-off passengers. Everyone remained calm by opening a book or their phone and made do.

ThruWay Buses

5: ThruWay Buses make for easy transfers.

For stops beyond traditional Amtrak stations, ThruWay buses take passengers to their final destinations. As the case for my journey to Solvang, California, a charming Danish community, I boarded a charter-like bus at the Santa Barbara Train Station.

thru buses, tips for taking Amtrak in California.
Hop on Amtrak’s Thru Bus service to destinations beyond the train station. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

My train incurred delays but my ThruWay bus waited for the train to arrive. The process of getting off the train at Santa Barbara and onto an Amtrak ThruWay bus was painless. Requiring a lot less walking than changing planes at a mega airport, like Dallas/Forth Worth.

Coast Starlight

6: Book the Coast Starlight if your itinerary permits.

After exploring Solvang and Santa Barbara for several days, I needed to meet my family near San Francisco. I boarded Amtrak’s Coast Starlight at the 1905 historic Santa Barbara Train Station.

Where the Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner is a regional train route that stops at the majority of the stations along its route, the Coast Starlight does not. Running along the west coast from Los Angeles’s Union Station to Seattle, the entire journey takes about 36 hours.

Known as Amtrak’s the most scenic route, I was blown away. I took the segment from Santa Barbara to Salinas, California, taking about six hours.

My plan was to pull out the laptop and work. But I was glued to my picture window.

This route passes though untouched California coast north of Santa Barbara. For fans of the Pacific Coast Highway, when the PCH heads inland north of Gaviota, the train rolls through. This includes Vanderburg Air Force Base.

My Coast Starlight Experience

7: Pack all you want! Four bags are allowed.

tips for taking Amtrak in California.
I took four bags aboard with me. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Call me silly, but I felt a bit of old school glamour getting on my train. Maybe it’s the oversized sunglasses I was wearing or the fabulous weather in Santa Barbara but I imagined how a starlet would have ridden the train in the 50s. (Now, this 40ish Mom of three is not saying she’s a starlet but I had a vacation-induced fantasy. Don’t spoil it with reality. Or I’ll call you my husband.)

Arriving within minutes of it’s scheduled departure, my train arrived at the Santa Barbara Station, located on State St. in downtown. For my journey, I had a reserved coach seat. Finding the correct car was no problem and a steward greeted me at the coach car entrance. Then he asked if I preferred a window or aisle seat.

I grabbed my four bags (yes, I had one standard roll abroad, a backpack plus two shopping bags full of goodies) and stepped onboard. First, I stowed the larger suitcase on the rack downstairs next to the car entrance. Then I took the rest of my items to my window seat upstairs.

My Reserved Coach Seat

8: Forget the airplane luggage hassle.

tips for taking Amtrak in California.
Look Mom, it’s legroom and a legrest at my reserved coach seat. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

I had no problem storing my stuff since my train wasn’t taking off and traveling 500 m.p.h. through the air so I didn’t have to secure it. I left my backpack in my seat and the shopping bags in the open rack above.

No one was fighting for storage space. My bag wasn’t deemed oversized and checked either.

After I settled in, the first thing that I noticed was all the space. I could have danced in the space between the edge of my seat and the seat in front of me. Amazing.

I’m an average-sized woman and I’ve had to wedge myself into some small jet seats lately. It seems I’m always flying in the back of some regional jet that looks smaller than a sparrow. So this train seat was luxurious.

Tips for taking Amtrak in California.
Seat power on each row. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

I had a picture window to enjoy all to myself since the aisle seat was vacant. Then I found the standard 110-volt plug. Pulled out my chargers and plugged in my phone and my laptop at the same time.

The Amtrak Experience

9: Explore your train, especially the observation car.

explore the train, tips for taking Amtrak in California.
I love sitting in the observation car and watching the scenery roll by. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

My train pulled a line of train cars. Actually the Coast Starlight train blocks traffic on the streets at the Santa Barbara Station when stopped.

It wasn’t long before I was out of my seat and exploring my train. I went to the observation car with its domed skylights and enjoyed the view. This car is a favorite so it can be hard to get a seat at times.

10: Feel free to bring snacks aboard for your journey.

cafe cars, tips for taking Amtrak in California.
Amtrak trains feature a cafe car, below the observation car. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Below the observation lounge, I found the cafe car with a couple of tables. It’s kinda like the convenience store of the train. There’s a selection of drinks, hot and cold, treats and small meals. Nothing really glamorous so I purchased a sandwich before I boarded my train in Santa Barbara.

I met a cabin steward, James Lake, a 12-year Amtrak veteran. He graciously took me on a tour of the rest of the train.

Special Amtrak Cars on the Coast Starlight

11: Ask for a tour.

Make reservations for dinner, tips for taking Amtrak in California.
Make reservations for the Dining Car if traveling during dinner. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

We walked through the dining car where waiters and waitresses served food made onboard. With a printed menu, including a kids’ menu, I found chef-inspired selections. Reservations are accepted for dinner in the dining car, with business-class passengers getting first dibs.

The business class car was next and includes complimentary Wi-fi and bottled water along with an invitation to a wine and cheese tasting in the Pacific Parlour Car (additional fee applies). At Los Angeles and Portland, business-class passengers get access to the Metropolitan Lounges.

Tips for taking Amtrak in California.
With signature cocktails and special events like wine and cheese tastings, the Pacific Parlour Car is another reason to upgrade to Business Class. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

After the business class car, I walked through the Pacific Parlour Car, a vintage 1950s railcar. They were originally on the Empire Builder from Chicago to the Pacific Northwest but moved to the Coast Starlight.

Pacific Parlour Car

With a wood interior that reminded me of hotel bars where men in fedoras smoked cigars, I found the ambience enchanting. The Pacific Parlour Car features a full bar with signature cocktails along with coffee drinks and snacks.

Meals are served in the Pacific Parlour Car for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The parlour car offers a separate menu with a more limited selection than the dining car.

On the first level of the Pacific Parlour Car my guide walked me through a small movie theater where Amtrak used to show movies. Unfortunately, this theater is not being used at the time.

Tips for taking Amtrak in California.
The vintage theater in the Pacific Parlour Car isn’t showing movies right now. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

After the Pacific Parlour Car, I found the Superliner Sleeper cars, where overnight passengers enjoy a roomette with berths. Since it was booked to capacity for my summertime mid-week train journey,  I didn’t tour an Amtrak roomette.

After my tour, I returned to my seat and enjoyed the scenery whisk by until my destination.

Disclosure:

My Amtrak train journey was part of an hosted press trip. The opinions are my own.

Know Before You Go:

  • Amtrak doesn’t feature in-seat entertainment.
  • Sleeping cars feature a shared shower in each car.

