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 🙂

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🙂

Beaches · Hiking · Travel · Travel with tots · Vacations

Columbia River Gorge and Mt. Hood – Day trip from Portland

We spent a few days in gorgeous Portland this September and while there’s plenty to do in Portland for first timer visitors, we wanted to drive to the Gorge and explore surrounding areas. If you’ve been following the blog, you’ll know how excited my munchkin gets on spotting waterfalls, and there are plenty of those along the historic Columbia River scenic byway so he was pretty excited about heading out even though we woke him up early. We told him that after the waterfall hike, we’ll try and head to the Hood River beach for a lunch picnic and he was all excited for the drive and the long day ahead of us. We left from downtown Portland early in the morning – a quick spot to pick up coffee and we hit the gorge area before the crowds got in. Unfortunately, it was drizzling for the first hour or so of our trip, so we weren’t able to take advantage of the early start. It got much better as the day progressed and by the time we reached Mt. Hood, the weather was gorgeous too! Although its best to spend a day each at Mt. Hood, but if you are in a time crunch and are trying to fit in both in a day trip, here’s a recommended day itinerary.

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Mt. Hood from Timberland Lodge

Vista House at Crown PointOur first stop was at the Vista House observatory. It had amazing views of the Gorge even on a drizzling morning. I can imagine it being picture perfect on a bright sunny morning.

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Columbia River Gorge – Waterfalls HikesAfter leaving from the Vista House, we headed to Latourell Falls. Its a pretty short hike to the base of the falls and can be easily done with a toddler. Our next stop was Multonomah Falls, and finding parking there was a nightmare because they are the most famous falls along the loop being the second tallest in the US. If you are short on time, and don’t plan on hiking to the top of the falls, I would skip going up to the bridge and rather pick a hike to Wahcleella which is toddler friendly.

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Bridge of Gods, Cascade LocksBridge of Gods spans across the river connecting Oregon and Washington and we decided to drive on the steel truss instead of getting out since it had started drizzling again.

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Bonneville Lock and DamThis was an unplanned spot, but we found out there was an option of spotting fish through the fish ladder at the Bonneville Dam and N wanted to see some “fishies”. A pleasant stop to spot some fish :).

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Historic Columbia River Gorge HotelAnother unplanned stop was at the Historic River Gorge Hotel. This is a nice place to sit, sipping coffee and enjoying the spectacular views of the river.

Waterfront Park at Hood River – The best stop of our day trip: This was an absolute gem. Away from the crowds, more popular with the locals, the Waterfront Park has a nice sand beach with shallow waters for swimming. Hood River is THE place for windsurfing and kitesurfing in Oregon and Waterfront Park is THE place to watch the windsurfers and kitesurfers. Plenty of restaurants at walking distance from the park for lunch and some food trucks if you want to do a picnic lunch at the beach. There are breathtaking views of the gorge from this park. Ideally, you could easily spend an entire day here.

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Timberline Lodge at Mt. HoodAfter a late afternoon lunch, we headed to Mt. Hood. En route are plenty of orchards for apple picking, but our kiddo was napping so we decided to head directly to Timberline Lodge. If you are headed to Mt Hood post lunch, don’t forget to stop for some freshly baked goodies at one of the orchards/bakeries on your way. The route itself is quite scenic. After spending some time at the Timberline Lodge, we headed up the hiking trail. N was excited to climb the mountain. Although it was chilly, he had the energy to pace up the trail.

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Timberline Lodge has picturesque views of Mt. Hood and it was worth every bit of it. We headed back to downtown Portland after a wonderful day in the gorge and Mt. Hood! We did spend a lot more days in downtown Portland, but this day trip was a highlight of our mini vacation for my son – waterfalls, swimming at the beach, sand play, climbing mountains (well, for him that’s what it is even though it’s barely a mile or half of climbing :)). Can’t ask for more, right?

Beaches · Travel · Travel with tots · Vacations

Riviera Maya and Cancun diaries: Toddler calls it home!

Kids look forward to birthdays, and when its a week of celebration with sun, beach and sand, its’ likely they’ll never want the celebration to end. Last year for Thanksgiving, we planned a trip to Cancun to celebrate N’s second birthday. After our week long trip in the Mayan Riviera, when we were packing bags to head back, my toddler tells me ‘I like this home, I don’t want to go back to the other home! Can we stay here?’ I told him we will be back when he grows up a little, but it was a trip he talked about for a long time after coming back. And going back to day care after the vacation was not easy. I don’t remember him calling any other vacation spot that we’ve been to as ‘home’ so I have a feeling he had a blast!

We decided to stay in Riviera Maya over Cancun because of its proximity to few of the attractions we had planned for our trip. Here are highlights from our trip – things that we were able to do with a 2 year old in Mayan Riviera.

