Beaches · Hiking · Travel · Travel with tots · Vacations

A weekend in Mammoth Lakes

Trips that are not planned often turn out to be the most memorable ones :). We badly wanted to get away for some uninterrupted family time so this past long weekend we made a last minute decision to drive up to Mammoth Lakes. We knew we may hit a few thunderstorms, and some chilly weather but we were desperate to go to a place away from the crowds. Our only goal was to get in quality family time and we couldn’t have been happier with how the weekend at Mammoth panned out. From biking to beaches to hiking, Mammoth Lakes has plenty to offer for adults and kids alike. Here’s some of our picks that would make a Mammoth Lakes a great family getaway!

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Biking the Lake Basin Path  My 4 year old is learning how to bike with his training wheels and we took his bike with us thinking we’ll find a trail where he can bike, the only glitch was that because the trip was unplanned, we had no idea that we weren’t going to be able to keep the promise of letting him bike on his own! When we got our bike rentals, we realized that our tot wasn’t ready to bike the slopes of Mammoth so we rented a trailer and took the free shuttle all the way to Pokonobe Lodge (we skipped Horseshoe lake since we hiked there the previous day). We drove our bikes downhill (thankfully) about 4.5 miles making various stops (Lake Mary, Lava Tube Lookout, Tamarack Lodge, lunch stop at Twin Lakes and all way down the bike path back to Mammoth Village). I guess at the end of our half day bike adventure, my son realized that the trailer was way better than riding his own bike.

June Lake Beach Fun Sand, shallow waters, sunshine and spectacular views is what you get by taking the 20 minute drive to June Lake! It was a perfect relaxing afternoon to help us wind down from the biking around the Lake Basin that morning 😉 Don’t forget to take a swimming costume if you are making the trip in summer, June Lake is one of the  few swimmable lakes in the area.

Horseshoe Lake Picnic Hike – Our first morning in Mammoth Lakes, we wanted to pick a hike that would be easy for our toddler so we choose McLeod Lake. Unfortunately the trail to McLeod Lake was covered in a bit of snow, so we turned around half way on the trail and decided to hang out by Horseshoe Lake. From Lake Mamie to Twin Falls Overlook, there are plenty of picturesque spots on that particular part of Lake Basin path to just sit and relax.

Inyo Crater HikeIt’s a happy moment when your toddler tells you the day after the hike to see the 2 craters that he “really enjoyed going up the mountain to see the crater”, and that “it was really fun” and that “we should find more craters and hike up the mountain to see them”! I think it’s the time of the year we made the trip, the trail hardly had any crowd. My son boasts that he completed the hike on his own, making it special for us ;). To be honest, he did make us carry him for a short time on the way back downhill, but the fact that he would like more of these is music to our ears 😀

Hot Creek Geothermal Site / Hatchery – About 10 minutes from Mammoth Lakes is a hot creek geothermal site, which also has a trout hatchery. The colorful landscape made it a fun downhill walk and a quick halt in the evening after our coffee break.

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Hot creek geothermal site

Mono Lake South Tufas On our way back home, we decided to hike the South Tufa trail at Mono Lake. This was my toddler’s least favorite part of the trip because he couldn’t go inside the water like June Lake beach, but nevertheless, adding the word Tufa to his vocabulary was the highlight of our hour long stop. It’s certainly worth a stop for the older kids and adults who are able to understand and appreciate the science behind the tufas.

Since we made the trip end of May, Devils post pile was closed and some of the other hikes family friendly hikes like McLeod Lake were covered with snow, so we’ll save that for another fall trip some year. But all in all, we thoroughly enjoyed our much needed family getaway 🙂

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Beaches · Travel · Travel with tots · Vacations

Dubai Diaries – The First Edition

Dedicated to Vidhi and Abhishek

Chapter One: Sibling Love 😉

We have transited through Dubai multiple times over the years en route to India, but this year was the first time we decided to take a halt, for the sake of sibling love :). Although our stay was a short one, meeting my sister after a whole long year made it worth every bit. Needless to say, my son was excited to meet his “masi” (mom’s sister) and “masa” (mom’s sister’s husband) and I am glad we were able to get some family time before we got back to the grind.

 

Chapter Two: The “tall tower” attraction

My 4-year-old loves reading his big book about the world, and one of his favorite pages in the book is the one with a picture of “Burj Khalifa” – which he calls the “tall tower”. He was very excited about the Dubai trip because he knew he was going to visit the tallest tower in the world. And because Burj Khalifa is a bit much to pronounce, we just call it the “tall tower” in the house. Right from the first glimpses during the car ride home to watching it from my sister’s terrace to ascending in the fastest elevator to get to the 124th floor, it was the highlight of kiddo’s Dubai trip.