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Take Your Kids to Prison for Family Fun

Alcatraz with Kids
On a clear day, Alcatraz doesn’t look that creepy but of course looks can be deceiving. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Why would you visit Alcatraz with kids? Well, Alcatraz topped the San Francisco to-do list for my kids, 9, 13 and 14. ALL DAY they asked, when are we going to Alcatraz. Seriously. And it was their favorite national park site of the summer after stopping at most of the national park sites on the West Coast, like Redwoods, Death Valley, Olympic, Mount St. Helens, Oregon Caves, Lassen Volcanic and Mt. Rainier.

A Prison with Kids?

I have boys and my boys are fascinated by prisons, along with a list of other things that most Moms don’t want to talk about. So I decided to tour the prison that defines hard-core prison life.

Explore Alcatraz with kids.
A walk through Alcatraz at twilight defines creepy for me. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

As a kid of the 80s, I’m all about scaring a couple of kids straight.  A walk through Alcatraz at twilight is creepy and borderline scary.But tweens and teens love to walk the line of scary and creepy so it’s perfect for them.

Though it’s not all creepy. The views of downtown San Francisco can’t be beat, really stunning. I booked the evening tour and the ferry ride along with the sunset were top-notch. Though I think we were lucky, remember that San Francisco fog!

Take a ferry to Alcatraz with kids.
On a clear afternoon, the view of downtown San Francisco can’t be beat. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

I had to see it for myself. Alcatraz is one of the places you have to visit to understand. Pictures can be haunting but walking through the cell block as the dabbled light casts a ghostly glow is eerie.

Alcatraz–What’s behind the name

Derived from the Spanish word alcatraces, or seabirds, the birds have called the island home for generations. In the 1850s, the island became a military fortress due to its strategic positioning in the San Francisco Bay.

Since the shipping traffic increased from San Francisco after the gold rush, a lighthouse was needed. In 1854 the Alacatraz Island Light became the first lighthouse on the West Coast.

During the Civil War, Alcatraz Island housed 400 soldiers and numerous cannons to protect the port. However, in 1907 the U.S. Army decommissioned Alcatraz.

The island always housed prisoners from the early days as a military fort. And soon after its decommission as a fort, military guards built a cellhouse.

Explore Alcatraz with kids and walk through the cell block.
A few of the cells on the tour feature personal belongings of the prisoners. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

In 1915, Alcatraz was renamed the United States Disciplinary Barracks, Pacific Branch, a military prison. During the Great Depression, Alcatraz transferred from the War Department to the Department of Justice. Soon after, it became a high-profile, maximum-security federal penitentiary.

Home to the worst of the worst, infamous inmates like Al Capone, along with others with nicknames like Creepy, Doc, Machine Gun, and Birdman of Alcatraz were all incarcerated on The Rock. Inmates that caused problems in other prisons, came to Alcatraz too.

Explore Alcatraz with kids during your trip to San Francisco.
Alcatraz offers few windows so the light is dim and spooky. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

After the prison closed in 1963, Native Americans occupied the island in effort to claim it for all tribes. Support dwindled and in 1972, Alcatraz became part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Explore Alcatraz with Kids

Alcatraz is creepy and eerie in the evening so the younger kids might be frightened by the night tour. My kids, 9, 13 and 14, loved this tour but tweens and teens love to be freaked out a bit. Actually Alcatraz was their favorite national park site from the entire summer.

Explore Alcatraz with Kids when you visit San Francisco.
My kids, 9, 13 and 14, loved this tour because its was equal parts eery and creepy. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Hard to believe, yet kids lived on Alcatraz as prison guards lived on the island and brought their families with them. The kids of Alcatraz played in the gardens and Moms rarely locked their doors.

Stop by the Ranger Station at the dock and pick up a Junior Ranger booklet. Take the tour, finish the booklet and turn it back in to the park ranger for a special badge.

Night Tour

Tour Alcatraz with kids during your trip to San Francisco.
The hospital ward creeps out adults and younger kids might want to skip it. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

We explored Alcatraz during the twilight hours for the Night Tour. A special feature of this tour is the cell house lock-down where a Park Ranger unlocks then locks all the cell doors on the cell block at once. A must if you take the Night Tour.

This tour is especially creepy since the setting sun casts deep shadows throughout the prison. The lighting is limited and the hospital ward is particularly eery in the evening. It might be too scary for younger kids, my 9-year-old decided to skip this portion of the tour.

Lock the kids up when you tour Alcatraz with kids.
Sometimes good kids go bad. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The Birds of Alcatraz

The birds came first, though moved on after humans occupied the island in the 1850s. When the prison closed in the 1963, the birds returned to the protected location that lacked natural predators.

The island offers refuge for over 5,000 birds today. The waterbirds include Pigeon Guillemots, Snowy Egrets, Western Gulls, Black-crowned Night-Herons and Brandt’s Cormorants. Some areas of the island may close to protect nesting birds that will abandon their nest if humans come too close.

Is a tour of Alcatraz Prison right for your kids? Find out the best time to visit and what to except for one of the most popular tours in San Francisco.

Birders, remember your binoculars and grab the brochure, Waterbirds of Alcatraz, at the kiosk after disembarking the ferry.

The Gardens of Alcatraz

The gardens that still bloom off the most surprising feature of the former high-security prison. Sprinkled throughout the property, residents first planted the gardens in the late 1800s.

Visit the gardens when you explore Alcatraz with kids.
Gardens sprinkle Alcatraz Island, planted and maintained by former inmates. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

With the help of reclaimed water, green houses and specially-trained inmates, the gardens flourished until 1963, when the prison closed. Over 230 species of ornamental plants still flourish on Alcatraz, including roses, calla lilies, bearded irises, agapanthus and hydrangeas.

Garden lovers, grab the brochure, The Gardens of Alcatraz, at the kiosk after disembarking the ferry for more information.

Get the App!

The National Park Service developed an NPS Golden Gate App, covering Alcatraz Island among other NPS sites around San Francisco. The app includes an interactive map, hidden stories and up-to-date ranger information.

Where to eat at Alcatraz

Got hungry kids? The Landing at Alcatraz, the ticketing and boarding area off The Embarcadero, offers a cafeteria with options for families along with rain ponchos and souvenirs. Food service is not available on Alcatraz Island.

Picnics are allowed near the docks when you disembark the ferry. Only bottled water is permitted on the tour.

Getting to Alcatraz Island

Alcatraz Island is located in the San Francisco Bay and reached by ferry only. The Alcatraz Ferry Terminal is located at Pier 33 on The Embarcadero.

Parking is an issue while visiting Downtown San Francisco. During my trip, I used public transportation and left my car at my hotel.

Alcatraz Cruises 2017 Tickets

Ages Day Tours Night Tour
Adult 18 to 61 37.25 44.25
Senior 62 + 35.25 41.25
Junior 12 to 17 37.25 43.25
Child 5 to 11 23.00 26.50
Toddler 0 to 4 Free Free
Family Pack 2 Adults + 2 Kids 112.75 Not Available

 

The Behind-the-Scenes Tour is 4 to 5 hours long and not available for kids under 12-years-old.

More Information about Alcatraz and San Francisco:

If you need more information about Alcatraz or San Francisco with kids, I recommend the Lonely Planet Guides, like the following.

