Plan for LA’s Best Modern American Comfort Food for Kids and Grown Ups — Plan Check Kitchen + Bar

For epicurean kids, Plan Check Kitchen + Bar unveiled its new children’s menu last month, with smaller portions of some of their most-famed dishes, like smokey friend chicken, and the PCB (Plan Check Burger) Jr., sans onions. The ambiance of this bar and restaurant is decidedly grown-up, but even after 7 pm on a Sunday night, the place is crawling with young kids, out with the ‘rents for a family dinner.friedchick800pickles800

While the kids menu throws in one can’t-miss favorite of grilled cheese, the other offerings are suited for kids who have a bit more adventurous palate. My seven-year-old son went for the BBQ chicken stix, which are definitely not your typical chicken fingers.

stix800 These tender and tasty skewers, swathed in tangy BBQ sauce and sprinkled with crunch cheddar ban bacon bits, presented in a mini iron skillet on a bed of fries, were just to my son’s liking, though for those who prefer breaded nuggets, these fingers would have gone untouched.
While the kids menu is called such, even the drinks — fountain soda, lemonade, or iced tea, eschew the usuals — juices and milk, and are served in a tall narrow glass — no plastic sippy with a straw here. For sure, this kids menu is not your standard, and like the atmosphere — a bit noisy, hip and happening — the menu is exciting enough for adults, but tame enough to appeal to kids.

For the of-age crowd, the upscale comfort food is divinely satisfying. The portions may seem small, but the food is filling as it is scrumptious.

chips800The sweet potato waffle fries, made with beef tallow, pop with flavor as vivid as the bright orange color, and the smokey fried chicken earns its reputation as mouth-watering — one of those dishes where you take a bite then your eyes go wide when the flavor saturates your soul.
The cruller donuts are the final treat to finish off such a delectable meal. The cinnamon-coated dough twists come with a dipping cream sauce and cream mousse along with banana slices for the ultimate donut fix.
Plan Check Bar + Restaurant is smart to be so different from its neighbors. It’s not what you would expect in the middle of LA, which makes you wonder, “Where else could you go for a meal like this?” The answer is nowhere I can think of. And that makes it even better.

The crowd is eclectic. In addition to the sprinkling of families, there was a large contingent of stylish (assume gay) men, attractive single men and women at the bar. Prices are reasonable, with burgers and sandwiches $12 to $13, and other entrees from $13 to $16. Some of the snacks and apps are particularly unique, such as the selection of pickles and a wire basket of exotic veggie chips with avocado dip.

Plan Check, which takes its name from its original location across from the Building and Safety Department, where architects, engineers and the like would lunch while reviewing plans for permitting. Two current locations are at 351 N. Fairfax and 1800 Sawtelle in LA. A downtown location on Wilshire is due to open soon.


A Boy’s Bedroom Makeover Invites Discovery of the Great Indoors


This kid’s room makeover made one little boy a happy camper.  Six-year-old Stephen shared his room with a queen-size guest bed, alongside his pirate-ship toddler bed, which he had outgrown.  The rest of the room was furnished with mismatched hand-me-down pieces, and everywhere were piles of clothes and toys, with no place to put them.

BEFORE windows before lo res


Enter Los Angeles interior designer Baiyina Hughley.  After accessing the space and chatting with Stephen about his favorite activities and toys, her vision of a camping theme emerged.


BEFORE toddler bed

“I wanted to create a space that was playful yet organized, and I knew right away that I wanted an overall design direction that Stephen could grow with over the years,” said Hughley.


A Fort Night


In keeping with the camping theme, Hughley was excited to make a focal point of the room a five-foot high mini teepee from House Inhabit (Etsy, $130), one of her favorite elements of the room which she felt would encourage play and discovery.  To complement the teepee, Hughley added a Felt Campfire Playset with S’Mores (Etsy, $50).  Inside, she made it cozy with an IKEA STOCKHOLM cushion ($14.99) in black and white and a TEJN Faux Sheepskin rug ($9.99).

tee pee low res 2

“These types of whimsical details are what add charm and personality to a space, and Etsy is one of my go-to resources, especially when it comes to kid spaces,” said Hughley.


Above the tee pee she placed a Moon in My Room (Toys R Us, $20.99) remote control nightlight to create additional height and visually balance the vignette.


Trees are Tops


Hughley felt that a wall graphic would make the ceilings appear higher, and she wanted to explore using a fresh modern color scheme outside of the typical navy blue and forest green so often seen in boy’s bedrooms.  She chose made-to-order removable white vinyl birch tree decals from Décor Your Wall (Etsy, $115) against a backdrop of light gray (Sherwin-Williams, Harmony Light French Gray 0055, flat enamel, matte).


