NOTES FROM THE ROAD — Our first book published!

Not every journey is intentional, or physical.  When we embark on the great adventure of having children, we hurdle along a road at differing speeds with unpredictable twists and a confused itinerary filled with laughter, rainstorms, drama, challenges, thrills and unique experiences.  It’s not too different from a very long road trip.  This past year, we discovered writing and blogging fit into this frame as well.

Today, we proudly announce that our book (Explore The World With Your Kids!) offering parents travel advice is available on the iBooks platform!

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The book provides to readers everything we know and have learned so far about traveling with kids, with specific ideas, strategies, and recommendations for discreet age ranges.  It also provides advice on how to approach resort travel, packing (including the dreaded stuffed animal dilemma), road trips, gluten-free dining, dining budgets (where strategy is essential when traveling with teen boys!), airplane travel, souvenir strategies, and security (both physical and internet/privacy issues).  It’s not merely about gear and babies.  It also covers ways to make travel fun and interesting for your elementary school kids, tweens, and teens.

Download it today and help us launch this daring adventure with a strong sales start!  Proceeds from the book will help cover the costs of the website.  If we manage to make a profit after a year, we have designated the Make-A-Wish Foundation as our preferred charity….so help us reach our goal of helping out that great charity as well!

If you had told us 18 months ago that we would become self-punished indie authors in the family travel sector, we would have laughed.  We are accidental tourists here.  It sort of feels like the morning after a long drive on a long road trip that involved an unanticipated late-night stop at a roadside hotel.  You wake up and the first practical questions that come to mind are: where are we and how did we get here?

Unlike the passing-through road-trippers, however, we are here to stay.  We know how we got here.

Last spring, we were discussing with friends family travel to the world’s great places with small kids.  We were in particular convincing one friend that it is never too early or too difficult to take small kids to major metropolitan centers like Paris, NYC, London, DC, etc. The friend then said:  you should create a website and share what you know!  Kate found the thought intriguing and looked into it on a whim.  It became quickly obvious that everything she wanted to say was too much for a website.  Work on the first draft of the site was abandoned.  This book was written by Kate, edited by Mike, and reviewed by Marguerite.  And then we went back to the website.  This website and this blog are, thus, a second edition.  They are designed to help others put into practice what the book recommends.  Even that was not enough, and so the Pinterest boards began to proliferate.  Then came the Twitter presence.  Then came the Facebook presence.  Then we added Tumblr to the party last week.

We hope the book and companion website/social media tools are helpful, particularly to young families and expats starting out on the great adventure known as traveling with kids.  We know from experience that a few simple steps and a focus on the bigger picture can help make travel with kids easier and fun whether your kids are pre-walking, pre-teen or pre-college.  We hope the book and tools we are assembling help you have more fun on the road and become smarter consumers of travel goods from gear and tech to great adventure packages and accommodations.

In the month that we have been online, we have already found a rich, welcoming, fun, and oh-so-interesting community of family travel Twitterati, bloggers, forum hosts, and people.  We look forward to getting to know everyone better.  We look foreword to contributing to the conversation about engaging family travel that inspires a thrill to explore the BIG WORLD among you and the LITTLE EYES in your family.  We have been loving the engagement so far and look forward to more of it as we continue along this unanticipated and thrilling journey!

 

NOTES FROM THE ROAD – Top Five Reasons to Take the Warner Brothers Studio Tour

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What is it about the abundant, relentless, bright sunshine that drives people indoors in Los Angeles?  What drives grown adults to play make believe in Los Angeles?  What drives actors to strive to entertain total strangers?

More importantly, what drives three tourists to Burbank (on the back side of the Hollywood Hills) on a gorgeous day that could be spent at the beach?

Warner Brothers.

Those of us that remember Johnny Carson will chuckle fondly at the concept of taking a drive out to “beautiful downtown Burbank” when on a family vacation to Los Angeles. But if you want to experience the Warner Brothers Studio Tour, this is exactly what you will do. We did this on a recent trip to LA and concluded it was well worth the trip….even when it requires a car rental. We had a great time!

BWLEtravel’s Top Five Reasons to Visit the        Warner Brothers Studio Tour

Reason 1 — Batman, Harry Potter, and Friends

Here is your chance to get up close and personal with props and sets from these three major entertainment franchises. The studio tour includes a chance to see various versions of the Batmobile (all of which have running engines)

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And Harry Potter memorabilia (Warner Brothers owns the rights, which they lease to Universal for theme park purposes)

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And a chance to have your own photo op on the “Central Perk” set of F*R*I*E*N*D*S.

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Reason 2 — Props

Filmmakers are famous about their attention to detail. You can see this in the backlot tour of course. But Warner Brothers takes it to another level entirely with possibly the largest props construction operation in the business. The Studio Tour takes you through the equivalent of Hollywood’s attic, with whole rooms devoted to lamps or clocks not to mention famous pieces like the chandeliers from Casablanca or the wing chairs from The Matrix. They rent out the props, they build props for other studios, and the tour takes you right through the factory floors.