 

Disclosure:

Consideration for brands mentioned. This post includes affiliate links.

Know Before You Go:

  • Tickets go on sale 90 days in advance.
  • Parking is an issue for San Francisco. I used public transportation during my visit.
  • Alcatraz Island, or ‘The Rock”, is hilly and requires climbing. Motorized transportation is limited.
  • Luggage larger than a standard backpack is not allowed.
  • Photo ID required for the purchaser of the tickets.
  • Give yourself at least 2-and-a-half hours for the tour.
  • Bring a jacket and rain gear since the weather is unpredictable.
  • Make reservations for this popular tour months in advance, especially for the evening tour.
  • In Mid-August flies that hatch from the bird colonies and swarm.
  • The Self-Guided booklet, Discover Alcatraz – A Tour of the Rock, costs $1.
  • The cost of the tour includes an audio tour headset.

 

Killer Snakes and Cuddly Cactus Found in Joshua Tree

 

Discover Joshua Tree National Park with kids.
Joshua Tree National Park offers two desert ecosystems along with the Joshua trees. Photo Credit: National Park Service

Travelers leaving Los Angeles, California, fail to look beyond the lane lines as they race east to Phoenix. Just outside Palm Springs, Joshua Tree National Park, offers families a glimpse into two different desert ecosystems. Best explored during the school year, families can hike in a national park larger than the state of Rhode Island.

History of Joshua Tree

In 1936, President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed Joshua Tree a national monument. Then the California Desert Protection Act of 1994 renamed it Joshua Tree National Park. Of course, the 1987 U2 album made the park a bucket list destination for a generation.

Discover the Cholla cactus in Joshua Tree National Park with kids
The Cholla Cactus might look cuddly, beware spiny thorns attract kids and pets alike.

The area is a transition zone, where the Mojave Desert and the Sonoran Desert meet. The Mojave Desert with elevations of 3,000 feet and above, provides a unique habitat for pinyon pines, Joshua trees and numerous yuccas and cacti.

The Sonoran Desert, below 3,000 feet in the eastern portion of Joshua Tree National Park, offers rugged plants, like the Creosote bush, Octillo cactus and the kid-favorite, cholla cactus. But beware, the soft-looking cholla plant harbors thousands of thorns.

Take a picture with Joshua Tree National Park sign with kids.
Joshua Tree National Park offers a quick pitstop along the busy Interstate 10 between Phoenix and Los Angeles. Take a minute and snap a picture with the kids at the park entrance sign.

Another signature feature of Joshua Tree National Park is the rock piles. The granite formed rock piles after the eons of erosion.

What to do in 2 hours at Joshua Tree National Park

For road trippers traveling along Interstate 10, a drive through Joshua Tree National Park offers a quick overview. I’ve done this on several occasions. Must-stops include the Ocotillo Patch and the Cholla Cactus Garden along the main road, Pinto Basin Road. Stop at a visitor center, located near the entrances, for current conditions and a map.

Discover Oasis Visitor Center at Joshua Tree National Park with kids.
The Oasis Visitor Center near the town of TwentyNine Palms offers an interpretive area.

The West and North entrances offer the most Joshua trees along Park Boulevard with several stops along the way. Keys View offers a panorama of the Coachella Valley, located off Park Boulevard.

Hiking in Joshua Tree 

Joshua Tree National Park offers several hiking opportunities just right for kids. At the southern entrance, the Bajada Trail offers an accessible .25-mile loop. Along Park Boulevard, the Keys View Trail is a .25-mile trail to an overlook. At the Oasis Visitor Center, the Oasis of Mara offers a pet-friendly .5-mile loop to discover a desert oasis.

Hike the Oasis of Mara in Joshua Tree National Park with kids for an easy hike
Along the Oasis of Mara loop behind the Oasis Visitor Center, families can hike an accessible trail.

Moderate hikes require more preparation and should be avoided during the summer. Pick up a map at the visitor center and pack water regardless of the season.

Kids at Joshua Tree National Park

The Junior Ranger Program is the go-to program for families to learn more about Joshua Tree National Park. It’s free and takes about two hours to complete. My kids love the badges that the Rangers present them after completing their booklet.

Kids can earn several Junior Ranger Badges at Joshua Tree National Park. Add this desert destination, just a few hours from Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Phoenix, to your road trip itinerary.
Earning Junior Ranger Badges is part of our National Park experience.

The Joshua Tree Junior Ranger badge requires attending at ranger program. Visit an exhibit in the visitor center and have a ranger sign off on the booklet, if ranger programs aren’t offered during your visit.

National Junior Ranger badges can be earned at Joshua Tree National Park like the Junior Paleontologist, the Night Explorer patch, and the Wilderness Explorer patch.

Lodging and Camping in Joshua Tree 

 Joshua Tree National Park offers nine developed campgrounds within park boundaries. Black Rock and Indian Cove campgrounds offer reservations and the others are first-come, first-serve campgrounds.

Kids always pose for pictures at Joshua Tree National Park.
Be sure and grab a photo of your kids at the Oasis Visitor Center.

RV hookups aren’t provided in Joshua Tree National Park though group camping and equestrian sites are available. Regular campsites with water are $20 a night.

For hotels, Palm Springs, California, offers lots of options, including unique rental properties. During my visit to Joshua Tree National Park, we stayed at Walt Disney’s former Palm Springs home, complete with hidden Mickeys.

Getting to Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park is located 52 miles from Palm Springs, the closest city with commercial flights. Mojave National Preserve is 138 miles from Palm Springs, home to the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument.

Joshua Tree National Park offers three entrances, located at the north, west and south ends of the park. The larger visitor center, Oasis Visitor Center near the town of Twentynine Palms, offers an interpretive area and a desert walking pave.

The Cottonwood Visitor Center offers basic assistance, like maps and directions, and staffed by a park ranger. The western entrance station offers water only though the Joshua Tree Visitor Center is located nearby, close to California Highway 62.

Getting Around Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park is open 365-days a year and 24-hours a day. Use an America the Beautiful annual pass ($80) or purchase a 7-day pass for $25 per vehicle.

Four-wheel drive roads should be avoided in a standard two-wheel drive vehicle, most family cars.

Know Before You Go:

  • Remember a hat, sunscreen, sunglasses and water for all seasons.
  • Seven different rattlesnakes call Joshua Tree National Park home.
  • Use maps for navigation, not your GPS.
  • Cell phone coverage is poor in the park.
  • Stay away from abandoned mines.

All Aboard for Winter Snow and Summer Shade on Palm Springs Aerial Tram

 

Take the Palm Spring Aerial Tram for winter snow and summer shade.
The Palm Springs Tram spins as it ascends 2.5 miles from the desert to an alpine oasis.

Think Palm Springs is a desert without trees or wintertime snow? Think again, especially after climbing aboard the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway for a breathtaking ride in the world’s largest rotating tram cars.

