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!







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!


Beautiful Paris

Here is our humble homage to the City of Light that we love so much.

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This city has withstood revolutions, war, occupation, and hard times for over 2,000 years.  It has always also found beauty, strength, courage and determination along the way.  Remember to tell your kids about the light and the joy, the fun and the beauty of Paris….not just the sorrowful stories from this weekend.

The Eiffel Tower may be dark tonight, but the beauty and the spirit of Paris still shines strong in our hearts and in our eyes.




Greetings loyal readers!  Mike and I have been busy with back-to-back business trips.  More on that later.

While we were busy with our day jobs, we reached out to the helpful folks at for some help in creating an animated video to help describe our book.

We will be sharing the video with the world over the next week in our social media channels.

You, loyal readers, get a sneak peek at the short video.

Let us know what you think!

Remember: you can download the book onto your Kindle using THIS LINK or onto your iPad using THIS LINK.

Looking forward to your feedback!  Let us know if you have any glitches with the video or the book download.

We know you share with us a passion for family travel executed with style, grace, verve, and good humor.  Please help us share the word as the holiday travel season approaches!


NOTES FROM THE ROAD — Little Tokyo in Los Angeles


When Teen heard that Los Angeles had a Little Tokyo area, she identified it immediately as a top priority for her, alongside Hollywood and the beach.

Let’s be clear that we are not Asian-American. We are a plain, boring, classic American family. Like other Americans, our heritage can be traced to almost half a dozen different parts of Europe. We have no particular connection to Japan. We have never visited Japan.

But Japan has visited our house frequently since our daughter was small. Japan’s entertainment industry has helped make our daughter’s upbringing decidedly multicultural.

We are not talking about Pokemon or Hello Kitty. We are talking about the lovely and bittersweet Miyazaki films like the well-loved “My Neighbor Totoro.” We are talking about the lovely and gentle cherry blossom trees that bloom annually in DC, blanketing the Mall with floating clouds of pink and white. We are talking about soba noodles, ramen noodles, and sushi.  We are talking about the tiny erasers that were all the rage in the second grade. And, finally, we are talking about manga and anime comics that captivate the video/iPad generation.

We at BWLEtravel believe that kids should be involved in vacation planning from an early age. It’s their vacation also. This means that the adults need to compromise as well. Take the back seat and let your kids lead for a change. See how much they grow in the process and how much you learn from them.  See our book for more details.

So Kate gave up on the second movie studio (Paramount Studios, you are at the top of our list for the next visit!). We went to Little Tokyo to explore and, of course, find the perfect bowl of ramen. We were not disappointed. We found much more than we intended.

You can find Little Tokyo at stop 38 on the Starline hop-on, hop off Purple Route. Cash saving tip for frugal families: when you book your Starline tickets online, you save $5!

BWLE Travel’s Top 5 Reasons to Visit LA’s Little Tokyo

1.  The Ramen

Teen’s first priority was to sample authentic Japanese ramen, so we built our trip to Little Tokyo around lunch. We owe a debt of gratitude to TimeOut for this excellent article. We relied on it heavily when we planned our lunch.

Our first stop was Daikokuya. TimeOut was right. We could tell you to look for the classic drape in front of the door


but often the drape is obscured by the line that snakes out the door and down the block at lunch time. We went inside to put our name on the waiting list and were immediately transported to Japan. The restaurant was warm, humid, noisy, crowded, and redolent with the fragrant aromas of ramen soup. Bamboo and low lights completed the experience. We loved it! But teen was too hungry to contemplate a 90 minute wait for lunch.

So we followed TimeOut’s advice and went next door to Manichi Ramen.


If Daikokuya replicates Old Tokyo, then Manichi Ramen is all about the urban, neon-lit 21st century Japan. The food did not disappoint. Teen and Mike were in 7th heaven.  Here is Teen’s classic lunch before she got started (she insisted I take a picture):


The picture does not do justice to the size of the bowl.  Neither Mike nor Teen one could finish the portion. Kate, sadly, could not touch a thing in the restaurant due to celiac disease. Don’t even think about asking for gluten-free options here folks!

2. The Japanese American National Museum & the Go For Broke Monument

America’s history with Japan is a difficult one, particularly during World War 2. We stumbled across part of that history accidentally farther south, in Newport Beach at Crystal Cove State Park. We wrote about it HERE.

One of the great things about America is that we are open about everything, including the ugly things. In Little Tokyo, an entire large modern museum documents the history and experience of Japanese Americans.

The history is not all negative.

In 2010, Congress awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor to the Japanese-Americans that fought in World War 2.  You can see the monument dedicated to their memory (the “Go For Broke” Monument) in Little Tokyo.  It was created the 1980s by surviving veterans of that company.

The Japanese American National Museum was also created in the 1980s. It is now an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution.  If you are taking the Starline hop-on, hop-off bus you cannot miss it: the bus stops right at the museum.  It has a strikingly modern design:

The museum’s video best explains its focus:

We know what you are thinking:  this is right up BWLEtravel’s alley!  You are right.  We would have loved to spend more time here.  But we had booked a tour of the Getty Villa in Malibu (a 45-60 minute drive away) that afternoon.  Entry to the Getty is timed and we had the last entrance of the day.

Our regular readers will recognize a familiar theme. Everywhere we went in LA, we found we were skipping across the tip of a very rich iceberg.  We left Los Angeles with a much longer to-do list than when arrived!  The Japanese-American Museum and the Go For Broke Monument are part of this list now.

3. The Space Shuttle

Every good trip includes surprises. We had not expected to stumble over the Space Shuttle in the middle of a pedestrian area near a shopping mall.


And so our world was broadened further by Teen’s curiosity.

We learned about the first Japanese-American astronaut, Dr. Ellison S. Onizuka. He died in the 1986 Challenger disaster, when he was 40.  He was born in June 1946, just weeks before the United States dropped two atomic bombs on Japan and ended the war in the Pacific. We cannot think of a more fitting symbol of “rising above” history than this story.

Little Tokyo may look and feel like it is in Japan, but this Space Shuttle monument highlights how very American this place is. This is not an immigrant community. This is a community of Americans that contribute to the fabric of the nation while remaining true to their heritage. It is something we have been doing in the USA since the Pilgrims arrived, although sometimes we fall far short of our ideals.

4. The Temples and Gardens

Little Tokyo is not a television set. It is a real Japanese community with a long history in Los Angeles.  The first businesses in this part of Los Angeles date to 1884.  Large numbers of Japanese citizens immigrated to California during this period to escape the upheaval from the Meiji Restoration in Japan. The official website for Little Tokyo notes that by 1908, over 40 businesses were located in Little Tokyo.