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Reason 3 — Photo Ops

The Warner Brothers tour is not just about re-living fond memories of your favorite old movie or having a peek at how a television show is taped.

The tour has been designed to make each person feel like they are the movie star, complete with the paparazzi.

The Warner Brothers Studio Tour is the ONLY major motion picture studio currently offering an immersive technology experience. We found it by accident and were surprised to learn that it only opened up this summer. WE LOVED IT.

Did you ever wish you could hang out on the couch at the Central Perk with your best friends? Warner Brothers has kept the set and now gives tour participants the chance to have a picture with you and your family having a cup of coffee on the sofa in the coffee shop.

GENIUS MOVE by Warner Brothers – their staff takes your picture with your camera. You will not be hit up to purchase the picture later for these photo ops.  You can BRING IT HOME for free.

The same is true with a mini set from the Hobbit that illustrates how they made Gandalf look so big. The keepsake picture is on your camera.

The staff will take other pictures that you will be asked to pay for, but it is worth it. Each person has a chance to wear a costume and take one of three rides (a broom ride from Harry Potter, a motorcycle ride from Batman, or a ride in space from Gravity) in front of a green screen. You watch a monitor showing scenes from the movie, the “director” tells you how to act and at the end you are offered an official picture plus a video of your acting. Spoiler Alert: it is harder than it looks. We laughed our way through this adventure, and as we waited in line to do it we could see others laughing as well.

Reason 4 — Sounds, Lights, and Technology

In addition to the photo ops, everyone goes through a room or two with interactive displays that describe the modern art of filmmaking. This is perfect for the budding director, set designer, costume designer or scientist in your family.These rooms provide a fun way to get more insight into all those other technical Oscars that help drag the show past 3 hours.

Kids who love technology, science, art, fashion AND math will have great fun here, exploring how those disciplines can be deployed in the realm of art and entertainment literally to make magic come alive.

Why do they give Oscars for sound? Spend three minutes in the room dedicated to showing how many different sounds were used to convey the silence of space…and learn how much science and music went into the process.  All the exhibits are visually engaging and interesting.  But be aware that if you have kids not interested in the movie making process or younger kids they will not find this nearly as captivating as your older kids.  Plan to split up if you have a large family.

Reason 5 — TV Shows

Major hit shows like Pretty Little Liars, The Big Bang Theory and Ellen are all filmed on the Warner Brothers lots. But be careful about promising your kids that you will see these shows in production. You will only be able to tour sets that are not currently filming episodes on the day you are visiting. Touring the set of The Big Bang Theory can be great….but not if your daughter wanted to see the Pretty Little Liars set! Prepare your kids accordingly. Can’t access the set? Keep a close eye when you are touring the back lots just in case the stars are taking a break. Interested in seeing a taping before a live audience? You need to go through a separate process for this.

But wait….what about Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, the Road Runner, and Yosemite Sam? What about Casablanca and all the legendary old movies that made Warner Brothers famous? These are not the main focus of the Warner Brothers Studio Tour. They appear at the beginning of the tour, in a “top-hits” film screening, and at at the end of the tour. The Casablanca chandeliers are part of the props tour. But for the most part, the Studio Tour focuses on the recent past, present and future of film-making.  Until you get to the end, where the truly legendary props sit behind glass cases alongside the many many awards the studio has won.

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These include: the blimp from Bladerunner

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the trumpet from The Music Man

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The microphone from The Jazz Singer (!!!)

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And the original leather-bound scripts from Hollywood’s first “Golden Age.”

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None of this was important to Teen.  The biggest thrill was the opportunity to hold an ACTUAL Academy Award.  Spoiler Alert: it was an animation award.

It strikes us that Warner Brothers has taken a step forward into the 21st century. We love that they emphasize how technology and art combine to create the new cinema for a new century. They also made it great FUN for the whole family.

Every studio tour is different. Paramount Pictures offers a range of tours in West Los Angeles (no car rental required), including a nighttime tour which sounded awesome. Universal offers more of a theme park experience through famous sets. Sony also offers a tour.  All of these are accessible through the CitySightsLA hop-on, hop-off bus.  We cannot wait for the next trip!

Finally a word on cost.

Visiting a major movie studio will cost you time and money. The most basic tour will set you back a minimum of three hours (two for the tour, one for arrival/departure). It could easily be the most expensive thing you buy while in Los Angeles, with tours approaching or exceeding $100 per person for the more elaborate VIP options.

The high cost is well worth it. The studio tours are fun, entertaining, and interesting. You would spend at least this much money at Disney in Anaheim. But that does not mean that you have to pay full face value for the ticket and it does not mean you should have to wait in line (which will take more time from your day).

