Archive for the Category »San Diego «

  Some of California’s Top Attractions Are #Free or Frightening in October!

photoGet your wild side ready- the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park  are offering kids ages 3-11 free admission for the month of October.

It’s a great time to go – weather is still oh-so-San-Diego-nice, and the crowds are oh-so-less-than-summer.

photoI was just there and visited the new attraction “Australian Outback,” where the cute koalas hang out. But be warned, the koalas sleep – a lot – but when they are awake, it is worth the wait.

photoI’ve visited a few zoos in my day, and see why San Diego is highly ranked. Lots of trees along walkways for shade, and seriously good animal sightings. By the way – parents, if you show your Triple A card, you get a discount too.

Perhaps this is brilliant counter marketing by the SD Zoo, because every other theme park in California seems to be catering to the teens and older kids with the various Halloween themed fright nights taking place. Warning – Some of these really are too spooky for younger kids.


Knott's Scary Farm from

Knott’s Scary Farm from

Knott’s Scary Farm, Buena Park – Through Nov. 2 on select nights so check ahead. New mazes have been added this year, which sound pretty creepy….

If you don’t like the thrill of a zombie lurking behind the next corner to raise your blood pressure, then during the day Knott’s offers Camp Snoopy, with trick or treating for young kids. Camp Snoopy – what could be scary with a name like that?

Disneyland Resort’s Halloween Time – Through Oct 31.

Aquarium of the Pacific’s Scarium of the Pacific, Long Beach – Oct 26-27  – Costume contests, magic shows, etc.

Universal Studios Hollywood’s Halloween Horror Nights – Through Nov. 2 on select nights. You can only imagine the terrifying special effects.

Have a frighteningly good day.


  Travel Tip Tuesday: San Diego Airport’s New Terminal Opens Today – What You’ll Find There

The Green Build project, as it is known at Lindbergh Field, is set to open to travelers today. The Green Build is the name of the approximately 500,000 square foot expansion of San Diego’s airport at Terminal 2, that includes the addition of 10 gates to accommodate future air traffic, and extra security lines to speed the whole checking process.

OK – not so sexy.

But what IS sexy about this expansion project is the great care the developers went to make it sustainable -( it reportedly has the largest solar array of any other airport….)

And… The tasty new 15,000 square  foot food court with locals’ favorites.


From USA Today… Pooch Potty at San Diego Airport

Another feature that’s getting a lot of airtime is   – get this – a bathroom for Fido! Yep – an area for pets to relieve themselves….. The idea itself isn’t novel, there are others, but you don’t need to leave the terminal to access this one, and go through security again.

What’s really  remarkable is that the public project was finished in time, and under budget!

Here’ s a link to see what airlines fly into the new terminal -which means new airline lounges too!

When anyone flies in or out of the new Terminal 2, let me know what you think. Happy Travels.


  Whimsy and Wonder in the California Desert

I absolutely love receiving travel tips and feedback from you all.

My latest example is from a friend who recently visited Borrego Springs in Southern California….

I am a California girl through and through… raised here, been there done that in the Golden State. But I had never heard of this off -the-beaten-path desert town just northeast of San Diego and south of Palm Springs.

Sure, Borrego offers the typical desert activities – golf, biking, hiking…

Courtesy of Diane Salerno

But what really captivated me is Galleta Meadows – a privately owned piece of land open to the public. On this stark desert landscape are 130 exotic-looking steel sculptures by artist and welder Ricardo Breceda.


A round trip of about 20 miles around the area and you can see them all.


Many of the earlier works were inspired by the animals that lived millions of years ago in the area…


and some are just pure fantasy!

Borrego might be a fun 1-2 day stop on a road trip – you can camp or stay at a local hotel. It is surrounded by the largest state park – Anza-Borrego. If you do stay the night, look into the many public astronomy events that take place there – Borrego Springs was the first “Dark Sky Community” – being 55 miles from the super lit up coast, the dark night sky is a perfect place to star gaze.


It is so inspiring to learn about new, whimsical places….I hope you think so too.


  Hotel of the Week: A New One to Watch in 2013 That the Kids Will Love

Legoland, California

Ever travel with your family to an amusement park and just want to crash in a hotel within walking distance after a long day at the park? Well Legoland in Carlsbad California is making that easier – scheduled to open this April, is the Legoland hotel, right near the entrance of the theme park.


Legoland Hotel, Windsor UK

The hotel follows the Lego theme – with mind-blowingly colorful displays made of course of Legos, like at the Legoland Hotel in Windsor, UK above.

