Sunday, April 16, 2017

Trip Story: Santa Monica

We took a little trip up the coast for spring break this year, stopping for a couple of nights in Santa Monica and then three nights in Santa Barbara. Neither location was new to us, but our kids had never been to Santa Monica, and neither really remembers our last visit to Santa Barbara. I thought I'd write about the entire trip in one post, but I ran out of steam, so this is just about Santa Monica.

We set out mid-morning on Tuesday, and stopped for lunch at Irvine Spectrum and some play time at Heritage Park in Irvine. Then we got back in the car and drove to the first real stop of our trip: Randy's Donuts!

The doughnut promised land.
For those who aren't familiar with this SoCal landmark, I'll just say that it is so famous that one of the kids at our school built a model of it for his "California Landmarks" project.

The doughnuts were pretty good. They have all three types of doughnuts: cake, glazed, and (my favorite) old-fashioned. I'm not sure I'd go out of my way to visit again, but I'm more of an ice cream person than a doughnut person.

After our pit stop, we drove on to our hotel in Santa Monica, which was a surprisingly quirky Days Inn. It had a bit of an art deco vibe and a rooftop sun deck with plaques naming US presidents. It also had a comfortable room and an OK free breakfast, so I have no complaints.

For the first evening, we headed down to Venice. We wanted to show our kids the canals. It happened that my parents (who were meeting up with us in Santa Barbara) were in Santa Monica that night, too, in a hotel just a few blocks from ours. So we all headed to Venice. We parked near Mother's Beach in Marina del Rey, and let the kids have a short play on the playground. Then we walked into Venice and strolled the canals.

Unfortunately, we happened to be there during one of the times in which they drain the canals (to keep the water from getting stagnant), so the canals weren't quite as impressive as we remembered from earlier visits. But they were still a nice place to stroll, and the kids liked looking at the different houses along the paths.

Usually, there is more water.
We had dinner at C&O Trattoria, which is a very family friendly place noted for an unlimited supply of garlic knots (which, to our surprise, both of our kids liked) and for the sing along to That's Amore. We managed to hang on just long enough to see the sing along (some of us even participated), and then we walked back to our car.

The next day, my parents headed to The Getty. We had considered going there, too, but decided our kids would enjoy it more in a few years. Instead, we headed to the Santa Monica pier to be stereotypical tourists.

We got to the pier waaaay too early. Our kids start their days at 7 a.m., if we're lucky enough to get a little bit of a sleep in. So we were down to the pier not long after 9. Nothing much was open there until 10, and the amusement park wasn't open until 11.... so we walked a short way to the original muscle beach location. Petunia liked the tall swings, and Pumpkin had fun climbing the ropes and trying her hand at the rings. 

Harder than it looks
Between muscle beach, the arcade, and just strolling the pier, we killed enough time to be able to go on a couple of rides at the amusement park. The kids chose the Ferris wheel and the bungee/trampoline thing. 

The view from the Ferris wheel. We had lunch at the place with the yellow roof.
They'd have done more, but we didn't want to spend that much, and anyways, it was time for lunch. The Mexican place at the end of the pier was not bad at all, which is surprising for a restaurant that can rely on its location for a constant stream of customers. After lunch, we walked out to the waves and the kids had fun getting their feet wet. We only pulled them away from the beach with a promise of more beach time once we got to Santa Barbara. 

Happy children. And a bear. Petunia wore her bear a lot this trip.
We also strolled Colorado Street. Petunia was impressed with the dinosaur fountains. Pumpkin wanted to get a treat, but I held her off with a promise of ice cream at a really good place I remembered in Santa Monica Place mall. But that ice cream shop was gone, so we had frozen yogurt at a pretty average place instead. Then we walked over to Tongva Park because we wanted to see it and because we thought the kids could use some playground time.  It is a nice park, but I didn't take any nice pictures there, so you'll just have to take my word for it..

After some park time, we went back to our hotel for a bit, then headed out again in the car. We were meeting friends in Encino for dinner. Although Encino is quite close to Santa Monica, there is no good route there at rush hour. (Really: go to Google Maps and check how long it takes to drive between Santa Monica and Encino at 5 p.m. on a weekday, and then check it again at 10 p.m.. If you've never understood why people complain about LA traffic, this will probably make it clear.)

Our plan was to leave early and drive over to Westwood and then up to Mulholland Drive. We'd then drive along Mulholland and down into Encino. This worked... sort of. There was a lot of traffic along Wiltshire until we got past the 405 and the kids got impatient in the back seat. Then Google Traffic showed an accident on our route up to Mulholland, so I rerouted us on the fly... right into Bel Air. I half expected to be blocked by a gate, but we were not. And to my surprise, the kids LOVED this detour. They were really impressed with the big fancy houses, and happily pointed out which ones they'd like to own as we worked our way through Bel Air and Beverly Glen up to Mulholland. Then we managed to miss every single scenic pullout on Mulholland, and just drove along it and then down into Encino, again through a neighborhood of very nice houses. 

Dinner in Encino was delightful. It was great to catch up with our friends. And by the time we were done with dinner, traffic had cleared, and we could take the direct route back to the hotel. 

All in all, it was a nice short visit to one of the most tourist-friendly parts of LA. The next day, we got up and headed north to Malibu... but I'll pick that up some other time. 


  1. Have you ever done a post about how you find the good playgrounds to stop at on your road trips? I would love to hear any tips, because my normal searching methods don't seem to be very successful.

    1. I don't know if I've written about the park finding specifically. We used a combination of Google Maps in satellite mode (so we can see if there is a playground at that green square labeled a park) and advance research on the parks and rec pages of the places we're visiting. In general, the info linked on Google Maps is next to useless for evaluating a park, and parks and rec pages are next to unreadable on a mobile phone. So if I know we're likely to stop someplace, I'll check out the park options ahead of time on the parks and rec page. But we'll also find things on the fly with the satellite view. My husband is better at that than I am, and he's the one who suggested Tongva Park.

      I have toyed with ideas to make park finding easier, but I can't come up with one I could feasibly do with the resources I have and that wouldn't just have the data gobbled up by Google Maps if I made it actually useful. Maybe someday, the right idea will come to me!

      And no, your comments aren't weird or aggressive. :)

  2. also...that comment feels a little out of the blue and...aggressive or something. Very sorry about that. I've read your blog a long time, just don't comment often (ever?). My kid is a lot younger than yours, and we live on the other coast. But I really enjoy reading!

  3. good gad, I can't stop. Feel free to delete this comment, but I thought you might want to know that your CAPTCHA appears to be off.

  4. Too bad about the Getty. Did you know he left his $ for a data research, conservation and education center (and not for a museum)? Thus, the Getty has great resources for kids and families. They even have a family pavilion w/ rotating displays that allow the kids to step inside a painting or art work. They have costumes, props and backgrounds so that kids can learn about the era in the artwork and live history.

    I have not visited the 'Great Wall of Malibu' of billionaires closing off public access to our public beaches in 10+ years. It's much easier to stay in the South Bay, where the ethos of sharing public access is more prominent.

    I'm glad that your kids enjoyed Bel Air. If they close off a road with gates, then they have to pay for all road maintenance.

    1. We did know about the cool things the Getty has for kids, but we thought that our kids would enjoy it more in another year or two. As long as our friends are living in Encino, we'll be heading up to LA with the kids from time to time, so we figured we'd do the Getty on a later trip.

  5. Anonymous6:49 AM

    I was just in Westwood (but not for long enough to get savory pies :/ ). Man I LOVE LA.


Sorry for the CAPTCHA, folks. The spammers were stealing too much of my time.