Sunday, September 2, 2012

California with Kids

I spent a year in California pursuing a post graduate degree at the US Naval Postgraduate School. The video that follows shows some of the many places I visited when I was there as a student. At that time, having no husband nor kids, I stayed at budget hotels/motels (which are value for money) and packed my travel schedules back-to-back. Now, with kids, I probably would do things slightly differently, having to factor in nap times and proper meal times. This post highlights some of the places I'd recommend for families traveling with children. I'd love to bring my boys to California when they are a bit older. I'm sure they'd love the theme parks and national parks.

Getting There
I flew Singapore Airlines from Singapore to San Francisco. SQ usually stops over at either Seoul or Hong Kong, depending on which departure time you chose. I actually like the idea of a stop over, though there isn't much to do at the Seoul airport, it breaks the long journey up, allowing you some time to stretch those legs. If traveling with kids, I'm pretty sure the little ones would love to be able to run around after so many hours in the plane.

Traveling within California
I think the best way to travel in California would be to rent a car and self drive. When choosing your car type, do remember to factor in the luggage that you'd also need to carry with you. It is probably wise to split the families clothes / other necessities into several smaller luggage/bags, such that if one of your luggage gets lots in transit, it will not be losing all of one person's clothes. Also, since you'd be staying at multiple hotels, you can possibly choose to bring just one luggage up to the hotel room and leave the rest in the car vs unloading the family's 4 pieces of luggage at EVERY SINGLE hotel you move to. Note that many of the smaller hotels/motels do not have elevators.

Where to Stay
There are two pretty large chain of Motels/Hotels in California called Motel 6 and Super 8. I found the rates to be relatively cheap, rooms to be clean and locations to be pretty ideal. They are generally no frills kinda hotels - provides you with a clean room, comfy bed, shower stall and quick breakfast (think take away donuts and a hot drink). It was ideal for me when I travelled as a post graduate student since we were more keen on seeing places and the room was merely a place to spend the night. Even now with kids, I'd still opt to stay at these places.

Suggested Itinerary

San Francisco (2 nights)
After a long flight, it is probably a good idea to spend the first 2 days in San Francisco, and hopefully get over jet lag. Note that parking in San Francisco is extremely expensive, and it is probably ok to go without a rental car these 2 days. The hotel shuttle buses and public trams are travel options that you can consider.

1) Golden Gate Bridge - if the weather permits, I think it's best to cycle across the bridge. so you can stop to take in the sight, snap some photos and see the bridge up close. there are lots of bike rental shops in that area, and some of them also have available child seats which you can attach to the bike.

2) Fisherman's Wharf, Pier 39 - lots of yummy seafood. the clam chowder is a must try. it is popular to have it in the sour dough bread bowl, but I personally do not like the bread bowl. nice on a chilly day. look out for the spray paint artists. these street artists create beautiful works of art using spray paints. haven't seen anything like it elsewhere. there are ferries that depart every hour to Alcatraz. do buy/book ferry tickets ahead as there are limited tickets which sell out pretty fast. if you were not able to buy tickets, and they are sold out for the day, ask for stand by tickets. basically, the stand by tickets allow you to stand in line and wait till all ticket holders have boarded, if there's still space on the ferry due to no shows / late comers, you'll be allowed to board. else, you'd get a full refund.

3) Exploratarium - worth a visit especially if you have children of school going age. 

From San Francisco, rent a car for the rest of the trip. The next place to drive to would be Yosemite National Park. Driving time from SF to Yosemite is about 4 hours.

Yosemite National Park (1 night)
If there is just one national park that you are going to visit, this is a must see. do check their website for operating hours & seasons. I'd love to spend a night camping there when my boys are a little older. Note that you'd need to book ahead if you intend to camp there.

After a day at the National Park, drive down to Monterey, which is famous for its aquarium and Pebble Beach golf course. If you choose to skip Yosemite National Park, the drive from San Francisco to Monterey is 2 hours.

Monterey (1 night)

1) Monterey Bay Aquarium - I was expecting to see more than what we have at Singapore's Underwater World but was kinda disappointed. They have activities for kids and Cannery Row, where the aquarium is located, has lots of quaint little shops. Take photos of the coastline and perhaps dine at one of the restaurants overlooking the coast. The Bubba Gump restaurant is worth checking out.

2) Redwood Forest - take a trip into the redwood forest on board a steam train. I'm sure my sons will love this. Your kids will too!

3) Mystery Spot - you have to see it for yourself! 

4) 17 mile drive in Pebble Beach - a scenic coastal drive. bring an extra jacket / wind breaker. It can get quite windy along the coast.