There are 250 themed and spirited rooms – from Pirate, to Kingdom, to Adventure. The nice thing I like about this family hotel like this is they offer rooms with a separate sleeping area for kids.

Although you will most likely be spending a lot of time at the theme park, there are heated swimming pools, and in-room Lego gifts for the kids.

There are also some unique aspects to the hotel too that kids will find entertaining:   secret whoopee cushions and tight-rope walking marching guards … quirky themed elevators, and exploding toy boxes. For example, kids can dance on up to the bedrooms in the character themed ‘disco’ elevator, complete with a mirror ball and flashing lights.

In the atrium there’s a knight’s castle, protected by a giant burping ogre, towers into the clouds. Children can play in a 32-foot high pirate shipwreck that’s bursting through the castle walls and into the river of LEGO.

The nicest thing is that you are right near the park – so if you want to spend the night the evening before your park adventure, you will also have early access to certain rides before the park officially opens.

Legoland CA Waterpark

By the way – you should know that Legoland really is a theme park for younger kids – There is a water park attached that some of the tweens might find fun, but it is very crowded in the summer, with long waits for the slides.

Go to the website to see about special package deals before the hotel opens.


  Hotel of the Week: On the Best Beach in the Country

It’s August….but not too late to get your summer travel game on!

Actually, the end of August – beginning of September is my favorite time to travel. Gorgeous vacation weather, and many school-age children are back in the classroom, so less crowds.

KEY for my hotel of the week: Hotel del Coronado in Southern California’s San Diego area. The beach upon which is sits was just named the best beach in the country by Dr. Beach – it is usually on the top beach list, so it’s merits are nothing new – but since it was named in 2012′s  top spot, the hotel staff told me there was a bigger marketing effort. And boy -did it work.

I was there this summer  – and it was CROWDED! The hotel is huge anyway – with some —— rooms. You can’t completely feel like you are “away” with so many people around – just so much hustle and bustle. But kudos to the incredible hotel staff for not letting it ruffle their feathers at all. The service was top notch, and they didn’t miss a beat, which would be easy to do with so many others whom to cater.

The beach is beautiful, albeit crowded   – the hotels sits on a public beach – it didn’t bother me as much because I am used to So Cal crowded beaches.

Hotel del Coronado Beach Villa

If you haven’t been to this legendary hotel , it is worth a visit. It was named a national historic landmark, and has seen the likes of dignitaries, and celebs like Marilyn Monroe. The hotel went through an upgrade, so even the rooms in the Victorian building are modern. There is also the Tower building, and the Beach Villas – If you can afford it, the Beach Villas are mini houses right on the beach, and THE way to go. It feels less crowded when you are staying there.

It is a wonderful family hotel with plenty to do. My kids and I spent hours boogie boarding – the waves are perfect for young kids – not too big….makes it a little harder for adults to be carried on the wave however!

The sand on the beach is litter free…. and fine.  One of my favorite hotel services are the sand caddies who set up your beach chairs and umbrellas. One less thing to carry!

You can also rent these very touristy-but adorable bikes where the whole family can pedal. Just down the boardwalk from the hotel they rent for $20 an hour – good deal for an hour of trolling around the cute island of Coronado. There is a little village, and some beautiful homes to see.

There is a nice pool, with a pretty deck above for sunset cocktails. Be warned: the pool is not so quiet – there is a band that struck up the party music (think Jimmy Buffet) in the early afternoon.

A nice perk you  might be lured to try: setting up s’mores on the beach after dinner. The staff will build a bonfire, and provide all the tools. Make sure you have time to enjoy this – it is expensive – $150 for a family of five (that includes tip.)

Don’t miss the breakfast buffet – kids are only $5! It is one of the best I’ve had….. but then again I like a little south of the boarder flavor with my eggs, and proximity to Mexico is seen here. Salsa, guacamole, and chilaquiles along side the omelet bar.

Make sure you allow enough time here to unwind…there is so much to do it can take two days to find your rhythm. And be sure to check out the website for special packages!

  A Fun Way to See the Harbors of Southern California

If you live on the east coast, this is a warning before you read on. It may be hazardous to keeping your envy in check, considering all the snow you all have been under, to read about the utterly summer time activity we So Cal locals can do in January. (And all year long I might add.)

Cruising Newport Harbor

Cruising the harbors lining the coast of Southern California makes for an enjoyable way to see some of the Golden State’s most beautiful areas. You don’t have to own a boat – there are places in various beach towns to rent a small electric boat, known as the Duffy, named after the man who invented it – Marshall Duffield. The boats are quite quaint – going only 5 mph and topped with a canvas canopy, ranging from 14-22 feet in length.