Discounted tickets for the Warner Brothers, Sony and Universal tours are available as part of the GoPass system from our affiliates at SmartDestinations.com as well as through our affiliates at Starline. If you plan on taking a studio tour, the discounts and accelerated entry associated with these options are well worth the money, in our humble opinion.

Click on the links below for additional savings.

           Save up to 55% on Top LA Attractions!

Disclosure/Disclaimer: SmartDestinations.com and Starline are our affiliates but they did not provide us complimentary tickets or special treatment. We bought our own tickets and traveled incognito. We wanted to get a sense of the normal experience.

Let us know if this was helpful and how your trip to LA went! Remember also to book your trip and your insurance through the links below.  We will receive a small commission from each sale, thus helping us cover the costs of running this blog.  Thanks!

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NOTES FROM THE ROAD — Top Tips for #FamilyTravel to the Grammy Museum (Los Angeles)

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Hip Hop music is having another major moment in the USA, at least on the coasts.  On the West Coast, in LA, a special exhibit featuring hip hop legend 2Pac has been held over at the Grammy Museum.  Nationally, this month, the film “Straight Out Compton” premiered in movie theaters.  On the East Coast, in NYC, a new hit musical featuring the biography of Alexander Hamilton set to hip hop music is blazing a path towards the Tony Awards, the Pulitzer Prize, and any other award for which it could be nominated.  This music is becoming the soundtrack of our lives right now.

To be honest, we are not cool enough to be fans of hip hop music.  It’s just not our style.  But we love music.  We know that musical history is filled with plenty of bad boys who changed forever how people heard and thought about music, scandalizing people along the way.

The funny thing is that disruptive musical innovators tell us as much about the past as they do about the present and the future they want to live in.  Mozart, Beethoven, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Armstrong, Basie, Holliday, Presley, the Beatles, Bowie, Baez, Dylan…they were all rebels whose music was so right for their times.  American music also has deep roots in the African-American experience in this country, from gospel blues and jazz  to Motown and Michael Jackson and hip hop.  It’s hard to listen to American music without hearing in it the broad sweep of our history.

We were not thinking about musical history and its role in society when we visited The Grammy Museum in Los Angeles.  We were on summer vacation.  We thought it would be fun for our teenager to explore the epicenter of American music located in Los Angeles.  We thought she might like the Taylor Swift Experience (she did).  Here is what we did not expect:  we did not expect the Grammy Museum to encouraged us to consider the broad sweep of music history and recording.  It left us wanting more and thinking the museum needs to be bigger.

It turns out that history is only a small part of this museum, and not all of it is Grammy history either.

It is not merely a museum focused on recording stars and their music.  It is a museum about the music making process, from songwriting to sound mixing to performing.  

It is a museum focused at least as much on the future of music as it is about musical heritage.  It focuses first and foremost on the young, encouraging them to interact with sound in a hundred different ways.  It’s a gem of a museum in the heart of downtown Los Angeles.  It will require at least two hours for you and your kids.  Trust us, the time will fly quickly.

Can you tell we liked it?

BWLEtravel’s Top Tips for Visiting The Grammy Museum With Kids

1. Expect Innovation and Interaction

The very first thing you notice when you enter this museum is the silence.  A museum devoted to excellence in recorded music is quiet?!?  Yes.  The museum is filled with music….but it is quiet.  Just like the Musical Instruments Museum in Brussels (we wrote about it HERE), headsets and other devices make it possible for multiple people to listen to different kinds of music simultaneously and without bothering each other.

The first thing visitors encounter upon entry is the “Crossroads Table.”  It is an interactive large-scale tablet/table that lets people trace the evolution of a musical genre and hear snippets of the music.  The first minute or so of the video below explains it better than we could:

Kids of all ages like this table because it is interactive and it lets them explore new things.  How many times have you said to your child that a piece of music is not that new, that you have heard that sound before?  How many times have they responded with the classic eye roll or failed to hide their disdain for “old” music?  This table makes it fun to trace the connections between music types.

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The table is the first of many interactive experiences.  The top floor has multiple listening “pods.”  The pods are free-standing alcoves running continuous-loop videos focused on specific musical genres (pop, folk, classical, blues/jazz).  Look carefully and you see the entry way to one of them in the picture below:

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The videos make old music accessible to kids.  We loved that.

We would have loved more of it.  We could envision listening pods for heavy metal rock, classic rock, Motown, beach music, big band/swing, bluegrass/country music, latin music.  Some of these music genres seem to be fading away from popular culture, making them historical artifacts.

The Latin Grammys do have their own exhibit, tucked into a back corner on a separate floor.  A small special section focuses on country music.  But if they had the space, we think these classic American music genres deserve their own listening pods as well.  The wall dedicated to specific decades of the 20th century attempts to cover this territory in an innovative, interactive way.  But we found it incomplete.  Ravi Shankar and the sitar occupy significant floor space in two distinct parts of the floor through a really interesting special temporary exhibit devoted to his music, but neither latin nor country music get equivalent attention?