The area serves as a cultural and heritage center for many Japanese-Americans, complete with multiple Buddhist temples.

These are NOT tourist attractions. They are active houses of worship. Only take your kids here if they are ready, willing, and able to be respectful of the religion and its traditions.

Just as Japanese and Chinese tourists visit the great cathedrals of Europe, this American family visited the Koyasan Buddhist Temple, which was the first Shingon temple in North America.  It dates to 1912.


This was our first visit to a Buddhist temple.  The monks were kind and welcoming. They showed us how to light the incense and offer a quiet prayer. It was a lovely multicultural moment for this American family.

We had heard that Little Tokyo also had lovely Japanese gardens, but could not find them.  Materials from the Visitors Center made clear why they are so hard to find.  One garden is on the roof of the Doubletree Inn.  Advance reservations are required to visit the garden.  The second garden is located at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center, which stages exhibitions and performances that share Japanese heritage with Los Angeles.

5. The Shops

Kids interested in anime, manga, Miyazawa, Pokemon and Hello Kitty will find bookstores and shops brimming with with everything they could possibly want. Might it inspire a child to learn Japanese? Certainly. But many will just be happy to wander the aisles considering the possibilities.

The shops are not limited to comic books and tourist items. A number of lovely small shops can be found featuring fine Japanese porcelain and other things for the house. We wandered through a few of these shops, entranced by the items and their loveliness.

The melting pot is also alive and well in Los Angeles.

Check out this “Japangeles” booth at the central mall.


It was closed when we visited, so we Googled it at home. Here is how they describe themselves: “Japangeles is a collaboration of Japanese culture and Los Angeles lifestyle through unique and clever designs. It is a way of presenting the hybrid in all of us while giving props to the city we love. Our clothing are designed and screen printed in Los Angeles.”

We LOVE this, and regret that it was closed when we were there. We might just have to order an item online.


Little Tokyo is a fantastic family travel spot if you are interested in exploring more of LA’s culture beyond the beach and beyond Hollywood.  Plan to be there at least 4 hours.

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NOTES FROM THE ROAD: Top 5 Tips for #Budget #FamilyTravel Adventures

Let’s be honest.  Family travel comes at a price.  Exploring the world (near and far) with your kids can be expensive.  Trust us, we feel your pain.

But here at BWLEtravel, we see the family vacation as a valuable investment in your kids’ futures and the family.  Every trip you take strengthens the bonds you have as a family.  Every trip increases the creativity, resilience, independence and open-mindedness of your kids.  They will connect better with novels and the history they learn in school once they have seen the concrete places that writers describe with words.  The experience is amplified if you give them a good book before or after the trip.  Often, the family vacation is the only time that the family consistently has dinner together as a whole.  As we wrote last year, working parents + busy sports and music schedules for the kids + business travel for one or both parents  can create real logistical challenges for everyone to sit down for dinner together nightly.  The family vacation gives everyone a chance to bond together.

But it should not break the bank.

This post shares with you our Top 5 Tips for how to save money while still treating your kids to amazing travel experiences in legendary places.

1. Visit Legendary Cities

We know what you are thinking: London, Paris, NYC, Washington DC, Los Angeles…..these are NOT low cost destinations. These are luxury destinations.  You are right.

Getting there can be expensive (see our tips below for how to minimize the cost).  But once you are there, each of these (and other) major tourist destination urban centers shares a key common feature.

All great cities have many FREE attractions that make it possible to experience the vibe of a place without adversely impacting your ability to pay college tuition in the future.

Here are some examples which we have featured in our blog and website so far:

  • Paris, NYC, London: the playgrounds and parks are FREE and unique in each place.  Just walking through the streets on the way to a museum or lunch provides plenty of photo ops and enjoyable opportunities to absorb the ambiance without spending a penny.  With small kids in Paris, few things are more wonderful than enjoying a French coffee while the kids play on equipment in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower or jump on the trampolines near the Louvre.
  • Los Angeles: visiting the beach and enjoying the sunsets are both FREE
  • Washington DC: the Mall and the Smithsonian Museum are both FREE

The bonus here for parents: experiencing the city like a local.  The bonus here for kids: not only do they have fun, but they will get a real feeling for the unique place they are visiting.

2. How to Save on Airfare

For many of us, airfare will be the largest expense of a trip.  Parents who travel frequently for business can cash in frequent flyer miles at least to buy some plane seats.  But not everyone travels enough by plane to have enough miles to cover a transatlantic or cross-Pacific flight for a family of four.  You will have to be very disciplined (and you would have to spend a great deal of money on credit cards) to accumulate sufficient miles to generate free tickets.

We have three tips for you here, compliments of our carefully selected affiliate partners.

First, check out the best flight deals on TripAdvisor.  You can click on the link below.  They will often have the best deals on airfare for any given trip.

Second, if your trip involves a visit to Paris, check out Air France. They will often have the best fares to Europe from all over the USA. Find your city’s deals today by clicking on this link!  Not only will they often have the best flights to Paris but they will also provide onward tickets to a broad range of places in Europe and all over the world (via Paris of course).

Third, check out Groupon if you are willing to be flexible on the location and/or the dates.  They will often post incredible deals in major European and US cities as well as major resorts.  Parents with small kids who are not yet in school will have the most flexibility and may get the most out of this option initially.  But if you plan in advance, even holiday deals can be found on Groupon for all-inclusive (air + hotel) vacations.

You can click on the affiliate links below to get started when you plan your travel.  We will receive a small commission, which will help us cover the costs of keeping this blog up and running.  Many thanks!
Great fares to Europe and beyond.

3.  How to Save on Hotels

Getting a good deal on a hotel is the easiest challenge to meet!  There is no reason to pay a full rack-rate for a hotel room unless you are traveling at the last minute during a major holiday.  We love TripAdvisor and because you can see reviews from real people before booking your stay.  They have slightly different property offerings, but both will include options that include 5-star luxury hotels as well as apartments.  Groupon also has many hotel options

4. City Passes and Entertainment

Parks, playgrounds, and soaking up the sidewalk vibe is nice, but you won’t have traveled to a major city only for these reasons.  You and your kids will want to see a few landmarks while you are in town.

The most expensive way to visit local landmarks is to visit each one and pay full price at the door every single time.  Unless you pay for a private guide, in which case you will pay even more.

Regular readers of our blog know that we are big fans of the City Pass system.  Every major city has them.  They provide discounted and fast-track entry into the top tourist attractions in any given city.  You save time and money.  We have used the five major pass systems below (for London, Paris, NYC, LA and DC) from our various affiliate partners, but we have not tried out all of the 11 major US cities covered by the GoPass…yet.  We love them and we know you will also!
 Are You Visiting Paris? Get A Paris Pass Here!  New York City Explorer Pass: NYC Attractions 

Save up to 55% on Top LA Attractions!

