LA Museum Season Kicks Off to Attract More Museum Visitors to the City

Guest post by Stephanie Houfek

Book two hotel nights from Oct. 6 – Nov. 14 and receive up to 15% off select hotels and get free admission to L.A. museums

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This fall, just prior to the start of the city’s famed red carpet Award Season, Los Angeles puts the spotlight on its cultural offerings with the return of “L.A. Museum Season.”  From Oct. 6 – Nov. 14, visitors who book two hotel nights or more for stays during this time period receive two free admissions and museum store discounts at more than 20 premier Los Angeles cultural institutions. For more information visit http://www.discoverlosangeles.com/museumseason.

“As home to more museums than any other U.S. city, Los Angeles offers permanent and temporary exhibitions for every taste and temperament,” said Ernest Wooden Jr., President & CEO of the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board (L.A. Tourism). “From Picassos to pop hits, dinosaurs to diamonds, cowboys to classical sculpture, L.A.’s museum collections span the gamut.”

Institutions participating in the free admission offer include:  Autry National Center; Craft & Folk Art Museum; GRAMMY Museum® at L.A. LIVE; Hollywood Museum; Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens; Kidspace Children’s Museum; Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA); Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Museum of Latin American Art; Museum of Tolerance; Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County; Norton Simon Museum; Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits; Paley Center for Media; Pasadena Museum of California Art; Skirball Cultural Center; and USS Battleship Iowa.

Additionally, the following institutions offer a discount off museum store purchases: Annenberg Space for Photography Skylight studios; California Science Center; Fowler Museum at UCLA; Getty Center; Getty Villa; Hammer Museum; USC Pacific Museum

A SAMPLE OF MUSEUM SAVINGS AND EXHIBITION HIGHLIGHTS INCLUDE:

–       Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens (A savings of $40 on two or more regular adult admissions) – In commemoration of the start of World War I in the summer of 1914, a centennial Posters of the First World War exhibition in the Library’s West Hall through Nov. 3 illustrates how a global war was waged not just by soldiers on battlefields and politicians in offices, but by civilian populations of men, women, and children on the home fronts of combatant nations including Canada, England, France, and the United States.

–       LACMA (A savings of $30 on two regular adult admissions) – Big Quilts in Small Sizes: Children’s Historical Bedcovers features diminutive quilts chosen from the museum’s collection, all of them made for children and presenting strikingly beautiful decorative designs, reflecting the same meticulous stitching and geometric patterns that have been used to create full-size bedcovers in the United States for centuries.

–       Hollywood Museum (A savings of $30 on two regular adult admissions) – Be among the first to enjoy a new collection of sorcery acquisitions from the Harry Potter film franchise including original wands, Harry Potter’s robe, his ultimate broom, blueprints of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and more.

–       Grammy Museum (a savings of $25.90 on two regular adult admissions) – California Dreamin’: The Sounds of Laurel Canyon, 1965-1977, explores the story of the Los Angeles rock scene during this golden age of music, creativity and culture.  See a broad array of items on display including Jim Morrison’s (The Doors) writing chair; Arthur Lee’s (Love) 6 String Flying V guitar; Cass Elliot’s (The Mamas and the Papas) c.1960s, hand painted chair; and original scrapbooks, handbills, and posters.

For more information on arts and culture or all of the endless entertainment options in Los Angeles, visit the official visitor information website of Los Angeles at www.discoverLosAngeles.com, and visit www.facebook.com/LosAngelesFan and Twitter @discoverLA.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The whole family can ride Orange Crush at LEGOLAND Water Park

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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

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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.

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

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

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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

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

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

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

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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

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

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

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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

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

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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.

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

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One of the two pools at Hotel Indigo

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

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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

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Cars Land has put California Adventure back on the map

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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 http://www.isitpacked.com/disneyland-crowd-forecast-predictor-calendar/.  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.


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The PickUp Rolls Out in West Hollywood

 Free Late-Night Makes Cruising Santa Monica Boulevard Flirty and Fun

West Hollywood is known as one of the most walkable cities in the US, but it is also known as one of the most unparkable, which has been a huge stumbling block for the city’s nightlife.  That is all about to change with last week’s launch of “The PickUp,” a free trolley that will run Friday and Saturday nights, from 8 pm to 3 pm.  The service will run from Robertson Boulevard to Fairfax Boulevard, picking up and dropping off party happy patrons every 15 minutes along a four-mile loop with stops every two to three blocks at the hottest venues along Santa Monica Boulevard.

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Riders can ditch their cars and hop aboard the flaming yellow PickUp trolleys, decorated with vintage comic character images and screaming suggestive sayings like, “Get on and get off,” and ride in style while grooving to a music soundtrack mixed by WeHo DJ Derek Monterio.

