I was extremely fortunate to travel overseas when I was a child. My family lived in Florida in the United States for a year. We visited relatives in Switzerland. We holidayed in Bali. I was introduced to different cultures and cuisines, was exposed to different languages and lifestyles, and even went to school in America. I have memories of Figment at the Epcot Centre, lunch with my Swiss family in a cabin the forest, and being invited to see the cockpit of the airplane (you could do that in those days). My early introduction to travelling taught me from a young age what a small space we each occupy in this huge world, that there is so much more to life than what is happening in our own sphere of existence, and that I live in a great country.
Many years later, I am extremely fortunate to be able to travel overseas with my own children. To expose them to different countries and their peoples. To show them what a big, beautiful world we live in. To have adventures with them. To see new places through their eyes.
When we were invited by friends to join them on a family trip to the west coast of America, we were quick to accept. An itinerary catering to all tastes and ages was created, and we were off.
This was our travel companions’ first time in Los Angeles, so we were excited to show them some of the must-sees in the area: the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the Chinese Theatre, Beverly Hills and Rodeo Drive, Malibu, Venice Beach, Santa Monica and its pier, Runyon Canyon Park and Mulholland Drive, and the iconic Hollywood Sign. Our family’s favourite area is Santa Monica. Whenever we’re in LA we take our daughter to ride the carousel at the pier and grab a bite to eat around Santa Monica Place Mall. If we have time, we’ll hire bicycles and cycle along the beach to Venice and back.
This trip, we discovered the Ocean View Hotel. The Australian–US dollar exchange rate can make it tricky to find good family-friendly accommodation in great locations. This hotel ticked all the boxes. It’s right on Ocean Avenue, just a stone’s throw from the pier and an easy stroll to the mall, and is spacious, modern and affordable.
There’s something about Disneyland. I have a two-day limit when it comes to theme parks. I dislike large crowds and long queues and I’m terrified of thrill rides (the kids’ rides are my speed). But, Disneyland with children who are old enough to remember the experience and recognise the Disney characters is fun. For the complete Disney experience we opted for a three-night stay at the Disneyland Hotel, with Mickey-shaped hotcakes, a Disney character dinner and an easy stroll to the parks. While there, we didn’t hold back. We tested as many rides as we could (some more than once), rubbed shoulders with Elsa and Anna from Frozen, were swept away by the World of Color light show, ate Mickey-shaped pretzels, rocked our Minnie ears, cheered the acrobatics of the Pixar characters in their parade, and helped Mickey and friends throw Minnie a birthday bash in the Disney Junior show.
Las Vegas, Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon
Las Vegas was one of those places I could have gone my whole life without visiting, yet because it looks so glamorous in movies I knew if the opportunity to experience it arose, I wouldn’t turn it down. The casinos and The Strip are not my speed, although the Bellagio’s Conservatory and Botanical Gardens are worth seeing. I did have a blast revisiting my late teens/early twenties at Britney Spears’ Piece of Me show at Planet Hollywood. And the surrounding desert is beautiful. Having grown up in Australia, I’m used to bold, vibrant colours like the rusty red of the outback and the aqua blue of the ocean. The Nevada desert is made up of pretty pastel shades, which took me by surprise. It is gorgeous.
We couldn’t go to Nevada without visiting Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon. It’s an easy day’s round trip driving from Las Vegas to Hoover Dam and then on to Grand Canyon West. We chose not to buy tickets for the canyon’s skywalk, instead taking in the views from the surrounding areas. Beware, there’s no fence or other barrier between you and the canyon floor, no security and next-to-no signs warning of the dangers, which had me experiencing some vertigo-like feelings. The sheer size of both the dam and the canyon is impressive. I’d love to see the Grand Canyon from the air one day.
The first time we visited San Francisco, we stayed in Silicon Valley and drove into the city. While I loved Pier 39, the Golden Gate Bridge and shopping at Union Square, I wasn’t drawn to the city like I was to New York. This time, we stayed in a gorgeous boutique hotel at Fisherman’s Wharf and so had more time to explore. A half-day trip to Alcatraz is good family fun, but be sure to book tickets well in advance as seats on the ferry to the island sell out weeks ahead of the departure date. Luckily, a girl sold us her spares a few minutes before boarding time. Pier 39 and the sea lions were good value for the little kids as well as us big ones, and driving over the Golden Gate Bridge and seeing Lombard Street are still two of my must-dos when visiting. If I get to go back, I’d like to take in a ball game at AT&T Park.
Route 1 and the California coast
The stunning California coast is best seen by driving from San Francisco to Los Angeles along Route 1. The drive was on my bucket list for a long time. The coastal scenery and Big Sur are breathtaking. Be sue to keep your camera at the ready! We took two days to make our way to LA, stopping for a night at San Simeon where we stayed at the Best Western Plus Cavalier Oceanfront Resort, which is on the beach side of the highway. Most of the rooms have ocean views, the beach is right on the doorstep, and the staff light log fires outside in the evenings. A glass of bubbly by an open fire was the perfect way to toast the close of a memorable family adventure.