Less well-known, however, is that you can  save 70% or more on events and activities in the city you will be visiting….via Groupon and other vendors.

A wide range of vendors advertise on this platform that might not be on the city pass system.  For example, when we visited Los Angeles this summer, we found an amazing outfit through Groupon that provides sunset horseback riding in the hills above Los Angeles! If Mike had not still be recovering from a broken leg (and if Kate were not allergic to horses) this would have been at the top of our list this summer.  Groupon also offers restaurant deals which are not available through the city pass system.  They are not alone.  An  “NYC Dine for Less” card can also be acquired from our affiliate partners that provides up to 20% off the entire food portion of the bill for up to 4 people at some of the finest restaurants and experiences in New York City with unlimited usage for up to 30 days.

You can pair your city passes with Groupon and other deals on restaurants and activities in order to save significant sums while still giving your kids a fantastic vacation in a major city.

You can use a generic portal, or you can rely on dedicated city-specific portals like the ones below.   
    Great deals in NYC Up to 90% off fun all over Canada!   Great Travels Deal
Find Local Deals 50% - 90% Off
  Find Local Deals 50% - 90% Off

4. Hop-on, Hop-off Bus Tickets

Regular readers of this blog also know that we are big fans of the hop-on, hop-off sightseeing bus options in major cities.  They are great ways to hand off to others the logistical hassle of getting around a new city and learning something in the process. This saves you plenty of money on taxis, Uber and parking fees.  As we mentioned in our Los Angeles post HERE, even teenagers will listen to the information provided by the tour company if they can plug into cool earbuds. In NYC, the pass system includes….ferries!  This is a fun way to travel between Manhattan and the other major boroughs like Brooklyn and Staten Island.


Less appreciated is this little fact:  the bus pass includes coupons and discounts on shopping and entrance fees to selected vendors.

That’s right folks. You need to do your homework to save money.  To maximize your savings, you need to figure out which attractions are included in the city pass, which are included in Groupon and which are included in the hop-on, hop-off bus ticket.  It’s worth the effort when you can splurge on a big last-night-in-town dinner….and when you get home still solvent.
    CitySights NY

We hope these tips help you Explore the World With Your Kids!  Let us know how it works out.




#TBT — Cluny Museum with Kids in Paris

A myth exists about family travel to legendary places with small kids. We have heard it often and it sets our teeth on edge every single time. “It would be a waste to take small kids to [insert legendary city or metropolitan area]. They won’t remember anything.”

Oh please. This is why we started this blog and wrote a book. You CAN and you SHOULD take kids to these places when they are little. We DID and it was marvelous.

Take Paris. Did we take our 5-year old on a forced march through the Louvre? Of course not. That museum overwhelms ordinary adults and art lovers alike. Did we take our daughter to museums in Paris? Of course we did!  So for #ThrowBackThursday we take a trip down memory lane to Paris when our daughter was 5……

Why BWLEtravel Loves the Cluny Museum

Welcome to the Cluny Museum, on the Left Bank. This is one of the world’s preeminent museums, focused on the Middle Ages. We will always think of it as the Cluny, but its new formal name is the “National Museum of the Middle Ages.”

Why is it perfect for kids? Think about this for a second. Small kids do not draw a bright line between fantasy and reality. To them, the stories in the picture books and fairy tales are as real as you and I. At some point as they enter elementary school, they learn to make the distinction. They know that certain things are only imaginary.

In the United States and Europe, much of the children’s literature and toys revolve around the European castles that formed the center of society back in the day. They were real.

Giving your kids a concrete reference point for the things they read about in their books will spark their imagination and add texture to the reading experience. It will enrich their lives to know that some things are real.

Maybe you can’t travel to see the great castles of the Loire (we wrote about them HERE) or the great castles in Germany (we wrote about one HERE). But if you are in Paris, you can take your kids to see REAL knights in shining armor and other tangible relics of those olden days.

Visit all the other exhibits first, then save the best for last.

The Cluny is not merely a collection of exhibit cases with items safely displayed behind glass.  The building is a modern take on a classic castle.  When we were there, a central courtyard lit by natural light displayed statues from the era.  Regal heads, displaced from their bodies, still wore crowns.  Despite erosion and age, the personalities of the people still can be seen in their faces:


The courtyard also features statues missing their heads, arranged artfully, complete with a turret.



The scale is BIG!  The courtyard mimics the feeling of being inside a castle, particularly for imaginative little eyes that read marvelous books about knights and magic.  We are not talking about ornamental party castles.  We are talking old, fortress castles designed to keep the people inside safe from marauders and thieves.  The statues are life-size, but to the little eyes in your traveling party they will look giant.  Ask your kids to guess which heads belong to which bodies.

And yet, this is not the best part of the Cluny Museum.

How many of your girls go through a unicorn phase? How many castle and fairy tale stories involve a unicorn? The myth of the unicorn was expressed artistically and famously in a series of intricately woven tapestries that still exist today. They are on display at the Cluny Museum.  They are HUGE.

The display space is guaranteed to generate wonder and magic in the eyes of a small child and not a few adults.


Paris_Cluny_lady-close-up    Paris_Cluny_tapestry

When we were there in 2008, the tapestries were displayed in a circular room in very low light that invited little eyes to believe that the elegant ladies in the tapestries really sat with actual unicorns in order to model the scenes for the artist.  We understand the exhibit and the tapestries were renovated in 2013 to highlight the brilliance of the colors (muted by centuries of dust) and to hang them more appropriately.  Due to the fragility of the fabric, we have to believe/hope that they are still displayed in the magical low light.  ArtDaily reviewed the new exhibit (with pictures) HERE.  The audio guide in 2008 was excellent, but small kids won’t care about that.  All they will care about is staring at fantastic creatures woven from ancient fibers.

This is the perfect museum to take kids when they visit Paris. It is not too large. It features exhibits within the existing frame of reference for small kids. And it will help them process what they read as they grow older.

In the United States and Europe, a visit to this museum can be an important way to introduce your kids to part of their heritage. But for families visiting from Asia and Africa, a visit to this museum takes on significant multicultural characteristics. It is an excellent way to show kids how a different culture organized itself, what it valued, what it considered to be beautiful. Even for Americans that have ancient heritage in Europe, the museum shows kids how Europeans lived long before the United States was settled. It can be a multicultural moment for American kids as well as a consequence, particularly if you tell them that when the tapestries and suits of armor were made America was only a wilderness inhabited by Native Americans who culturally did not value tangible items as much as Europeans.