All aboard!

Just last week a group of about 20 of us was down in Newport Beach, California, for our daughters’ soccer tournament. Between games, the families rented a couple Duffy boats from Duffy Electric Boat Company ..where you can see in the photo below, they have quite a few boats.

Duffys at Duffy Electric Boat Company in Newport Beach

We then journeyed out on Newport Harbor. Our Duffy fit about 10 adults comfortably….and they come with Ipod hook ups, life jackets for kids, and a map to help you navigate the waterways…which is very helpful.

There are tables on board for food and drinks…came in handy to hold the “adult beverages,” or wine. Note: A cocktail cruise at sunset is highly recommended.

The kids on the other hand, appreciated the novelty of the whole outing, and used the table to complete a game and some challenges based on what they see in the harbor – provided by the Duffy Electric Boat Company.

What you see in the harbor is picturesque… I grew up right in this part of the state, and still don’t get tired of the view or the experience. If you love real estate you are in for a treat because you cruise by lovely homes… some famous owners are pointed out on the map – i.e. the former home of John Wayne. It may inspire you to rent a home in Newport for the summer.

If you appreciate the beauty of nautical architecture, it is interesting to look at the private yachts and sailboats docked here in the marina. The kids enjoyed the marine life along the way.

There are public docks in front of some restaurants where you can pull up and eat… but since you are renting by the hour, you may want to maximize your time on the Duffy, unless you are willing to pay more and rent for a longer amount of time. I wouldn’t rent for less than two hours. I’ve seen rental prices vary from $75-99 an hour.. so if you have a large group, or a bunch of couples, it can be as low as $15 per person for a two hour tour. Worth every penny too. Peaceful and pretty, the cruise relaxes you (or is it the wine?), melts all your troubles away, and makes you appreciate life. How often can you say that?

Here are some rental companies for Oceanside, Long Beach, Marina Del Rey, and Newport Beach. Summer books up, and so does Christmas in Newport Beach, so book ahead.  (Duffy Electric Boat Company where we rented.)

  Waxing Nostalgic: Trips That Touch

I have a personal confession to make. I cry at Christmas carols. Not of the “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” type… but more of the Bing Crosby and Carpenters genre.

Why would I share this? Catharsis. Analyzing my melancholy over holiday music is making me more melancholy. I can’t seem to figure it out, because the holidays have always been a source of joy, but I am sure others experience this.  One explanation is that at this time more than any, we think of people who are not with us, either by death, distance, or duty.

So do we ever get over it? When will I ever be able to keep “White Christmas” on the car radio?

It is almost impossible to conceive things will change – especially if you have reached a point in your life where you find you certain traditions have taken place for years…only building on the nostalgia, reminding you of  decades past, and where the time has gone. One tradition that recently sparked this feeling is an annual holiday dinner I have with three close girl friends that we have done for 10 years. It is always a fun time; Proof: A few tables away from us was an “Only-In-LA” comedic ensemble of Larry David, Billy Crystal, and Martin Short all dining TOGETHER. Truth is, there was more laughter at our table.

There are also places that can make us nostalgic – unrelated to holidays. Here are some travel destinations that may make you long for something past:

National Pinball Museum, Washington, D.C.

1) The National Pinball Museum in Washington, D.C. – Relive your youth and forget your troubles for one afternoon while you revisit a childhood game. The museum just opened and is more than 14,000 square feet of pinball machines dating all the way back to the 19th century. There are more than 850 games here.

Other must sees for pinball aficionados: Pacific Pinball Museum in Alameda, CA… and the Pinball Hall of Fame in Las Vegas – more like an arcade, but you probably won’t lose as much money as you would at the casinos since we are dealing with quarters here :)

Hearst Castle, San Simeon, CA

2) Hearst Castle – Relive the indulgent 20s and 30s when newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst entertained all the movers and shakers up at his San Simeon mansion. Taking some of the tours here will make you appreciate the castle’s history, and bring you back, even if you aren’t old enough to remember the times. Also- if you make it to Santa Monica ever, tour the guest house of Hearst mistress Marion Davies. This was the spot of their vacation home, but all that remains is the guest house, which is open to the public. It is not as ornate or glitzy as the castle, but once again, the history and stories of Davies and Hearst are fascinating. Marion Davies is an interesting woman in her own right.

