Monday, March 12, 2012

Crowdsourcing my Travel Plans

This weekend, my parents came over and watched the kids for a night while my husband and I absconded to the O.C. for some grown up time. We stayed in a business hotel near a mall, and slept, watched dumb TV that was not at all appropriate for children, did a little shopping without a child begging for whatever bauble had caught her eye, lingered over dinner and margaritas, and just enjoyed each others' company. We do this from time to time, and it is awesome, even though people snicker at the fact that our romantic getaway is a nondescript business hotel in Orange County. I can't really explain to them- a really cool location would actually detract from the point of the trip, because we'd feel like we needed to go out and appreciate it. This location is enough like our regular life to let us just relax. We are both very, very grateful to my parents for giving us the chance to do this from time to time.

But... in a couple of months, we have a bigger getaway coming up. I'm turning 40, and my parents have offered to give us two whole nights away. The big birthday and extra night away seem to demand something a little extra, so we're planning to go some place different. The only problem is, we don't know where.

On this getaway, I realized what I want for my 40th escape. I want a place with a nice, low key bar with a good view (ocean, probably, but that isn't required) and yummy fru-fru drinks (margaritas are on the outer end of the allowable non-fru-fruness), within a couple of hours by car or plane from San Diego. The bar should be walking distance from a nice, comfortable hotel- not necessarily super luxurious, but that would be OK, too. I only turn 40 once, right?

I am drawing a blank, although, to be fair, I haven't done much searching yet. But I thought I'd ask you guys- where should I go to celebrate my 40th birthday? And make no mistake- I'll be celebrating not drowning my sorrows. I have a great life to show for my 40 years!

And while I'm asking for travel advice.... we're also in the early stages of planning a family vacation. As you may remember from our Great California Road Trip, one of my secrets for happy travel with little kids is to plan the trip to just this side of obssessiveness. OK, maybe to just on the other side of obsessiveness. So there is a lot of planning ahead.

Anyway, my husband really wants to go in May, to take advantage of the fact that this is the last year we can take a trip without worrying about school holidays. We've tentatively picked Colorado as our destination. We'd fly into Denver, spend some time there, and spend some time driving around a bit. We'll probably only have a little over a week, given the current state of our time off balances.

So: is it insane to go to Colorado in May? My husband really wants to go to Aspen (I have no idea why- we aren't skiers). We'll obviously want to see the Rockies. What are the chances that we'll enjoy doing that in May?

If we go, what are the must see things with a 5 year old and a 2.5 year old?

Flood me with advice, oh wise readers. I don't guarantee I'll follow it, but I'll definitely read and appreciate every single comment!


  1. Anonymous10:50 PM

    I have done Aspen in early May. It was slow and inexpensive between seasons. It was too cold for the summer activities and too warm for the winter activities. I was pregnant and my two-year-old was potty training, and in the end we spent way too much time driving places. It might depend on luck with the weather though. If we had been able to spend more time outside it would probably have been more fun.

  2. Do you want to leave San Diego for the 2-night getaway? (I guess if you live there getting away is kinda of the point). But if you are OK with staying in San Diego, my absolute favorite place is a bed & breakfast called Britt Scripps Inn. It's near Balboa Park, and is a gorgeous restored Victorian mansion. If you want to leave San Diego, how about Marina Del Rey? It's probably around 1.5 hours north, and you can stay by the beach, lounge, go hang-gilding if you are feeling adventurous, etc. There's a Courtyard by Marriot in Marina Del Rey that's supposed to be a nice Courtyard. If you are looking for something more luxurious, how about Jamaica Bay Inn at ? It has excellent reviews.

  3. Rocky Mountain National Park is gorgeous--even if you have to stay low-key in terms of hiking, there are all kinds of animals and things to see.
    Boulder is a fun city. My husband and I toured the Celestial Seasonings tea factory (though you have to be 5 yrs old for the tour) there. I'm sure there is plenty for kids to do--but we went in our former life :)

  4. I have no current holiday advice, but we did a family trip to Grand Junction Colorado when I was almost 8 & my siblings were 5, 3 and 1. It was June & from memory our holiday included a night camping somewhere near a lake near Grand Junction. I had a fantastic time chasing one of my sisters with lake weed on a stick. (In the photos, we're wearing jerseys). My 8 year old Colorado highlights also included visiting one of my parent's friends parents - they had poodles. Oh, and there was a horse in the paddock behind my parent's friends house. We also visited the start of the Grand Canyon - but I don't remember this. But playing with that algae, that was special. :-)

  5. I have never been to CO outside of the Denver airport, so I'm no help there.

    But one of my favorite short getaways is Vancouver, Canada. I love that city so much and we find new things every time we go. It's probably just about a 3 hour flight for you.

