Lake Casitas: Camp Sweet Camp

Lake Casitas Rentals offers motor boats, paddle boats, canoes and other boats by the hour or day.


Our weekend outing to Lake Casitas was my first camping trip since Girl Scouts, and this time there was no sit-upon or mess kit.  Camping today is a first-class affair, with all the creature comforts of home to go along with all the creatures, and the rest of nature.

Adults and kids alike enjoy cruising around in a motor boat on Lake Casitas.

From the moment we pulled up to the front gates of Lakes Casitas Recreation Area (, we felt at home.  We received a warm greeting from the staff, including the head honcho, Park Services Officer Brent Doan, a nature lover who clearly found his calling as a ranger.  I had corresponded by email with Doan prior to our trip, and besides a vast knowledge of the park and its amenities, he also possessed the warmth and patience of a favorite camp counselor.  He took the time to answer my many Camp 101 questions, like, “Can we pitch a tent next to our camper?”  “ Caan we build a bonfire?” “Can we bring our own inflatable boat?” (Answers: “Yes,” if the tent is on the concrete slab; “yes,” in the fire pit; and, “maybe,” if our boat has a rigid bottom and is quarantined for 10 days prior to use, so ultimately “no” in our case).

Even if the fish aren’t biting, fishing is fun for kids at Lake Casitas.

Like a Good Neighbor

The camp host, Larry, who also happens to be the manager for Casitas Trailer Rentals (, was the next person to welcome us.  Despite a sell-out crowd of 400 campers keeping him hopping, Larry took his time with us – helping us raise our camper awning, showing us the features of our camper, and scooping us on happenings around the lake.  He seemed genuinely glad to hang out with us, and he even took time to advise our friends on some tips to restoring their vintage 1969 Monitor camper.

We lucked out in reserving a primo campsite, Angler A-1, which was everything the Lake Casitas website had promised.  The site was the perfect size for our two-family party, consisting of four adults and two preschool children.   It boasted a beautiful view of the lake, a canopy of shade trees, a grassy play area, proximity to the marina, electric hook ups and unlimited water and sewage.  Even as novice campers, we knew enough to appreciate these latter amenities, which can prevent unseemly sewage backups in your shower.Trailer Treasure

Our set-up consisted of an 18-foot Mallard Sport camper from Casitas Trailer Rentals.  The veteran camper among us, Merritt, remarked immediately upon entering that it, “Smells fresh.” Indeed, the camper was spic and span top to bottom and extremely well maintained.  It had a double bed with a bunk above it, a sofa bed, and a dinette that could convert to a bed.  Our entire party could have slept in the camper, snuggly albeit, but our friends chose to sleep under the starts in a 9×9 tent next to the camper.

Campsites feature fire pits for cooking for sitting around telling stories.

We also backed up our Suzuki Grand Vitara Ultima and used the SUV’s spacious rear cargo area to store coolers, lounge chairs, towels, fishing poles and other extra gear.  The car’s full-time four-wheel drive and touch-screen navigation also came in handy cruising around the campsite and the local Ventura sites, and the traffic info feature helped us avoid some delays on our 80-mile trip each way from Los Angeles to Ventura and back.

S’mores always taste better when cooked on an open flame.

Casitas Trailer Rentals offers a variety of campers in their fleet. The Suzuki Grand Vitara Ultima makes a great complement to carry and store camping gear.

Go Jump in the Lake – NOT

The boating rules are strict because Lake Casitas is a drinking reservoir.  For that reason, there is no swimming or body contact permitted at the lake, but what the recreation area does not offer in swimming and water skiing it makes up for with Water Adventure, a grand water park with a long and winding lazy river, a shallow kiddie play area with fountains, water cannons and other creative climbing and sliding structures, surrounded by desert-appropriate landscaping and plenty of lounge chair seating, including shady spots available by paid reservation.

Even though visitors are not permitted to take a dip in the water, there is still plenty to do on the lake, like boating and fishing.  Casistas Boat Rentals ( at the marina offers motor boats, patio deck boats, kayaks, canoes and paddle boats by the hour or day.  We enjoyed tooling around the island in the center of the lake in the six-passenger motor boat one day; and on our second day we cruised, fished and had lunch on a 12-passenger deck boat, which was covered by a shade canopy – which is highly recommended on hot sunny days.

Covered pontoon boats are recommended on hot sunny days and a great place to have a picnic lunch.

None in our party were experienced boaters, but John and Randy, the staff at Casitas Boat Rentals, were very helpful in giving us instructions on starting the motor, steering and guiding the boat in and out of the slip.  John and Randy also gave us fishing tips, and they saved the day by fixing my son’s tangled and broken $15 Star Wars toy fishing rod, outfitting it with pinch weights and tiny hooks.   Though the fish weren’t biting by the time we finally hit the water at midday, the boys had a blast casting and reeling in their night crawler worms.

