Thursday, October 28, 2010

Bolsa Chica State Beach and Ecological Preserve

Just north of the hustle and bustle of Huntington Beach is a beach with a different vibe.  It still has those famous expanses of sand and mild Orange County weather, but the waves a smaller, the crowds are much thinner, and mood is more chill. Bolsa Chica State Beach may not have the street performers or pier that its sister beach just up the road has, but sometimes that is exactly what families are looking for. 

Eric's pictures Huntington Beach

Bolsa Chica State Beach has RV parking which makes it a great place for families to pull in and enjoy the beach for a few days.  There are also fire rings which make for a classic beach experience.  Just  imagine cooking s’mores in the crackling fire with the sounds of the surf crashing in the background. Ahh…. paradise.

One thing that makes the Bolsa Chica area extra special is the Ecological Preserve.  It is one of the largest remaining salt marshes in Southern California and calls over 200 different species of birds home throughout the year.  Basically, its a birders paradise.  Driving down PCH, you may not even realize that this special spot is even there.  But if you pull into the lot and start exploring, you will be amazed at what you can find.


We met up with our friends from Go Explore Nature and Fun Orange County Parks for a day of nature exploration.  As soon as we stepped out of the parking lot and onto the boardwalk, we peered into the marsh water and were shocked by what we found- sting rays! I have been to the ocean, bays, and marshes dozens of times but I had never actually seen a sting ray in the wild before.  It was quite a thrill for us all.

August 20108


We followed the boardwalk and spotted fish, large crabs, and countless birds along the way.  The kids had a blast running on the pathways and making new discoveries along the way.  Us moms were making attempts at becoming professional bird identifiers and I have to admit, the whole experience made me want to run out and buy a birding guide.  As fellow birder pointed a very rare red heron out to us and even though we didn’t know red herons were rare before he told us, we couldn’t help but feel excited about seeing something so special.


August 2010

If you would like explore Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve for yourself, then check out Fun Orange County Parks write up to get the details of where to go and what to expect.

Participating in a very special Save Our State Parks edition of Trekaroo’s Spotlight Thursday. Click on the link and see who else is playing along.

Proudly participating in Delicious Baby’s Save Our State Parks themed Photo Friday.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Save Our State Parks

I try not to get political on my blog.  I have an opinion on just about everything in this world, but I have always felt like this was a blog to encourage families to get out and explore the world around them and not a forum to discuss health care or tax increases. However, there are exceptions to every rule and this exception is one very close to my heart- our State Parks.


California’s State Parks are in serious jeopardy.  Our state government has done an atrocious job of managing our budget and now it is forced to cut funding.  As a result, many of our state parks are already on reduced hours, have higher entry fees, and a reduction in staff.  Many parks are threatened with closures while others are experiencing increases in crime due to lack of security.  Luckily- there is an answer to our State Park’s financial worries- Prop 21.


Under Prop 21- an $18 fee will be attached to our vehicle licensing renewal and Californians will be able to enjoy unlimited free access to their State Parks.  This will not only save our State Parks; it will also encourage people to make good use of their $18 fee and explore some of the most gorgeous parts of our state. In our current economy, $18 for a year of unlimited visits to state run parks, beaches, and historical sites is an incredible bargain.

January 2008

I have written about my family’s experiences at several of our State Parks throughout the years with the hopes of encouraging other families to get out and enjoy them for themselves.  We have explored and shared Bothe Napa Valley State ParkSan Onofre State Beach, Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, Mt Diablo State Park, the California State Tule Elk Reserve, Torrey Pines State Beach and Reserve, Huntington State Beach, Pt Mugu State Park, and Crystal Cove State Park and still have so many more State Park experiences left to share.  I don’t want to get you excited about a park, only to find it has been closed due to lack of funding.  And I certainly don’t want to miss out on visiting a park because there is no money in the budget to keep it open.  So please, vote YES on 21 and keep our State Parks funded. Your children will thank you.

May 2008

Participating in a very special Save Our State Parks edition of Trekaroo’s Spotlight Thursday. Click on the link and see who else is playing along.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Best Tide Pools in Orange County- Your OC Tide Pool Guide

Lately I have had quite a few people email me for tide pool information.  As a result, I have decided to create a resource for people looking for some good Orange County tide pool information.  This is by no means a comprehensive list, so if you know of somewhere special that I missed, please shoot me an email or post a comment and I will be happy to add it. Orange County beaches are always great places to find educational family fun.  Remember, these tide pools are very fragile ecosystems and nothing should be removed or destroyed.  If you see anyone doing anything that they shouldn’t, don’t be afraid to speak up.  And if you see any trash in the area, pack it out.  The starfish will thank you.