To get the most of this visit, be sure to give your kids some timeless classics about castles and unicorns. Our favorites appear on our Paris Pinterest book board. They include these books for early readers and tweens


Or treat your kids to one of these classic movies before visiting the museum so they have a frame of reference for unicorns and castles, chivalry and princesses and knights in shining armor.


BONUS Feature

The museum is only steps away from one of the most wonderful playgrounds in Paris. Kids require unstructured playtime in order to process what they have learned during the day and in order to let off steam. There are few better places to do this than the Jardin de Luxembourg nearby. Enjoy!


Entry to the Cluny Museum is included in the Paris Pass! You can discover more and spend less by checking out the extensive list of attractions included by our affiliates at The Paris Sightseeing Pass.

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The coast between Los Angeles and San Diego is dotted with legendary beaches and lovely little towns: Santa Monica. Manhattan. Venice. Huntington. Newport. Laguna. Dana Point. Each has its own vibe and focus. Each is marvelous in its own way. And each beach enjoys a nightly free show otherwise known as a spectacular sunset.

The culture here is unique, dictated by the ocean. Like every other part of America, the Southern California beaches are melting pots. You will hear multiple languages on the beach. If you are looking for a beach scene that looks like something out of Gidget or the Annette Funicello movies, you are a few decades too late (if it ever existed at all).

Like all that is great about America, it does not matter where people come from. The folks that come and stay at California’s beach towns are all the same. They are passionate about: the beauty of the place; the lifestyle made possible by desert air and ocean breezes; and those sunsets. Anyone who believes that the USA has a monolithic culture should visit these beaches. If you are from any other part of the United States (or elsewhere), this is indeed a multicultural moment for you and your family.  It would be a fabulous family road trip!  But this is not the trip we took this past summer.

Laguna Beach has a warm, welcoming classically California laid-back vibe that is as compelling as it is relaxing.  It is NOT your typical beach town.

We are not sure that California actually has typical beach towns.  But to offer this opinion, we would have to undertake exhaustive research.  We would have to start in San Diego and drive north, stopping at each town along the way and spending a few days in each place in order really to get to know it.  It would be fun, if we had the time.  Today, our focus is on Laguna Beach.

BWLEtravel’s Top Six Reasons to Love Laguna Beach

1 AND 2.  The Beach, of course…

Yes the beach is so spectacular that it occupies the first two slots.  Let us explain.

The Main Beach in Laguna is impossible to miss.  It is right on Pacific Coast Highway (PCH).  This picture was taken from the car:


The challenge for first-time visitors is to resist the temptation to jump out of the car and head straight for the water.  Laguna is an old town, at least it is old by American California standards.  In other words: you will have to find a parking spot for the car.  A few reasonably priced municipal parking garages can be found just off the main drag.

The Main Beach contributes both the heart and soul of this town.  Restaurants, art galleries, hotels, all point in the direction of the beach.  Either they situate themselves directly on the beach or they provide all the things that beach towns provide in order to make a trip to the beach stylish and comfortable.

If you limit yourself to the shops and galleries, however, you will miss the point of being in Laguna.  It is essential to hang out on this slightly urban beach with your kids.

Main Beach is significantly smaller than the LA beaches (Santa Monica, Venice, etc.).  This makes it the ideal size for kids.  It does not feel as vast.  It does not feel like kids could get lost here.  But be safe and keep an eye on them anyway.

Private homes occupy much of the real estate past the downtown area, but a second municipal beach (Aliso) can be found a few miles down the road.  If you have small kids, it is worth the extra drive because they will love the playground:


That turret in the middle of the picture is the playground.  On the beach.  We were driving back into Laguna Beach from the south when we spotted the playground.  Teen refused to investigate as she is too cool and too old to be seen anywhere near playground equipment.  Besides, we were hungry and wanted to get to dinner.  This has to be the most scenic playground we have seen, with a ring-side seat to the sunset each night.  Another blogger has reviewed it glowingly HERE with better pictures. The same blogger says that the city added a new playground at Main Beach, which looks marvelous for small kids.

The beach and its sunset act like a magnet.  It is hard to explain, but the sun setting into the Pacific Ocean lights up the sky and the water into neon oranges and blues that invite people to wade into the water.  This picture, taken at sunset from our aptly named restaurant (the Ocean View Bar & Grill) illustrates the point.  It is a unique and special experience.  We have been on the beach at sunset in many places (Kiawah, Hilton Head, St Bart’s, Santa Monica, Venice, Santorini) but nothing quite captures the drama of the westward setting sun and the way it lights up the ocean here.


The fun does not end at sunset.  The pull of the ocean is strong here, at all hours.  We are not big fans of the beach at night.  We have seen too many movies about the bad things that can happen in an isolated dark setting.  But the folks at Laguna Beach are smart.  They know their beach is special and that people will want to be here.

They have lit up part of Main Beach and built wooden low-profile boardwalks so that people can safely stroll with their kids at the beach and hear the surf at night.  Thank you.


The lifeguard station you see in the picture above is a classic icon.  But it is a made-in-Hollywood moment.  The LA Times in 1993 ran a story with its history.  It turns out the tower was originally part of a gas station on  PCH before it was moved to the beach in the 1920.  It has been remodeled over the years.  Its windows have been blown out by storms.

After nearly 100 years, we think this counts as an historic landmark even if it is in a place that looks forward into the future and out to the horizon rather than backwards at the past.  Besides, we love the fact that the lifeguard station is itself an immigrant to the Laguna Beach sands.

3.  The Vibe

We know what some readers will be thinking: art galleries + beach apparel vendors + hotels = tourist trap.  WRONG!

This is a quintessential small beach town with its roots in some generic part of the early 20th century that is incredibly charming.

Consider the classic sweets shop, The Candy Baron:


This store is right out of a movie. We were surprised to learn while writing this post that the store is only 20  years old.  It is at least an authentic California creation, with outposts only in San Francisco and Santa Monica.  Your kids won’t care.  Just because they live in the 21st century does not mean they should be deprived of the fun of an old fashioned trip to the candy store.  Even Teen was tempted, but her braces made most items out of bounds.

The Vibe in Laguna Beach is not just about the shops and the art galleries.  Consider this lovely local landmark that sums up well the town’s unique vibe:


We looked it up when we returned home. You can read an historical blogpost about it HERE.   The history is convoluted and not terribly meaningful.

Just remember that California does not do history.  It acquires new things and keeps moving forward…..just like the sentiment in the sign.

The upshot is that the gate has probably been in this spot since 1915.  That’s 100 years, folks.  That’s about as authentic an image of local culture as we can come up with, besides the surfers of course.

4.  The Restaurants

The town may be laid back, but the restaurant scene is vibrant!  These places hop, well into the night, with older kids in tow.  The restaurants perched on the low cliffs above the beach begin the night early as diners and the cocktail crowd snag tables long before the sunset begins.  Not all accept reservations.  The Cliff is a multi-tiered restaurant with valet parking.  But if you are a pedestrian, you enter through some art galleries.