Inn-ward Bound

We weren’t ready to go home yet, but after three days of roughing it – after all, we opted out of cable TV hook ups — we went into the town of Ojai where we stayed overnight at the Casa Ojai Inn (, where we immediately hit the salt-water pool and Jacuzzi.  The hotel is well-priced compared to some of the boutique inns and resorts in Ojai, and it was a comfortable and welcome retreat from, well, our retreat.  The room was nicely furnished, and after being unplugged for several days, we were happy to have free wi-fi and Direct TV.  The inn also offers a complimentary continental breakfast and free passes to the nearby Bryant Street Gym, though we didn’t have energy this trip for the latter.

The inn is close to the Ojai Village, which features a plethora of quaint shops, restaurants, galleries and spas.  At the town’s center is the adorable Libbey Park, where my son made fast friends with some local kids playing in a little creek adjacent to the park.  The park features large oak trees, a playground, tennis courts, and a beautiful amphitheater with a chine gateway that plays music when you pass under it.

Ojai Ice Cream shop is a local favorite for homemade sweets.

At the end of our stay, we were refreshed and ready to go back to LA.  After a quick stop at Ojai Ice Cream for a double-scoop and shopping for a couple souvenirs from Kingston’s Candy Company and Serendipity Toys, we piled back into the Grand Vitara for an easy afternoon drive back to Los Angeles.  We were sad to see the pink mountains of Ojai fade out of sight, but it won’t be long before we go back again.


Getting Better Cell Reception in Your Home for Your Family’s Safety and Security

Boosters Solve Weak Signals and Dropped Calls and Give Moms Peace of Mind

Zombies may be all the rage, but being in a dead zone is no fun when it comes to your cell phone.

Stay-at-home parents are joining the ranks of doctors, celebrities and executives who rely on their cell phones as a lifeline.  For moms who depend on their cell phone, Robert Galeano is the answer man.  His Canoga Park-based company, Cellular Outlet, has found a niche in raising the bar on signal strength — by installing booster antennas.

Robert Galeano of Cellular Outlet installs a cell signal booster on a duplex in South Carthay, a neighborhood in Los Angeles plagued by frequent dropped cell calls

“A dead cell zone can occur right in the middle of an urban area. Most of my customers use their cell phones as their only phone. They rely on their cell phones to do business, so connectivity is a must for them and dead zones can seriously impact their productivity and quality of life,” said Galeano.

While Galeano serves an A-list of clients whose names he keeps confidential, he says you don’t have to be rich and famous to have a cell booster.

“Anyone who has a weak cell phone signal and suffers through a lot of dropped calls can benefit. We have many clients who are parents who stay at home with their children and want to make sure their cell phones work in case there is an emergency,” said Galeano.

Dead zones can occur due to buildings, hills, and even dense foliage.  There are also many surprising causes of poor reception, such as tinted glass windows made with metal oxide, and heavy concrete walls – and even the commonplace lath-and-plaster and stucco walls of many Los Angeles dwellings – that signals can’t penetrate.

Of course, the distance between a cell phone and the nearest cell signal repeater also affects a signal, which is why Galeano’s business is especially robust in neighborhoods like Beverly Hills, were civic groups have opposed installation of cell towers due aesthetic and safety issues.

Galeano says he is aware of the concerns people have regarding the presence of towers and dangers of radio frequency, which is why he explains to customers that boosters do not increase radio frequency radiation any more than normal use of the cell phone, when it’s resting against your ear. He stresses that, “Boosters are a safe, legal, and cost effective way to eliminate dead zones.”

Unlike the eyesore of a cell tower in a tony neighborhood, the booster antenna is discreet.  The booster has three main components:  An external antenna, which mounts on a roof; a small signal amplifier, which is placed inside the house in a closet, garage or equipment room; and an internal antenna, which can be mounted unobtrusively on a wall.  In the case of a very large house, more than one internal antenna may be needed.  The three components are connected by coax cable.

Unobtrusive cell booster antennas are favored by homeowners who reject the aesthetics of a nearby cell tower

The booster only serves one household.  The external antenna receives the weak signal and sends it through the cable to the amplifier inside the house.  The signal is amplifies and sent through the cable to the internal antenna, which sends the signal around the house.  The booster can improve signal strength by as much as 20 times.  Galeano also installs boosters made for cars that work in a similar manner.

Booster don’t require a telephone line or Internet connection, and users do not need to register their phones to the booster, so even guests in a building with a booster benefit from improved cell reception. A booster can be used by multiple people who are using multiple types of cellular devices and accessing service from multiple cell carriers – all at the same time. The boosters are usually carrier agnostic, but with the new 4G services there are some differences, so an installer will need to know who your cell provider is.