As the seasons change, the treed oasis transforms into a winter wonderland perfect for a day of sledding or snow-shoed exploring. Perched high above the Coachella Valley, minutes from Palm Springs, California, I found an alpine forest boasting towering trees covered in snow. During the summer, temperatures rarely reach 80F.

Take a hike in the pines at Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument
The summer temperatures rarely reach 80F and Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument offers lots of trees.

My kids love different. So when I told them I wanted to ride a rotating cable car up the side of a mountain to visit our next national park site, they were all in. On the southerly side of the Coachella Valley in southern California, the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway ascends 2.5 miles to the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument, an alpine oasis perched high above the Palm Springs desert. 

Family Fun at Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument

The Mount Santa Jacinto State Park offers 54 miles of trails. During our visit, we hiked from the Mountain Station to the Ranger Station and then to Grubb’s View. My three kids, 8, 12 and 13 hiked along wide paths with dappled sunlight and summer temperatures that rarely reach 80F.

Take the Palm Spring Aerial Tram for summer hike at Mount San Jacinto.
Hiking in the Mount San Jacinto State Park is a must for kids in summer.

Kids can complete a Mount San Jacinto State Park Junior Ranger Nature Guide. Available at the Mountain Station, kids explore the wilderness while looking for plants and animals. Find four and kids get a signed certificate.

The Mount Santa Jacinto State Park offers guided walks during the summer season from Memorial Day to Labor Day, every weekend. Volunteers guide hikers along a 40-minute walk and point out various plants and animals. Free.

Winter Fun in Palm Springs California

Looking for a snow play area in the middle of a desert? Take a ride on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway to a winter wonderland. The flurries start to fall around Thanksgiving and the snow lingers through the winter. This is the only area near Palm Springs with a snow play area for sledding, snow shoeing or cross-country skiing.

The desert of Southern California in Palm Springs lacks snow in the winter and shade in the summer. Find out where to find both.
I’ve got your destination for winter snow and summer shade in Palm Springs.

The Adventure Center located near the Mountain Station offers snowshoe rentals and cross-country ski equipment. Sleds can be purchased along with winter-related items.

Dining at the Mountain Station

During our visit, we spent several hours hiking so the kids needed a snack to keep them happy. The Mountain Station offers a couple of dining options.

The Peaks Restaurant offers fine contemporary California cuisine with a view of the Coachella Valley. The Pines Café is a casual cafeteria offering kid-friendly options like pizza and sandwiches. The Lookout Lounge provides the ideal spot to enjoy a cocktail while watching the sun set.

History of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

The idea of a tram began in 1935 yet took close to 30 years to fund and build. After years of road blocks and halts for major wars, construction began in 1961.

Take the Palm Spring Aerial Tram for summer shade and a hike in the evergreens.
A world away from the desert below, I found a forest of pines.

Only the first of the tram’s five towers can be reached by road and the remaining towers along with the Mountain Station (the terminal building for the tram) utilized helicopters to complete the construction. In all, over 23,000 helicopters missions flew the necessary workers and materials for the 26-month construction period. The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway opened to passengers in 1963.

The Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument was created in 2000 to protect the pristine alpine wilderness and the majority of the Mount San Jacinto State Park is within the monument’s boundaries.

Scared of Heights?

If your kids hate heights, the tram ride to the top might be a problem. My kids loved it though the tram car sways over each of the five towers. I found the ride to be gentle and quiet; it takes about 10 minutes to climb 6,000 feet.

During our trip, the kids in our car were great. A few of the older adults experienced slight vertigo issues with the tram car’s rotation. I suggest riding in the center of the tram and giving kids gum to chew to help with their popping ears.

Lodging at Santa Rosa San Jacinto Mountains National Monument

During my visit to Palm Springs, I stayed in the Walt Disney Technicolor Dream House, Walt Disney’s former home in the Indian Springs golf community. The ideal base for exploring Palm Springs or nearby Joshua Tree National Park.

Looking for a rustic way to connect with nature? Mount San Jacinto State Park offers primitive camping in six different campgrounds. Ranging from a 2 to 6-mile hike from the tram building, campgrounds offer vault toilets (not flushing) though no water. The camping fee is $5 per person and campers will have to fill out a free wilderness permit.

Getting to Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument

The most family-friendly route to the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument is the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. It thrilled my kids and made for a memorable day.

My kids loved the rotating tram car ride to the top as our Swiss-made car that made two complete rotations. The Palm Springs Aerial Tram traverses 2.5 miles and gains 6,000 feet of elevation as it moves over five towers with a little sway.

The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway located at 1 Tramway, off Highway 111 with easy access from Interstate 10. Located six miles from downtown Palm Springs, it’s open seven-day-a week.

For national park enthusiasts, Joshua Tree National Park is 40 miles away. Mojave National Preserve is 115 miles north. Death Valley National Park is 300 miles away.

Getting Around Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument

Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument is open 365-days a year and 24-hours a day as is the Mount San Jacinto State Park.

The parks offer free admission but the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway requires a ticket for all passengers. Adult tickets are $25.95 and kids 3 to 12 are $16.96 with kids under 3 riding for free. Parking is $5 per vehicle.

 Know Before You Go:

  • The Mount San Jacinto State Park offers a 30-degree differential from the valley below. Pack an extra layer.
  • Use the restrooms in the tram building for flushing toilets.
  • Take it easy at higher elevations, especially with younger kids and grandparents.
  • Pack some snacks and water bottles.
  • Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is closed for annual maintenance in September and during inclement weather.

Disclosure: 

Consideration for brands mentioned.

 

Desert Luxury — Finding Your Death Valley Hotel

 

Discover Furnace Creek for you Death Valley hotel.
Enjoy the golden light of a sunset on The Inn at Furnace Creek’s patio in Death Valley National Park. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

When Old Hollywood needed an escape from the demands of making movies, they hopped in their convertibles drove out to a luxurious desert getaway, four hours from Los Angeles. The glamourous still lounge by the legendary pool, hiding under large chapeaus and sipping cocktails, sometimes shining brighter than the nighttime stars overhead. Though it’s the service and the amenities that shines the brightest at The Inn at Furnace Creek, the iconic luxury property that offers hospitality as warm as their sunsets.

Luxury in Death Valley?

The notorious summer temperatures create the starkest and harshest of environments. Though Death Valley offers pleasant temperatures from fall to spring, allowing for sun-filled desert getaways.

Discover Furnace Creek for you Death Valley hotel.
The Inn at Furnace Creek offers AAA Four-Diamond luxury at the lowest point of North America. Photo Credit: Xanterra Parks and Resorts

Near the lowest point in North America sits a historic, AAA four-diamond luxury property that hosts Hollywood stars and Paris socialites. Nestled in the largest national park in the lower 48, The Inn at Furnace Creek offers graciously appointed accommodations that luxury travelers have come to expect in the wild and untamed desert of Death Valley National Park.

The Inn at Furnace Creek offers luxury travelers poolside massages or guided off-road adventures. As the sun sets behind the Panamint Mountains, guests can enjoy fine dining al fresco or take afternoon tea. A round of golf at the lowest course in the world will have golfers tossing the cubs in their trunk. 