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PickUp riders will enjoy perks like VIP entry to The Abbey, the world’s most notorious gay bar; plus two-for-one Abbey breakfasts before noon. Other popular bars like Micky’s are jumping on the bandwagon by offering PickUp patrons no cover and priority admission. Hugo’s has one free appetizer with entrée for PickUp patrons. Riders getting off at Fubar get one $1 drink, and a stop at Here Lounge gets PickUp riders half off their first drink.

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The PickUp is a six-month pilot project unanimously approved by The City of West Hollywood’’s City Council at a cost of $71,000 allocated from the city’s general fund.  The service will cost the City $110 per operating hour. If the pilot project is successful the city will consider options for the program to return and look for opportunities to partner with the private sector for sponsorship and advertising to fund it.

“I am so grateful that staff worked overtime to make this a reality,” said West Hollywood Councilmember John Duran. “When D’Amico and I first brainstormed about this, we knew we had to create a mode of transportation that would fit into Weho’s hip urban culture. Time will tell if we are successful,” continued Councilmember Duran.

The City of West Hollywood prides itself in its passionate and creative approach to city government and has established itself as an innovative leader in municipal programs. In February of 2012 the City launched a pilot car-sharing program in partnership with ZipCar to provide West Hollywood residents, businesses and visitors with increased access to affordable, convenient transportation options that reduce congestion and emissions. In 2011 West Hollywood was named the “Most Walkable” city in California and received 89 out of 100 score for walkable amenities and even beat out San Francisco and New York City.

For information, visit www.weho.org/wehopickup . “Like” The Pickup on Facebook atwww.facebook.com/wehopickup or on Twitter @wehopickup


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Spring is in the Air, and Snow is on the Mountain at Big Bear Lake

Temps at Big Bear Lake are rising to the 60s and 70s, but all that means for spring skiers and snowboarders is shedding heavy coats for T-shirts and, of course, lower prices for just about everything on the mountain.

Bear Mountain Resort and Snow Summit Mountain Resort heralded in the spring season March 10 with a drop in full-day lift tickets from $72 to $59 for adults and $62 to $49 for 13 and up. Kids under six are always free with a paying adult. Besides discounted prices, which extend to lodging and local retailers, the benefits of spring skiing abound, including shorter lines for chair lifts and rentals, wide open slopes and easy parking at the resorts.

Spring snow was bountiful on the slopes, and perfect for making snowballs

Spring snow was bountiful on the slopes, and perfect for making snowballs

Home-Sweet-Cottage

On our recent three-day spring getaway, our family stayed at Blue Horizons Lodge, an adorable complex of cottages tucked away off the main boulevard about 200 yards from the lake and within minutes of the ski resorts. The website photos did not do the place justice, as we were pleasantly surprised to find our rustic little cottage-away-from-home very tidy, decorated with cute lake-themed accents and updated furnishings and equipped with everything we needed for our stay. The wood-burning fireplace kept us cozy, and my son was thrilled with the XBox 360 and the library of DVDs for our evening entertainment.

Blue Horizons Lodge is just a few miles to the resorts in our KIA Soul, the official vehicle of Big Bear Mountain Resorts

Blue Horizons Lodge is just a few miles to the resorts in our KIA Soul, the official vehicle of Big Bear Mountain Resorts

The Blue Horizons Lodge at Big Bear features cozy cottages with fireplaces, kitchens, and even Xbox 360

The Blue Horizons Lodge at Big Bear features cozy cottages with fireplaces, kitchens, and even Xbox 360

The property also had a pool (closed for winter), BBQ area with picnic tables, volleyball pit, horse shoe course and a vintage seesaw and train handcar that my son loved pumping around its circular track. The inn keeper, Sharon, a grandmother of 14, was a wealth of information about where families can go to eat and have fun around town, and she clued us in to several deals and discounts at Big Bear businesses.

Our woodsy two-bedroom cottage at Blue Horizons Lodge was decorated with cute lake-themed décor

Our woodsy two-bedroom cottage at Blue Horizons Lodge was decorated with cute lake-themed décor

Our woodsy two-bedroom cottage at Blue Horizons Lodge was decorated with cute lake-themed décor

Our woodsy two-bedroom cottage at Blue Horizons Lodge was decorated with cute lake-themed décor

Bear Necessities

We opted to arrive late in the afternoon mid-week so that we could relax, explore local attractions and shop. While Big Bear has given in to chains like Starbucks, Carl’s Jr. and even Big 5 Sports, the town still has an array of quaint shops, many clustered in the Village at Big Bear. Thankfully, the Village is unlike the generic shopping villages that have popped up at so many mountain resorts.

The Village at Big Bear features an array of quaint shops and restaurants, unlike the generic shopping villages that have popped up at so many mountain resorts.

The Village at Big Bear features an array of quaint shops and restaurants, unlike the generic shopping villages that have popped up at so many mountain resorts.