 

Chapter Three: Sand and water

Masa and masi wanted to bond quickly with N and they picked the perfect location for our first outing – the beach. Apart from sand and water, cherry on top of the cake was the attraction of finding sea shells on the beach. We also spotted plenty of folks kite surfing at the Jebel Ali beach. (Hoping I got the name right!)

 

Chapter Four: Meeting a friend after ages

Nothing like meeting a friend from school after years. I met up with a very close friend and her family after ages. Although we just had a few days in Dubai, I was glad we managed to pick a kid friendly activity for mine and her toddler. Dubai Safari had just opened, although we did not get tickets to the wild animal park, the kids had fun spotting some of the other animals.

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Chapter Five: Being touristy

Since it was our first trip to Dubai, we had to have a bit of touristy flair, so signed up for the desert safari. It was indeed a full package – 15 minute off-roading adventure in the sand dunes, a camel ride, a horse ride, falcon on the hand, climbing up the mountains, watching the sun set, barbecue dinner and ending with belly dancing performances and a fire show. The fire show was a huge hit with the toddler. We were surprised he made through the 6 hour thing without fussing.

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Sunset – Desert Safari

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Chapter Six: Foodies and the philosophy of live to eat

Yes, there has to be mention about food, the diaries would be incomplete without that. My brother-in-law has a list of 10 restaurants to try out in Dubai, although we only went to one in that list, we did try and bunch of other things which are worth a mention here.

 

  • The dessert that is famous in this desert land – Kanafeh
  • Zafran tea (Saffron tea with a hint of cardamom) at Filli Cafe

    Chapter Seven: Old town Dubai or say things that you miss out on because of the fear of those that can’t be named!

I know, I should have stopped at the title at Old town Dubai, but it’s a place beaming with feral felines and for those who have known me for a while might get a hint of what I am talking about. The plan was to visit old town, but I took a pass after a brief encounter with an old nemesis, namely the cat. Glad that my genius photographer captured a few classics for me to view 🙂

Chapter Eight: Something for the child in you

Be it the couple of hours spent at the shooting range or a January Christmas surprise or playgrounds and water fountains, or window gazing at the Dubai aquarium the trip was a perfect culmination to cover activities that made everyone happy.

 

Chapter Nine: Architecture Galore

It would be a shame if I didn’t mention the amazing structures and the skyline of Dubai. My memory fades me, and I don’t remember the names of a lot of buildings, but it is a photographer’s paradise and M would love to take a walking tour next time we are there!

Chapter Ten: Time Travel Paradox

Any of you readers want to provide time travel references? We’d love to revisit the wonderful time spent in Dubai with some of our favorites 😉 and a time travel machine would be very helpful 😀

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#withmyfavorites

To be continued…

P.S: Dubai Diaries – Second Edition will be published after our next trip with the duo. Date of publish has not been decided yet, for all I know the title could end up being something else too, depending on where we meet 🙂

Hiking · National Parks in US · Travel · Travel with tots · Vacations

Glimpses of Death Valley National Park

We have been trying to cross off one item that has been on our bucket list for quite sometime now – visit all national parks in California. So this past Spring break, we visited Death Valley National Park. With Death Valley crossed off the list, we are only one park short of visiting all national parks in the state. Death Valley NP is a very large park to cover in one trip, especially if you want to explore it in-depth and traveling with toddlers comes with its own perks, but we loved the landscape that the park has to offer. I have to admit, it was terribly hot (we went mid-April) and it is better to travel there when the temperatures are slightly lower. Nevertheless, here are glimpses from our Death Valley getaway with a list of places that are kid-friendly and easy to incorporate if you just have a couple of days to spend in the park. 

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Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes – My son loves playing in the sand, so our first stop was at Mesquite sand dunes. He carried his excavator truck and was quite excited just by the sheer amount of sand this place had! The place is huge so you can go out far or just stop close to the parking lot. We went in the morning, but considering the temperatures, it would be an awesome stop at night too considering the rave reviews for star-gazing.

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Yes, we licked the salt – Badwater Basin, Death Valley National Park

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Badwater Basin, don’t forget to lick the salt!!! – This stop is so worth covering on your first trip to the Badlands. An easy drive to the lowest point in North America (282 ft below sea level, to be precise), Badwater basin is miles and miles of white salt flats. It’s a vast ground for the kids to run around. We went there in the evening, just before sunset and the temperature was pleasant. The little research that we had done before the trip included suggestions from travelers to lick the salt at the basin and so we did :).

