Weekend Escape: Family Fun in Monterey

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The Wild beaches, rich aquatic life, spectacular coastal trails, and lots of tourist attractions make Monterey a perfect location for a family getaway.

Book a family friendly hotel. We love Portola Hotel & Spa and we spent there a few vacations in the last 3 years. The hotel is being renovated and should be done by the beginning of 2017, but it will not effect your stay. 

We usually take the option that include breakfast and tickets to the aquarium. The buffet style breakfast is very good and includes pastries, omelet bar, pancakes and french toast to order, good coffee, and a lot more, but most impotently - bottomless Mimosas! Now that's the way to start off your day. 
The tickets for the aquarium are good for two days, which makes it a great option with kids who still naps. We visited the aquarium in the morning and afternoon, and the afternoon of the following day. This is a great arrangement if you don't have a membership.

The best part about the hotel is the Portola Pirate Kids Program for kids between the ages of 3-12. Upon arrival, Daniel received a hot cookie, a bag and a treasure hunt map with crayons. It was fun (mostly because they gave us a cheat sheet) and we ended up going back to the lobby and finding the buried treasure box, from which Daniel picked a yo-yo. Yes, it's small, but really fun. In the next visits there will be other fun things and the fifth visit includes a pirate party with friends, and I'm going to try and book it for Daniel's birthday :)

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is usually our first stop - breathtaking beauty and fascinating wildlife is always a good choice. There are lots of trails that are good for kids, and lots of pebble beaches and tide pools to explore. 
Here are our favorite trails:
Bird Island Trail is a short hike (0.8 mile) to a huge rock where you can spot many birds and seals.
Cypress Grove Trail - 0.8 mile walk through coastal scrub, cypress forest, and cliffs with dramatic and spectacular ocean views. 
Sea Lion Point Trail - 0.6 mile trail takes you to the cove overlook and offers best view of sea lion rocks offshore. 
We also liked Moss Cove and Granite Point Trail.
We spent a lot of time just playing in the water, looking for interesting tide pools and spotting sea lions. 
Always look for volunteers with Binoculars and scopes, as they usually spot whales and otter romps.
At the first parking lot, there's a small shed with some seal skulls, fur and more. Knowledgeable docents would love to explain and answer your questions.
There are many picnic tables, so pack your breakfast and bring it with you. Every table is a table with a view - our favorite is the picnic area near at the last parking lot.
Parking is not easy to find in this reserve, which create traffic at the entrance, so try getting there early in the morning.

Monterey Bay Aquarium is also a favorite, and probably our top reason to visit. We like visiting in the afternoon, after nap, because it's very quiet, so we usually plan to be there for two afternoons, and we stay until closing time. Try planning your visit after checking the daily schedule. We like to avoid the feedings of the otters and penguins for example, since it's very crowded, but like watching the feeding in the Kelp Forest, where you can interact with the divers, and it's big enough for everyone to see everything.
Don't miss the giant octopus, and the flashy fishes (we had a great time watching them play)! 
Of course, what Daniel likes most are the interactive exhibits, like the Rocky Shore touch pools where you can get up-close-and-personal with a bat ray, starfish, abalones, sea urchins, kelp crabs and more.  
The Coral Reef Kingdom offers a playplace for infants and toddlers, and a fun mini aquarium with lots of clown fishes you kids can crawl into.
If you visit often, and want to try something new, take one of the behind-the-scene tours! We plan to do it in one of our next visits. 

We only visited Dennis the Menace Playground because of recommendations from friends. It is a nice park, but not something amazing that we included in our next visits. If you're looking for a fun park to spend an hour - go for it, otherwise there are better things to do. 
Every Year Thousands of Monarchs Overwinter in Pacific Grove. If you're visiting Monterey between October and February - plan a short visit to the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary. Just look up and look for the Monarch Butterflies cluster together on the pines and eucalyptus trees of the Sanctuary. Entrance is free, and the trail is very short. 

The 17 Mile Drive is widely recognized as one of the most scenic drives in the world. At the entrance, pick up a map, and drive between the stops. You can see some of the famous coastal landmark like the lonely cypress, play with playful squirrels, see the sea lions, spot deer, and enjoy the views.
The inspiring vistas and sites can easily fill your morning.
This picture is from a visit almost four years ago, and still my favorite!

Monterey Zoo in Salinas Valley offers a daily tour (every day except Christmas and thanksgiving, 7 days a week, at 1pm) where you can see lions, tigers, elephants and bears. After the tour, guests are invited to return to the elephant playpen and feed one of the elephants housed in the African elephant sanctuary. I don't really like seeing large animals in zoos, but here they save retired animals from the show biz, and it looks like they really care for them. 

