Santa Monica Pier: A Birthday Party Venue That’s a Bash for All Ages

In Los Angeles kid’s birthday parties can be full-on productions that can take months to plan and cost thousands of dollars to put on, even when the guest are preschoolers.  Whether you are a do-it-yourself party planner or you prefer a catered affair, you can host the perfect party, by just following a bit of expert advice to throw a party that is right for you and your child.


For those who don’t have the time and energy to plan a party, there are many children’s party venues in Los Angeles that do it all for parents, from the invitations and decorations, to the food, cake and drinks, to the all-important entertainment, and finally party favors.


Santa Monica’s Pacific Park is one favorite local venue for kid’s parties that offers a unique setting with amenities that appeal to both children and parents. The park offers built-in entertainment with thrill rides geared for little ones to adults as well as arcade games in an exciting beach-side outdoor atmosphere.  The park offers seaside cabanas for rent, and they provide a dedicated attendant for each party, so that parents can actually enjoy the party with their children instead of playing host and worrying about preparing and serving food, refreshing drinks and cutting the cake.


Party packages begin at $27 per child and include an hour and a half in a semi-private cabana, custom invitations, unlimited rides all day for the kids, a personal visit from the park’s octopus mascot, Inkie, a special gift for the birthday child, decorations, set-up and clean up and all the kids meals from a menu of favorite party foods with unlimited beverages.

You can add on to packages, which go up to $55 per child, to include items such as popcorn, cotton candy and ice cream treats; plush Inkie-toy party favors; ride wristbands for adults; game bucks for the arcade; group and Ferris wheel photos; themed party decorations with tablecloths, napkins, plates, party hats, blowers and cups; and to make the birthday child feel like a real VIP, your child’s name can appear in lights on the famed Santa Monica Pier Ferris wheel.  A real party helper, you can bring your own cake, and with few restrictions, you may bring in outside catering for adult attendees.  For details, go to


Party planning expert, Jeanne Benedict, best known for her program “Weekend Entertaining” on the Do It Yourself Network and who has offered party tips on “Live with Regis & Kelly” and “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” offers several ideas for your preschooler birthday bash.

“Hot dogs and pizza win big with this age,” says Benedict. Don’t forget healthy options as well.  Fresh fruit or veggies such as carrots balance the sweets and keep the parents happy. Be sure to have plenty of water on hand, especially if it is a hot day.”



When everyone leaves, they can all receive a goody bag with items like candy, a clown nose, big sunglasses or super balls.

For a successful party from beginning to end, whether you plan it all yourself or let a caterer do the work, timing is a key factor.

“A party for preschool children should last two hours at most with a number of planned activities. Designate the first half hour as the arrival time, which allows the children to get acclimated to their surroundings,” says Benedict.  “The next hour should be comprised of an organized activity or entertainment. The last half hour should be when the cake is served and goody bags are handed out before the party ends.”

You should consider not just the flow of events to keep the party going, but also the day of the week and the time of day for a party for young children, who can get cranky when they are off their schedules.

“Because parents often work during the week, weekend parties allow for the majority of invitees to attend,” says Benedict.  “Another suggestion is a dinner-time party, which encourages the adults to socialize.”

 With the proper planning, your child’s party will be a celebration to remember long after the candles are blown out, and you’ll be the one who takes the cake.

Santa Monica on Dwellable

Celebrating Santa Monica: Beach City Shows off its Style at Annual Festival


Ladder ball was one of many free activities for kids



The Santa Monica Festival in Clover Park on May 20 was very … Santa Monica.  The 21-year-old event celebrated the dynamic culture of the beach city with an array of gourmet food trucks, a stage of eclectic musical acts and performances, and plenty of arts, crafts and eco-friendly and educational booths.


Gourmet food trucks had offerings for every taste, including those who crave shaved ice


For kids there were free games and activities, like ladder ball; interactive yoga, fitness and dance demonstrations; and lots of crafts tables to make cool things with recycled and reclaimed materials, like a Wizard of Oz-style tree my son fashioned from a paper bag and colored paper scraps.  A super fun feature for my son was the Santa Monica trash truck demonstration which allowed kids to sit in the cab to operate the mechanical arm and honk the horn.  Of course there was also the play structure in the center of the park.


Kids could make art from recycled materials, like a tree fashioned from a paper bag and rubber bands


Even the minimalistic white booths and tents had an eco-clean look, with minimal signage and décor.  Participants ranged from booths on Santa Monica destinations like Annenberg Community Beach House (who knew they have $1 Mondays?) and displays that shared tips on how to be sustainable, with a photo booth sponsored by SnapYourself, and information on the various arts and wellness programs in Santa Monica, and some that combine both, like reDiscover Centers Yoga & Art Camp.  Everything was spaced out to allow for ample walking-about room as well as open grassy areas places where festival goers could hang out or picnic.