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On Mosaic Canyon trail

Mosaic Canyon – After spending time at the sand dunes, we headed to Mosaic Canyon since the canyons are only a couple of miles from the sand dunes. The rocks at Mosaic Canyon reminded us of Arches National Park, minus the arches of course, but the landscape does have similarities. We barely hiked the Mosaic trail, but we love to hike, and exposing our toddler to these places, even if it is for a short distance gives us hope for him to grow into liking and enjoying it as much as we do 🙂 The kiddos also picked up rocks from the trails to bring home. 

 

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Artists Drive – If you are a regular reader of my blog, it will come as no surprise that colors are an important element of me, so any trip we take, it is mandatory for us to stop all things “artistic”! That said, Artists Drive is a loop with wonderful landscape colors and can be done when the kids are sleeping, since you can just drive around in the car.

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Artist’s Drive, Death Valley National Park

Zabriskie Point – Our goal was to capture sunrise at Zabriskie considering it is very close to Furnace Creek. We made it just after sunrise, and after some persuasion managed to tag my son along the slopes for some early morning gorgeousness for the eyes!

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Zabriskie Point, Death Valley National Park
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Zabriskie Point, Death Valley National Park

Golden Canyon – Hot is the first word that comes to my mind when I think about Golden Canyon, but the hike to Golden Canyon is quite popular because the original Star Wars was filmed here. 

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Dante’s View – Most folks start their trip with a stop at Dante’s. We decided to end our’s with a stop there. Dante’s offers a grand view of the Badwater Basin, it’s the highest elevation within the park and views are quite stunning. 

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Dante’s View, Death Valley National Park

At the end of our Death Valley trip, I had about 20 lbs. of rocks that my son had gathered from the trip to bring back home for our rock garden 🙂 Death Valley’s spectacular landscape was definitely worth the trip even if it was very hot, we’ll certainly go back, but pick a better (read cooler) month for our next visit. 

Fun fact: If you are a Star Wars fanatic, this should make a great read and make you want to visit Death Valley 🙂

Travel · Travel with tots

Whale Watching in the Monterey Bay

Whale watching is a typical bullet point in many travel bucket lists that you might come across. It never made it to my bucket list because amongst many of my pet peeves, watching people throw up, that too on a boat in the middle of an ocean (TMI, I know!!)  ranks very high on the list. I suffer from terrible motion sickness, so going on a boat in choppy waters in search of one of the largest mammals was not something I would have ever signed up for.

 

 

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I must have been out of mind when I signed up for 3 to 4 hours of sea sickness and bought tickets to go whale watching with my family. I have to be honest, when we were driving to the marina in Santa Cruz, I was not looking forward to the day! We chose Stagnaro Charters based on reviews of sightings in the past week and Yelp recommendations. We checked in an hour prior to departure and reported to the marina where the crew went over a few things, including signs of what to look for when spotting whales and what other sea life we were going to spot. I was not paying a lot of attention, only hoping for the sea sickness medicine I gulped down prior to boarding the boat to work.

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Soon we were on our way in to the Monterey Bay to spot a few humpbacks. About an hour into the trip, we heard our captain point us to whale spouts and we headed closer. The whales got pretty close to the boat.

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We were fortunate enough to watch them do side flips. The photographs are only 10% of what our eyes saw. It was a great family outing. My 3.5 year was very excited to spot the abundant jelly fishes. And quite happy to meet the humpback whale from his book “Tale of a Snail and the Whale” which is a story of a snail traveling across the ocean on the tail of a humpback whale. He throughly enjoyed and so did my mom & dad. I am happy that my dad was able to cross off an item on his bucket list 🙂

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A special shout out to the amazing crew of Stagnaro Charters, they genuinely try and make it an experience for everyone on the boat.

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After spending an hour or so around those whales, the boat headed closer to the beach where we were able to chase 3 whales almost parallel to our boat!Apart from spotting 10-15 humpbacks, we also spotted the usual – sea lions, sea otters, jelly fish, plenty of birds including an albatross. After the almost 4 hour round trip, we were back to the marina. Not a single person on the boat had thrown up!!! I was holding up relatively well too 🙂

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Not only was I able to cross off a non-bucket list travel adventure but we are pretty motivated to go back to Monterey Bay in the Spring to spot some Orcas! Fortunately, our whale watching experience did not equate to 3 hours of sea sickness. While I was able to get over the pet peeve of people throwing up on a boat, I now have a “new” pet peeve – The smell of the breath of a whale and I’ll leave it just at that!