    Seattle is also awesome, plus you could say hi :)

  6. I think the kids will be bored in Aspen. Just my .02, unless you plan to hike and mountain bike :)

    I'm laughing that you'd leave SD for Ocean. I'd skip Marina del rey and hit up Santa Monica instead. There are two high end hotels right next to each other that look out on the ocean, Shutters which has a sort of beach house vibe to it and then the gorgeous Hollywood days gone by Casa del Mar. A tad bit further down is the Loews. All are walking distance to the lovely restaurants and shops.

  7. Coloradan here. May weather is usually nice, but snow has been known to happen, particularly at higher elevations. Coming from southern California, it will seem on the chilly side. Colorado weather is also very changeable over the course of the day, so layering is vital. Also, for every 1000 feet up you go in elevation, assume at least a 5 degree drop in temperature.

    I would skip Aspen, especially with smaller kids. Instead, I would suggest staying in the foothills, where the weather will be more consistently nice, and do day trips up the mountain. It's still totally gorgeous, but the hiking will be much more kid-friendly. Also, as a kid, my favorite thing ever was Tiny Town ( That and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, which has fantastic dinosaur exhibits. If you get the right guide, they will also show you the elves hiding in the animal scenes. Alternatively, consider going down to the Colorado Springs area and see Cave of the Winds

  8. With smaller kid, anytime we've gone someplace like Aspen, it has been at an all-inclusive resort (off-season, dirt cheap, while mommy goes to a conference). The all-inclusive resorts have stuff for kids to do, though it tends to be stuff like feeding the koi, touring the restaurant while they're getting ready, exploring water paths, the pool, etc. And then a day doing something like going to the outlet malls (which would be silly coming from San Diego).

    I like Miss MSE's suggestion! We've done similar things in various cities around (er, 1-2 days drive) where we live (not Colorado) and it's always been fun. Especially when we can hit up a local farmer's market bazaar and other local eateries.

  9. One of my closest friends lives outside of Denver; they have small kids and love to be outside. I'll ask her for advice on CO in May. How hearty are the kids, in terms of weather they'll want to be out in? (Mine complains of cold when it gets below 50, for example.)

  10. I'm agreeing with Well Heeled Blog. You already live in a vacation destination -- you don't have to build the wild card of travel (and potential flight delays) into your short get-away. What about a hotel in La Jolla? If you are going somewhere, we really liked the Monterey/Carmel/Big Sur area when we went two years ago. Of course, the aquarium is perfect for kids, so maybe that's a different trip.

  11. Thanks for the ideas, everyone!

    We have considered staying here and going over to the Hotel Del. But yeah, we kind of want to go away somewhere.

    On the Colorado thing- the kids are pretty hardy about temperature, and we could bundle them up. Petunia cried last time she was in the snow, though! And I am a complete wuss about driving in snowy weather.

  12. Oh, and the other problem with San Diego- the beach front bars I know all have a college kid vibe, and I'm looking for something more laid back. Of course, there may be something in north county I haven't thought of....

    So everyone, don't forget the "laid back bar with a view" part of the equation!

    We've also considered Vegas, but of course any view there will be man made. I could probably live with that, though.

  13. I agree with skipping Aspen. Denver and the surrounding area have PLENTY of great activities, and Colorado Springs is a short daytrip drive as well. (We spent a year living in Colorado Springs, pre-kids, and have visited Denver when I was incubating DD2 and DD1 was just about 2.)
    One really good reason to skip Aspen... the possibility of altitude sickness. DD1 did get ill just from being in Denver, so I also recommend a hotel room that has a mini-fridge/freezer for keeping pedialyte (the frozen pops are really good).

    The Denver Children's Museum was lots of fun as was the Zoo.

  14. No destination advice, I'm on the opposite coast ...

    Only an observation that, for us, we get a tremendous amount of pleasure from anticipating and planning a trip. Happy travels wherever you end up.

  15. Why don't you come up to Laguna Beach? Stay at the Surf and Sand or a B & B. Wander around the art galleries. One morning, eat breakfast in old town San Juan Capistrano (a 15 min drive) at the Ramos House.

    Or, if the beach isn't a requirement, we love Vegas. We're actually going on Monday to the Wynn. We probably will leave the hotel all of once and nightclubs aren't our thing, but the best food and theatrical entertainment almost in the world is there. As strange as it sounds, its an excellent place to relax and recharge.

  16. We had a TON of fun in Vegas... just going around to all the different hotels and looking at their craziness. DC was in new sights heaven. Also we ate a lot of ice cream.