These are small critiques, however, because we had so much fun at the museum.  Yes, fun. Disappointed that your favorite genre was missing from the displays?  No worries.  Just wait until you get to a lower level.  Then put on the earphones and start messing around with the guitar that illustrates the different sounds the instrument can make in each of the genres:

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Not interested in guitar? Don’t worry….they also have an electric piano and drum set and bass.  The whole family can have a pretend jam session.

2. Expect An Intensive Sound Booth Experience

The museum does not cover all musical genres in part because it takes on a different task on the third floor.  This floor is all about the recording process.  It is BRILLIANT.  There is a room in which 21st century kids take a quick audio tour through the first century of recorded music.  The kids choose one of three songs.  The song is digitally mastered to replicate the way it would sound first on a gramaphone, then vinyl records, then 8-track tapes, then cassette, then MP3, then modern digital surround sound.  Adult audiophiles that have been sneering for years about the sound quality on MP3 players will feel vindicated at the end of the three minutes.

A separate enclosed booth gives kids a chance to try their hand at sound mixing (its about a 7-10 minute interactive experience, followed by playback).

3. Expect Some Music Memorabilia, and Some Surprises

The museum also has more conventional (silent) exhibits.  Stage costumes from the Supremes (compliments of Mary Wilson), Michael Jackson, Joan Rivers and Whitney Houston were on display when we were there.  Clothes worn by famous singers and songwriters to the Grammy Awards are also on display.  Whitney Houston’s dress was stunning, but the dresses from the Supremes were amazing.  Here is what Mary Wilson said about this donation:

“This collection is a gift that I give to all of those who have ever loved music and glamour. As you look at all of these wonderful treasures, please be reminded that three little black girls’ dared to dream, and made their dreams come true. Thank you, Motown, and the thousands of fans all over the world.”

What a wonderful sentiment!  It made Kate want to sit and listen to a “greatest hits” album by the Supremes!  Perhaps the Grammy Museum and Mary Wilson will be glad to hear that the dresses served another function as well: they introduced our daughter — a new generation — to the music made by the Supremes so many years ago.  Guitars used by Jimi Hendrix and John Lennon were also on display, but without audio of their music.

There were gaps in the collection that we can only explain by the possibility that the museum has to compete with the Hard Rock Cafe and the Smithsonian for acquisition or music memorabilia.  Items we would like to see added over time include: anything from Bessie Smith and Billie Holliday, a Louis Armstrong trumpet, a Frank Sinatra hat (after the temporary exhibit departs), Steve Martin’s banjo and the arrow he wore through his head on Saturday Night Live, Elton John glasses (bonus points for a matching piano), costumes from Madonna’s Blonde Ambition tour, Elvis Presley clothing, a display case filled with 1960’s rock star clothing, Kurt Cobain’s guitar, David Bowie clothing….you get the idea. We have the impression that the clothes change (pardon the pun) periodically.

Original handwritten lyrics from legendary songwriters were a treat for us to see as well.  The most elaborate of the memorabilia displays featured the writings of 2Pac, one of the definitive figures in hip hop music. Don’t just take our word for it.  Here is how L.A. Live Insider described it when the exhibit opened:

It was impressive. The written lyrics were artful, vibrant and poetic.  We respect this music more after seeing it in-depth.  We also really respect that this is the first museum to craft a Tupac exhibit.

Our visit to the Grammy Museum thus expanded the appreciation of hip hop for a new generation (Kate and Mike) the Hamilton Broadway experience in July and it introduced a new generation (Teen) to Motown.  And that’s before we got to The Taylor Swift Experience.

4.  The Taylor Swift Experience

If you are in LA with your daughter before 4 October 2015, a visit to the Grammy Museum is MANDATORY.  If you are in LA after that, you can only hope that the temporary exhibit is extended in the way that the Michael Jackson one has been extended.

Extensive memorabilia displays, including handwritten lyrics of White Horse and 22, the Red tour piano and various dresses have been included alongside some creative interactive components.  The sound booth offers an opportunity to sing karaoke followed by a recording of the playback with Swift’s voice.  Kate cannot carry a tune to save her life, so she did not attempt it.  Tween did a reasonably good job.  The activity also did a great job of showing why and how Taylor Swift is so impressive: doing what she does is harder than it looks.  She makes it look easy.  The display also includes a chromatic floor mat that lights up as people dance to “Shake it Off” not too different from the legendary floor piano at FAO Schwartz made famous by Tom Hanks in “Big.”

Don’t take our word for it….have a look.

Taylor Swift fans will see her grow up through this exhibit.  They will see the evolution of her music.  They will be in seventh heaven.  Don’t miss it.

Save up to 55% OFF LA's Top Attractions!