5) Premium Outlets Shopping - The outlet nearest Monterey is the Gilroy Premium Outlet. Singaporeans will definitely love shopping at premium outlets... the Premium Outlets are scattered all over California, so you can actually leave this till the end of the trip unless you are looking to buy stuff that you want to use on the trip. Samsonite luggages, Osh Kosh, Calvin Klein, Liz Clairborne, Nike, Adidas, Coach bags etc... they are all really cheap. If you happen to be going around thanksgiving, there is the midnight madness sale (Nov 23 to 25) that starts at 12 midnight. Prices are slashed at that time, and expect long queues outside the popular shops. I remember queueing outside the Coach outlet store when it was freezing cold. Do plan to reach the outlet stores at about 11pm because parking spaces fill up quickly and most people do not plan on leaving until 2 to 3 hours later.

From Monterey, drive on down to Los Angeles. It is about 4 hours away. Traffic in and around LA is a lot heavier than at Monterey. This could possibly be your kids' favourite part of the trip. So many theme parks! I chose to stay at the Super 8 hotel at Anaheim which is walking distance to Disneyland. This means I didn't need to drive to Disneyland, and didn't have to look for and pay for a parking space at the park (can get quite crowded). Do get your park tickets online cos the ticket counters tend to have long queues... and the last thing you want to do is to keep a very excited child in line with you. Universal Studios is a short drive away and so is Knotts Berry Farm. One of the must dos in this area is to have a photo taken with the Hollywood Sign.

Los Angeles (3 nights)
1) Disneyland
2) California Adventure Park
3) Universal Studios
4) Knotts Berry Farm (Snoopy theme park)

After spending 2 whole days at the various theme parks, drive on down to Palm Springs (about 2 hours away).

Palm Springs (1 night)
Actually the main reason for including Palm Springs, is to break up the drive to LV, which can take about 6 hours. A pretty nice laid back desert city. The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is a must-do.

Las Vegas (2 nights)
I am not sure if you'd include this in your itinerary if you are traveling with kids. The casino grounds are out of bounds to kids, and all the hotels allow casino go-ers to smoke... Some of the hotels like Treasure IslandMirage and Bellagio have daily free entertainment (ranging from dancing fountains to pirate shows). Check show times on the website. Hotels on the strip are a lot pricer than off the strip. Parking at the hotels on the strip are mostly free, so you can choose to stay somewhere slightly further, drive and park at one of the hotels, and walk thru the strip on foot.

LV is a good place to depart for a day trip to the Grand Canyon. There are packages that offer a helicopter ride and rafting adventures, and most of them offer pick ups from your hotel. Note that temperatures at the Grand Canyon can vary quite significantly from Las Vegas. So do pack warm clothing for the trip.

If you choose to skip Las Vegas, the drive from LA to San Diego should take about 2 hours. Famed for its beaches, this city is also home to Legoland and Seaworld. Visit Wild Animal if you have extra time.

San Diego (2nights)
1) Sea World
2) Legoland
3) Wild Animal Park

And there you have it... some of my suggestions on places to visit with your kids in California. Leave me a comment or drop me a note if you have others to add to the list.

This post is part of a Blog Train hosted by Madeline at MadPsychMum. Continue your journey around the world through the eyes of Singapore Mom Bloggers!

Tomorrow, The Sims will be taking you on a tour of Taiwan as they share some hidden gems of this amazing country using their self-customized Free & Easy itinerary!

Angie is the proud mommy of the confident, bubbly little Dana. She counts motherhood as one of the greatest blessings in her life and blogs about her parenting journey at Princess Dana Diaries. Together with her photo buff hubby, they have honeymooned in beautiful Mauritius; trekked the rims of live volcano craters on Big Island, Hawaii; touched the gates of Auschwitz Camps in Poland and joined in World Cup soccer frenzy in Prague & Berlin. When Dana came along, they ventured to more family friendly destinations, the latest being Taiwan!


  1. We just did the steam train today! Yes, I am the 陪读妈妈 while my husband studies at NPS. :)

    We usually look for Best Western chain for our roadtrips, it's comfortable for a family of four.


  2. Hi Little Miss Snooze, how nice! I loved the steam trains... definitely like to bring my kids there some day. I miss Monterey a lot. How long will you be there till?

  3. We are here for 18 months, so a year more to go. Time flies!!

    1. Nice! I miss Monterey. Lovely weather.

  4. Eh actually these days Incheon Seoul airport quite happening leh! :) Not sure how it is compared to HKG though, because I haven't been to HKG in a couple of years already, whereas we've been going to Korea the last 3 years... Check out the last bit of my Jeju post on the airport :)

    1. mummyed, thanks for stopping by. Not sure... Maybe I was just stuck in the restricted area so there wasn't much to do... that was in 2006 though. so there might be more stuff now. :)

  5. Very nice post. I just stumbled upon your weblog
    and wanted to mention that I've truly loved browsing your blog
    posts. In any case I will be subscribing on your rss feed and I am hoping you write once more very soon!

    My web blog calvin klein underwear sale