Fitness demos with kettleballs challenged festival goers to show thier strength


Food was a main attraction with a variety of food trucks, with everything from crepes and falafel sandwiches to shaved ice, and a stage show of Santa Monica’s best chefs, including Executive Chef Nyesha Arrington of Wilshire Restaurant, Executive Chef John-Carlos Kuramoto of Michael’s Santa Monica and Executive Chef Alex Moreno or Border Grill Santa Monica.


The event was a hit, well-attended, well-produced and held in an ideal venue that was spacious and well-suited for the event, complete with shady picnic tables and plenty of room to roam about, and the weather was made-to-order– a perfect sunny and warm Santa Monica summer afternoon with occasional cool crisp ocean breezes, all adding up to a great day, Santa Monica style.

Save it for a Rainy Day: A Guide to Weathering LA’s Wet Winters

May showers bring spring flowers, and also a lot of gloomy days.  In sunny LA, where local meteorologists call any atmospheric conditions outside of 69 degrees and sunny “bad weather,” many denizens get a bit down when rain comes down. 

For those prone to cabin fever, here’s a short list of the gear and supplies you’ll need along with a Plan B of activities for you and your family to weather the weather.

Lighten Up 


Be ready if the power goes out.  Every self-respecting Angeleno has an emergency preparedness kit stashed away at home, with a basic flashlight, batteries, duct tape, bandages, yadda, yadda, yadda; but you can do yours one better with  the compact Verilux ReadyLight LED Lantern.  It illuminates 70 lumens of bright natural spectrum light, and its long-life battery can be recharged via USB or with an optional wall socket charger.  Operates with a touch brightness control. and at retail locations nationwide.


Baby its Cold Outside

Nothing’s worse on rainy days than being cooped up inside, except being cooped up inside with a stir crazy baby.  Grab your poncho and get outdoors for a breather with the Maclaren Quest Sport Stroller ($230 and up).  They don’t call it an umbrella stroller for nothin’.  It features a water resistant hood and a rain cover with a viewing window so tiny tikes stay happy and dry inside.  Keep them super cozy with an optional Footmuff ($59 and up).  Go to or for more information or to locate a retailer near you.

Winter Cleaning

Why wait for spring to spruce up?  Give those hard floors a shine to brighten up a gray day, but save your knees, and give the Hoover FloorMate a spin.  It’s a vacuum, it’s a mop, it’s a super machine!  This dandy three-in-one cleaner picks up loose dirt, washes and scrubs the floor and then dries it.   Perfect for quick clean ups when the kids track in mud for the fourth time in a day.  $149.  Retailers nationwide or

Hot Spot


Southern California homes just weren’t built for cold, wet weather, but you don’t have to blast the heat throughout the house to keep cozy.  Fire up the Bionaire Tower Ceramic Heather, a sleek compact portable heater that quickly warms a room with a powerful  oscillating fan.  And you can adjust the temperature while you stay cuddled on the couch with the remote control.  $69.99. Home Depot.


Brave New Wet World

When the streets are wet in LA, it’s comparable to a blizzard in New York.  People stay home, which can be a good thing, since many Angelenos have no idea how to drive on slick pavement, but it’s also a great chance to visit some exciting indoor venues you might never otherwise explore.

Take advantage of being in the entertainment capital of the nation.  Go to a live taping of a show at one of the studios around Hollywood; catch a play at one of the countless hidden treasure black-box theatres around town, like the Complex on Santa Monica Boulevard or the LGBT community CelebrationTheatre on Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood; or make a day of movie watching at the ArcLight Cinemas in Hollywood where you can get a bite and take in a flick under the same roof.

If you’ve been sitting around the house all day and can’t bear sitting around anywhere anymore, get off your behind and get to one of the many indoor active play places in LA.  Bowl a few games at one of the many classic bowling alleys around LA, like the AMF Bay Shore Lanes in Santa Monica, where you feel like you just popped back into the 50s for some wholesome family fun; or get a rainy day pass to the LA Athletic Club in downtown Los Angeles, where you can work out, shoot some hoops, swim laps or check out daily classes including kickboxing, dance aerobics and private climbing lessons on the rock climbing wall; or check out one of the many local indoor kid hot spots, besides the one ruled by the big rodent, like Under the Sea in Beverly Hills or Culver City, or Adventure Plex in Manhattan Beach, or there’s always the freebie mall play area at Westside Pavilion where kids can romp on a giant hotdog and spilled shake overlooking the food court.


Don’t let the damp weather put a damper on your days.  In the city where’s there’s always something to do, places to go and someone to see, you can still do it all, in a rain slicker.