Hughley chose a bright white for the ceiling (Sherwin-Williams, Harmony Extra White 7006, eg-shel), and to separate the walls from the ceiling she placed a decorative wood trim border just under the curve of the cove ceiling.  This detail adding a charm to the room that felt right in line with the original architecture.  All trim and the door were also painted bright white (Sherwin-Williams, Harmony Extra White 7006, semi-gloss).


Orange is the New Bed


Since Stephen likes to host sleepovers, bunk beds were a practical and space-saving choice. carried a perfect storage solution of bunk beds with two roomy drawers (Junior Roommates Twin-Over-Full Bunk Bed with Two Drawers, $1,345.99), and mattresses for the beds (Beautyrest Elements Plush Pocketed Coil, twin $239.99, full $284.99), which arrived compressed and rolled in a box.  After taking the mattresses out of the vacuum sealed bags, they unfurled and plumped up to become amazingly comfortable beds.

bunk bed lo res

The bedding added flair to the room with the opted for a bright orange and white Rugby Stripe Duvet Cover ($69 twin, $99 full) from Pottery Barn Kids with a matching sham ($24.50) personalized with Stephen’s monogrammed initials, and Pottery Barn Teen Reverse Dottie sheet set (sale priced $22.99-$38.99). Underneath the covers were down alternative inserts ($29.99 each)  for the duvet and gusseted pillows,( two pack for $29.99) from  Accent pillowed included two navy Lacoste pillows ($25 each) from HomeGoods.


Light it Up


One of the biggest challenges in designing the space was the fact that there was very little direct sunlight in the room throughout the day.  There was also very little task or ambient lighting.  Hughley solved this with plenty of lighting options.  She chose the FLY Suspension Pendant light by Kartell ($350) in petrol blue, which she liked for its fun modern color and its large size.


“The biggest mistake you can make is choosing a light fixture is choosing one that’s too small,” said Hughley.


Other lighting additions included two blue-and-white accent lamps (HomeGoods, $25 each), a bright orange metal desk lamp (Euro Style Lalla Desk Lamp,Overstock,  $66) and two white plug-in wall sconces (Eyeball Sconce, Urban Outfitters, $29 each) placed so that each bunk had its own personal reading light.


“The wall sconces were one of the most practical updates to the room which gives Stephen not only the ability to read a good book before bed but have a better sense of ease and comfort knowing that he has a light close by to turn on if he needs,” said Hughley.  “I’m a huge proponent of multiple lighting sources in a room.  Functionally it was one of the best transformations in the room.”


Closet Case


Another of the functional challenges of the room was the small closet.  The walls were in bad condition, and some of the shelving in the back was not accessible.  Hughley wanted to add function to the closet while also bringing in a sense of playfulness and whimsy.

handybook guys lo resBEFORE Closet

With the help of a consultant at WoodTrac, Hughley assembled the ideal closet with cabinets, drawers and cubby spaces suited for clothes, shoes, hats, and the odds and ends Stephen collected.  The installation of the closet took about a half-day with the expert skills of two Handybook handymen. For assembly jobs like this as well as furniture assembly, electrical installations and other odd jobs, Handybook proved a reliable go-to resource throughout the redesign project.


The transformation was remarkable as the jumbled storage space became an orderly and even inviting space, complete with custom-framed wildlife artwork from and dog-tail clothing hooks (IKEA, $2.99 each).  Toys, electronics and other knick knacks now had a home in drawers, cubbies and tidy wicker storage bins (HomeGoods, $20).

closet and art lo res

Rug-ged Individualism


To ground the space, Hughley chose an 8×10 Handmade Hexagon Light Blue N.Z. Wool Rug, (Overstock, $447.95) to counter the pendant and repeat the blue with a modern geometric pattern that reinforces the kid-friendliness of the room. For added comfort and safety, Hughley placed a Broyhill non-slip pad the rug (HomeGoods, $29.99)


“I was nervous to order a rug online, but I was blown away by the quality when we received it,” said Hughley.


Elementary My Dear Boy


For other furnishings, Hughley chose the Pottery Barn Kids sturdy white Schoolhouse Basic Desk ($589) with brushed nickel hardware, which offered a large surface for homework and art projects along with two big drawers for supplies and files.  The desk was also useful as a nightstand for the bottom bunk.  Hughley paired the desk with a molded plastic side chair (InStyleModern, $99) and placed a similar armchair rocker across the room (InStyleModern, $135) as a reading chair.

book shelf lo res

Hughley chose IKEA’s MALM 6-drawer dresser ($149) in a dark black-brown finish because of its clean lines, ample storage and the masculine color that related to the finish on the bunk bed.  At the foot of the bunk bed, Hughley placed the IKEA TROFAST ($39.99) and plastic bins ($3-5) for additional toy storage.  For books, Hughley chose the array silver bookcase from CB2 ($189), a steel vertical rack to hold Stephen’s favorite reading material.

dresser low res

To decorate the walls Hughley hung above the dresser a large-scale framed Calder museum art poster that fit right into the room’s color scheme.  She custom-created another kid-friendly framed poster for above the desk using Pantone paint chips which allowed her to have creative control of the colors and patterns.