My Stay at The Inn at Furnace Creek

I entered my room at The Inn at Furnace Creek ($$$$$+) through an entryway that opened to a spacious layout featuring a king-sized bed. The sitting area complete with a pair of upholstered chairs flanking a fireplace with a mantel and decorative mirror offered the ideal spot for enjoying a book or cup of coffee.

My room overlooked the oasis garden and I had access to a shared balcony. My accommodations featured all the amenities I expect in a four-star property.

Discover Furnace Creek for you Death Valley hotel.
Enjoy desert luxury at The Inn at Furnace Creek overlooking the oasis. Photo Credit: Xanterra Parks and Resorts

The king-sized bed was dressed with high-thread count white cotton linens with truffle-colored coverlet and bolster. My son found the bench located at the foot of the bed the ideal place to watch the flat-screen television. I also found an in-room stereo and a work desk with a charging station.

My room featured a large walk-in closet with a mini-refrigerator, extra bedding, white terry robe and iron. Though I didn’t find an in-room safe that I know luxury travelers have come to expect.

I enjoyed the in-room coffee provided by a Keurig coffee maker, complete with jade-colored mugs, real creamers and tea bags along with glassware and complimentary water bottles. Due to the extremely dry desert air, the Inn at Furnace Creek has a water urn in the main lobby for its guests.

The Inn at Furnace Creek offers AAA four-diamond luxury at the lowest point of North America.
Death Valley Luxury? Yes, I found it at The Inn at Furnace Creek. Photo Credit: Xanterra Parks and Resorts

The bathroom featured vintage Malibu accent tiles, white hexagonal tile and a jetted tub with separate shower. The pedestal sink and mirror appear to be the originals. The signature toiletries are perfumed with desert wildflowers, though The Inn at Furnace Creek used mounted full-size toiletries instead of the individual-sized ones I take as souvenirs.

Dining at The Inn at Furnace Creek

The Inn Dining Room offers fine dining for breakfast, lunch and dinner with unparalleled views of the valley and the Panamint Mountains from the floor-to-ceiling windows. During the high season, guests can dine on the veranda, right outside. Afternoon tea and Sunday Brunch are favorites; the Mother’s Day brunch is the end of the high season in Death Valley. In-room dining is also available.

Discover Furnace Creek for you Death Valley hotel.
Breakfast at the Forty-Niner Café offers a kids’ menu and a hearty start to the day. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

During my stay, I had breakfast at the Forty-Niner Café at The Ranch at Furnace Creek area that serves western-inspired family favorites. They also have a kids’ menu.

Activities at The Inn at Furnace Creek

The Inn at Furnace Creek exudes luxury, including their activities. A variety of massages, from deep tissue to prenatal, are available at the Inn at Furnace Creek. The four-star hotel also features an exercise room and sauna, located next to the spring-fed swimming pool with a constant temperature of 82F. I found a pair of tennis courts close to the pool as well.

Discover Furnace Creek for you Death Valley hotel.
The spring-fed pool at The Inn at Furnace Creek offers a luxurious escape in the middle of a desert. Photo Credit: Xanterra Parks and Resorts

For golfers, Death Valley offers a bucket list golf course and named one of America’s 50 Toughest Courses by Golf Digest. Its located at The Ranch of Furnace Creek and is 214-feet below sea level.

For guests looking for adventure, Jeep tours and rentals are available at The Inn at Furnace Creek from fall through spring.

Both The Inn at Furnace Creek and The Furnace Creek Resort offer nightly fire pits during the high season (mid-October to mid-May).

History of Furnace Creek

In 1849, a wagon train of prospectors took a detour through the barren valley and one passenger perished. One member of the party turned and said, Goodbye, Death Valley, and the name stuck.

Mining, primarily borax, developed the area in the 1880s though moved on by the turn-of-the-century. The train tracks laid by the mining companies would soon shuttle tourists into Death Valley.

Discover Furnace Creek for you Death Valley hotel.
Death Valley National Park offers an escape for families yearning for rugged adventure. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Built in 1927 with expansive views of the Panamint Mountains, The Inn at Furnace Creek offers a 66-room luxury hotel set in a garden oasis, complete with a spring-fed pool and poolside bungalows. The Spanish Revival property boasts a red tile roof with wooden balconies, a grand patio for sunset viewing and a desert-inspired color scheme.

In the fashion of other National Park Service lodges, the building materials were sourced locally. The Shoshone Indians handmade the adobe blocks and the large timbers came from railroad trestles. Even the stone used in the arches around the pool was harvested onsite.

My Stay at The Ranch at Furnace Creek

The Ranch at Furnace Creek ($$) located a couple of miles from The Inn at Furnace Creek and features a kid-pleasing western theme. Most buildings overlook a large grassy area dotted with palm trees and features a spring-fed pool. A great place to let the kids run free since it’s separated from the parking lot.

Discover Furnace Creek for you Death Valley hotel.
With a large grassy area, I found lots a space for kids to play during the day and gather around the fire pit at night. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The Pacific Coast Borax Company built this resort in 1933 and it has expanded over the years and features 224 rooms across several buildings within walking distance of a couple of restaurants, a general store and the horse stables. My room featured a pair of queen beds, great for families.

Kids at The Ranch at Furnace Creek

A short drive away is The Furnace Creek Resort, the hub of activity in Death Valley National Park. Stop by the Furnace Creek visitor center for maps and information about scenic drives and hiking. And pick up a Junior Ranger booklet for the kids to complete to earn a collectible badge.

Discover Furnace Creek for you Death Valley hotel.
Death Valley for kids? Yes, my kids were fascinated by hiking at the lowest point in North America. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

I found a sports court area with a basketball, a volleyball and a bocce ball court. A playground with swings allows kids a place to play and shuttle board is a few steps away.

I found guided horseback riding at the Furnace Creek Stables, with one and two-hour rides (minimum age requirements). Carriage rides last 45-minutes and can accommodate younger kids. The stables even offer moonlit rides around the monthly new moon.

For families who want to explore the desert on a bike, I found bike rentals in the Furnace Creek Resort. A kid’s bike rents for $5 an hour and $15 an hour for adults.

The Ranch at Furnace Creek also offers a year-round, spring-fed pool boasting a constant temperature of 82F.

Getting to Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park is located 125 miles west of Las Vegas, the closest city with commercial flights. California Highway 190 transects Death Valley from the Panamint Springs on the west side to Death Valley Junction on the east side. Interstate 15 at Baker, California, is 84 miles south of Death Valley Junction, at the entrance of the Mojave National Preserve.

The Furnace Creek Resort boasts a public airstrip. Death Valley National Park doesn’t feature public transportation to the park.

Getting Around Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park is open 365-days a year and 24-hours a day. Use an America the Beautiful annual pass ($80) or purchase a 7-day pass for $25 per private vehicle.

Death Valley National park has nearly a 1,000 miles of roads in but read the map closely. The majority are unpaved, four-wheel-drive roads, unsuitable for most cars.