The Monterey County Youth Museum gives children the chance to discover the thrill of learning through unstructured play at its 80 exhibits. Exhibit areas include the Creation Station; the toddler-centric MY Day at the Beach, with a sandbox, a slide, a boat and a walk-through lighthouse; MY Hospital, with a life-size version of the game Operation; MY Theater, where children can perform on stage and even use a TV camera, and more.

If you want to see more seals and otters, stop at the Coast Guard Pier where dozens of full grown sea lions, baby sea lions, and hundreds of pelicans will be hanging out on the rocks. There's a nice trail along the sea you could walk and enjoy (San Carlos Beach Park).

We usually take the breakfast package at the hotel, but at least once stop at the Crepes of Brittany. This is a great location for sweet and savory crepes. For years they were located in a tiny place on the Fisherman's wharf, but now they are right across from the Portola Hotel. My favorite is the brie and caramelized onions crepe, but really, everything we tried was delicious. You can defiantly make it a dessert stop and take one of the sweet crepes, if you don't want to make a meal out of it.

As for dinner - most restaurants on the Cannery Row offers kids meals, coloring pages and crayons. We enjoyed the food and view at Louie's Linguini, and the hot chocolate and ice cream, at Ghiradelli are not to be missed. I wish I remembered the names of the restaurants from our previous visits, but I will sure be back to update after trying new places!

FALLing Inlove with the Season - Fall 2018 Family Guide

Monday, September 24, 2018

After counting the days to my favorite season, and with Halloween right around the corner, I’ve created an inspiring family fall to do list.

1. Take your pumpkin to the patch to pick the perfect gourd. Check out our Pumpkin Patch Guide with 30+ options to choose from.

2. Carve a Pumpkin!!

3. Make apple picking a new family tradition.

4. Check out that fall foliage at Sycamore Grove Park in Livermore or Ed Levin Park in Milpitas.

5. Welcome the Monarch butterflies to Pacific Grove - Arriving in October, monarch butterflies cluster together on pine, cypress and eucalyptus trees in the Sanctuary.

6. Visit Halloween@Night at Gilroy Gardens - Discover a whole new kind of magical, mystical Halloween adventure this fall! (September 21 - October 28, 2018, Friday-Sunday, 5pm-10pm). 

7. Visit Thomas and Percy's Halloween Party in Felton (October 13-14, 20-21, 27-28, 2018).

8. Check out the Great Pumpkin Fest at Great America - Halloween activities for the entire family, trick-or-treat with the PEANUTS gang, race through a hay maze, decorate mini-pumpkins, color PEANUTS pictures, dance in a foam pit and more (Saturdays & Sundays, September 29 - October 28).

9. Celebrate Sunol’s Old Timey Hootenanny (October 20, 2018, 11am-4pm) as history comes alive with cowboys, games, activities, guided walks, pony rides, petting zoo and more. 

10. Check out Bay Area Discovery Museum's annual Halloween festival - Goblin Jamboree (October 20-21, 2018). Pony Rides, Glow in the Dark Trains, a Slime Room, a Potion Laboratory and more.

11. Fall means HARVEST FESTIVALS!!
Harvest the Indian corn and fill the corn-cribs, press cider, and enjoy old-time music and crafts at Ardenwood Harvest Festival (October 13-14, 2018).

The Martial Cottle Park Harvest Festival will feature family friendly activities that celebrate the harvest season and the agricultural heritage of Santa Clara Valley (October 6, 2018).
The Wildlife & Harvest Day in Cupertino will celebrate the harvest season and learn about local birds, nature, ecology, and wildlife. Lots of kid friendly activities included (October 20, 2018).

12. Take the family to an Halloween themed park - Spookville! Embark upon a monster-friendly adventure of happy haunting through Spookville. Immerse yourself into a “No Scare” World of Halloween as you explore iconic Halloween themed areas filled with Instagram-friendly, interactive installations screaming for selfies (we call Spookies). Guests of Spookville will also get to Meet & Eek with the cast of whacky monster characters (October 26-31, 2018).

Fall Fruit Picking – Make Apple Picking a new family tradition!

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Apple picking season is almost here! Starting around Labor Day weekend and continuing through October, orchards around the bay area offer families the chance to pick their own apples.

Experience the most fun part of growing fruits, combined with fresh air, sunshine and a little sweat - it's a whole lot of fun for the kids and the entire family! Don't forget your camera!

The farms listed below are local farms, owned by local families that believe in providing healthier options to the community. Information about seasonal fruit picking gathered from their websites, so please check the calendar prior to your visit. 

Come back for updates throughout the season, as we will update the information regarding open and close dates, fruit availability and more.