Even if we could have gotten a table when we arrived (the wait was 90 minutes!) the initial conversation with the very busy staff did not give us great confidence that the restaurant could accommodate Kate’s gluten-free dining needs.  Lucky for us, since we ended up at the Ocean View Bar & Grill at the Laguna Hotel.  The hotel has been in operation for nearly a century (with renovations since then of course).  It occupies prime real estate, right next to Main Beach.  This is the view from the restaurant:


If the night is chilly windy, or if you are there during an El Nino deluge, you are in luck: you can watch a stormy sea from the safety of the indoor dining room:


We were there on a lovely summer evening, so everyone (including us) was on the deck outside.  As we wandered through town after dinner, we spied many more lively dinner spots.  These two seemed particularly promising:

Laguna-Beach_pizza-grill-sign Laguna-Beach_Watermark-sign

The atmosphere in Laguna Beach made us want to linger longer to explore all the options.  But one cannot have two dinners!   And that is before we stumbled across this on the way to the parking garage:


The line easily was 3o people long.  The passageway was buzzing.  People were shopping in the boutiques while waiting in line.  What was the line for?  This:


ANOTHER GELATO PLACE!  After the fabulous gluten-free experience on Hollywood Boulevard at Grom (we wrote about that HERE) we were tempted.  But it was 10 pm and we were leaving for the airport early in the morning.  So we reluctantly left Gelato Paradiso to its adoring and patient fans. We have since learned it is an old-school Sicilian secret recipe with Italian imported ingredients.  Next time!

The Trolley

During the summer, Laguna Beach operates a free trolley service in a steady loop between the Ritz Carlton at Dana Point and Main Beach.  The vehicles may be cute, but this is very much a 21st century affair with apps and QR codes that will let you know when the trolley will be at which stops.  Yes it does stop at Aliso Beach and its marvelous playground.  So once you have arrived at your hotel and have parked the car, you don’t have to worry about parking again until you leave town.


The Laguna Playhouse

Laguna Beach first hit it big in the 1920s just as Hollywood was gathering momentum.  Laguna Beach has been an escape for the Los Angeles elite (and its entertainment industry) ever since.  It should come as no surprise then that The Laguna Playhouse is one of the nation’s premier regional theater companies.  Roddy McDowell, Barbara Eden, Marlo Thomas and Harrison Ford got their starts here. If a show is on when you are in town, this is the PERFECT evening activity for you and your older kids (depending on the show).

The Bottom Line

We visited for dinner on our last night in California.  We left with a long list of things we would like to do.   We HAVE to go back.  In the meantime, we have found that another hotel in Laguna Beach (Capri Laguna)  provides the BEST pictures of the beach regularly on social media, feeding our interest in returning.  Better yet, their rooms have kitchenettes, which is perfect for celiacs looking to minimize their restaurant exposure.  They are at the top of our list for accommodations the next time we visit this part of the country.

Multicultural Kid Blogs Gluten Free Global Community

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NOTES FROM THE ROAD — Whidbey Island, WA

Visiting Seattle, Washington can be an odd experience.  Sure the downtown area is filled with famous places (Pike Place Market, the Space Needle, the Science Center, the glass garden, Pioneer Square).  But if you limit yourself to seeing only the downtown area, you and your kids will never understand what Seattle is all about.  It is all about the GREAT OUTDOORS.

Some of you will laugh.  You will have heard the joke about the Seattle rain festival (starts in September and ends in May).  It is not far from the truth.  But in Seattle, people don’t care.  They live and work in Seattle mostly so they can have an excuse any given weekend to head into the mountains or into Puget Sound.  They commute to work on Puget Sound and its ferries:


Puget-Sound_ferry-interior-chairs  Puget-Sound_ferry-interior

And when the sun shines, they plan their great escapes and escapades often with camping gear.

Regular readers of this blog know that Kate in particular considers a 3-star hotel camping.  She likes her great outdoors strikingly beautiful and with running water.  As a family, we travel mostly to places with legendary history and great beauty.

But sometimes, especially in summer, you just want to escape to a place that seems far removed from the hustle and bustle of city life.  You want to slow down the tempo for a day or so and just meander through quaint towns and lovely scenery.

So if you find yourself in Seattle during the summer on a sparkling beautiful day (like we were last summer), forget the city and take your cue from the locals.  Take your car onto the Mukilteo Ferry (about 40-60 minutes outside of Seattle) and head to Whidbey Island.  Have a family discussion about whether the journey counts as a road trip if so much of the transit occurs on the water.


You will have a roughly 20 minute ride on placid, azure waters framed by mountains and white puffy clouds.




You may sense how near the ocean is from the water, or you may be lucky enough to catch some orcas swimming in the currents early in the morning or late at night.

The shoreline is dotted on both sides with picturesque lighthouses and small villages perched on hillsides that hug the water.

Puget-Sound_lighthouse  Puget-Sound_sailboats-at-bay  Puget-Sound_shoreline-with-lighthouse

Upon landing on Whidbey Island, take a short 15 minute drive to Langley.  This quaint town is the artistic center of the island.  Life moves more slowly here.  Echoes of the early 20th century still exist in the architecture on Main Street:

Puget-Sound_Langley-Dog-House  Puget-Sound_Langley-storefronts

 They coexist peacefully and quietly with more playful, artistic whimsy elements




Teenage girls will have fun poking around the shops, but the main reason to go to Whidbey (besides the art) is the sweet and serene atmosphere.

It’s a great place to take the kids for pizza in a restaurant with large windows overlooking Puget Sound and a Main Street presence that would not be out of place in New England and whose front door in summer consists of cheerful crepe paper blowing in the gentle breeze:



You can read our TripAdvisor review of the Village Pizzeria (and other reviews) HERE.

Or dine al fresco at a rooftop restaurant whose outdoor seating for most of the year is probably not available, but is a real treat in summer:


You may be perched close to the end of the continent near the Pacific Ocean, but there is no mistaking the fact that you are still inside the United States with a distinctly Western air about it.

But if you and your family really want a sense of the Puget Sound culture, head to the gourmet grocery store on Main Street and grab yourselves a picnic.  Dine at the small park right on Main Street with a view of the water on park benches as cyclists and art lovers pass your way.




If that feels too hectic, head down the steps to the shoreline park and dine with the splendid view of spectacular Puget Sound and its lovely clear water

Puget-Sound_clear-water              Puget-Sound_Langley-waterfront

Spend the rest of your day wandering through art galleries and enjoying the scenery.  Perhaps grab a sunset dinner before catching the last ferry back to the mainland if you decide not to spend the night.