January 20092

This state park is one of California’s gems.  There are some wonderful tide pools and many volunteer lead tide pool walks (view their calendar for details by clicking on the calendar icon on this website).  Crystal Cove is a great place to take out-of-towners because the beach is pristine and reminiscent of California beaches of yesteryear.  Plus there is a restaurant on the sand and a shake shack up at the top of the hill on PCH.  I LOVE THIS BEACH.  There is parking on the south end of the park on the ocean side of the highway, and on the inland side of the highway at the more popular  (ie: near food) north entrance.   Both spots are great places to park and head towards the tide pools which are in the middle of the stretch of beach belonging to the park.  This beach is located on Pacific Coast Highway between Laguna Beach and Corona Del Mar. Good directions can be found by typing the words “crystal cove” into Google Maps.



This is my favorite OC beach for tide pooling.  This beach is not commonly known by tourists (which means it isn’t usually crowded with people) and it has my favorite tide pools in the region.  I have seen more diversity of tide pool animal life here than anywhere else in Orange County.  Little Corona Del Mar Beach is located in Corona Del Mar  at the corner of Ocean Blvd and Poppy Avenue.  You park in the residential neighborhood above the beach (and oh what a neighborhood it is!) and then walk down the path to the beach. There are restrooms located halfway down the path.  


July 2007

This tide pool spot is a great one for visitors of Laguna Beach to explore.  I have heard from a couple different people that the occasional octopus can be spotted in this area though I have yet to see one.  Nevertheless, its a beautiful spot and a nice place to stroll the shops, play in the surf, and search for crabs and sea stars. Main Beach is located where Laguna Canyon Road meets PCH and Heisler Park and the tide pools are just a 10 minute stroll north up the sand.  If you type “Heisler Park Laguna Beach” into Google Maps, you will get accurate directions.


Photo Courtesy Flickr user Typefiend

Photo Courtesy Flickr User TypeFiend

This local spot is popular with divers, snorkelers, and tide poolers.  There are no bathroom facilities here so make sure you have emptied your bladder before heading down.  There is access to this spot at Fairview Street and Cliff Drive. A stairway off Cliff Drive leads down to the cove. Here are good directions. 


You don’t want to head to the beach to explore tide pools without checking the tide tables.  Nothing is more disappointing than arriving at a tide  pool only to find it under water!  Here is the online tide table that I use.  Follow the San Clemente, Newport Bay Entrance at Corona Del Mar, or Balboa Pier times depending on what beach you are visiting.


December 20082

Its important to know what you are looking at when exploring tide pools and the Doheny State Beach website has a great printable identification pamphlet.  Everything from limpets to purple sea urchins can be indentified using this handy dandy resource. Print out a copy and bring it with you as you explore the tide pools. 

Happy Exploring!

This post is participating in Trekaroo’s Spotlight Thursday. Click here and see who else has joined in on the fun!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Irvine Park Railroad Pumpkin Patch GIVEAWAY!!!!


Yes, its already that time of the year!  Fall officially starts next week and the Irvine Park Railroad Pumpkin Patch opens this weekend! From September 18 through October 31st, the pumpkin patch is open daily (for hours click here). Irvine Park Railroad Pumpkin Patch has always been one of my family’s favorite spots in all of Orange County and a visit to the annual pumpkin patch has become a family tradition. Why? Because in addition to lots and lots of pumpkins there is also face painting, bounce houses, carnival games, tractor races, tractor rides, a hay maze, a haunted house, paddle boats, bike rentals, pony rides, and the train! Whew!  And and we can’t forget the fun playgrounds or the zoo!  Let’s face it, its hard to beat Irvine Park.


Because I love and support all of Orange County’s Parks so much, I was absolutely thrilled when I was asked to host a giveaway! I love promoting the parks any time but being able to give something away to one of my readers is just icing on the cake. So what is the giveaway? How about 8 Train Tickets (which can be used for other Pumpkin Patch activities as well) and a Free Bike Rental! That’s a $57 value! 


How do you enter? Just leave a comment telling me which OC Park you love the most. Its that easy!  If you want an extra entry share this giveaway on Facebook and leave a comment letting me know you did.  Want another one? Tweet about this giveaway and leave a comment letting me know! Good luck!