The initial investment for the booster system – such as the popular Wilson Adjustable Gain Signal Booster — is around $2,600 for a large home with three antennas. The installation should be done by a professional and takes about three hours. There are no subscription or maintenance fees.  Professional installers like Galeano generally include at least a year’s service agreement in case there are any problems, which are rare since the system needs little to no upkeep, similar to a telephone or cable installation.

Boosters can be installed in just about any building – apartments, multifamily dwellings, hotels, hospitals and businesses. All antennas, splitters, cable and boosters can be concealed inside an attic or basement, except for the approximate 6” by 4” outside antenna that goes on roof.  If there is no basement or attic, cable can be run on the side of a building and penetrate a side wall.  A booster works best if the outside antenna is on the roof, but if needed an antenna can be installed on a terrace or a ledge or even on the side of the building as long as the antenna is pointed in the direction of the strongest signal, which the installer can determine.

The compact command center of the booster is usually installed in a basement or attic but can be placed on the side of a building if needed

The booster’s performance is unaffected by weather, unless the weather actually causes a power outage or interferes with the cell tower’s ability to transmit and receive signals.

Galeano, who is ranked as Los Angeles’ top installer of the Wilson cell signal booster, says his business has expanded exponentially over the past few years.  As he spends more time on the road traveling to perform installations, he finds himself more and more reliant on his own cell phone in his car, in which of course he has installed a booster.

A Happy Halloween at LEGOLAND, Family Friendly Accommodations at West Inn and Suites

Halloween is not the same as when I was a kid.  I remember treat-or-treating after dark, house-to-house, unaccompanied by adults, and getting homemade popcorn balls, Rice Krispy treats and fruit in my pillow case.  Sure, we spooked each other out with the urban myth about the weirdo who once put a razor blade in a kid’s apple, and there was always the creepy guy down the street who dressed up like a scarecrow on his porch and then jumped out at you, but generally our Halloweens were carefree and safe.

I accept that the wonder years aren’t coming back, but still I yearn for my son to have the kind of wholesome and fun Halloween that made memories for me and my Little Rascals clan.  Thankfully, LEGOLAND California Resort and its smiling mummies, skeletons and vampires have risen to the occasion it with a Halloween celebration every weekend in October filled with thrills and surprises in a safe and family oriented environment.

Party On, LEGOLAND Style

Every Saturday night in October, LEGOLAND hosts Brick-or-Treat Party Nights filled with a variety of family activities including the interactive show “Mail Order Monsters” and Brick-or-Treat Trails. Kids can wear their costumes around the park, get their faces painted, and go trick-or-treating down the Enchanted Walk, to the tune of Halloween hits like “Thriller” and “Monster Mash,” and friendly park staff hand out treats.

In addition to the usual candy, there are healthy snacks, like Funky Monkey dried fruit crisps, and fun stuff, like a LEGO coloring book with Halloween-themed stickers.  The decorations are cute and spooky – such as silly spiders and happy jack-o-lanterns, which is a welcome respite from the horrifying gory zombie faces that I just can’t seem to get away from even at my neighborhood CVS.

Kids can also help build blocks to create sections of a 10-foot LEGO character, Lord Vampyre, made of 150,000 LEGO bricks. This activity was a thrill for kids who love LEGOs and a fascinating behind-the-scenes glimpse at how the amazing LEGO statutes and other model exhibits around the park are constructed.

Scaring Up Safe, Not-too-Spooky Fun

LEGOLAND stays open late every Saturday in October, and from 5 to 9 p.m. the park hosts Brick-or-Treat Party Nights featuring costume contests, nighttime trick-or-treating on Brick or Treat Trails, festive music, entertainment, and an animated light show, “Spirits of Halloween,” after sundown and fireworks at 9 p.m.

Several areas of the park stay open late for the event, including Land of Adventure, Castle Hill, and Imagination Zone; and the popular rides Coastersaurus, Safari Trek and Fairy Tale Brook also run late. Children can enjoy activities like Hubble Bubble’s Dance Party, the Haunted Hideaways and a LEGOLAND pumpkin patch building activity with glow-in-the-dark treats.

Park guests can also meet the “Boo Crew,” including Silly Scarecrow, Howlin’ Howie, Jester Funny Bones and Count Brickula, and they can see magic shows, entertainment from the “Wichettes,” a splash artist creating paintings to music and tap dancing skeletons.  While the entertainment is always family-oriented, I have to compliment LEGOLAND for keeping it updated, even incorporating some G-rated Gangham Style into their stage performances.

Next door to the park, SEA LIFE Carlsbad Aquarium offers guests a bonus Brick-or-Treat experience where kids get treats and see a special themed daily dive show and daily creepie crawler appearances every Saturday and Sunday in October.