DEAL ALERT — #FamilyTravel to #Paris or #London

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Heads up family travel fans!  If you are thinking about a family trip to London or Paris before year-end, your decision just became a little easier because the trip just became a little more affordable.

Our affiliates at the Paris Pass and the London Pass have announced FLASH SALES THIS WEEKEND from Sunday (23 August) to Tuesday (25 August)!  

Remember that purchasing a pass now does not require you to use them immediately.  You can buy the passes now and use them during a holiday visit.  Regular readers of this blog know we are big fans of the city pass system.  They provide discounted entry and fast-pass admission to major attractions that most kids will want to visit PLUS discounts at selected stores and restaurants.  They are a great way to save some funds and help make a trip more memorable.

The details on the flash sales appear below.  Click on the links to benefit from the savings!

Paris Pass Flash Sale Details

10% off 4-day and 6-day passes through 10 am 25 August, 6% off all passes through 31 August
Are You Visiting Paris? Get A Paris Pass Here!

We wrote last year two helpful guides on how to get the most out of the ParisPass.  You can find them HERE and HERE.

If you are an expat in Europe and want to use the passes immediately, consult our blogpost from last year HERE in why and how August is a great time to visit Paris with your kids.

London Pass Flash Sale Details

10% off 3-day passes, 15% off 6-day passes and 20% off 10-day passes through 25 August.   Get in FREE to over 55 top London attractions!

If you seek inspiration for how to inspire your kids for a trip to London, check out our blogpost from last year HERE.

Have fun!

GFREE! — Hunting Creek Steak (Old Town Alexandria)

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Celiac diners know the drill when it comes to steak restaurants and grills.

Most restaurants will find it easy to deliver a gluten-free dining experience safe from cross-contamination.  It’s a simple solution: eliminate the sauce.  The reason most restaurants use flour in their sauces is because this is the easiest and fastest way to create a nice thick sauce.  The old-school approach does not use flour at all….it merely requires that the sauce ingredients simmer slowly for over 24 hours.  Most restaurants don’t have the time for this.  Or they are too large to execute this well on a large scale.

So eliminating the sauce is a safe solution when presented with a celiac diner.  But for the celiac diner, it’s a boring solution.

Let us introduce you to something better.

Let us introduce you to Hunting Creek in Old Town Alexandria.

No need to relinquish sauces here, folks!  The chef makes his demi-glace from scratch and without cutting corners.  You will have a hard time choosing between the Béarnaise sauce, the Red Wine sauce, or the Chimichurri sauce.

The waiters have assured us that other entrees are also gluten-free, but I am so enthralled by the opportunity to have a sauce with my steak that I have not yet been tempted past the steak options.  With five different cuts of steak plus three sauce options, it could be a while before the options have been exhausted or become boring.

Many of the appetizers are gluten-free as well, but the best and most creative by far is the heirloom tomato with summer corn relish.

These options mean the celiac diner won’t have much room for dessert.  This is a good thing since the GFREE! dessert options are uncertain.  I cannot vouch for them as I never have room for them.

The atmosphere is also delightful, with exposed brick walls lending warmth to the interior dining room and with a generous garden for al fresco dining in the summer.

If they only had a dedicated fryer for the frites, this would be the perfect restaurant.

The restaurant is centrally located in the heart of Old Town on King Street.  It is an easy walking distance from the King Street Metro stop, which means it is also accessible for dinner from Washington DC.

Bonus Feature August 21-30, 2015:  This is restaurant week in Old Town Alexandria.  If you are in town on these dates, book reservations quickly so that you can benefit from the promotional pricing.  Enjoy!

NOTES FROM THE ROAD — Top Six Reasons to Visit Los Angeles with Kids!

At first, Mike was skeptical.  Eight days in Los Angeles and Newport Beach?  Is there really that much to do in Southern California besides sit in a car?  He thought our experience would look mostly like this:

LA_classic-freeway-shot Now that we are back, he has concluded that four days in LA and four days in Newport Beach were not enough time!  By planning strategically and relying heavily on CitySightsLA buses, we successfully avoided large traffic jams while in Los Angeles.  We will need a return trip!  As for Kate, she THRIVED on Southern California’s GFREE! dining options.  Tween, who is now a Teen, had a blast. We will be writing about this trip for quite some time.  To kick off the fun and inspiration, we offer…..

Top Six Reasons To Visit Los Angeles With Kids

1. The Sunsets…FREE, daily shows

The sunsets are free and they are stunning as the sun sinks slowly into the Pacific Ocean.  In summer, the sun sets behind Malibu. In winter, the sun sets behind Catalina Island which is 26 miles offshore.  Year-round, the nightly show is free and gorgeous whether you are on the beach

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or in town

LA_Beverly-Hills-Sunset or farther south in Newport Beach and Laguna Beach.

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Yes, it really looks like this.  So drag your celebrity-obsessed tweens and teens away from Hollywood at least for one night and head down to Santa Monica.