This post is participating in Trekaroo’s Spotlight Thursday.

Contest ends September 26th at 11:59PM.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

US Open Sandcastle Competition

Every year they come by the hundreds of thousands.  They converge on a strip of sand just a north of the international border, and watch as sculptors of sand create their masterpieces.  This year, we decided to join the masses and see what all the fuss was about. 

Entrants have only 5 hours to create a sand sculpture in the pursuit of $21,000 in prize money.  What they come up with is definitely above and beyond anything I have ever created with a shovel and pail.  Spectators file up and down the beach, checking out the progress of each masterpiece in progress, squeezing through the crowds to get a front row view of the action.

August 20101

Finally 2PM rolls around and the creations are complete (or as complete as they are gonna be).  The professionals draw the biggest crowds with their fancy camera crews and media attention but I think every sculpture was worthy of star treatment.

August 20102

August 20105

August 20106  

The oil spill in the gulf was a popular theme this year. I suppose looking out at California’s pristine beaches, its hard not to think about what has been happening on the other end of the country.

August 20103

August 20104

But most of all, creativity ruled the beach.



Collages65 Collages69  


If you would like to see these impressive sculptures be built right before your very eyes, be sure to head out to Imperial Beach next year. For more information, click here.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Best Place to Take your Picture with the Hollywood Sign

Confession- Up until a couple weeks ago, I had lived in California pretty much all my life and never did the Hollywood thing.  You know, the whole Hollywood and Highland, Walk of Fame, Mann’s Chinese Theater, hope to spot a celebrity and then take your picture next to the Hollywood Sign thing.  I guess growing up so close to Hollywood, it just didn’t seem that big of a deal.  My uncle was an actor, I went to school with child actors, and attended the same church as Kirk and Candace Cameron.  I was a jaded Southern California kid.

I am sure there was a time, probably in my pre-pubescent years, when going to Hollywood would have been a huge thrill, but my parents never took me.  It just wasn’t what you did.   Hollywood was for tourists and I was a local.   I think so many of us fall into that trap.  We have traveled all over the country yet we haven’t ever really explored what tourists come to see in our own neck of the woods.

This summer, my 11 and 13 year old niece and nephew came out from Texas to spend a week in California and they wanted to see Hollywood!  I got on the computer and did some research.  If we were going to sit in traffic for God knows how long on a Saturday afternoon, we had better do this right.  I knew one thing for sure- we were going to get a fabulous picture in front of the Hollywood Sign!

After spending a few hours walking amongst the mass of tourists on Hollywood Blvd, we traveled into the foothills and towards the entrance to the Mt Lee hiking trail, which takes you as close to the Hollywood Sign as you can legally get.  The roads up in the Hollywood Hills are notoriously narrow and windy.  There was more than one occasion in which one car had to pull over so another car can pass (so leave your motorhomes and trailers at home). It wasn’t long before we reached roads end and were so close to the sign I felt like we could touch it!

I admit, I was excited.  I mean we were at the world famous Hollywood Sign taking our picture!  We started snapping photos and suddenly the camera stopped snapping. WE WERE OUT OF BATTERY! No! No! No! We traveled all this way and we had to get a picture. Luckily, my husband had his Blackberry with him so we asked another tourist to take a family photo of us all. Yes, the resolution isn’t the best and I could have hoped for better lighting, but we had our proof!

August 2010


Next year, when my niece and nephew come back out to California, we are going back to that dang sign. We will hike the Mt Lee Trail and take in all those amazing views of the LA Basin. Oh, and don’t worry- I am charging my camera, bringing a reserve battery, and we are getting that perfect picture with the Hollywood Sign!

If you want to get that perfect picture with the Hollywood Sign then follow these directions to the best spot to take your picture in all of Hollywood: From Hollwood Blvd and Highland head east on Hollywood Blvd until you reach N. Gower Street. Left on N. Gower, then Right on Franklin Ave. A couple blocks later, take a left on N. Beachwood Drive. Follow this for a bit and laugh at the people stopped to take their Hollywood Sign pictures because yours are going to be so much better! Take a left onto Ledgewood Drive and start winding up the canyon. Soon you will come to a bit of a complicated intersection of a few different residential streets. This is where you will make a right onto the very narrow and windy Deronda Drive. Follow this to the end and find someplace to park alongside the road.  You have arrived!