We walked the few blocks of boutiques and eateries that comprise the Village, stopping in a few novelty shops, like the Brown Bear Gift Shop and Bear Essentials, the latter where my son, a fan of Brave, got a child’s bow and rubber-tipped arrow set, with a whittled bear for a handle. The bear-themed toy was one of about a hundred bear encounters we had in Big Bear, as the town is bear crazy, with bear décor and businesses with “bear” in the name at every turn. Ironically, the grizzlies for which the town is named no longer live there, but the ubiquitous carved bears crawling into windows and bear statues standing on their hind quarters in front of stores show no sign of endangerment.

Spring is in the Air, and Snow is on the Mountain

Bear Mountain Resort and its sister resort Snow Summit Mountain Resort are the most popular ski resorts in the area, though there is a smaller, independent resort, Snow Valley, about 30 minutes away.

Empty lines greeted us at the Bear Mountain ticket booths

Empty lines greeted us at the Bear Mountain ticket booths

Snow Summit Mountain Resort has the reputation as the more family friendly of the two main resorts, owing in part to its Family Fun Park, featuring small jumps, bumps and rollers for kids and learners, and loud speakers reminding guests to maintain slow speeds and ski with care.

The Family Fun Park at Snow Summit offers slower skiing and small jumps for kids and kids of all ages

The Family Fun Park at Snow Summit offers slower skiing and small jumps for kids and kids of all ages

Snowboarders tend to favor Bear Mountain, especially because of its halfpipe and superpipe features. Despite the signs on the chair lift poles declaring, “With courtesy skiers and snowboarders can enjoy the slopes together,” the reality is that many skiers would rather not share the mountain with the reckless riders who barrel down trails too close to them and their children, and many snowboarders resent the slow moving two-plankers and kids, or “bowling pins,” that get in the way of the jumps and jibs they love boost over and catch air.

Spring ski season offers many advantages, like no waiting for rentals at the resorts

Spring ski season offers many advantages, like no waiting for rentals at the resorts

Overall we had a pleasant ski experience at both resorts, though when my son wandered toward the side of one of the jumps at Bear Mountain, a Shaun White look-alike bombed by us yelling, “Get that kid outta here!” Then he stopped to apologize for his tone and explained he was just concerned for my son’s safety.

At both resorts, we found spring skiing had some terrific advantages — extremely short lines for chair lifts and equipment rentals and less crowded runs compared to winter, though the snow was slower and mushy by early afternoon from the sun, and the resorts opened at 9 am instead of 8 am, and the mountains closed at 4 pm, with no night skiing.

Tires Unchained

Another advantage to visiting Big Bear in spring is clear roads, no chains required. We drove up in a KIA Soul, which got great mileage and handled capably on the curvy mountain roads, which comprise about 35-45 minutes of the 110-mile, three-hour drive from LA. The fold-down seat in back allowed us to store two sets of skis and a snowboard plus all of our luggage for the trip, and despite driving in the mountains, we had SIRIUS Satellite Radio reception the entire trip and could monitor the commute on SIRIUS Traffic. As a bonus, KIA is the official vehicle of Big Bear Mountain resorts, so we were offered rock star parking by the attendants.

The “beach” lodge at the bottom of the slopes at Snow Summit offers outdoor dining in spring

The “beach” lodge at the bottom of the slopes at Snow Summit offers outdoor dining in spring

While Big Bear is best known for its snow sports, there are a number of great rear-round and summer activities and attractions on the mountain, such as the Big Bear Fishing Adventures, Alpine Zipline Tours, Big Bear Off-Road Adventures, the Alpine Slide at Magic Mountain, and the Wolf Mountain Sanctuary, home to Istas Pejuta, one of the wolves filmed for Twilight Saga: New Moon movie. So even after the snow melts, there will still be plenty of (wooden) big bears on their haunches, standing all around Big Bear, to welcome you.

No waiting for spring skiing.  Ski rental technician John at Big Bear tunes up high performance equipment for a guest.

No waiting for spring skiing. Ski rental technician John at Big Bear tunes up high performance equipment for a guest.


Big Bear Lake on Dwellable

Family Attractions in Lake Tahoe

With the world’s largest alpine lake at its center, beautiful Lake Tahoe is a wonderful family destination offering plenty of mountain sports and activities for kids of all ages, with a “winter” season that begins around Thanksgiving and lasts through early summer.

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Happy Trails

Our family resort hopped across Tahoe starting with the massive Squaw Valley, which got a $24 million facelift in 2012.  The terrain has endless expanses of trails and family friendly options, with beginner, intermediate and advanced trails often using the same chair lifts.  The view from the 1960s Olympic skating rink at the top of the tram is a sight to behold, and skating costs just $12 an hour for adults and $6 for kids, including rentals.