Made in the Shade


While there are plenty of exciting elements in the room — a bunk bed, a teepee, a bonfire — the first thing Stephen complimented upon seeing the completed space was the window treatments.


“The roman shades were ready-made from Pottery Barn Teen ($189 each), and they rival designer custom shades,” said Hughley.  “I chose black roman shades with a small scale white polkas despite the room being dark because I knew the contrast with the paint would create the illusion of brightness that the room so greatly needed.”


Hughley selected gun-metal black drapery rods with square finials (HomeGoods, $19.99) the IKEA AINA grey linen curtains ($49.99 pair), similar to the paint color, to visually widen the span of the windows while not competing with the rug or bedding.


“Since I chose to go neutral on both paint and major furnishings, it was essential to bring color and pattern into the space through accessories, bedding and window treatments,” said Hughley.  “The three pieces that ground the room are the pendant light, the rug and the window treatments.”


In the Zones


Hughley was successfully able to mix prints by varying the scale around the room.  Her choice of orange for the bedding brought brightness and warmth that countered the coolness of the grey and blue.  Her other accomplishment was in making the space completely functional through the layout and placement of furnishings, which created distinctive zones within the room.

desk and bunk bed lo res

“I hope that I’ve created a space for Stephen to grow with over the years.  It was very empowering to create a foundation and direction where he still felt open to making it his own,” said Hughley.  “One of the biggest successes of the project was making the process of letting go of old toys and clothes a positive one.  He was making space for something new!   The space feels completely different now.  There is a sense of peace with having less and he can actually find and play with his favorite toys.”



Mr. Bones Pumpkin Patch Returns to West Hollywood

Halloween Event Has Treated Families to Frighteningly Good Time for 27 Years

Guest post by Stephanie Houfek

If you love Halloween and live in LA, then surely you have heard of Mr. Bones, the skeleton king who has reigned over the pumpkin patch in West Hollywood since 1986.  The Mr. Bones Pumpkin Patch has become nearly as famous as some of his neighbors in Hollywood, as each year paparazzi snap photos of celebrities and their kids at the patch.  But glamour aside, this delightful pumpkin patch has earned its fame for its fun kid activities, frighteningly big and scary decorations, and fabulous assortment of big and beautiful pumpkins, gourds and squash.


Kids can pull along a wagon and pick their own pumpkin from the piles of pumpkins in the patch.  Cute signs instruct kids (and parents) on how to handle, or not handle the pumpkins – no throwing, dropping, picking up by the stem, sitting on pumpkins, etc., Pumpkin prices range from $1 for baby pumpkins to $60 for jumbos, and up to $100 for Big Mac Organic pumpkins.

The Mr. Bones slide, pumpkin bounce house, hay maze, petting zoo and pony rides are some of the most popular attractions for kids.  The food offerings, including gourmet Kosher hotdogs, gourmet chicken sausages, fantastic carne mignon tacos, grilled Tillamook cheese sandwiches, hand-dipped carmel apples, Porch Pie pies, and gourmet flavored snow cones are pretty appealing for kids of all ages.  If $5 hotdogs are beyond your budget, no worries, visitors are welcome to bring their own snacks.  All rides cost $1-$7. Face painting costs $10-$15.  All attractions and food are payable in tickets purchased on site.


Despite the immense popularity of this pumpkin patch, it still feels intimate, partly due to the fact that the space itself is rather small – on about a city block, and because it is family owned. The focus is on providing a fun and friendly atmosphere for families to enjoy.  To this end, the professional photographers who come to get pictures of the celebrity patrons are cordoned off in a pen and monitored by security so they do not intrude upon guests.

Since fall temperatures can still reach into the 80s, Mr. Bones added a shade tent and more umbrellas in past years where patrons can retreat from the heat, and there’s also a pumpkin house and two teepees where kids can play out of the sun.  Best advice is to wear light clothes during the warmest day hours or visit after 5 pm, and if kids wear costumes (optional), dress them in clothes underneath or bring other clothes for a quick change if they get overheated.