    Problems: omni-present cigarette smoke, many hotels don't allow children unless they're guests of the hotel, many of the shows would not have been child-appropriate had we gone to any.

    If I weren't having a baby this summer our plan was to go to the Redwood forest since it's something I've always wanted to show DC and DH. Silly travel restrictions. I think our next trip will be to Vancouver next November (with mommy at a conference). Last summer we went to DC (while mommy was at a conference...)

  17. Vegas would be so amazing for a kid-free birthday celebration - perfect place to kick back and relax with the hubs. Awesome food opportunities. We go once a year and last time had a blast seeing Terry Fator's show, and have also enjoyed seeing O, Mystere, and Ka by Cirque du Soleil.

    CO in May could be COLD as others mentioned. And you could randomly have the dreaded Snowy Mountain Driving. (I can't see ever going there without skiing being involved but that's just me and my hobby talking. ;))

    How about Yellowstone? There is some driving involved depending on where you stay, but amazing nature, doable family hikes, and a lot of bang for your buck. I like it a lot better than Eastern CO. Side trip to Devil's Tower.

    Thinking back on it, our best domestic family vacations have been: 1) Maui resort, 2) Alaskan cruise in June (hands down the easiest, least stressful vacation by far, with an 8-month old and a 2.5 year old that's saying a lot), 3) Charleston SC-area beach house with group of friends. Seattle is also a ton of fun - rent a house in Magnolia on VRBO. Your kids would love the Pacific Science Center.

  18. vegas is awesome if it is your cup of tea. I do like central coast as well, by heart castle although that is rocky beach. there are some great wineries in that area and easier than schlepping to napa

  19. If you're interested in a minimum-hassle jaunt up to Northern California, last year my husband and I went to Dolce Hayes Mansion in San Jose for an awesome quick relaxing weekend getaway. It's an old historic mansion that's been converted to a resort-y hotel, beautiful grounds.

    We spent most of the weekend in the outdoor pool and hot-tub, except when we'd get out and walk the few feet to the great outdoor dining area... We weren't sure what to expect, but we are Northern CA foodies, and we were definitely impressed by the food, cocktails, and wine. So awesome to get out of the pool, have a great meal and cocktails, and get right back in the pool! And awesome at night to sit around drinking cocktails and wine outdoors, and know your room is only a few feet away. :) They also have a very extensive all-you-can-eat champagne brunch on Sundays that blew me away (we got a package that included a brunch discount). And like you said, San Jose isn't such an exotic destination that you feel compelled to sight-see too much, you can just relax and enjoy.

    Though after the brunch we did get out to one of our favorite nearby wineries, Picchetti Winery, for some wine tasting and hiking. The winery is basically on a nature preserve, so they've got extensive hiking right in back of the tasting room. And peacocks on the grounds! . Anyway, a highly recommended quick relaxing low-stress weekend getaway, we will definitely be doing this again. You could also do Napa/Sonoma instead for a weekend, but that would involve much more transportation from the airport etc and probably wouldn't be as low-stress.

  20. There are nice beach towns around Los Angeles, like Newport Beach or Redondo Beach or even Malibu. Malibu has a good mix of beach and horseback riding/nature. I noticed that you said your husband wants to go to Colorado and while of course it's a trip for both, remember you're the one turning 40 and Colorado isn't really the place for beach/fru-fru drinks.

  21. Since I have never even been to California, I am just going to tell you the first thing that came to my mind: Catalina Island. I don't know whether it would fit in your 1.5 hour requirement. Does hanging out on a ferry (or in a helicopter!) really count as traveling?

  22. Lisa C.11:13 AM

    you *may* want to consider heading out to Catalina Island and staying in Two Harbors. it is a small (~400 ppl yr round) place with one restaurant/ bar, very laid back. there is a lovely b&b- the Banning House. lots of hiking, or just spend your days on the beach. you can rent kayaks & snorkeling gear (incl. wetsuits which i recommend for any month other than august). its not as touristy as Avalon, and very very laid back. not sure if this is close enough for your trip but something to consider!

  23. Rockies == major headache (literally, it's the air pressure). I was incapable of functioning for 3 days with a splitting headache, no matter how much water I drank etc. I am not going back.

    If it weren't for your ocean criterion, you could go to AZ -- say Grand Canyon or Sedona. Beautiful this time of year, still not too hot.

  24. I'm partial since I live in SLC, but why go to Denver (where the mountains are far away) when you could fly into Salt Lake and be in Park City within 30 min? Any resort would probably have great deals in May since it's between the summer and winter seasons. The altitude is not as bad as CO and Park City has fun activities for the kids and the adults.