Gizdich Ranch (55 Peckham Rd, Watsonville)
Apple U-Pick will open on September 15th, 2018
Apples varieties include Red-Delicious, Golden-Delicious, Newtown Pippin and Royal Gala.
After picking, take a self-guided tour of our apple orchard. If you're visiting on Saturdays (September-April only), you can watch the apples get pressed for juice!
When everyone's ready for lunch, picnic behind the sales barn and let the kids play. Read about our experience here.
Picking apples at Gizdich Ranch, September 2016
Live Earth Farm (172 Litchfield Ln, Watsonville)
Apple U-Pick will open Mid-October
When abundance in the field permits, U-Picks will be held on Saturdays and Sundays only from 10:00am – 3:00pm. Availability of crops varies from week to week – check the website for the status of available items. Discounts apply to produce the more you pick! Bring buckets, boxes, or other containers to harvest into, or purchase containers for a small fee.  Make sure to dress accordingly – layers, hats, sunblock. Load up the kids, pack a picnic lunch and make a day of it! No dogs other than guide dogs allowed in the orchard.

Clearview Organic Orchards (646 Trabing Rd, Watsonville)

Apple U-Pick will open on September 15th, 2018
Organic apples U-Pick will be open weekends beginning in September thru early November each year.
Whether you want to pick your own apples or simply pick up some organic fruit from the “Apple Hut” to take home, Clearview Orchards is the place to create memories. Bring the whole family out for the Watsonville apple picking experience.
The orchards are in a beautiful terraced setting overlooking the valley of Watsonville. Only a mile from the ocean and La Selva beach, the air is fresh and there is nothing better than wandering around the orchards for some genuine Watsonville apple picking.
Apples varieties include the delicious Fuji, Gala Apples, Cameos, Johnagold, and Granny Smiths.
No dogs other than guide dogs allowed in the orchard; No picnic area available and no outside food allowed inside the orchard; Limited parking, no street parking, try to carpool.
Clearview Orchards

 A Day Trip: Apple Picking in Santa Rosa

Thinking about the fall, evening breezes, beautiful leaves changing colors, sipping pumpkin spiced latte, and apple cider, this is a great time for a family vacation in the beautiful Sonoma County. Whether you stay the night or just make a day out of it, it is a great area for apple picking!


Hale's Apple Farm (1526 Gravenstein Hwy N, Sebastopol)
Organic apples U-pick will be open daily from late September to October.
Hale’s Apple Farm offers more than 30 varieties of juicy, fresh apples (including 3 rare ones: Hudson’s Golden Gem, Golden Russet, and Bramley’s Seedling).
In addition, the farm also boasts a nice assortment of pumpkins, gourds, squash, tomatoes, and locally produced apple cider.

Hale's Apple Farm

Apple-A-Day Ratzlaff Ranch (13128 Occidental Rd., Sebastopol)

Organic apples U-pick will be open from late September to October, closed Thursday and Saturday.
Apple-A-Day Ratzlaff Ranch offers Gravenstein, Golden Delicious, and Rome apples. U-pick is offered September & October. We also process and sell fresh apple juice.
This ranch is a part of the Sonoma Farm Trails, make sure to check the website before your trip, as they have great events going on!

Gabriel Farm (3175 Sullivan Rd. Sebastopol)

Organic apples and pears U-pick will be open on weekends (Saturday and Sunday 10am-3pm) from late August to November.

Gabriel Farm reserves the u-pick experience for farm CSA members. Because of the high demand for the u-pick experience, and the limited size of our orchard, we decided to offer the experience to our committed customers who would like to establish an on-going relation with our farm and enjoy our various products during our 6-month harvest season. Price of membership is a case of our juice: for $36 you get 3 gallons of shelf-stable juice and the ability to pick and purchase whatever is in season. Farm memberships are purchased when you visit the farm and are renewed annually.

They also offer a variety of tours for groups and families. To book a tour you can email Lucy at: mcbrideolson@gmail.com or call the farm at (707) 829-0617.

Chileno Valley Ranch (5105 Chileno Valley Rd, Petaluma)
Apple U-Pick will open September 15, 2018


Organic apples U-Pick requires booking a time slot online!

Chileno Valley Ranch includes an organic apple orchard, with varieties such as Orin, Pinova, Candy Crisp, and Jonagold. All the apple varieties are blind taste test winners, and can be purchased from the ranch during u-pick days.

Throughout the day, they offer farm tours so you can see the cows and sheep up close. You can even feed them fallen apples from the orchard, so nothing goes to waste.

Chileno Valley Ranch

You had a great day at the apple orchard, picking organic apples, and now you have too much apples at home? Here are a few apple recipes for kids and families to try. Whether you’ll let your children help out, or you’ll only let them lick the spoon, these recipes will be a great success!