While the pumpkins may be pricier than the local supermarket, the weekend admission of $4 for adults and $2 for kids can be used as credit to buy pumpkins or other merchandise in the Mr. Bones boutique, which also sells costumes, decorations, pumpkin carving kits and other Halloween goodies.  Weekday admission is free, and groups are welcome before 2 pm on weekdays. This year, Pillsbury is a partner with Mr. Bones, and the company will be donating $5,000 to support the LA Regional Food Bank as part of their partnership.


The patch is open weekdays 9am to 7 pm, 9 am to 8pm Friday through Sunday, and 9 am to 3 pm on Halloween.  Mr. Bones Pumpkin Patch is located at 702 N. Doheny Drive in West Hollywood, where the owners also operate Mr, Greentrees at the same location during the Christmas season; but that will change next year as the property has been sold.  The new site has not yet been determined, but you can join Mr. Bone’s mailing list on the website for updates.

A Guide to Enjoying LA’s Indian Summer

Triple-Digit Fall Temperatures Send Angelenos Flocking to the Beach and Pool
Labor Day signals the official end of summer, but don’t stow your beach togs yet. In LA, hot weather and summer fun goes on at the beach and pool into autumn.

Who Wear’s Shorty Shorts?
Kids love splashing in the waves no matter the season. As the water gets colder, keep them toasty in a Konfidence shorty or child wetsuit. The soft, flexible 100-percent UV protection neoprene fabric will keep them warm in and out of the water. $36.99 to $59.99, For the stylin’ boys of endless summer, quick-drying microfiber swim trucks by Australian brand Tom and Teddy will withstand seasons of and salt and chlorine year after year with quality and smart design, like durable double stitching, two pockets, rear eyelets for air circulation and comfortable 100 percent cotton mesh lining. Boys sizes 1-12 years, $49.95. Also available in men’s sizes small through XXL, $84.95 at



Suit Beer Float
Grab your bathing suit, best squeeze and a cold one and hop on the Pool and Beach 2Up Lounge by Sportstuff, $59.99, This stylish blow-up lounger has a molded cup holder for your fave beverage and side-by-side mesh seats with a comfy back rest, and its thick, durable 20 gauge K80 construction ensures long life. Have a party by linking up other lounges with the integrated connectors. Feeling like a little more me time? Sail solo in the Fiji Float by Airhead, $19.99, twoupfloatieBuilt for the pool or lake with durable vinyl and welded seams, this single-seat lounge features a mesh bottom to keep you cool and a molded drink holder, and if you get lonely, you can hook up with other floats using the side-mounted rope anchors.


Sandy Places

That pesky sand gets in the darndest places. Brush if off with SandGone, a pleasant-smelling, non-toxic dry powdery solution to removing sand that gets stuck everywhere you don’t want it to be. Apply the talc with the included soft puff and watch the sand fall off. Great to use all over after a day on the beach or on sandy feet before getting into the car. 8 oz. jar, $12.95.


Just Plane Fun

Forget the remote controls and batteries, Sky Riders old-fashioned foam flyers by Kids Only, a division of JAKKS Pacific, Inc., take fun to new heights. Great for the beach or park, the colorful lightweight foam material makes them easy to launch, and the aerodynamic design lifts them into the sky to loop and glide. Available in 24”, 36” and 48” wingspans. Ages 3 and up. $7.99- $14.99, Toys R Us, RiteAid, and Bed Bath and Beyond.Sky-Riders-Patriot-Foam-Glider-1366051381

Cover Up

It’s true what your mom told you about getting a sunburn, no matter the season, no matter if the sun is shining. Cloudy day or bright and sunny, be safe and slather on sunscreen year-round to protect your skin. The new hypoallergenic, fragrance-free 50-SPF Coppertone Sensitive Skin Sunscreen Lotion is perfect for any season, without a heavy coconutty smell or oily feel, and it lasts for 80 minutes and is water resistant. 6 oz., $10.00 at Kmart.

Hydrate or Dry

Refresh and hydrate yourself with HINT Premium Essence Water, a great alternative to sugary beverages and sodas that leave you thirstier.  With a “hint” of flavor, this delicious drinking water comes in Watermelon, Blackberry, Pomegranate-Tangerine, Strawberry-Kiwi, Raspberry-Lime, Mango-Grapefruit, Lime, Pear, Honeydew-Hibiscus and Cucumber.   12 pack, $16.66-$20.68,



Go Nuts, and Berries

Forget fast food and pack along fast energy food instead.  USANA all-natural energy and nutrition bars, like the taste Go Nuts ‘n’ Berries Nutrition Bar, are loaded with ingredients like peanuts, almonds, chia, flaxseeds, raisins and cranberries, without gluten, soy or dairy, to provide you with the fuel you need to power you up for swimming laps, body surfing, and all your outdoor activities. Box of 14 bars, $31.85.

usanna bars

Cool Off During SoCal’s Indian Summer at Local Theme and Water Parks

Get Dunked and Cool Off on Slides and Rides that Blow Your Hair Back

School has started for most kids in Los Angeles, but summer fun doesn’t have to end.  SoCal’ Indian summer often lasts through early fall, so jump in the car this weekend and head to local theme parks and water parks to chill out.  Here is a short list of the coolest rides and slides and best places to stay and eat for the most awesome endless summer ever.