2.  Star Gazing

Even if you think you are not interested in the Hollywood Walk of Fame, resign yourself to visiting this part of Los Angeles if you are traveling with tween or teenage girls in particular.  The reality is not always very glamourous LA_Hollywood-stars-and-feet but we were pleasantly surprised that it was really interesting and FUN.  It helped that our affiliate partners at GOPass and CitySights LA made it easy to find interesting things to do beyond just gaping at handprints and names on the pavement.  If the celebrity-obsessed family member is YOU, then you are in luck because more in-depth experiences are also available from our partners.

Stay tuned for our survival guide to visiting Hollywood with teens (or other family members).

You won’t seen any stars in person on the Walk of Fame unless they are promoting a movie.  Serious celebrity star gazing requires a trip out of Hollywood into Beverly Hills and Santa Monica.  Your first and main stop has to be Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, where the stars of fashion are on display.

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If you live in a major metropolitan area, you probably have all these shops at home.  Don’t count on seeing celebrities walking through the front door either.  They most likely enter through a private entrance in the back.  Have fun shopping just for the experience.

Plan instead for a meal at one of the three landmark Beverly Hills hotels (the Beverly Hilton, the Beverly Hills Hotel, or the Beverly Wilshire) to catch movie moguls and stars in action.  We will have more tips on this in a later post.

For an entirely different kind of star gazing experience, get a car and drive to the Griffith Observatory in Griffith Park….FREE telescope viewings occur nightly while the lights of LA glitter at your feet.  We will have plenty of advice on these adventures.

3.  The Studios

LA_Studio-Set-and-Camera Devote half a day to a studio tour.  It’s a fabulous, memorable splurge item that the whole family will enjoy.  Three major motion picture studios offer tours: Paramount Pictures, Universal, and Warner Brothers.  Each is different.  We chose Warner Brothers (in Burbank, about 45 minutes outside of Los Angeles on the other side of the Hollywood Hills).  We will be offering suggestions on how to choose between the various tour options. Don’t have the time or money for a studio tour?  Don’t worry….all of Los Angeles is a a backlot for famous films and TV shows.  Literally.  The excellent narration on the CitySightsLA hop-on, hop-off tour bus pointed out the real-life sets that double as normal streets.  They also offer more in-depth tour options throughout the city.  You can get a discount through the link below:

4.  Sand and Surf

One could plan an entire two week road trip visiting the legendary beaches that line the coast from Malibu in the north all the way down south to San Diego.  You really cannot go wrong no matter which beach you choose.  No trip to The Southland is complete without at least some time on the beach.  We chose to split our time between the urban Santa Monica beach LA_Santa-Monica-lifeguard-station the more isolated Crystal Cove in Newport Beach Newport-Beach_Crystal-Cove-from-above

and the classic, iconic Laguna Beach.

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Other options (we ran out of time!) include Venice Beach, Huntington Beach, La Jolla and of course San Diego.  The California beaches are so large that even in at the height of the summer tourist season the beaches were not crowded.  Each beach has its own personality and charm.

5.  Interactive Fun

A trip to Los Angeles is far from a passive sight-seeing experience.  Movie studio tours offer plenty of selfie opportunities, scripted and staged by professionals that direct your camera to the best angles.  Warner Brothers peels back the curtain for a peek at the technology that made major motion pictures like Harry Potter, Batman, Interstellar, and Gravity…..complete with opportunities for you to have your own moment in front of their film cameras.  The Grammy Museum uses the kind of interactive table we saw at The National Archives (see our post on that HERE).  But instead of tracing American political history, the table traces musical history complete with headphones that play snippets of the music.  Then there is the Taylor Swift Experience at the museum.  Sadly, the Taylor Swift experience ends soon so if you are planning to be in LA with your daughter, this should be at the top of your list. LA_Grammy-Museum-interactive-table LA_Warner-Bros-Tour-graphics

More interested in low tech interaction?  The Santa Monica Pier’s Pacific Park is filled with old fashioned amusement park rides and games (and an educational aquarium!) that are certain to keep small children happily enthralled for hours. LA_Pacific-Park Adults will have more fun with the official terminus for Route 66 and the rollercoaster. LA_Route-66-Terminus

6.  Culture, History and Inspiration

Europeans and many historians will scoff at the idea that any history exists in California at all.  Many Americans find it hard to believe that Los Angeles has any proper culture beyond the entertainment industry and surfers. It is true that Los Angeles worships the here-and-now.  But it would not exist if a generation of disruptive innovators like Edison and Disney and Graumann did not use science and art to create an entirely new industry and art form. Their traditional is carried on today by their 21st century counterparts .   Stay tuned.  We will be writing more about this in the weeks ahead. LA_Hollywood StarLos Angeles is filled with marvelous world-class museums spread across the entire geography of the city, from Malibu’s Getty Villa and its collection of antiquities (perfect for small kids obsessed by mythology) to the LA County Museum of Art and even the La Brea Tar Pits (perfect for your dino-obsessed smaller kids).  We only managed to get to the Getty Villa on this trip. LA_Getty-Museum-muses

Even a trip to Little Tokyo (mostly for the purpose of finding the definitive ramen dining experience for Teen)

LA_Little-Tokyo

found us stumbling over a piece of NASA history LA_Little-Tokyo-Space-Shuttle

and wishing we had more time for the Japanese American National Museum.

