Lo and behold, our Disneyland annual passes are blocked out through most of the summer, so our marked desperation to do something with ourselves led us to my third Toddler Friendly Activity, Adventure City.
My husband found it online and we liked what we saw. “The Little Theme Park” is their websites catch phrase, and that is exactly what we were in the market for. A small theme park for our very small person.
As we followed our navigation through the streets of Anaheim, I do admit that I began to question our decision. As we pulled into the parking lot, I agreed to get out and have a look at the place, but was pretty sure I would be redirecting my families weekend excursion. All I saw was the semi abandoned old strip mall parking area and didn’t have high hopes for what was around the corner.
Once we had made our way to the entrance, I was pleasantly surprised by what an adorable little set up they had going on in there. We had forgotten our stroller, so we rented a little car to wheel E around in. Needless to say he was enthralled by the introduction to his very own vroom vroom, and almost fell over backwards when he caught glimpse of the 5 foot tallThomas the Tank Engine replica. It was a little rough around the edges being home-made and all, but E obviously couldn’t have cared less.
After we had successfully pulled him away from Thomas, we started in on the rides. First the airplanes, then the carousel. We then tried the ‘Crank n’ roll’, these little trains that the kids set on and wheel with their hands around a track. We were surprised that he did so well with his coordination for somebody under two years old. After that we continued on to the miniature train ride and E had fun seeing all of the sights as it clickety clacked around the park and through a tunnel. Adventure city staff are positioned around the grounds with bubble machines which added to the ambiance.
At the end of the day I think his favorite ride was the ‘Rescue 911’ experience where he could drive his very own fire engine around a little course.
As we were leaving we stopped back over by Thomas where they had a Thomas and Chuggington gift shop. Beside the shop is a play area with train sets for little ones to play with, so that killed another twenty minutes or so.
On the drive home E slept like a rock… and he rarely EVER sleeps in the car. We were having so much fun that we forgot to take lots of pictures… will add more after our next visit.
My next ‘Toddler Friendly OC Activity‘ goes to Dana Point’s Ocean Institute. One of our favorite neighbors recommended this coastal gem, and I’m so glad we decided to take my 21 month old for a visit! We were warned that he may be just a little too young to find it interesting, but it turned out to be a great experience for him. Elijah is a real hands-on observer so most of the exhibits absolutely fascinated him.
As we entered the grounds I was surprised by a brief surge of déjà vu. I was reminded of an outdoor marine biology focused high school I attended for a period of time at Pine Trees/OTEC on the Kona Coast of Hawaii’s Big Island, back in 2000. Doing schoolwork under a makeshift shelter made of four steel poles and a tarp was a memorable experience indeed. I’ll have to take E there on our next Big Island visit.
Okay, back on subject… First we stopped at the starfish tank as we began our self-guided tour to each of the exhibits; a five building layout. Elijah is obsessed with starfish in his books and loves starfish stickers, so getting up close and touching them was as exhilarating experience. He also loved the fish tank with a bubble in the bottom. He could stand up into the sphere to get an inside view of the tank. After a quick rinse of his hands, we made our way to the tank full of skates, rays and small sharks. E stood enamored pointing and talking to himself for a good 3 minutes or so. This was a good chunk of time for such a small person.
Next, we had a quick look in the whale skeleton room. Once outside of that building, E made a friend with Ocean Institute volunteer Cassy who escorted him over to the jellyfish exhibit. E didn’t want to let go of her hand!
We ended up spending about an hour at the institute with absolutely no fussiness! This is hugely monumental.
The Tall Ships Festival on September 7-8 2013 is highly recommended by a friend of ours, so hopefully we’ll be making an appearance for that. When E reaches the minimum age of 4, we’ll be taking him on one of their whale watching cruises as well. Since he was still in good spirits at time of departure we paid a quick visit to the gift shop and bought some fun sea themed toys and a couple of sun hats for E. There are lots of cute little treasures so its worth a look before leaving.
It was such a beautiful day that we decided to follow the dirt road behind the institute. The path led us to a beautiful little beach perfect for exploring tide pools. The tide was much too high for that during our visit so we’ll be back again another time to pester some crabs and sea cucumbers… With our eyes of course.