Park it Here


Pacific Park on the Santa Monica Pier includes 12 rides and an arcade of midway games

Pacific Park at the Santa Monica Pier is close to home for many Angelenos, and the cool ocean breezes are always a welcome escape from inland neighborhoods.  The park includes 12 rides and an arcade of midway games, like the Tub Toss, where my son took home a beloved Despicable Me Minion (the trick is to aim high and to the side).  The Sea Dragon that swings riders in a 180-degree arc in a rising and plunging boat is a favorite with teens and daring younger riders, and the West Coaster steel roller coaster that cascades over the coastline offering views from 55-feet up is a great first roller coaster for kids.

pacific park west coaster

The Pacific Park West Coaster

The Pacific Wheel solar-powered Ferris wheel gives you spectacular views of the Pacific.  All-day unlimited-ride wristbands are $15.95 for kids and $22.95 for 7 and older, or rides are priced at $3 to $5 each.  The park is in full operation through September and then partial and limited operations in the fall, and full operation on weekends.  The pier is in the midst of an ongoing renewal project to maintain the 100-plus-year-old historical landmark, but Pacific Park access is unaffected, and the huge 40-ton crane parked at the pier actually is a sight to see in itself.


Construction at the Pier does not impact Pacific Park, but the 40-ton crane does add a site to see

Water Water Everywhere

Aquatica in Chula Vista, is one of the most exciting and beautiful water parks around.  Recently acquired and remodeled by SeaWorld, which is about 25 minutes away, the former Knott’s Soak City features six water rides and five water play areas, including Big Surf Shores wave pool, Loggerhead Lane lazy river and Walkabout Waters four-story play area.  Our family’s favorite ride is the Walhalla Wave, in which up to six people can ride together in a raft down a 78-foot half pipe.  For kids over 48 inches tall, the HooRoo Run boasts an 80-foot vertical drop that will thrill even the hardcore water park enthusiast.  For younger splashers, the expansive kiddie play area with waterfalls, water cannons and small slides will keep them occupied for hours.  The facilities are clean and well kempt, though along with the new ownership and makeover came higher prices, from overpriced snacks like $6 ice cream cone to $12-$20 lockers.  Entry costs $38 for 10 and older, $30 for ages 3 to 9, and free for 2 years old and under.  Open through weekends through November.


The whole family can ride Orange Crush at LEGOLAND Water Park


Lots of of kiddie areas at LEGOLAND Water Park offer little ones a play place to splash

LEGOLAND Water Park adjoining the LEGOLAND theme park offers plenty for water fans of all ages.  The family sized Orange Crush is one of the most popular rides, featuring 312-feet of twisting splashing fun for up to four riders.  Unique to LEGOLAND is the Build-A-Raft River where riders can gather floating oversized LEGO blocks to attach to their innertube.  Several kiddie play areas with open and enclosed small slides, waterfalls, fountains and sprinklers offer lots of splashing fun in wading-depth water and a sandy beach.  At LEGOLAND you have the option of mixing up the fun at both the theme park and the water park.  The theme park also features wet rides that cool you off, like the Pirate Reef and Splash Battle in Pirate Shores that will get you soaked.  Buy ponchos to help keep you dry, or for $5 for a few minutes of hot air use the stand-inside dryers to dry off, or bring a change of clothes, as bathing suits may not be worn in the park. Admission starts at $76 for adults and $66 for kids 3-12, which includes both the theme park and the water park.  The Water Park is open daily through early September and then on weekends as weather permits.

Where to Stay


The play area at LEGOLAND features nightly live entertainment

LEGOLAND Hotel is the coolest new place to stay in Carlsbad.  The hotel features themed rooms and surprises inside for kids.  The kids’ bunk-and-trundle bed combo sleeps up to three kids, and adults sleep in an adjoining semi-private room.  The lobby features a LEGO pit for community building, and an elaborate pirate-ship play area offers many fun features and live entertainment in the evenings.  Fun features include a disco elevator, a giant whoopee cushion, talking bathroom mirrors and LEGO model decorations throughout the hotel.  Guests also enjoy one hour early admission to the park.