Freedom From Want, Norman Rockwell

3) Norman Rockwell Museum, Berkshires, MA – His work is iconic…for years on the Saturday Evening Post… reflecting family life and holiday celebrations that can make anyone nostalgic for old-fashioned values. Right now at the museum through Jan. 16, 2011, a special exhibition titled “Home for the Holidays” might put you over the holiday-nostalgia edge.:)

4) San Diego Model Railroad Museum in Balboa Park offers a great glimpse at different model trains – and even offers a summer camp for kids. Also the Twin City Modern Rail Museum in Minnesota is another option if you are in the Mid-West..and there are others across the country.

For many, this has always been the childhood toy that brings back memories. I still have one grown up friend who spent a fortune on a model train to go around his Christmas tree…,

Of course, you can always climb aboard a train yourself and travel North by Northwest style… There are many amazing train travel tours – the Orient Express is one well-known company, and I’ve always wanted to travel across Canada by train –,


Even though I can’t listen to the music, I can still appreciate the lyrics… so to borrow a line from Bing  – ” And though it’s been said, many times many ways… Merry Christmas to you.”

  Enough June Gloom!

…And it’s been around since May. I am over it. Bring on summer!

So this leads me to my travel tip: Anyone considering a trip to Southern California..or many parts of the West Coast for that matter (Nor Cal is just plain foggy…and Oregon gets some gloom also) avoid June, even though it is tempting to come right when the kids are out of school.

The gloom mostly hangs around the coast – this photo is Pacific Coast Highway in Santa Monica along the beach. This means Disneyland may not be affected…but there is still a fair amount of gloom there also.

Read more…

  Hotel of the Week: A Perfect Way to Kick off Summer…

So it’s Memorial Day…I can tell because when I went grocery shopping all the bbq sauce, chips, and beer were displayed front and center. Got me fired up….except then I remembered we have no plans. Scratch that – we actually do have plans – sitting in the hottest part of LA watching baseball tournaments and softball tournaments for our son and daughter.

Don’t get me wrong – I love it. Love the other families… love the sport…love watching my kids play. But, c’mon…I am also in the  mood for a true So Cal summer kick off.

There is one place that comes to mind for that no-other-like-it-summer-feeling. It is the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club near San Diego, CA.

It is a fun family get away. Located on La Jolla Shores, the beach is totally gentle yet fun for kids to boogie board also.

And some of the hotel rooms are right on the beach, which is convenient – especially when you have younger kids who need a diaper change or can’t nap on the beach. (Funny, that is NOT a problem for many adults…)

The rooms are VERY casual so you  don’t have to worry about dragging in sand (if you are used to only 5 star resorts, this may not be for you)..and some come with kitchenettes. Which leads me to my favorite thing about the hotel – at night the staff will set up a beach bbq for your family and friends if you want. Literally – tables, linens, chairs, and a bonfire right on the sand.You can grocery shop yourself and bring the food and drink, or you can order through the hotel. Key to the kids’ enjoyment: Definitely order s’mores stuff from the hotel or buy it yourself.

The dinner can be as casual as you want it….(my friend’s kids climbing on the chairs…)

Or nicer for a special occasion.

If you are on the beach and want lunch, simply raise a flag on your beach chair and a hotel waiter will come and take your order for lunch then deliver it to you beachside. Nice.

The hotel has other amenities that make it stand out – a great tennis program, with courts right there. A pool, so kids can go back and forth between sand and swimming. And a par-3 golf course, really great for the kids.

You never have to leave the hotel, but if you do, there are a number of great things to do in nearby San Diego – Zoo, Sea World, and Legoland in Carlsbad which is a little farther away.

Important tip: June can be very gloomy and cold – it is a gamble. You may get lucky. September is most beautiful.

If I may continue with the theme of MY upcoming weekend, a short stay here is a home run.

Have a safe and happy holiday weekend….

  Want to take a last minute spring break trip but don’t know where to go?

Despite all the cold weather around the country in recent weeks – spring break is quickly approaching!

For a fresh perspective on where we can still go at this last minute, I spoke with a fabulous travel agent whom I have recommended to some of my BFFs, and now HE is one of THEIR BFFs!

Luxury travel consultant and family vacation planner John Clifford, President of  International Travel shared with us his picks for the best under-the-radar, family Spring Break getaways. ,

He says : “Spring Break 2010, will offer unprecedented bargains as the global economy continues to improve, while new hotels open in popular destinations and the travel industry seeks to entice holiday makers with bargains galore.”

“Families traveling this year stand to gain the most as discounts for adjoining rooms, value added amenities like free meals and upgrades abound.”

Forget Vegas, Florida and overdeveloped, mass-market destinations overrun with breaking revelers. John says savvy families this year will be enjoying such locales as….