We had a lovely, low key day at Whidbey Island this past summer.  It left us wanting to explore the other islands in Puget Sound, so we will have to return.  If momentous history occurred here, it did not jump out at us and that was all right by us.

Not every family travel adventure needs to be daring, exciting, and full of drama.  The quiet bonding moments of a happy peaceful day to a sweet place on a stunning body of water provide a counter-balance to life’s more hectic moments.  It is just as important to unplug and connect as a family in places like this as it is to have incredible adventures.  This quiet start to our vacation helped us get our vacation groove on this summer, before hitting high-octane Los Angeles!

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MIKE’S MUSINGS — Top Ten Travel Tips from Columbus

REBLOGGING LAST YEAR’S POST…..we had so much good feedback last year from our friends, that we are re-blogging Mike’s Top Ten Travel Tips From Columbus.  Whatever your political view about Columbus and today’s holiday in the USA, we promise you will laugh and find some fun in the post below.  Enjoy!


Since Columbus Day is coming up, we have come up with a list of 10 travel tip essentials inspired by his voyage….these are essentials for any traveller, whether your’e traveling in 1492 or 2014!


Photo Attribution: Columbus Map, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, via, via Wikimedia Commons

When Columbus sailed the ocean blue in fourteen hundred and ninety two, he did not have a handy GPS.  He did not know that he would “discover” a new continent.  He did not know that he would end up in the history books and that a new country would celebrate a day in his honor.  He certainly did not anticipate the Internet or this blog.  While many have written about Columbus the explorer, what we want to write about are the travel tips that we can draw from Columbus’ trip.

Tip One – Research your trip.

While we are fans of spontaneous travel, a well-researched trip is often essential to a good trip, especially if you are traveling with other family members.  When traveling as a family it helps to know points along your trip and at your destination that will keep your family members happy.  Just as with Columbus’ crew when there was no prospect of land in sight, your family members may get cranky if they don’t have a clear idea of what the trip is about.  Check out our web pages on favorite destinations in Europe and the USA to help you get started, in addition to our blog.  Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for inspiration!

Tip Two – Have a good map.

Columbus thought he was traveling to India.  He bumped into a continent that was in his way.  It eventually worked for him.  It probably won’t for you.  Have a good map.  Use it.  Enough said.

Tip Three – Budget appropriately.

Someone has to pay the bills. Columbus persuaded Queen Isabella of Spain to finance his trip.  He had to explain what he needed and why.  You do too.  Not having enough funds for your trip will leave you shipwrecked.  Plan accordingly.

Tip Four – Communicate with your fellow travelers.

Columbus was the captain of his fleet.  He still had to explain to his crew members where they were and why they weren’t finding India.  If you are doing the trip planning and don’t communicate with your fellow travelers you will have a mutiny on your hands.  You also undermine the whole purpose of traveling as a group.  Keep everyone informed.

Tip Five – Admit when you are lost.

Guys, this is for you.  Columbus told fibs to his crew about where they were.  He ultimately got away with it.  It does not necessarily work the same way when you have a map and are in the car and/or walking down the street in a strange city.  Especially with a GPS in the car or a smartphone operated by your partner or your tech-obsessed teen.  It’s best to admit when you are lost.

Tip Six – After admitting that you are lost, be optimistic.

Columbus had to deal with fears of sea monsters and the edge of the earth.  Those are pretty good reasons to keep your crew in the dark.  Not so if you can’t find Space Mountain at Disney World.

Tip Seven –  Be open to exploring your new destination.

Columbus did not find a new route to India, but after being lost he discovered a new world.   Being lost sometimes presents its own opportunities for discovery.  If you go down the wrong street in a European town and discover a small church, walk in and explore.  It may be the best thing you see on your trip.  Can’t find Space Mountain?  There are lots of other rides at Disney.

Tip Eight –  Bring something to eat while traveling.

Columbus had the benefit of fishing but he could not count on that.  He also had to bring food, especially oranges and other citrus fruits for vitamin C.  When on the road trying to reach a destination, having healthy snacks in the car will help keep your young crew members happy, even if you don’t have to worry about your crew contracting scurvy.  There is nothing worse than a mutiny in the car.

Tip Nine –  Always keep your spirits up!

This is different from tip 6 (be optimistic even if you are lost).   Columbus had to be optimistic in ALL circumstances in order to keep his crew happy.  You do too. Stuck on I-95 in a 40 mile backup?  You finally found Space Mountain but it has a 2 hour line?  Keep your spirits up.  You will have a fonder memory if you find some way to be positive when obstacles get in your way.  Of course, if you read our book, you would know how to avoid some of these pitfalls in the first place!

Tip Ten – Ask the natives for directions.

We are not 100 percent sure that Columbus fully relied on this tip, but it’s still a good one.  Locals know where the good restaurants are; the best stores; the best beaches; the quickest routes; and the places to avoid.  When in doubt about what to do or where to go at your destination – or along the way – ask a native.
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GFREE! Grom Gelato


Traveling with celiac disease is a bit like playing Russian roulette.  You do the research, you talk to the people in the restaurant, but you are still rolling the dice.  You could end up sidelined for a day or more if the information is wrong or the execution is bad.

Those are the risks.

But when you find a place that does things right, it’s like winning the jackpot.  People can get a little crazy.  OK. Kate can get a little crazy and giddy with glee.

Consider our recent trip to Los Angeles.  We started the day with a marvelous walking tour of Hollywood.  We wrote about it HERE.  The plan was to grab a quick bite before boarding the Starline hop-on, hop-off bus (the Purple Line, we wrote about it HERE).  Kate had an apple in her bag, just in case no restaurants could be trusted to provide a safe dining experience.

And then we found GROM.

Kate had written off commercial ice cream and gelato and frozen yogurt.  Between the stabilizers and the cross-contamination issues, it just seemed impossible.

But Kate never gives up.  So she walked in to ask a few questions.

Guess what they use at GROM?  Milk. Sugar. Eggs. Fruit.  No stabilizers.  No emulsifiers.  NO GLUTEN!

This is when things became a bit crazy.

Kate decided that gelato would be a good source of calcium.  She decided it would be perfectly healthy and rational to have a healthy serving of gelato for lunch.  Why bother with the apple when you can indulge like this?  Teen did not want to be left out of the fun.  Mike had to join in as well.

Was it worth it?  ABSOLUTELY.

It is probably the best gelato we have ever had.  Using all those whole ingredients probably helps.  We don’t want to think about how many calories are in this delectable, rich delight.  Let’s just say that it is safe to assume the full caloric intake for lunch is probably covered in two scoops of gelato.