Private tour to Chichén Itzá, Valladolid and Ik Kil Cenote: We opted for the private tour to Chichen Itza over guided group tours, since its a 2 hour drive from the resort area and it definitely makes sense to go there early to avoid the crowds and pick your stops, especially when you have a toddler with you. This option also gives you a chance of stopping for tequila tasting that most guided tours don’t offer. Within Chichen Itza, we decided to stick to a route and missed out on going all the way to the Sacred Cenote, but were able to cover a lot of the ruins. The trails are stroller friendly and that was a huge help :). The town of Valladolid is vibrant and reminded us of the streets of Old San Juan in Puerto Rico! We did go to the Ik Kil Cenote but it was quite deep and decided against jumping in with our 2 year old. But if you are traveling without kids, its a great way to cool of the humidity. We saw several folks diving in!

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Dolphin Interaction: There are plenty of eco-parks in the area including Xel-Ha which offer activities for older kids, but we opted to visit the Dolphin discovery center at our resort for an interactive tour since its more suitable for younger kids. My son really enjoyed his encounter with Plata – the dolphin. He was hesitant at first but then did not want to come out of the water.

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Mayan Ruins of Tulum: A trip to the Mayan Riviera is not complete without a visit to the ruins in Tulum, so we opted for a half day group tour of Tulum since it was only 30 minutes from our resort. The beach at Tulum is one of the best! Though we didn’t carry a hiking carrier with us so were not able to explore the entire area within the allocated tour time! If there’s an option drive there instead of the tour so you can explore as well as spend quality time at the beach.

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Sand castles and serenity of white sand beaches: Nothing excites my 2.5 year old more than a sand pit, so the resort’s beach was a perfect way for us to relax at the beach while he immersed himself in the sand.

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Pool fun, especially if you have a water baby like mine :): I can see why staying at all inclusive resorts is a great idea after you have a baby.  With more than 5 pools with plenty of kiddie areas and water slides, we couldn’t get enough of pool fun! Seriously, if we had an extra day or 2 there, I would have opted to have him in the pool rather than going any place else because being in the pool brings out a mile wide smile on his face every single time he splashes in the pool!!!

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And much, much more: Carousels, shopping, eating, kids club, vibrant statues and Christmas decorations – These were all part of our trip but my memory fades! Looking at the pictures makes me feel very nostalgic 🙂

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What we saved for a later trip: We got great valuable input from the resort staff and they suggested saving XCaret, Xplor, snorkeling at Akumal and Coba ruins for a later trip since those are more suitable for slightly older kids, especially if you want to enjoy majority of the attractions.

I know the kiddo is not going to remember his second birthday blast except for the pictures and videos, but it was a good one! M and I will surely cherish it :).

Beaches · Travel · Vacations

A lazy weekend at Bodega Bay, California

I have missed writing and can’t express how happy I am back doing things that make me who I am – blogging being one of them. For all those of you who messaged/emailed/asked when my next blog entry was going to be, here it is! Thank you for being patient and making me pick it up again. A lot has changed around me since my last entry so I figured a new theme and appearance to the blog was in order too. Change is indeed the only constant!

Well, I am picking up blogging again after more than a year of lazing around, so I am going to start with an entry on my lazy weekend getaway last year with the best people I have the pleasure of knowing – My family :).  With an active toddler in the tow, VRBO offers the  best options when picking for a place to stay in my opinion. So, we booked a lovely hill top home with great views of Bodega Bay.

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Views from Bodega Head

 

Staying at Dubloon was the best decision of the trip. The glass doors have great views of the ocean and the deck has views of the green patches of hills. Although it was a little cold when we went, the house was quite cozy and fully stacked up with necessities. We went with my parents and sister and they absolutely loved it. The house is not baby proof or baby friendly, so we had to move a few things around to allow ample of playing space for my son and carry everything that was needed for him. Nevertheless, it was in an excellent location – close to the beach, close to restaurants as well as a gas station! I did not post a lot of pictures of the house, but check out their VRBO link, the owner has plenty posted there.

The whole idea of the trip was a relaxing family retreat, but here’s a quick list of toddler approved things that we did on our Bodega Bay trip.

Whale watching at Bodega Head : This was a mere co-incidence, but we were glad to spot a couple of grey whales at Bodega Head during their southbound migration. They were extremely far off, so we never managed to get good pictures, but my dad was the most excited – I am sending him whale watching at Monterey Bay on his next trip :D. I don’t know if I can handle all the sea sickness but he’ll be up for it. I know the whales are much closer to the Bodega Bay shore during the north bound migration which happens during the months of March through June, so spring would be another great time to visit. I can see why Bodega Head is such a popular spot of the Sonoma Coast State Beach. Breathtaking views in all directions and the vastness makes it serene. In spite of it getting colder, we made sure to stay for the sunset before heading back to our villa.

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Doran Beach : Bodega bay has a bird walk coastal access area that we were able to check out. It was quite foggy and not a lot of birds but may be summery and non-foggy days are better. Doran beach is also a great area to hangout with a kid who loves playing in the sand and making destroying sandcastles 😉

There’s plenty of stuff to do at Bodega Bay but our favorites were playing in the sand, watching whales (which we did not expect on our trip) and spending quality time with people that matter most.