Themed rooms and bunk-and-trundle beds for up to three little ones makes staying at LEGOLAND Hotel a fun adventure

carlsbad hilton pool morning

The pool at Hilton Carlsbad Oceanfront Resort & Spa is just one of the many ocean view amenities

chandlers garlic fries

The garlic fries at Chandler’s at Hilton Carlsbad Oceanfront Resort & Spa

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One of the tastly seafood entrees at Bistro West

Hilton Carlsbad Oceanfront Resort & Spa (10 minutes from LEGOLAND and 30 minutes to SeaWorld) is a convenient base for visiting nearby amusement parks.  The hotel is located across the street from a spectacular stretch of beach, and “ocean view” is the operative description for just about all the resort’s amenities: ocean view pool, ocean view restaurant, ocean view bar and lounge area (with outdoor ocean view  fire pit), ocean view meeting rooms, and of course, ocean view guest rooms with ocean view balconies.  The hotel’s restaurant, Chandler’s, offers panoramic seating for viewing gorgeous sunsets amid a succulent dessert garden.  Besides addictive pretzel balls, standouts on the menu include fresh-caught sea bass and swordfish entrees and parmesan garlic fries.

Where to Eat


Bistro West in Carlsbad has locals and tourists lining up for fresh local fare


The bubble wall at Bistro West mesmerizes kids and grown-ups alike


A new kids menu at Bistro West features healthy options for kids


Bistro West’s Chef’s Eugenio Martignago and Jason Connolly pride themselves in creating beautiful and healthy dishes from local sources

Tourists and locals alike line up at Bistro West, one of the hottest restaurants in Carlsbad.  The delectably tasty menu features healthy and locally sourced gourmet comfort food, vegetarian and gluten free options, and a healthy kids menu.  Highlights include a generously portioned calamari starter with zesty dipping sauces, thick Kobe beef burgers, classic homemade lasagna, homemade soups, exotic-topping pizzas from West’s stone hearth oven, an assortment of generously sized dinner salads, like the satisfying Manciata New York Steak Salad, and decadent desserts such as Bistro West Mud Pie for Two or warm fig and cherry bread pudding served with bourbon sauce.  The crowd is multi-generational and well-dressed, and the atmosphere is casual chic, with modern but comfortable décor and a color-changing bubble wall fixture that mesmerizes kids and grown-ups too.  Fido won’t feel left out either, with a pet-friendly Bow Wow Hour on the patio.

Over Land Over Sea

aquqatica seaword rancho bernardo

SeaWorld’s Return to Atlantis is one of the wet rides that guests flock to ride in the hot weather

seaworld madagascar

Madagascar Live at SeaWorld is one of the park’s newest shows

seawrold cir le mer set2

Cirque de la Mer at SeaWorld features acrobats performing tricks on seadoos and flying in physics-defying aerial acts over water

SeaWorld is most famous for its animal shows, but with last year’s addition of the Manta diving-and-looping rollercoaster the park has become more popular with thrill ride seekers.   Bring a change of clothes so you can enjoy all the wet rides, like Journey to Atlantis, a half-roller-coaster half-boat-ride where park guests blast you with water cannons at the end, and Shipwreck Rapids, a winding, swirling ride down rapids and under water falls, and then dry off to hit the dry rides and shows.  To shorten your wait time at popular rides, grab a Quick Queue pass. Get a schedule of daily shows online or at the gate.  Ironically, one of the most popular shows at SeaWorld, Madagascar Live, is a sing-and-dance along musical that has little to do with the sea.  The park’s mainstay shows include SeaLions LIVE, where sea lions jig to pop songs like Gangnam Style; One Ocean, starring legendary killer whale Shamu; and the amazing Cirque de la Mer, where acrobats perform tricks on seadoos and fly in physics-defying aerial acts over water.  Online deals for admission for a single day are $64 for both adults and kids 3-9, or kids go free with an adult who pays full-price ($79).

Where to Stay

water taxi on board

The water taxi picks up passengers at Paradise Point and drops them at a private marina gate at SeaWorld

water taxi marina

Lucky water taxi rides sometimes get a glimpse of Cirque de la Mer performers warming up on the docks

Paradise Point is an island oasis just a few minutes from SeaWorld.  The resort’s bungalows feature lush courtyard and beachfront locations with access to a public beach where kids love the nighttime tradition of toasting marshmallows and making s’mores around the beach fire pits.  The central Island Market store rents bikes to explore the island, and the elegant Baleen restaurant and more causal Barefoot Bar and Grill offer dining at the marina.  Through early September the resort offers a water taxi that drops guests at a private marine entrance to the park for $10 for adults and $6 for children.  If you happen to arrive at just the right time, you might catch SeaWorld’s Cirque de la Mer performers warming up “backstage” on the marina docks.