All Brick-or-Treat and Party Nights festivities are included in the price of regular one-day admission to LEGOLAND California.  During Brick-or-Treat, LEGOLAND is open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturdays and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays. Discounted evening admission for Saturday party nights in October is also available.  During the month of October, SEA LIFE stays open until 8 p.m. on Saturdays for those wanting to explore the Aquarium after dark. The LEGOLAND Water Park is open on weekends in fall depending on the weather.  For more information, visit

The Inn Place to Be for Families

For park partiers staying overnight in Carlsbad, the West Inn & Suites offers family friendly accommodations close by to LEGOLAND.  A favorite boutique hotel for many families who come back year after year,

Besides being just a few minutes from LEGOLAND, Bistro West offers plenty of amenities for families.  The hotel is known for its excellent service and beautiful rooms as well as its many family friendly features, such as a courtyard heated pool with a large shallow end that’s perfect for kids and a Jacuzzi that’s great for grown-ups unwinding after a day of park hopping.

Milk and fresh-baked cookies are served nightly, and every morning there’s a breakfast buffet that beats any hotel continental breakfast around, offering everything from eggs, bacon, and pancakes to fresh fruit, yogurt and oatmeal.  Families can sit at private tables or share tables and get to know other guests, and kids can hang out and watch cartoons on sofas in the large breakfast room.

Other conveniences for families offered by West Inn & Suites include a shuttle service within Carlsbad and complimentary beach chairs, towels, umbrellas, coolers body boards and sand toys.  As a testament to their complete family inclusion, they also welcome pets and are conveniently located nearby a local pet park.

West Inn’s other amenities include spacious suites with a sitting area and pull-out sofa beds for families, a wet bar area with mini-fridge and luxurious beds and stylish upscale beach décor, including beautiful espresso-colored furniture and “his and hers” wardrobe cabinets.  Each room also is outfitted with plasma TVs and free wi-fi.  Some other smart touches are special black face cloths for make-up removal and a scale in the bathroom.

Even during a fully booked weekend, our room was quiet — so much so that we nearly slept in past breakfast.  Despite having a full hotel of guests to tend to, the staff were exceedingly friendly and helpful.  I was especially impressed at the attention to detail for my very late check-in:  a lamp was turned on in my room, my bed turned down and music was playing softly on the bedside radio.   Truly the hotel lived up to the promise the clerk made when I checked in, “We’re here for you 24/7.”

Another perk:  West Inn & Suites guests is part of the Stash independent hotel loyalty program (  Guests can sign up for free to earn five points for each dollar spent on eligible room rates and can redeem them at independent hotels across North America including the Caribbean and Hawaii.

Best in the West

West Inn is home to the popular Bistro West, one of the area’s best restaurants.  Bistro West features an impressive kids menu that will make you wish you were 12 again and adult fare that locals line up for, literally.  Be sure to make reservations on weekends, or you may find yourself waiting upwards of an hour for a table at this hopping hot spot.

Bistro West stand out dishes include the roasted beet salad, the signature gumbo with chicken, shrimp and Andouille sausage with rice, fried okra and green onions; oven-roasted Mahi Mahi macadamia served with a tropical fruit salsa and sweet rice wine butter sauce.  Other don’t-miss dishes and sides are the garlic mash potatoes and just about any of the artesian pizzas, such as the pear and gorgonzola pizza with prosciutto and chopped hazelnuts, topped with green onions tossed in blue cheese dressing.  For a big finish, there’s Bistro West mud pie for two or more, made with Oreo cookie crust, vanilla and banana ice cream and chocolate ganache.

West Inn & Suites is located at 4970 Avenida Encinas, Carlsbad, CA 92008.  For more information and reservations call 1-866-431-9378 or go to

Westside Halloween Events: Spooky Saturday Halloweeen at Paley Center for Media

Looking for some spooky fun, Westside style?  Head over to The Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills where Warner Bros. Animation will present a special Halloween event on Saturday, October 27, from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Here’s the details

WHO: Open to the general public. Families, children, animation enthusiasts, the young and the young at heart!

WHAT: *Free admission to children dressed in costumes
* Two-for-one pricing for adults and kids not in costume
*Dance party and photos with Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Scooby-Doo!
*Giveaways, pumpkin decorating, glitter tattoos and more
*Screenings of classic spooky cartoons from Warner Bros. Animation!
* Attendees will also have the opportunity to explore the Warner Bros. exhibit Television: Out Of The Box, celebrating nearly 60 years of some of the most popular shows that have shaped generations of TV viewers.

WHEN: Saturday, October 27. 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.

WHERE: The Paley Center for Media
465 North Beverly Drive
Beverly Hills, CA 90210