Win a Mommy & Me Portrait or Family Portrait

Please vote for “Favorite Headshot Photographer” Sara Corwin, who takes incredible Mommy & Me pics:  After you vote, like Sara Corwin Photography’s FB page and enter to win a family portrait ($395 value) or a headshot ($345 value), includes hair styling and makeup! Vote now, contest ends Friday May 11!

Photo by Sara Corwin Photography


Aarrh, Pirates of Caribbean Actors Help Save Cal Parks

Little Kid’s Chest: Attendees at a Pirates of the Caribbean screening to benefit California parks were treated to a booty of candy and jewels

Pirates actor Martin “Marty” Kleeba poses with Stephen at a fundraising reception at Paramount Studios

I had no idea that one of my favorite parks in Southern California, Leo Carrillo State Park, was the backdrop for many scenes of Pirates of the Caribbean 1 & 2 and one of my fave movies of all time, Grease.  The iconic boulder cliffs and sandy beaches — as well as the forests and mountains — of many of California parks have served as everything from the future Earth in Planet of the Apes to the shores of France in The Iron Mask.  I also did not know that our state’s 279 parks are monumentally underfunded and that 70 of them face closure without immediate donations from individuals and corporations.


The California State Parks Foundation has made it their mission to make park lovers across California aware of the grievous situation so that the parks on the closure list may be saved.  The organization’s recent ParkFilmFest, held at Paramount Studios, is one annual event that has helped raise funds for the effort, by hosting mini movie festivals of films where California state parks have played a starring role.

Some nice pirates from the Pirate of the Caribbean movies — and good-sports who obliged every fan with a chorus of “Arrgh!” pose with Stephen

On May 5, the Foundation hosted screenings of Pirates of the Caribbean 1, 2 & 3 at Paramount, where supporters of the state parks enjoyed seeing the films in a state-of-the-art theatre with complimentary refreshments, a VIP reception, and a fun environment where audience members dressed in pirate garb and actors from the films appeared between films to talk about their roles and give autographs to fans, with ticket sales befitting the Foundation to support parks.   

Staff from the Califonria State Parks Foundation event gather for a photo with Stephen

It was a terrific event, though sparsely attended, signaling the need for more people to get the message that our parks need their help now. 

Our friendly tram ride guide showed us the town, a fake New York that is, and the other sets on the lot of Paramount Studios

Living in the city of Los Angeles where there is very little open space, our treasured parks are for most of us the only place where we can enjoy the outdoors – surfing in the ocean, flying a kite, playing ball games, boating, fishing and picnicking.  We just assume that someone is taking care of these parks and that they will always be around for us to visit, but this is not the case.  Everyone’s help is needed if our parks are to stay open and accessible to the public.  To find out more about what you can do to help, go to

Actor Isaac C. Cingleton (Bo’Sun) from Pirates of the Caribbean shows that even a big actor has time for his little fans

Pirates of the Caribbean actors Martin “Marty” Klebba, and Tyler Tuione ride with Stephen on a tram around the Paramount lot

Think and Swim: Swimming Lessons Save Kids Lives

Learning to swim is fun for kids, but more importantly, learning to swim can save a child’s life. 

Before my son was 18 months, he had already fallen into our backyard pool three times.  Each time I was within arm’s length of him and plucked him out within seconds, but each instance was alarming. 

The last accident, he dipped a bucket in the pool to fill it, and the weight pulled him into the water headfirst, I was standing beside him.  I reached down to pull him out, but he sank instead of bobbing up as I expected.  In an instant, I jumped in and grabbed him.  As I sat at the pool’s edge, gasping for air in my panic, holding my terrified coughing child across my lap, I shuddered to think what could have happened if I had not been right there. 

As if the event itself wasn’t frightening enough to brand itself on my memory forever, my Blackberry phone, which had been in my pocket, burned a rectangular patch on my leg when the wet battery shorted out.  It was my wakeup call.  My son needed to learn how to swim.

Proper Instruction is Key to Swim Safety

Lucky for us, we live near the Westside Jewish Community Center, home to the Lenny Krayzelburg Swim Academy (, founded by a four-time Olympic gold medalist Lenny Krayzelburg.  The academy hosts year-round learn-to-swim programs for children of all ages and adults, either one-on-one with an instructor or in a class.

The academy utilizes the SwimRight swim-float-swim technique as the foundation for learning to swim.  The method focuses on providing children with confidence and safety in and around the water. 

Choose the Type of Lesson that Suits Your Child

For infants and students under the age of three who require 100 percent supervision, the academy offers private lessons with one instructor per student.  The kids first learn to float on their backs.  As they advance, they are rewarded with stickers placed in swim books.  As they achieve certain milestones, they earn stickers to show they have graduated from splasher, to floater to kicker, and so on.

Another option for children under two years of age is lessons in which their parents get into the water with them to guide them through simple drills using songs and play to acclimate them to water and to teach them the basic survival back float.