Santa Fe, NM

The city is celebrating its 400 year anniversary this year highlighting the city’s rich tri cultural heritage and designation as the oldest continually inhabited capital city as well as the highest in the U.S.

Aside from being an art mecca, Santa Fe boasts Indian markets & pueblos, historic Spanish colonial sites along with an amazing bounty of outdoor activities from ballooning to canyoneering mountain climbing and more.

Not only did artist Georgia O’Keefe call this place home, but today, the city boasts family favorite museums, one featuring O’Keefe’s works, and others such as the Museum of International Folk Art and the Wheelright Museum of the American Indian which are favorites to kids and families.

But wait, kids actually get their own museum here, the Santa Fe Children’s Museum ( full of interactive exhibits & special events.

Hop aboard the Santa Fe Southern Railway ( and ride a vintage rail car to the abandoned, ghost town of Lamy.

Or take in the Casa Grande Trading Post a combination, kitschy petting zoo and turquoise mining museum.

Don’t miss an excursion 45 minutes from town to Bandelier National Monument ( to experience ruins and cliff dwellings, ceremonial caves & petroglyphs of the Anasazi culture that was thought to have inhabited the area seven or eight centuries ago.

Insider’s Tip: Families love local writer and bibliophile Barbara Harrelson’s 2-hour walking tour of downtown Santa Fe which explores the history, personalities, the legends and the lore of the area through its stories and its literary landmarks.

The Mayan Riviera, Mexico (Tracy’s pick also! Want to go!)

No matter what you think about the Mayan Riviera, it is not Cancun.  It’s the anti-Cancun. So close and yet so far.  Even though this stunning, Caribbean coast starts just south of the 17-mile SoBe like hotel zone, The Riviera Maya is anything but.

With a slew of new resorts welcoming families from all inclusives to boutique gems, powder white beaches and unrivaled history, this locale never fails to impress.

From ancient Mayan sites & pyramids to underground rivers offering tubing exploration like those at Rio Secreto, to colonial Spanish towns such as Valladolid, it’s a treasure trove of discoveries with a MexiCaribbean flair!

Water sports galore delight young and old along with a coastline that is full of natural beauty including the Mayan ruins of Tulum, built atop the ocean’s bluff, still standing today as well as the UNESCO’s Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve.

Insider’s Tip: Families love the all-in-one adventure run by tour company/conservationists, Alltournative who work with Mayan communities to preserve their heritage. The “Maya Encounter” excursion, includes whizzing through the jungle on a zip line, rappelling into a cenote (deep water filled sink holes), and kayaking on a lagoon.

After the elders offer a ceremonial blessing, village women serve a full lunch rounding out with a trip to the ruins of Cobá.

Costa Rica

Don’t let the exotic name, or flip-flopped seasons fool you. The Northern Hemisphere is starting Spring, while Costa Rica is enjoying the last of their Summer, which is the driest overall, lasting through April.

That being said, the country is a tropical paradise boasting one of the 20 countries with the highest biodiversity in the world.

Though it seems a world away, it is closer to the mainland U.S. than Hawaii and boasts incredible value and endless family friendly activities, sites, resorts and destinations.

Though the Pacific & Caribbean coasts are lush and tropical, the real excitement takes place in its many National Parks and wilderness reserves, which span over one third of the entire country. Young & old will be mesmerized by the stunning variety of flora, fauna and landscapes with diverse microclimates and untouched wildlife viewing. Numerous species of birds, monkeys, sloths, crocodiles, insects & amphibians abound.

A live volcano? Yes, Vulcan Arenal is one of the most spectacular, active volcanoes in the world, and the locale alongside Lake Arenal is sublime and exciting.

Active adventures dot the map from cave exploring to horseback riding, river rafting, zip lining, canopy tours amidst the tree tops, and off road exploration through virgin forests.

Many who visit believe it is a paradise like none other on the planet, making for lifelong, family memories.

Insider’s Tip:

Killington, VT aka “The Big K” at Ramshead (If watching the Olympics got you in the mood to ski..we like this suggestion)

Killington Vermont boasts the largest ski area in the state, as well as Eastern North America. Unknown to many, it also offers the longest ski season in Vermont which can last as long as May, sometimes June.

Families love a winter break here, with 200 trails, 31 lifts, and the new Skye Peak Express. They’ve even got a ski and snowboard school for all ages.

Insider’s Tip: With an entire lodge dedicated to families & kids, Ramshead, you can’t go wrong, especially with record snows this year.

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