You can find GROM right on the Walk of Fame on Hollywood Boulevard, at the entrance to the Dolby Theater.  Don’t blame us if the whole family begs to skip a meal in favor of this incredible Italian treat.

This being Hollywood, you can enjoy your gelato next to the ONLY star on the walk of fame that is not on the sidewalk.  It belongs to Muhammed Ali.

To know why his star is on the wall rather than the sidewalk, you will have to take the walking tour of Hollywood that we found through our affiliate friends at GOPass (see the link below)!

BONUS FOR NYC:  Two weeks later, Kate and Teen were in NYC to see Hamilton (we wrote about it HERE).  They went down to Greenwich Village to dine at NYC’s best 100% gluten free restaurant (Senza Gluten…we wrote about it HERE).  As the taxi whizzed through the Village, suddenly Kate spotted another GROM!  So gluten-free diners are in luck in Manhattan as well!


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NOTES FROM THE ROAD — The Magic of Crystal Cove

Why do we travel with kids?  One might as well ask: why do we breathe?  The better question, in our opinion, is HOW do we travel with kids?

The answer to this question is long and varied.  It depends critically on the age of the child or children and what the parents want to achieve on any given trip.  There is no singular way to travel with kids that spans the geography of the planet along with the chronological ages of your journeying group.  A trip to introduce your child to a treasured, familiar place will be very different in feeling and experience from one where the entire family is exploring a place new to all of you.  Your tactics and priorities will shift between city and country, between toddler and tween, between new and old.

The only real constants across trips with kids over the years are the bonding experiences that will bring you closer together AND the fact that the little eyes on the trip will likely lead to see new things and take new paths even in the most familiar of places.

Why do we travel with kids?  Because they show us what is new to them and, in the process, they make the place new to us.  How do we travel with kids?  With an openness to new adventures large and small even in the most unlikely places.  HOW we travel teaches kids more about flexibility and open-mindedness than any lecture or self-help book ever will.

Consider our recent trip this summer to Crystal Cove State Park, in between Corona del Mar and Laguna Beach in sunny Southern California.

We thought we were going to take a short stroll through an ocean-front state park in the morning.  Three hours later, we had stepped into a time warp back into classic California beach culture, stumbled across a tough part of American history, found a marvelous (but probably not gluten-free) restaurant, and discovered an entire separate universe beyond our luxury resort.

If your travel plans take you to Southern California, take half a day to experience this special corner of California beach culture.  If your preferred travel focus is for low-frills accommodations with tremendous ambiance, then read this post all the way to the bottom to find out how to book a stay in Crystal Cove.  We loved this place so much that we are submitting it as well to the “show your world” initiative hosted by our friends at Tiny

Top Tips for Travel to Crystal Cove

Crystal Cove is a California State Park that occupies 2,400 acres of undeveloped land and sea between Corona del Mar and Laguna Beach in Southern California.  The land stretches from inland canyons and “back country” areas, spilling down steep cliffs towards Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) and then continuing on to cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean and then continuing into an underwater park for scuba divers.  There’s adventure aplenty for kids of all ages and levels across this place, from tide pools to back country biking.  And then, the icing on the cake is the historic district with TWO classic restaurants….including a restaurant right on the beach that raises a martini flag at 5 pm daily.

1. The Ocean Cliff Walk

This is the easiest and most striking option for families, particularly if little kids are involved.  The entrance to the oceanside cliffs are right on, with clearly marked entrances and plenty of parking spaces spread across six different areas.  Over a mile of mostly flat, paved trails run the length of the cliffs amid desert-like scrub brush all around.

Crystal Cove MapThe views of the Pacific Ocean from atop the cliffs are stunning in the morning (when these pictures were taken).  The whale migration paths run up and down this coastline, making it possible to spot shales early or late in the day from the park benches.  Keep a close eye on the smaller kids…you won’t want them tumbling over the edge.  It’s a long drop down. Crystal-Cove_500x_bench


The views will be even more stunning at sunset, of course.  But the park closes at sunset.  This video provides a good sense of the pristine beauty on these shores:

Miles of beach make it possible to have the ocean, the beach, and the tide pools nearly all to yourselves.  Small kids an budding marine biologists will have great fun exploring the tide pools along the way.

Families with small kids and/or weak swimmers should take a few precautions before embarking on this adventure down by the water.

First, be aware that the paved walkway down to the beach is extremely steep.  Keep a firm grip on the stroller and tell older kids to be careful.  Also remember this incline when you start planning how much time you will spend down at the beach.  Small kids tired out from exploring the beach will have a hard time making the climb back up.


Second, be wary of promising your kids too  much about the swimming.  The Pacific Ocean is a deep one, which means that the water temperature is COLD all year round.  When we were there last summer, they were experiencing the warmest ocean temperatures in a decade and the water was still freezing.  Avoid disappointment and prepare your kids for dipping their toes but not much more than that in the ocean.  If you have adventurous swimmers or would-be surfers in your traveling family, be aware that the surf here has rip currents and that the state park does not have lifeguards even in the areas designated as swimming areas.

Crystal-Cove_warning Finally, be sure your little ones do not succumb to temptation at the tide pools.  Be sure to tell them in advance that you are there to look at marine animals in their homes, you are not there to remove them from their homes.

The Wilderness Adventure

On the other side of PCH, the hills climb high into the sky with deep canyons spread out below.  This is prime space for adventurous hikers.  The easy 3 mile trail is estimated to last one hour.  The most “strenuous” trail covers the park perimeter (about 12 miles) and is estimated to require 4.5 hours.  It would probably be more if you take smaller kids with you.  Detailed descriptions of the trails can be found from the park’s official site HERE.  All involve a minimum increase of 500 feet in elevation.  Home schooling and engaged parents might also want to focus on the “Environmental Loop” and parallel educational materials available on the park’s official site HERE. This is a marvelous place for adventurous families to go on a hike or ride bikes in a wilderness area.  Be aware that rattlesnakes and mountain lions are indigenous to the area despite the fact that the park is nestled between two highly populated and relatively urban beach communities.  For a sense of the place, just go to YouTube and type in “Crystal Cove state park.”  Plenty of adventurers have posted their exploits at the park there. A week before you go, start monitoring the weather conditions.  El Nino this year places Southern California at a higher risk of torrential rains.  Soggy ground will cause the park to close.  Check the park’s website each day before you arrive so that you are fully aware of the conditions on the ground before you start your back country adventures with your kids. If your wilderness adventure interests run towards the ocean instead, you are in luck.  The state park includes a substantial underwater park for scuba divers.  The video below regarding the Crystal Cove Alliance indicates soon kids could be equipped with “virtual fishing rods” equipped with cameras so they can look and learn about the undersea ecosystem just off the coast without having to go scuba diving.