More experienced students over three years of age who are able to follow directions can enter classes of up to four students per instructor.  After basic skills are mastered, students learn the four strokes of freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly.

Mission Accomplished:  Swim Confidence

After one year of lessons, my son now can dive into the water, paddle across our 25-foot pool and swim to the bottom in five feet of water to retrieve toys. If he ever gets tired, he rolls onto his back and floats, like second nature.  Though I still never let him swim out of reach, I have confidence, as does he, that he knows how to be safe in the water.

Suit Up for Swimming

To keep swimming enjoyable and exciting, instructors recommend suiting up children in in the proper swimming gear so that they stay warm, comfortable and enthused. 

FINIS ( a Northern California swim gear company founded by competitive water polo player John Mix and Olympic Gold Medal Swimmer Pablo Morales, offers quality child-sized swimwear and gear that meets the founder’s mission, “To motivate every person in the world to swim better, swim often, and train smarter.”

For the beginning swimmer, here are some basic items they may need, all available at FINIS.

  • ·         UPF 50+ snug polyester swim diapers ($9.99) which work better than disposables;
  • ·         a Swim Vest ($24.99) to aid with water confidence;
  • ·         leak-proof kid-sized Nitro or H2 Jr. Goggles (both $11.99) designed for small faces;
  • ·         adjustable zero-buoyancy Fishtail Fins Junior ($31.99) to aid with kicking without influencing the natural body position;
  • ·         fitted Jammer shorts ($31.99) for swimming and play;
  • ·         Swim Brief ($27.99) for wearing under one-piece rashies;
  • ·         and a Thermal Swim Shirt ($49.99) – just like the ones instructors at the swim academy wear —  to keep little ones warm so they will swim longer. 

For the mom who gets in the water with kids but doesn’t want to worry about clinging kids tugging off her bikini, FINIS’s popular women’s Skinback suit ($49.99) looks good, fits snugly but comfortably and is made from Aqua Tuff material that resists fading in chlorine.

Once a child has the knowledge, skills and gear to feel safe and confident in the water, the swim experience is more relaxed for the child and parents.  Children can learn to swim as infants – in fact the Lenny Krayzelburg Swim Academy has taught students as young as three weeks old.  The earlier children get in the water the easier it is for them to learn to swim and begin a life-long activity that the family can enjoy together for fitness and fun.



Support Parks and Pirates: Paramount Studios Hosts Fundraising Event for California Parks

Movie Marathon on May 5 Will Screen First Three “Pirates of the Caribbean” Films

 Ticket Sales to Offset Budget Cuts Threatening All California State Parks Including the 70 Parks Slated to Close 

California State Parks Foundation (CSPF) and the Environmental Media Association (EMA) are pleased to present the 2012 ParkFilm Fest. The lineup for the third annual ParkFilm Fest consists of back-to-back screenings of the first three Pirates of the Caribbean films— The Curse of the Black Pearl, Dead Man’s Chest, and At World’s End. The film festival will be held at Paramount Studios in Los Angeles on Saturday, May 5, 2012 and will raise much-needed funds for California’s state parks which are being threatened by budget cuts. With 70 state parks slated for closure on July 1, CSPF is dedicated to helping keep these parks open, accessible, and protected while a sustainable financial future is sought.


A family-friendly event, ParkFilm Fest will be complete with food-trucks as well as multiple activities to engage both kids and adults. Also on site will be a select group of actors and filmmakers from the trilogy who will participate in a special Q&A. The ParkFilm Fest 2012 Celebrity Host Committee includes Lance Bass, Ed Begley, Jr., Emmanuelle Chriqui, Frances Fisher, Daryl Hannah, Wendie Malick and Amy Smart. Guests are encouraged to come dressed as a pirate or their favorite character from the films.

“We’re incredibly proud to be holding our third annual ParkFilm Fest,” said President of CSPF Elizabeth Goldstein. “State parks are an integral part of California’s history, as much as they are a part of the entertainment industry’s history. Our film festival will help keep these beloved state parks open—so that their beauty can continue to be enjoyed by our children and grandchildren.”

The ParkFilm Fest celebrates the long-lasting relationship between the film industry and California’s state parks. For almost 90 years, California’s motion picture industry and, more recently, its television industry, have used state parks for filming locations. The state parks have been the stage for dinosaurs to roam, Robin Hood’s Sherwood Forest, the burning deserts of Egypt, the old South of Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara, a dusty frontier street with a beleaguered sheriff, and future worlds where apes were the dominant species or an evil empire sought to control the galaxy. This historical partnership continues to this day, providing both worldwide entertainment and great economic benefit to California.

Films showcased at previous ParkFilm Fest include: Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Planet of the Apes, Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi and M*A*S*H.

To buy tickets to ParkFilm Fest, and help keep California state parks thriving, please visit and click on the logo for ParkFilm Fest.