LA_Little-Tokyo-MuseumHow did we cover so much ground in this massively large city in only four days? Here is a hint: we were very strategic in how we used the options available through GOPass and the CitySightsLA bus.  They are our affiliates.  We chose to use their services anonymously.  We were thrilled with the results.  Stay tuned to find out how to get the most of their offerings in a way that helps you hack through the LA traffic and save money at the same time.  We did it, we had fun, and we will be sharing our secrets with you in the coming weeks.

Save on top Los Angeles Attractions!

Notes From The Road — NYC Theater Weekend!

It’s the last few days of summer.  You are busy with back-to-school shopping……but you hate to say goodbye to summer.

There’s still time for a quick weekend getaway, a last hurrah for carefree days and fun-filled nights that do not involve homework and early bedtimes.  It’s a big and beautiful world out there….show your kids how magical it can be with a quick impromptu trip to one of the most fabulous places on earth!

It’s time to escape to NYC for a family theater weekend!

NYC_Park-Avenue-2

Our friends and affiliates at CitySightsNY have compiled a fabulous list of marvelous family-friendly Broadway shows.  You can read their blog here:  http://www.citysightsny.com/2015/07/28/enjoy-broadway-theater-as-a-family/  or just click on THIS LINK. The blogpost contains a link that takes you directly to one of the leading Broadway ticket show outlets, which makes it easy to see whether the Broadway Showyou want to see has tickets available for the date you seek. We can personally recommend The Lion King and Wicked as major favorites for our daughter when she was in elementary school (she saw these shows in 3rd and 5th grades, respectively). Aladdin is of course a perennial favorite.  Mike and I have seen and loved Blue Man Group elsewhere….we know tweens and teens will love it but be sure to use ear plugs since the show is LOUD!!!!!

It gets better…..

TimeOut provides info just now on how to get 2-for-1 Broadway tickets next week for shows in September, with specific recommendations on shows suitable also for teens….including some shows we have not yet seen.  You can access the info here:  http://www.timeout.com/new-york-kids/blog/heres-how-to-get-two-for-one-tickets-to-broadway-shows-081215

Get the most from your quick trip to NYC by taking advantage of the great offers available from our affiliates at GOCards and the Gray Line:
New York City Explorer Pass: NYC Attractions

For our best advice on how to make the most of your city pass and a hop-on, hop-off bus experience in Manhattan, see our blogpost from last year HERE:

(http://exploretheworldwithyourkids.com/2014/10/02/top-tips-nyc-family-travel/).

Remember also to buy your travel insurance, just in case your teen makes the varsity team and cannot get away for the weekend.

342x342 Luggage Stack
We are heading to Manhattan later this month so that Teen can see Hamilton (we acquired our tickets last month). So stay tuned….we will have more to say about late summer theater swings through NYC as the summer ends.  Enjoy your adventure and let us know whether you managed to make the trip happen for your kids before school starts!

GFree! — NYC’s Senza Gluten

Long-time readers of our blog will remember Mike’s quest for a fine GFree! restaurant in NYC.  Our various efforts to find safe, delicious, and elegant GFree! dining options in NYC have have varying levels of success.  Our best posts on there appear HERE and HERE and HERE.

It turns out that we started our quest too soon.  In January 2015, a small charming restaurant opened up in the heart of Greenwich Village Senza Gluten.

NYC_SenzaGluten1

We are officially smitten.

It is a 100% gluten free kitchen….with 100% commitment to fine dining and flavor.  Forget quizzing the staff on ingredients and cross-contamination. Forget asking about dedicated fryers.  Forget stress.  Just focus on the flavor.

It’s a great menu.  Gluten free pasta with a delectable bolognese sauce?  Check.  Risotto?  Check.  Lasagna?  Check.  Bruschetta?  Check.  Multiple meat and fish options?  Check.  Multiple amazing salads?  Check.    Don’t believe us?  Have a look at their menu HERE.

Every thing we had was fantastic.  We went for lunch and cannot wait to return.

Our best advice for celiacs heading to NYC?  Run, don’t walk to Sullivan Street in the Village.  But make a reservation first.  It’s a classic small Italian restaurant that fills up quickly.

Enjoy!  And let us know how you liked it.

Gluten Free Global Community

NOTES FROM THE ROAD — We are back!

Greetings loyal readers!  You will remember that the last time we wrote it was the dead of winter.