Scotty’s Castle

Scotty’s Castle, the multi-million dollar 1920s vacation home, is closed until further notice according to the NPS. A flash flood destroyed the road and the infrastructure servicing Scotty’s Castle. The building remained unharmed.

Know Before You Go:

  • Death Valley National Park is best explored from mid-October to mid-May when the temperatures stay out of the 100s.
  • Most activities and services are suspended during the summer due to extreme temperatures.
  • Make reservations for lodging and tours as soon as possible. Lodging reservations can be made 13 months in advance.
  • The Inn Dining Room requires Resort Attire-meaning T-shirts and tank tops aren’t permitted.
  • The Ranch at Furnace Creek has cabins but they feature one queen-size bed and room for a pack-n-play.
  • Keep wild animals wild. Don’t feed them for your safety and theirs.
  • Do not enter mine shafts or tunnels.
  • Carry extra water year-round.
  • Don’t rely on technology for directions in Death Valley, pack a good map for your trip.
  • Flat tires are common on unpaved roads, be prepared.
  • Don’t hike at the lower elevations in the summer.
  • Don’t leave kids or pets in vehicles during the summer. Temperature can reach 160 F.

Disclosure: 

Consideration for brands mentioned.

 

 

 

Granlibakken A Grand Sledding Hill in Lake Tahoe

 

Lake Tahoe offers a crazy fast sledding hill for kids
Granlibakken-Tahoe, minutes from Tahoe City on the western shore of Lake Tahoe, offers a crazy fast sledding hill along with skiing, just right for family skiers.

Nestled in a glade of evergreens, Granlibakken Tahoe offers families a winter escape along the western shores of Lake Tahoe, minutes away from Tahoe City. A family favorite for years, I appreciate that my kids sled and ski to their heart’s desire while I watch on.

Granlibakken — Rich in Tahoe History

Granlibakken (725 Granlibakken Road) opened in 1928, offering skiing and sledding when a local hotel remained open year-round. Borrowing its name from Norwegian, it means a hill sheltered by trees. A Norwegian jumper built a ski jump in 1930 that became the location for numerous contests in the early years.

On the western shores of Lake Tahoe offers the best place for sledding
I found Old Tahoe charm inside of Granlibakken’s ski hut that offers freshly-made soups and Mexican favorites.

Nestled on 74-acres surrounded by fir trees, it’s not uncommon to see wildlife walking through their property. Granlibakken offers lodging ranging from lodge rooms to three-bedroom town homes.

Though conveniently located near Tahoe City, one of the largest towns on Lake Tahoe, it seems secluded from the hum of tourists. Some guests even walk to Tahoe City for its restaurants and shopping.

A Crazy Fast Sled Hill

My kids crave a super fast sledding hill. For nearly half what other ski resort’s charge for an hour of snow tubing, Granlibakken offers a full day of crazy, sledding fun.

Granlibakken features the fastest sled hill in Lake Tahoe
My 12-year-old needs a sturdy sled as his ride and Granlibakken features MH sleds, made in the U.S.

For $16 per person ($17 during holidays), kids get unlimited access to their monitored hill and a saucer sled for the day. Kids can climb their hill over and over, racing each other and even Mom.

After a few hours of sledding fun, I treat the kids to s’mores. The ski hut offers s’mores packages with enough chocolate, grahams and marshmallows for a family to toast at their fire pit. The ski hut also features hot drinks, soups and Mexican favorites, all reasonably priced in an authentic log cabin with a pot belly stove.

Looking for a crazy fast sledding hill in Lake Tahoe? I found one, minutes from all the action in Tahoe City.
Granlibakken-Tahoe on the western shores of Lake Tahoe features one the fastest sledding hills in the area.

Granlibakken’s Ski Hill

With inexpensive lift tickets ($30 – $35 per person for a full day) we ski this resort on our first day back on the snow. It features a small ski hill with a rope tow and platter lift, half-day lift tickets are available.

What this Mom likes about Granlibakken

As one of the smallest, lowest and least inexpensive ski resorts in the Lake Tahoe area, it’s an excellent option for families skiing with several children.

Granlibakken offers one of the fastest sled hills in Lake Tahoe
Granlibakken offers families a cozy place for winter fun with a crazy fast sledding hill and intimate ski hill.

I need a small resort.

Let’s face it, each kid has their own needs. Since I’m taking the kids skiing by myself, I can’t lose my kids, 9, 12 and 14-years-old at a mega-huge resort. What’s a Mom to do? Surrender and stay home?

Nope. You can keep them all happy at Granlibakken and still have time for Mom to ski.

I need a low resort.

Granlibakken’s elevation tops out at 6,350 feet, a great option for people who suffer from elevation issues at higher elevations, especially kids. My 12-year-old gets sick over 9,000 feet so we ski at lower elevations and Lake Tahoe tops our list.

One of the fastest sledding hills in Lake Tahoe
Finish up the perfect day of sledding at the fire pit, toasting up some marshmallows.

It’s important to let your body adjust for the first few days to prevent headaches and nausea.

I need an inexpensive resort.

The best feature of Granlibakken is its affordability.

An adult lift ticket is $30 or $35 for a holiday. For kids 12 and under, a lift ticket is $20 and $25 during their school break. Half-day lift tickets are $16 for adults and $10 for the kids under 12. What a bargain.

Besides downhill skiing and snowboarding, they have snowshoe and cross-country ski trails as well. The rental shop at Granlibakken has equipment for downhill and cross country skiing, snow boarding and snow shoeing, along with helmets.

Is it Your First Family Ski Trip?

What do you need to pack for family ski trip? I’ve been there. And here’s a list to prep and pack.

Need some advice on picking a ski school for your kids? I’ve got some tips for families to find the best program. 

More Lake Tahoe Fun for Families

Looking for more places to discover in Lake Tahoe? Got a couple of my favorite spots to share.

Mt Rose

Spooner Lake

Granlibakken 

Northstar

Squaw Valley

Then discover a quaint town to spend an afternoon, like Tahoe City.

 

 

Disclosure: 

My family was hosted by Granlibakken-Tahoe.

Know Before You Go: 

  • Granlibakken’s Sled Hill doesn’t have a magic carpet but I climbed it all afternoon. Nice workout for Mom, easy for my kids.
  • The skiing is best for novice skiers and snow boarders.
  • Granlibakken caters to families that have some children that ski and some that want to sled. I watched both hills at the same time and comfortable letting my kids go back and forth.
  • A good resort to start your ski vacation if it has been a few years since your last family ski trip.
  • They do not teach kids under 4 and don’t feature a separate ski school area.

 

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Fun in the Sun at San Diego’s Loews Coronado Bay Resort

 

Loews Coronado Bay Resort, a family friendly resort in San Diego.
The Loews Coronado Bay Resort offers an escape with three heated pools and cabanas.