The spacious rooms at Hotel Indigo feature kitchenettes and courtyards along with vaulted ceilings and designer decor


One of the two pools at Hotel Indigo


A pool at Hotel Indigo from the above at Oceanview Restaurant and Lounge


A lounge area outside Oceanveiw at Hotel Indigo

Hotel Indigo in Del Mar is a great option for families with sophisticated tastes but moderate budgets.  About 20 minutes from LEGOLAND and SeaWorld, and 35 minutes from Aquatica, Hotel Indigo is an incredible remodel of the Stratford Inn, transformed from a sleepy lodge into a fabulous and swanky but kid-friendly boutique hotel, exquisitely decorated and featuring excellent service.  The spacious rooms feature kitchenettes and beach-inspired designer décor  and horse racing artwork in homage to the nearby Del Mar track.  The rooms open into landscaped courtyards with private patios or balconies. The happening Oceanview bar and restaurant features an inviting outdoor lounge area with gas bonfire pits overlooking one of the two pools.  Del Mar is a short drive from Carlsbad or San Diego and a terrific option for families making a weekend of their LEGOLAND or SeaWorld visit.  The hotel a 10-minute walk from Del Mar Beach, a beautiful , expansive sandy beach where surfers, families, locals and tourists play in harmony.

Where to Eat

At the festive Café Coyote in Old Town San Diego, screaming kids are as welcome as raucous margarita drinkers.  In this landmark multi-storied restaurant featuring countless dining rooms, neither can be heard over the din of large parties, gathered to celebrate everything from birthdays to bridal showers at this immensely popular watering hole and landmark famous for its offering of more than 100 tequilas.

Chillin’ at Disney


Cars Land has put California Adventure back on the map

disney carsland

The adorably rendered Cars Land features a shop with cone head hats

Disneyland and California Adventure are the mecca for SoCal theme park fans, but with great rides come great lines, except off-season.  Cars Land has put California Adventure back on the map, and the blow-your-hair-back Radiator Springs Racers is a must-ride attraction.  For a great cool off, float and splash down the Grizzly River Run whitewater raft ride, or for a blast of indoor AC, head into the friendly and scenic skies on Soarin’ Over California simulated flight ride.  At Disneyland, a wild dash in the dark on Space Mountain is a great escape from the heat, or take a cool plunge on Splash Mountain, or for a blast of fresh air, the Matterhorn Bobsleds climbs up and away into icy caverns to meet the abominable snowman.

Another great spot to cool off on a warm day is the Disney Animation Building, in Hollywood Land at California Adventure. Indoors with air conditioning, guests can learn all about animation — from the Toy Story Zoetrope to projected animation all around the lobby to “learn to draw” character sketch sessions throughout the day. And more: fun exhibits to find your inner Disney character and interact with other characters, along with the family favorite show, Turtle Talk with Crush.

Next door at the air-conditioned Hyperion Theater, the popular stage show plays several times a day – “Aladdin, a Musical Spectacular,” complete with a flying carpet!

To minimize your wait times, plan your day of rides in advance and master using the FASTPASS.  A great tool to gauge expected crowd size at the parks is  Admission starts at $86 for ages 3 to 9 and $92 for ages 10 and up for a one-day visit, though park hopper a multi-day tickets are your best value if you have a couple of days for your visit.

Where to Stay

Kids Fun Zone & Pool

The pool at Hilton Anaheim sports a water feature that includes a kiddie water slide, water cannons and a 200-gallon drench bucket

The Hilton Anaheim is a known as a premier convention hotel, but it’s also a terrific family hotel, and its location just two blocks from Disneyland and California Adventure makes it an appealing option for guests visiting the parks. The on-site Disney help desk sells park passes and can help guests plan their Disney day with insider tips, and guests can upgrade to Disney view rooms to see the Disney lights and fireworks nightly.  Kids love the swimming pool with a water feature that includes a kiddie water slide, water cannons and a 200-gallon drench bucket.  The hotel’s Kidz Korner offers supervised activities, and their babysitting service is a great option for parents who need some grown-up time off.

Where to Eat

Hilton Anaheim’s Mix restaurant offers upscale dining and cocktails, or nearby there are more causal options, including a food court and several family friendly restaurants within the Garden Walk plaza, which is walking distance or a short shuttle bus ride away.

Los Angeles on Dwellable

Home Sweet LA Home | Traffic Log | Stroller Traffic

Home Sweet LA Home | Traffic Log | Stroller Traffic.