Since February, we have been on an arduous trek.  We explored new terrain.  We were challenged.  We were outrageously busy.  And compliments of an icy sidewalk, one of us only left the house without crutches or a walking cast in June.  We cannot say it was fun.

Our marvelous Spring Break two-week extravaganza?  Cancelled.  The summer so far? Quiet as we stuck close to home.

THE GOOD NEWS IS THAT WE ARE BACK ON THE ROAD AGAIN IN AUGUST!

Watch this space.  We are planning a long trip to a fabulously, fun place before another quick trip back to Manhattan.  We will be using some of the products offered by our affiliate partners.

For those of you who are new to our blog, catch up by downloading today a copy of OUR BOOK on iBooks on how to travel with kids happily at every age…..The Kindle version can be access through this link.   An independent third-party review of the book can be found HERE.

Can you guess where we are going next?  Here are your FIRST HINTS — we are (i) staying in the United States and (ii) visiting a place we have not yet blogged about.  Our city pass affiliate partners offer some tempting options and good deals…..

We could be heading to Los Angeles….
Save on top Los Angeles Attractions!
    

We could be heading to Chicago…..

We could be heading to Orlando and South Florida…..

We could be heading to Hawaii…

SAVE up to 55% OFF Top Oahu Attractions!

Before heading back to our beloved Big Apple:
Visit Top Attractions and SAVE
  

Tickets have been booked.  Luxury hotel rooms have been reserved. Our cell phones are ready to be loaded up with discounted fast-track access to top tourist sights.  Tourism apps have been loaded to tablets.  Gluten-free restaurants have been researched.  The digital camera has been dusted off.
We are looking forward to sharing the next adventure with our readers and followers!  Can you guess which of the tempting offers above caught our eyes?

NOTES FROM THE ROAD — Trip Insurance Top Tips

It’s that magical time of the year.  Families in the Northern Hemisphere are trapped by snow and ice, pining away for Spring Break and Summer Vacation.  The world outside looks kind of like this:

Old-Town_snowy-park-1 Old-Town_icy-river-1

You do your research.

You book your tickets.

You book your hotel room.

You have spent thousands of dollars or euros and your next trip is all set.

Mission accomplished!

You can buy the trip insurance tomorrow.

You get up and decide to go for a walk.  Then this happens:

Foot-in-Cast

Here is our top tip for buying travel insurance:

BUY IT IMMEDIATELY AFTER YOU BOOK.  

Trust us people, we know what we are talking about.

Our affiliate partners at Travelex can help you out.  Don’t lose your investment in a big trip because mother nature (or the flu) require you to rip up your itinerary and stay home.

120x395 Beach Chair

 

SHUTTERBUG NOTES — One Four Challenge, week 4 — THE BIG REVEAL

Week Four of this One-Four Challenge begun by Captivate Me is always the best one. After editing the same picture for three weeks in a row, in the fourth week everyone shares their final version, alongside the prior three week versions.  So much fun.

People who have been following along with me these last few months know that I am a twice-failed Photoshop editor. The third time has been the charm. This month, I have been going wild experimenting with all the fabulous effects Photoshop provides. I saved the wildest edit for last.

The image this month has been a dragon. Technically, it’s a salamander. Skip forward to The Big Reveal for more information.

I wanted motion and I wanted fire to turn this guy into a real dragon.

Here is the result, using the Twirl Filter (-180 degrees):

One-Four_Loire_week-4

and using the Twirl filter + a Red filter at 55% to generate a truly wild and fierce image:

One-Four_Loire_week-4b

 

Isn’t it amazing to see how the eyes and the teeth transform into something so fierce and dangerous just by twirling the pixels?  Isn’t it amazing to see how the emotion of the picture changes when an angry red color and an inversion are added?

Personally, the earlier versions are closer to reality and are my preference.  But I am captivated by what Photoshop can do to amplify the emotive effect of a picture.

So here are the four versions and a poll….let me know which one you like best.

Week 3: inversion + contrast

One-Four_Loire-3-contrast

Week 2: accent color red; accent color yellow

One-Four_Loire-2b One-Four_Loire_2

 

Week 1: Base image, minimal edits

One-Four_Loire-1

The Big Reveal

Kids with their active imaginations may very well see fierce dragons everywhere in the masonry in the Loire Valley, in every palace that the great Francois I called home.  Francois was indeed a fierce guy.  But this creature is actually a much more humble salamander and Francois was a complex guy.  He was a true Renaissance man.  He imported Leonardo da Vinci to design the staircases in Blois (where this photo was taken) and of course at Chambord.  The salamander with the crown was his symbol and can be found everywhere in the these two palaces.  But in our humble opinion the salamanders at Blois are the loveliest.

To see more (unedited) pictures and to learn more about how much kids love to visit this heartland of fairytales, see our website page dedicated to the Loire Valley at: http://exploretheworldwithyourkids.com/europe/the-loire-valley-france/

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