The Historic District and Cottages

This was our biggest surprise.  We were ready for wandering through somewhat wild nature with stunning vistas.  We were ready (with plenty of sunscreeen and hats!) for the bright sunshine.  But we were not ready for the history that we found. If you follow the paved beach walking trail along the cliffs, soon signs proclaiming an “historic district” start to pop up.  We are jaded American travelers. American history is limited, covering only about 250 years of chronological time compared with other civilizations (including Native Americans) that mark time in terms of millennia.  The only thing funnier than thinking about history in America is thinking about history in California, where American settlers have only been around since the late 19th century. The thing about history is that it is hard.  Every great civilization has had battles large and small.  Every great civilization has dark moments that don’t fit easily with the preferred national narrative.  Not every part of history is something people can be proud of.  This is true everywhere, even on the California beaches.

One benefit of traveling with your kids is that when you stumble across a piece of history, you can have interesting conversations with them about what you are seeing and thinking.  You grow together as a family as you try to make sense of the place.  The conversations only become more interesting as your kids become older.  History nearly always notes the inflection points between different cultures. There is always a winner and a loser.  This means there is always a moment for a thoughtful conversation with your kids about what happened. It’s a multicultural moment even if you are traveling in your own country, because the culture you inhabit today (and the one your kids will inhabit tomorrow) will see the world differently than the culture that generated the history.

Today’s America shudders at what yesterday’s America did to stay safe after Pearl Harbor had been bombed.  Stumbling across history when on vacation gives you an opportunity to learn how your kids see the world in more ways than just the classic tourist selfie. We were not thinking about any of this while we walked along the sunny path through the desert atop the cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean.  We were just enjoying the sunshine and the desert scrub.  Then we saw this sign: Crystal-Cove_hisotry It turns out that at least two layers of history occupy this land uneasily.  In the 1920’s America’s new film industry discovered this beach.  Mary Pickford cut the tape when the state beach was created.  Hollywood created much of the California beach culture (and other iconic films) right here.  At the same time, above the beach, between 1927-1942, this land was used by Japanese-American farmers whose produce was sold in roadside fruit stands as well as in nearby Los Angeles.  The sign indicates that the residents left in 1942 as World War II broke out.  We know that Japanese-Americans were interred in detention camps during World War II.  We can surmise what occasioned this mass exodus.  It seems they did not return to this beautiful place after the war.  Having spent half a day wandering through Little Tokyo in Los Angeles the day before (and discovering an AMAZING ramen restaurant), the reminder of this sad part of American history was particularly poignant.

The sentiment did not last long.

We soon arrived at the cottages.  These cottages and the historic district preserve the look and feel of the 1920’s California beach culture subsequently made famous by The Beach Boys, Annet Funnicello and Gidget. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Hollywood discovered it, but it managed to remain a well-kept secret until some local residents banded together to renovate (and rent) the cottages and preserve the area.  Their conservation and education efforts detailed in the YouTube video below are commendable.

Walking through this area was like walking through a wonderful time warp of an idyllic part of California’s culture:



It was utterly delightful.   It was even more delightful to see that this was not a museum or a movie set.  It’s a fun-loving community that sticks to traditions and is not afraid to laugh at the past in grand American style.  Movies are screened on the beach at night for residents/hotel guests and, yes, they have in the past screened Gidget.  You can learn more about the Crystal Cove Alliance and the many educational, conservation and kids programs it offers from its website HERE.  You don’t have to be a cottage guest to participate in these programs.

The Beachcomber and Shake Shack Restaurants

The Historic District may be a throwback to the old California beach culture, but that does not mean you will starve.  You have two top-notch classic American dining options. Do you want to dine ON THE BEACH?  Then the Beachcomber is your spot.  This is the only restaurant on the beach at the state park.  Use the El Trancos parking area or catch their cute free shuttle from Laguna Beach.  This means that you don’t have to worry about the sunset state park closing time….or about driving after having had a martini or two.  Their website communicates well the spirit of the restaurant, which daily hoists a “martini flag” at 5 pm.  The minute we saw their menu, we regretted that we had already made dinner plans for our last night in the area.  This looks like a fine restaurant, using Asian-inspired fusion cuisine.  If we had known about the martini flag, we might have cancelled our reservation!Crystal-Cove_beachcomber
It may look laid back, but these guys are serious about their food and their business. Curtis Stone’s new Food Network show “Beach Eats” will soon be featuring this much-loved local restaurant.  You can read more about it HERE. More interested in dining atop the cliff overlooking the ocean with classic 1950’s diners fare?  Welcome to Ruby’s Shake Shack. Crystal-Cove_Shake-Shack-looking-up

This is an old school roadside burger stand with an outstanding view of the Pacific Ocean.  It is also an Orange County institution.  The original Ruby’s diner sits on the end of the Balboa Pier, but it does not date back to the 1940’s era it evokes.  It was created in the 1980s.  You can read their story and their menu from their website HERE.  It is a classic diner, complete with red leather booths and a white interior on the Balboa Pier.  The version that sits atop the cliff overlooking Crystal Cove features outdoor dining instead, serving up classic 1950’s burgers, fries, and shakes with an unbeatable view.  Kids of all ages will love this menu, so long as they don’t have celiac disease.

Sadly, we did not try either of these restaurants before we left Orange County.  We had dinner reservations in Laguna Beach and in Newport Beach and in Corona del Mar, so we did not have the time.  Kate says this is just another good reason to return!  We are guessing that the Beachcomber will be the more likely of the two restaurants to deliver a guaranteed GFree! dining experience, but we are going to look into both options.  Stay tuned.

Staying At Crystal Cove — Cottages & Campsites

Interested in staying here?  Our advice is simple: PLAN AHEAD + GOOD LUCK.

At present, only 12 cottages are available for rental at any given moment.  The prices are incredibly reasonable (starting at $198-246 per night for two people) and the place is unique.  This means it is in high demand.  If you have ever tried to get high-quality character dining reservations at Disney, you are well-trained for this adventure.

SEVEN MONTHS before your trip, on the first day of the month, access the website at EXACTLY 8 AM Pacific Coast Time.  You will need an account in order to make reservations, so we recommend establishing an account before you want to make your reservations.  By the time you are done with the process, the cottages will have sold out.  It is unclear whether they have a waiting list.  Prepare in advance by knowing exactly which property you want to reserve and have a backup.  Repeat as necessary, if you have the flexibility to adjust your trip by one month.

So if you want to visit in summer 2016 , you need to attempt to reserve on November 1, December 1, or January 1….which is right around the corner as we write.

If you cannot manage a reservation, it’s no tragedy. You can still take the kids to the beach and the restaurants and the state park and give them a sense of what this California beach was like when only Hollywood had discovered it.

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