    As an alternative, what about Zion National Park, Canyonlands, Moab or the Grand Canyon? Beautiful areas, not TOO far from a major airport and perfect weather in May. I agree that Aspen would not be my first choice for a vacation with kids.

    Aspen or Park City would be a good trip for just the adults, though, minus the beach you were discussing. Catalina Island is a nice getaway, as mentioned by others.

  25. I have been to park city in May and it is quite lovely (also cool and crisp). The one problem is that almost everything in the little town there is closed for the off-season. There's still a pretty good pizza place (or was a few years back anyhow), but we ate multiple meals there.

  26. I wanted to suggest heading south (e.g. Antigua, Guatemala), but it doesn't meet your time criterion. How is Central America is still so far away, even from San Diego??

    With that off the table, I'm going to second the Utah suggestions, with or without kids. Zion is incredible. For your kids trip, maybe think about Yellowstone? There were tons of families with kids there when my husband and I went through last summer.

  27. It has been fun reading everyone's suggestions.

    In case it wasn't clear- there are two trips getting planned, both,as it turns out, in May. The family trip will last a little over a week. I think I may nix the Colorado in May idea, and insist that we either pick a different destination or wait and do the trip later in the summer.

    FYI- we've already been to Zion and loved it! Yellowstone is an interesting idea, though.

    The 40th getaway is a two day thing and has to be within a couple of hours of San Diego. Catalina is definitely an option. As is Vegas. @Alli, Central America is too far for that, but there are a couple of spots in Mexico that might work. I was sort of hoping someone would have the perfect bar recommendation for me, and I'd plan the trip around that. But that was not to be....

    Anyway, thanks for all of the ideas!

  28. the milliner7:54 PM

    For DH's 40th we went to Yountville in Napa for a few days as we managed to get a reservation at the French Laundry. It was unbelievably amazing - a life changing experience and pure gastronomic heaven. We stayed at a very cute B&B. The town is small and lovely (though not near the ocean!). We even ended up going to Bouchon for dinner - much more modestly priced - the second night and it was fantastic too.

    At the risk of this being too touristy...Carmel? Many years ago when in SF with a friend, we drove down the coast to go to Carmel for the day. I remember quite liking it.

    And, I definitely second the Seattle recommendation.

    Have fun celebrating your 40th and welcome to the other side!!

  29. Becky2:11 PM

    If you want to be in the mountains with the little ones, I highly recommend going for an all-inclusive route. But that doesn't have to mean frou-frou resort. Last year, we stayed at the Mountain Meadows resort in the Trinity Alps and loved the experience. They have rustic one-room cabins, a pool, and gourmet dinners. Kids eat separately and there is childcare throughout the day. Ours were 3 and 1.5 at the time and loved sitting by the river throwing rocks every day. Totally caters to families, and there is a wine/beer hour every night.

    Last summer we also went to Tahoe and stayed at a ski resort for cheap, because it was off-season, and loved having the restaurant on-site and not having to drive into town to eat. I scored a Priceline deal and was erroneously charged a resort fee but got it refunded after check-in. Trails started from the hotel. But the rooms were cramped and hot, because the hotel really is meant to keep skiers warm in the winter -- something to consider. There was no A/C, and you know that the California mountains get really warm.

    Finally, a nice but inexpensive hotel outside Shasta was the third mountain trip. Too much driving, especially on winding mountain roads, to get anywhere. It was nice for adults who wanted to enjoy the scenery, but the kids got carsick trying to watch DVDs and were otherwise bored.

    Now, if I could hijack this a bit, we are taking the almost 4 year old and the 2 year old to New Zealand in two weeks. One week in Christchurch and then 2.5 weeks on the road in a camper van with no set route. Do you have any book recommendations for the kids to introduce them to the country?

    1. My husband and I are drawing a complete blank on this. We have heaps of books from New Zealand, and a lot of them are wonderful. But I can't think of one that could really be considered an introduction to the country. Definitely go into a book shop while you're there, though, and buy some books. Hairy McClary from Donaldson's Dairy is a classic. I also really like The King's Bubbles by Ruth Paul and Kiss, Kiss, Yuck, Yuck by Kyle somebody (the book is in the sleeping toddler's room right now).

      I think you guys will have a great time. Be sure to eat lots of Hokey Pokey ice cream. It is the best. Don't listen to anyone who tells you Boysenberry Ripple is better. Hokey Pokey is the way to go!

    2. Becky6:59 PM


  30. Just my 2 cents, but I would choose Breckenridge over Aspen. Been too both (Aspen in March to ski and Breckenridge in the summer with the family as a teen). Aspen has way to much hype. Not sure either is great for kids in terms of activities, but I'm sure you've researched all that...and I have not! Looking forward to seeing you guys next weekend!


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