Sunny San Diego offers families a year-round destination packed with oodles of activities that can keep the kids entertained for a week, like the San Diego Zoo, SeaWorld, Legoland and even the Cabrillo National Monument. For families looking to enjoy all that plus some beach days, Coronado Island is the place for you.

What I loved at Loews Coronado Bay Resort

  • The beachy feel of the spacious rooms that underwent a renovation in 2014.
  • The easy beach access and special programming with Silver Strand State Park.
  • The complimentary hotel shuttle to downtown Coronado.
  • Lots of charging stations in my room like the desk and next to the bed.

What I would like at Loews Coronado Bay Resort

  • For those with rooms in the 4000 or 5000 wing, it’s a long walk from the lobby.
  • It’s requires a shuttle bus to downtown Coronado.

Loews Coronado Bay Resort for Families

Loews Coronado Bay Resort, located at 4000 Loews Coronado Bay Road, is 15 miles from the San Diego International Airport on Coronado Island. Built in 1991 on a 15-acre peninsula, the resort is surrounded by the San Diego Bay and houses 439 guest rooms.

Loews Coronado Bay Resort a family friendly resort in San Diego.
The Loews Coronado Bay Resort offers beach access from its property and even offers loaner beach chairs and complimentary beach towels.

Ideal for families, the Loews Coronado Bay Resort offers spacious rooms along with a host of activities for kids including an optional Living Coast Discovery Center, an outdoor pool complex and the Silver Strand State Beach across the street.

With several dining options on property, the fine-dining Mistral that showcases Southern California’s superior seafood. During my stay, I visited the Market Café that serves casual fare like salads and burgers along with Starbucks coffee.

Loews Coronado Bay Resort, a family friendly resort near San Diego.
With views of the San Diego Bay, the deck is the place to enjoy a drink.

Loews Coronado Bay Resort features the Sea Spa with 15 treatment rooms, including a couple’s suite, an outdoor treatment area and a Vichy rain shower. The Sea Spa is home to a Watsu pool with a flotation massage.

I found a full-service salon with a nail technician to assist in all style and color needs. Loews Coronado Bay Resort features a fitness center with various equipment and a locker room with a sauna. The fitness center offers classes as well.

My Room at Loews Coronado Bay Resort  

Loews Coronado Bay Resort, a family friendly hotel near San Diego
I found the room at Loews Coronado Bay Resort relaxing with a calm color palette and lots of space.

I enjoyed an upgraded king room ($$-$$$) during my recent stay. The rooms at the Loews Coronado Bay Resort feature a soothing color scheme reminiscent of water with a sand-colored upholstered headboard that matches the reading chair and ottoman.

The large balcony overlooks orange trees and I had a bit of a view. The desk offered plenty of plugs for charging and ample light for working. I found more plugs next to both sides of the bed as well.

The credenza offered space for storage, an in-room Keurig coffeemaker with fresh creamers, a mini-refrigerator and LCD TV. I found the closet a bit small but it contained an in-room safe, a terry robe and an iron and board.

The bathroom of the Loews Coronado Bay Resort offers an escape with its large whirlpool tub and separate glass shower. The stone vanity had lots of storage along with a large mirror with decorative scones and separate make-up mirror.

Loews Coronado Bay Resort, a family friendly hotel near San Diego
The bathroom offered a spa getaway feel with large whirlpool tub and separate glass enclosed shower. Courtesy photo

Family Fun at Loews Coronado Bay Resort

The outdoor pools work like a tractor beam attracting all the kids. Grab a chaise and let the kids splash the day away in one of the three heated pools or a whirlpool. I found reservable cabanas with waiter service for snacks and cocktails too.

The pool area does include an adult pool, might what to point that out to the kids. I know mine won’t read the sign.

Spending time with the family in San Diego? Coronado Island offers the best beaches and charming downtown streets to stroll. A quick ferry ride to downtown San Diego too.
San Diego offers days of fun for families. Coronado Island has the best beaches along with charming streets to stroll.

A unique feature is the Living Coast Discovery Center for guests 5 to 12 to spend a half or full-day. The programming includes nature hunts, arts and crafts and beach exploration. The Living Coast Discovery Center is available throughout the summer and school breaks.

Loews Coronado Bay Resort offers extensive rentals of all sizes, a quick walk from the lobby. From beach cruisers to kids bikes, spend some time exploring the Silver Strand State Beach and beyond. I found a paved hike and bike path right in front of the hotel that I used to take a morning run.

Loews Coronado Bay Resort, a family friendly hotel near San Diego.
During my stay, the beach was all mine.

I found several sizes of watercraft for rent, from wave runners to sailboats. Kayak and SUPs are also available for rent by the hour or day.

If the kids want to surf, Coronado Surfing Academy teaches lessons year-round. Reservations are required.

For a romantic cruise though the canals of Coronado Cays, a serenading gondolier pushes back from the dock. Loews Coronado Bay Resort has a private 80-slip marina as well.

I found three lighted tennis courts with a view of the bay for tennis lovers.

Silver Strand State Beach

If looking to explore, then grab a complimentary beach chair and beach towels (both located at the valet desk) and walk to Silver Strand State Beach (free admission, $8 to $10 parking fee). Named after the tiny silvery shells along its sand, the Silver Strand State Beach offers lots of room for kids to run or even fly a kite.

Loews Coronado Bay Resort, a family friendly hotel near San Diego.
The Loews partners with the Silver Strand State Beach for kid fun in the lobby and weekend Ranger walks.

Silver Strand State Beach offers a Junior Ranger Program throughout the year on Saturdays. For adults, I joined a Nature Walk led by a California Park Ranger (Sunday afternoons). During my walk the ranger pointed out native birds and vegetation including several types of algae found along the beach. Then we crossed under Highway 75 using the tunnel and explored the San Diego Bay side of Silver Strand State Beach to see the various birds that inhibit the area.

Loews Coronado Bay Resort hosts California Park Rangers during the weekend for a kid’s science table. Kids can use their science skills to explore the exhibits and learn more about the Pacific Ocean.

Dining outside Loews Coronado Bay Resort

Loews Coronado Bay Resort does not offer a complimentary breakfast and as a Mom of three buying breakfast for the kids gets expensive. I usually throw little boxes of cereal into my bag and let the kids eat those.

Loews Coronado Bay Resort, a family friendly hotel in San Diego.
The Loews Coronado Bay Resort offers water views, sophisticated interiors and fine dining.

During my visit I found a local grocery store where I stocked up on a few essentials since I was staying a few days. Boney’s Bayside Market, located at 155 Orange Ave., stocks the essentials and I found ready-made salads, yogurt and fresh fruit.

I took the complimentary hotel shuttle to downtown Coronado and enjoyed a special evening of s’mores. The San Diego-Coronado ferry ($4.75 each way) departs twice an hour for access to downtown San Diego.

Know before you go:

  • The Loews Coronado Bay Resort charges a $29/night for self-parking and $33/night for valet.
  • The Loews Coronado Bay Resort charges a resort fee of $26/night.
  • Though families can get around without a car, having one is convenient.
  • The Loews Coronado Bay Resort offers complimentary water in the lobby and at the pool though the bottled water in the room is $8.
  • Uber to downtown San Diego was about $18. The shuttle to the San Diego International Airport was $16/each way.