Troutdale in Agoura: There’s Fish in Them There Hills

1 entranceFishing near LA?  That’s what friends asked when we suggested we take our boys angling one afternoon.  Yes indeed, there’s fish in them there hills.  In Agoura, just an hour from the city, in two trout-stocked ponds on little compound known as Troutdale.  The best thing about Troutdale is that kids are just about guaranteed to catch a fish.

Hook, Line and Corn

The second best thing about Troutdale is that you don’t need any gear, and you don’t need any fishing experience.  For a fee of $7 per person, you get a bamboo fishing pole tacked with fishing line, a pinch weigh and a hook; a couple ounces of corn kernel bait; and a bucket.  You cast your line into the water, and with a bit of time and patience, you should get some nibbles and hopefully a fish, or two, or more.

Don’t worry, if you are squeamish once you snag a fish, Troutdale’s helping hands assist in getting your fish off your line and into your bucket.  The fish are all big enough to keep – and in fact there is a strict “no catch-and-release” policy.  You pay for each fish you catch based on size, from $6 for a 10-inch trout, to $11 for 15 inches and larger.  Cleaning is an additional buck and a half per fish.  The current record catch is 37 trout in a day, and the biggest fish a 28-inch whopper that must have been the storied “one that got away” for years.

2 firstcatch

Fish Early and Often

Weekends are busiest at Troutdale, where an average 110 to 220 visitors come to fish per day, though on a chilly winter morning our fishing party was among only a handful of other fisherfolk.   Every two weeks the two 25’ by 20’ ponds, festooned with two floating fountains for atmosphere and aeration, are replenished with up to 1,500 fish from a farm in Napa Valley, so the fishing is always bountiful.

Generations of families have come to Troutdale for more than 67 years to fish and enjoy the rustic grounds, decorated with life-size woodcarvings of bears and forest creatures, log benches and picnic tables.  For private parties, there’s also a thatch-style dining area with tables.  Everything is kept simple at Troutdale, down to the main office, consisting of a simple shack, where a limited selection of fishing rods, nightcrawler worm bait and refreshments and are for sale.

Troutdale’s facilities include two ponds with seating all around, picnic tables and woodcarvings of forest animals.  A large straw hut for parties is also available.

Troutdale’s facilities include two ponds with seating all around, picnic tables and woodcarvings of forest animals. A large straw hut for parties is also available.

Fish Local

Most visitors come from the local area — Ventura, Sherman Oaks, Los Angeles and Beverly Hills, though some drive from distances as far away as San Diego to fish at Troutdale.  The majority of visitors are families with children, though all ages of kids, teens and men and women frequent Troutdale, such as one elderly grandfather who has been a regular for more than 60 years.

4 pond

Fisherman Aram Shirikchyan acquired the site seven years ago and now operates Troutdale with his family.  He fishes at Troutdale with his own children and delights in seeing other families enjoy the sport together.  His biggest challenge:  stocking the pond just right so that visitors can stretch out their day of fishing and not catch a day’s worth of fish in five minutes.

What to bring:  You don’t need any special equipment, unless you want to bring it, but some other considerations include a seat cushion (and you thought that sit-upon you made in Brownies would never come in handy!), hand-sani and paper towels for fishy hands, and warm clothes if you are visiting during winter months, or even during summer time.  The fish bite most when the sun starts to go down, so layer up.  If you are having your fish cleaned, they are handed to you in a sealed plastic bag with ice, so a cooler may be helpful but is not necessary.   Outside food for picnicking is allowed; just obey the signs to keep the area clean and don’t throw anything into the water.

You never know who you be casting next to, like Adam Sandler, who enjoys bring his daughters fishing at Troutdale (pictured with one of the owners).

You never know who you be casting next to, like Adam Sandler, who enjoys bring his daughters fishing at Troutdale (pictured with one of the owners).

How to get there:  Basically you have two choices from Los Angeles:  10 W to 405 N to US 101 N to Kanan Road exit; or the PCH scenic route to Malibu Canyon Road to Las Virgenes Road to Mulholland Hwy.  We tried both routes to and from Troutdale navigated by our GPS in the sporty Mazda CX-5.  The SUV handled the curves wonderfully, but my son did not.  So add Children’s Dramamine or Psi Bands to the list above if your kids are prone to motion sickness.

How to cook ‘em:  Trout are easy to cook.  Wrap each fish in foil with lemon and butter, and season with salt and pepper.  Broil or grill them for about 7-10 minutes on each side.  Eat with care as trout has many small bones.

Troutdale is located at 2468 Troutdale Drive, Agoura, CA  91301.  Tel. 818-889-9993.  For more information, go to

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