 

Hiking · Restaurants · Travel · Travel with tots · Vacations

Portland Tales: Rose city, Bridgetown, Stumptown and much more!

We’ve been in California for more than a decade now and I don’t know what took us so long to make a trip to Portland. We visited the Rose city this September and throughly enjoyed our stay there. If you missed it, we made a day trip to Columbia River Gorge and Mt. Hood but spent the rest of our trip in the heart of Portland downtown. Here are 10 highlights from our trip – FROM a first time visitor, FOR a first time visitor!!!

1. Portland Saturday market – This was our first stop, even before we checked in to the hotel. Open on the weekend (Saturday and Sunday in spite of the name), Portland Saturday Market is the place to explore for art and food lovers. Not to mention, the fountains and the bridge over the river make it a kid friendly place. What not to miss: Trying out Elephant Ears 🙂

2. Willamette Jet boat Excursions – We opted for the 2 hour Scenic Tour which covered the history of Portland’s magnificent bridges, up close view of the Willamette Falls and a lot of splashing and jet boat cruising🙂. We were skeptical on how our tot was going to do on the tour – he was excited to sit in the boat, but a little afraid when it went fast, but after the first 2 water swirls, he was screaming “Go faster”. He had a blast and we loved the experience.

3. Powell’s Books – For a family that is fond of reading, this was a gem of a find. Especially on a rainy day or later in the evening post dinner when a lot of other places have closed. The place is open until 11 pm so you can head there after an early dinner. Our munchkin refused to get out of the “libary”. No, not a typo – that’s what he calls them.

4. Coffee, anyone? – For a city that loves its coffee, it wouldn’t be fair to list everything that’s out there, but here are a few prominent stops (Stumptown Coffee Roasters, Heart Coffee Roasters, Barista) that we made to see what puts this town at the top for coffee lovers.

5. Doughnuts to go with that coffee! – We almost decided to skip our much awaited stop at Voodo Doughnuts after evaluating the time we would have to stand in those looooooonnnggg lines. But come Tuesday afternoon – a rainy working weekday we were passing by the shop and decided to stop since it seemed a reasonable 30 minute wait. Although I do wish, we would have made a stop at BlueStar Donuts. I guess, there’s always a next time 🙂

6. A stop at a brewery –  Portland’s breweries are famous for their beers and don’t rule out a stop at a brewery just because you have kids. Portland has a few family friendly breweries. We visited Laurelwood Brewing and M had a good time.

7. Food scene in Portland – While we thoroughly enjoyed most of our meals there, picks for family friendly restaurants in Portland are: Slappy cakes – Make your own pancakes! It cannot get better for a kid who likes his pancakes. Yes, we waited an hour (made a quick stop at a nearby park) for our turn and my munchkin loved it. Yakuza – This was quite a find,  the place had great ambiance and we loved it because we haven’t been to a lot of family friendly Japanese restaurants that cater to kids as well as Yakuza does. Although, I am putting Mothers Bistro on here for readers, it was an ordinary experience for us!

8. International Rose Garden – Portland is home to the oldest continuously operated public rose test garden in the United States. While, this might not attract every tourist, it’s a great family friendly stop. My son loved running around and smelling the flowers, not to mention it was a perfect place to play peek-a-boo🙂

9. Pittock Mansion – This was not on our list, but turned out that the Portland’s Children’s Museum is closed on a Tuesday and we decided to add this to our list. The place offers good 360 degree views of Portland for photographers to capture. Being an art lover, I personally enjoyed viewing Rhoda’s artwork that’s displayed at the museum.

10. Pioneer Courthouse Square, shopping and more – We also got a chance to explore Pioneer Place and areas around on our last day in Portland. Coming from California, tax-free shopping is an added benefit while visiting PDX🙂

What we missed on our list – Meal at Screendoor (we waited quite a while after deciding to head out somewhere else), Spella Cafe, Portland Children’s Museum (note to families with kids: it’s closed on a Tuesday – so plan accordingly),  more time at Powell’s and many more coffee and food stops.

Travel Portland’s website has a plethora of information for a visitors and we were able to cover a lot of things in little time because of some great suggestions from a colleague who’s a Portland local. Overall, it was a wonderful trip and we had a blast. I hope we go back again soon🙂