Smores for the Luxe Mom at San Diego’s Hotel del Coronado

How to enjoy the hotel del Coronado for kids, S'mores for Luxe Moms, Things to do in Coronado with kids,
The legendary Hotel del Coronado offers exceptional service to its overnight guests and for day visitors wanting to enjoy the ambience without spending the night.

Looking for a Wow moment for your next trip to San Diego with the kids? I enjoyed the afternoon at the Hotel del Coronado, the legendary historic hotel on Coronado Island, without spending the night. A full-on family vacation at the Del (what the locals call the Hotel del Coronado) might be out-of-reach for most families. But how about enjoying its legendary beach, a fabulous pizza with the kids and topping it off with luxury s’mores on the beach.

Perfect Day for Families

Along the largest stretch of beach in San Diego, the Hotel del Coronado offers families an escape at one of the top 10 beaches in southern California. Behind the Victorian Queen Anne landmark, I found an amazing beach open to everyone with rentable beach chairs and some unbelievable food.

what to do with kids in Coronado, places to go in San Diego, best beaches in San Diego,
I can’t say no to champagne and champagne on the beach is divine.

A perfect afternoon starts with a little sand time for the kids while Mom sits in one of the Del’s beach chairs and escapes in a book. Add a glass of champagne and make the day divine and don’t forget the $1 kites for the kids.

The champagne and indulgent reading work their magic. I give the kids what they want and order pizza. But this pizza doesn’t come in a box. The Eno Pizzeria, located steps from the beach along the Del’s boardwalk, offers delectable pizza with an amazing wine list. Grab a table on the patio and enjoy the view.

Top off the perfect beach day with s’mores. What kid doesn’t love roasting a marshmallow?

best s'mores on the beach, what to do with kids on Coronado, best beaches in San Diego,
My s’mores plate before the campfire. I want to try it all, four types of marshmallows, Hershey’s chocolate, fresh raspberries and gingersnap cookies.

The chefs at the Del, whip up house-made marshmallows in vanilla, raspberry, chocolate and mint to pair with fresh-baked cookies, like gingersnaps (my favorite) and mint-chocolate chip. Everything is provided, from the roasting sticks, assorted beverages, four types of Hershey’s chocolate and fruit toppings.

I enjoyed a bottomless glass of champagne to toast the setting sun as the sky catches fire and drenches itself in the Pacific Ocean. Kids love the novelty of a fire on the beach. It’s beach bliss.

Dining at Hotel del Coronado

As a Mom of three, I get it. Mom and Dad would like something nice and the kids want pizza. The Hotel del Coronado had me swooning the other day as I sampled several of their pizzas from Eno Pizzeria.

Things to do in Coronado with kids, best pizza in San Diego,
The In-N-Out Cheeseburger Pizza offers all the taste of its namesake, just without the bun. This speciality doesn’t appear on the regular menu and is part of their secret menu.

Located outside on the patio, I got the ambience I love along with a glass of wine while the kids got the pizza they craved. With an outdoor wood-fired oven, Eno bakes up a selection of artisan Neopolitian-style pizzas, like Margherita, Funghi, Pepperoni and Giardino Fresco. During my visit, I ordered the secret menu item, the In-N-Out Cheeseburger Pizza and it was unbelievable.

best pizza in San Diego, what to do with kids is San Diego, What to do with kids in Coronado,
Is there anything better than a perfect slice a pizza? A perfect slice with a glass of wine while watching the sun set over the Pacific is pizza bliss.

For the brunchers, the Hotel del Coronado features a legendary Sunday brunch that’s become a local institution. Served in the historic Crown Room, the Del brunch showcases the best of the West Coast with a chilled seafood bar, Mexican specialties, carving station and regionally-inspired dishes along with made-to-order Mimosas and delectable Bloody Mary’s. Adults are $93, kids (6 to 12) are $29 with kids 5 and under for free.

Holiday Events at the Hotel del Coronado

The Hotel del Coronado offers special events for the holidays, catered just for families. Each year the Del features oceanfront ice skating on their expansive lawn. This year, families can skate from November 24 until January 2. Skating is $25 per person and skate rental is included.

For families wanting a dressy event to share, afternoon tea brings old world charm to the table. With a classic selection of tea sandwiches and petite desserts, tea is served from December 17 until December 24 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.  Adults are $56, kids (6 to 10) are $29 with kids 5 and under for free.

Kids want S'mores but you're a Luxe Mom that doesn't camp. The Hotel del Coronado has you covered with house-made marshmallows and champagne on their legendary beach.
Kids love S’mores. And kids love the beach. At the Hotel del Coronado you can get both along with breathtaking sunset.

A special afternoon tea for families, Polar Bear Tea, is scheduled for December 22 at noon. Adults are $59, kids (6 to 10) are $30 with kids 5 and under for free.

Walking around the Hotel del Coronado and enjoying the holiday lights and decorations offers families a picturesque way to spend an evening as well.

History of Hotel del Coronado

Offering legendary service since 1888, the Hotel del Coronado features 757 guest rooms in an iconic Victorian building with a signature red roof along with the contemporary Ocean Towers, the California Cabana buildings or the luxurious Beach Village. Just 15 minutes from the San Diego airport and right across the San Diego-Coronado Bridge; the Del is in the center of the quaint, small town charm of Coronado.

things to do in Coronado with kids, Hotel del Coronado with kids,
The Hotel del Coronado endures as a destination for travelers as well as a place for locals to celebrate.

Founders, Elisha Babcock and H.L. Story, wanted a legendary seaside resort similar to the ones on the East Coast. The Hotel del Coronado is a National Historic Landmark and sits along one of the most scenic beaches on the entire West Coast.

Getting to the Hotel del Coronado

The Hotel del Coronado is located at 1500 Orange Avenue in the heart of Coronado Island. A quick drive over the San Diego-Coronado Bridge (though the locals call it the Coronado Bridge) or use a taxi or shuttle service from the airport.

Coronado Island offers quaint shopping and unique dining, morning through night. Want a memorable trip back to San Diego? Take the San Diego-Coronado Ferry, for $4.75 per person, each way; it offers amazing views of the San Diego Bay. Departs from the Coronado Ferry Landing twice an hour and stops at two downtown San Diego locations.

best beaches in Southern California, what to do with kids in San Diego,
Ride the ferry to San Diego from Coronado, it’s $4.75 per person, each way and kids 3 and under are free.

What You Need to Know:

Parking is not free on Coronado Island. For self-parking at the Hotel del Coronado, it’s $30 for the first two hours and $10 for each additional hour.

If you are eating during your visit at the Del, you can validate your parking ticket for a $5 flat rate for three hours of parking if you spend $50 during your visit.

During my visit I used Uber to get around or walked. I found pedestrian-friendly sidewalks and it’s pleasant way to enjoy Coronado at a slower pace.