 Playing along with Trekaroo’s Spotlight Thurdsay.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Children’s Fishing Festival at Snowcreek Resort in Mammoth Lakes

I love the idea of fishing. Sitting peacefully on a boat somewhere in the middle of a lake, taking in the sights and smells of nature while waiting for the big one to take a bite. I even think casting a fly over and over while waist high in a river sounds like a great time. Its the whole killing a fish concept that I can’t get past.

I know. I’m a hypocrite. I eat meat every day  and can’t see myself giving up my carnivorous habits any time soon.  Truth is- I can’t kill anything.  The other day I actually fished a bee out of the pool so it wouldn’t drown.  So when the Snowcreek Resort invited my family up for their annual Children’s Fishing Festival, I was a it apprehensive.  I knew I would be doing my children a disservice if I didn’t let them participate in a classic outdoor activity and I certainly didn’t want to miss and opportunity to head up to Mammoth for the weekend.  I took a deep breath, promised myself I would survive, and signed the kids up.  This was the Children’s Fishing Festival after all, how painful could it be?

July 201010

As we headed up Highway 395, my kids were extremely excited about the next day’s fishing endeavor. Over and over they reminded me that they wanted to catch a fish, kill it, and eat it. Great. So I guess catch and release was out of the question.

We arrived at the Children’s Fishing Festival at the Snowcreek Ponds and I was surprised to see just how popular it was.  The street was lined with minivans and SUV’s.  We checked in and were handed our poles, which are loaned to all children during the festival, free of charge.  We were also given a little dixie cup filled with stinky orange goop, which I could only assume was the bait. I looked at my husband and asked “Do you know how to cast a line?” “Nope. I don’t fish. Do you have a clue?” “Nope.” So now what?

Luckily, there were plenty of volunteers scattered around the shore who were happy to help us clueless (and slightly embarrassed) city folk.  They truly were a wealth of knowledge and before long we were baiting and casting with the best of them.

July 201011

Truth be told, we didn’t really trust our kids with the whole casting portion of the fishing experience. There were way too many people in the area and the last thing I wanted was to hook some innocent bystander in the eye.  Luckily, the kids did a great job and were pros at slowly bringing the line back in and waiting for a bite.

Before long, Mari had a tug on her line!  I helped her slowly bring the fish in and the volunteer caught it with his net so he could remove the hook. I asked Mari if she wanted to throw it back. She looked at me like I was crazy! No way. That sucker was hers.  “I want to eat it!” she told me with a face full of beaming pride.  Paul and I shuddered at the sight of the fish flopping in her plastic bag.  I felt like I was going to throw up.  I thought back to the time I had to smile and pretend I was enjoying my time on a ski lift for the sake of my children even thought I was absolutely scared out of my mind. If I could handle that, I could handle this.


We took the fish over to be gutted (puke) and then returned to see if Ben had had any luck. Just as we returned, he got a bite!  He pulled in the biggest fish of the day.  The entire pond erupted with cheers and the volunteer pried the hook out of the fish's mouth.  The fish, however, was not going down that easy. He jumped right out of the net and back into the pond.  I was quite pleased.  Ben was not.  He wanted his dang fish back!


We stood on the shore and cast and recast, hoping to catch something. After an hour of no luck, we convinced Ben to opt our of the fishing and go for some ice cream instead.  I felt better knowing we had only sacrificed one life for the enjoyment of our children that day.

Mari didn’t stop talking about her fish for the next three days. She checked on it in our condo’s freezer about 7 times a day and reminded us that she was going to eat it.  We ended up buying a cheap cooler to get the dang fish back down the mountain and into our freezer where it has taken up permanent residence.  I can’t bring myself to cook the thing.  It just stares at me with those eyes….

Truth be told, I am so glad we took the kids fishing.  They really enjoyed it and except for the whole dead fish part, us adults had alot of fun as well.  We decided that we could definitely start doing the catch and release fishing more often (if we can convince the kids of the release portion of the activity) and are very grateful for the knowledge and experience the people at Snowcreek gave our family.

If you want to take your kids out for a fishing adventure, be sure to check out the Children’s Fishing Festival in Mammoth next July. Its so much fun and children of all ages are welcome to attend.  I highly recommend Mammoth as a family friendly summer destination and Snowcreek Resort as a great place for families to visit (be sure to read my full review of Snowcreek Resort on Trekaroo here).