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Learning to ice skate at Squaw Valley



Diamond in the Snow

At a gem of a resort, Diamond Peak, our family took a private ski lesson together.  With expert instruction, our five year-old son progressed at an amazing rate from snowplowing to paralleling. The resort has lots of wide open trails that families can ski together.  Diamond Peak’s owners also own the Incline Village Recreation Center about a mile from the base lodge.  The huge complex features a pool, sauna, basketball and other sport facilities, along with a massage therapist on site.

Incline Village Rec Center

Incline Village Rec Center

Like Heaven

The aptly named Heavenly features vast terrain for skiers and riders of every ability and preference, including a Roundabout trail that that winds around the mountain and is a better thigh burner than any Suzanne Somers contraption.

Children’s ski lessons at Heavenly are impressively streamlined with kids quickly placed in groups by skill level and whisked off to the slopes.  Despite my son’s initial separation anxiety, by lunchtime he was downing hot chocolate and cookies in the lodge with a new gaggle of friends.  By day’s end he conquered intermediate runs with full confidence.  Highlights of the lesson were captured digitally courtesy of EpicMix, a very cool photo service that snaps pics on the slopes that you can access and buy online.

Souvinier pics on the slopes from EpicMix

Souvinier pics on the slopes from EpicMix

Skis In, Skis Out

We rented skis through Black-Tie Rentals. They brought our skis to our hotel for fitting and picked them up at the bottom of the slopes when we were done. Our high performance equipment was in tip-top shape, and the service was outstanding.

Black-Tie Rentals in-room fitting

Black-Tie Rentals in-room fitting

Going Sno-Mobile

A private snowmobile tour by Zephyr Cove Resort was a highlight of our trip.  Our guide led us over the hills and through the woods atop of our ultra-powerful luxury snowmobiles, outfitted with hand warmers.  The tour was complete with a break for hot chocolate, made from melted snow.

Snowmobiling on luxury machines (adult supervision required, as in riding in back)

Snowmobiling on luxury machines (adult supervision required, as in riding in back)

After Apres-Ski

The Lone Eagle Grille at the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort, Spa and Casinois one of the area’s finest dining establishments with a wonderful ambiance and blazing fireplaces.  The menu includes delectable dishes like Durham Ranch Bison Tenderloin, pan seared California Sturgeon and the fabulous Baked Tahoe dessert.

Baked Tahoe dessert

Baked Tahoe dessert

Local favorite Azzarra’s at Incline Village serves up authentic Italian cuisine in a relaxed family friendly atmosphere.  The generous portions of seafood paella, swordfish over an awesome risotto, and traditional spaghetti with meatballs were all superb.

Another Incline Village locals’ favorite is Austin’s, a tiny 13-table restaurant with great down-home Tahoe charm and mountain country cooking.  Popular dishes include chicken fried steak, classic meat loaf and a legendary rib eye steak.

Austin's dining room

Austin’s dining room

South Lake Tahoe’s Riva Grill offers stunning views and décor of polished wood, just like Milan’s famed Riva sleek wood boats.  The artful menu consists of gourmet comfort foods like pork ribs with a pomegranate glaze, rib eye char grilled with rum peppercorn sauce and a wonderful bread pudding with Callebaut dark chocolate.

Riva Grille on the water

Riva Grille on the water

The Other Side of Cal-Neva

Our family stayed at Cal-Neva Resort, Spa and Casino, located in North Lake Tahoe on the California-Nevada borderline, divided down the middle of its banquet hall, swimming pool and grand fireplace with a painted stateline.  The hotel was once the hangout of Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pak who used its famous network of underground tunnels to escape fan mobs.

Cal-Neva Resort tunnel

Cal-Neva Resort tunnel

The Cal-Neva is past its glory days, but the beds are comfy, and the housekeepers kept our room impressively clean and neat.  Best of all, it is very affordable with spacious rooms.

The stateline down the middle of the hearth at Cal-Neva

The stateline down the middle of the hearth at Cal-Neva

For Kids Only, and Their Parents, and Everyone Else

On our way out we stopped at the Terry Lee Wells Nevada Discovery Museum.  Our son had a blast exploring the hands-on Nevada-themed interactive science, nature, history, math, music and art exhibits.

Reno Children's Discovery Museum

Reno Children’s Discovery Museum

Tahoe’s majestic mountain peaks seem a world away from home, but Tahoe is just an hour flight from Los Angeles.  Though we were sad to leave, the good news is that in a few more months we can discover a whole different Tahoe in summer.


Lake Tahoe on Dwellable

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 www.allyoucanfish.com.

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 (http://lakecasitas.info), 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 (http://www.casitastrailers.com), 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 (http://casitasboatrentals.com) 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 (www.ojaiinn.com), 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.

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