It’s a beautiful sunny day, big marshmallowy clouds are floating by, waves are crashing and my kids are playing happily by the ocean. Sounds like malarky – I know, especially to a Calgarian (what, no snow?, its April!!) but this is how our spring vacation to Orange County California rolled out. We started our Californian adventure with a tour through the small town of Laguna Beach. Staying at the Pacific Edge Hotel, we had an ocean view room that even our kids found more interesting than the tv. With just a few quick steps past the restaurant and outdoor pool, we landed on the famous Laguna Beach – and, no word of a lie – dolphins swam past as if to greet us. My kids went bananas – so did my husband and I.
The Pacific Edge Hotel is an older hotel that has been recently restored, but its real claim to fame is that it is the setting for the movie “Endless Summer”, made by Bruce Brown, a notorious surfing movie that inspired a whole generation of surfers and people who traveled the world to surf. Although the hotel is not really set up for small children, it is ideal for the tween and teen set – especially those interested in learning to surf and becoming a part of the surfing culture.
We spent a lazy afternoon at the beach and then headed downtown for dinner and the weekly Art Walk where all of the local art galleries open their doors with food, wine and music for tourists and locals alike. If you are a Dr. Seuss fan, this area is especially interesting. Dr. Seuss lived in this area, was inspired by the local trees, which he included in many of his stories, and many if his original works continue to be on display. Check out the House of Big Fish and Cold Beer – where – you guessed it – you will find cold beer, big fish and reasonable rates on great food with an ocean view.
The next morning we traveled to Huntington Beach which feels a bit like walking onto a movie set. All of the iconic images of the long strips of beach, the life guard towers and the flocks of pelicans, come to life in this area. In Huntington Beach, we stayed at the Regency Hyatt Huntington Beach Resort and Spa – one of the nicest resorts I have ever seen. With a spa boasting over 20,000 square feet of space that calls to every woman in the place, and rooms with ocean views and poolside restaurants, we would have been happy to move in. The Regency Hyatt Huntington Beach also has pool areas for kids with slides, wading pools, hot tubs and lifeguards – and yes, moms – you could read a book while the kids played and you drank mojitos.
If you are interested in becoming enmeshed in the surfer culture, the resort has onsite surfing lessons at Toes on the Noes surf shop, with equipment, and knowledgeable instructors with floppy blond hair and Californian dialects (yes, I mean he talked like ‘Crush’ the sea turtle in Finding Nemo, we were calling each other ‘dude’ and saying ‘chya’ for the next week.
For those who traveled to California in the past, and especially those families traveling to the Disney Resort, the 3 hour flight was never an issue, it was the 1.5 hour bus ride to the property once you had landed, worked your way through LAX and got the kids to the nearest toilet and vending machine that gave you grey hair. Westjet has just launched a new flight landing in the John Wayne Airport which shaves almost an hour off that bus trip to the Disney property – a godsend for those travelling with little ones.
And you can’t hit California without hitting the Disneyland Resort and The Disney Californian Adventure Park. Those of you who know me, know that I am the biggest Disney fan out there. I love the parks, the paraphenalia, the food and the business model. There is nothing about Disneyland that I don’t like – except maybe the busride from LAX. With that being fixed, even the most travel timid parent can brave Disneyland.
If you are traveling with little ones, especially those most interested in Fantasyland, I would recommend staying at the Disneyland Hotel, it is the original Disney hotel, still has a lot of Walt’s fingerprints throughout, and it was recently renovated. It is a quick walk to the Disneyland tram, it has a great pool, easy access to character meals at Goofy’s Kitchen and most magically, the headboards in the room light up in twinkly little lights and sing you to sleep with “When You Wish Upon A Star”.
If you have kids who are interested in the wild rides and the funkiness of 1950’s California, check out the Disney Grand Californian Hotel and Spa. With access to Disney Californian Adventure Park on the grounds, it makes for incredibly easy access to our favourite rides “California Soarin”, the Grizzly Rive Run and is moments from the viewing area for “World of Colour” the new light and water display launched this past Christmas – and if you can’t say it made you cry you are lying!
Obviously heading to California isn’t too hard to really enjoy but I have to say, this was one of the best trips we have ever had. It combined some easy beach time for us with the kids as well as the amazing excitement of Disneyland. If you are looking for more information on traveling to Orange County, check out www.anaheimoc.org and of course www.disneyland.ca for all things mouse related.
– Kathryn Bechtold