Often I find myself perplexed when attempting to schedule a day of fun out with my 21 month old. He is old enough to demand an escape from redundant home and playground life, yet too young for many of the kid specific attractions. Over the next couple of weeks I will be listing my picks for best toddler (and young children) friendly activities in Orange County… in no particular order. Hopefully my run of trials and errors will help you to plan an exquisite day of excitement for your young family, or be equipped with suggestions for friends and loved ones!
Zoomars, located in historic downtown San Juan Capistrano has been a favorite of my son’s since he was about 8 months old (photos from many different visits). If you live close to SJC, make a day of it by utilizing public transportation. Check the Amtrak or Metrolink schedule and disembark at the San Juan Capistrano Station. Your little one will love riding a real train!!
Have lunch at one of the many restaurants on Los Rios Street. Or, pack some food and eat at one if the many picnic tables at Los Rios Park (behind Zoomars).
Although too young for the horseback rides, my son is eligible for just about everything else offered at Zoomars. Upon entry, we purchase a basket of fresh produce (to disperse amongst the animals) and a few tickets for the miniature railway train ride. E (my son) doesn’t stop smiling from start to finish. He loves feeding the llamas and practicing being gentle with the smaller animals. Be sure and monitor your little children when visiting the small animals. It’s always depressing to see the bunnies and guinea pigs running for cover or relieving themselves all over the place due to ignorant parents.
E also gets a kick out of the giant dinosaur statue (*update: Dino isn’t there anymore!)and he’ll go play with some kids on the playground equipment. It’s usually a struggle getting him to say goodbye, he always wants just one more ride on the train!
***Sorry for the late birthday post, we’ve been plagued with pneumonia pretty much since our return from Hawaii. Just starting to feel normal again now.
D and I struggled with settling on a location for the first birthday party, but finally selected the San Clemente Aquatics Center. E’s jubilant admiration of fountains and pools was what made for the final decision. Two of the top location contenders were:
1. Pines Park, Dana Point
This is an adorable park about 10 minutes from our house. It had just what I was looking for… trees and an ocean view. Complete with playground, picnic tables and barbecue, this place is situated off Camino Capistrano on the cliff edge overlooking the Pacific ocean. We ended up scratching this place off the list when we discovered there are no public bathrooms. Guess that’s one way for the neighbors to keep people from using their park. Probably worked out for the best though, I always get the feeling that the ground is going to give way whenever I stand perched atop a southern California cliff anyway.
2. Santa Ana Zoo
The Santa Ana Zoo feels more to me like a monkey sanctuary. Their lack of… well… just about anything other than monkeys is what gives me that feeling. I mean, you will see the odd parrot and aardvark, but the vast array of primates really is the majority of what you’ll be snapping pictures of. I liked this location because one of their many designated party areas is a petting zoo. The little farm-house, chicken coups and carousel seem perfect for a kid party. E loves animals so he would have had a great time here. In the end it was just too far of a drive and we figured a good portion of the guests would feel the same way. I do plan on having a party for him here when he’s bigger though if we stay in southern California.
So, planning for the party was extremely perplexing for me since I am the most indecisive person I know. I ended up going with a luau theme because a first birthday luau is traditional for us Hawaiians (well, for us haole islanders too). I was rather surprised to find that most luau themed party decor involved some kind of monkey wearing sunglasses and hibiscus print surf shorts. Didn’t these decoration designers take the lack of resident Hawaiian monkeys into consideration when creating the decorations? A little strange. I found some cute things nonetheless and yes, some monkeys found their way into the mix somehow too.
I was slightly obsessed with getting E a really cool birthday hat. I had come across the most amazing hat at Villa Cucina in San Clemente back in November 2011. It was a beach themed cone hat with sand, seashells and I think a sailboat on a dark blue shimmery background. It was the cutest thing I had ever seen and of course I just ass-umbed they would be orderable when his b-day got a little closer. I was inevitably wrong and not only was it a one of a kind item, but the person who makes them is no longer making them. This information catapulted me into an ongoing internet search for a similar type of hat. Sadly, I never found anything that came even remotely close, but I did find a website called Silver Spoon Scraps. Owner and designer Sita Riddle makes the most fabulous little vintage style birthday hats and decor. At first I was afraid the frilly paper might be a little too feminine, but ended up asking her to do something special for E… she ended up creating two adorable keepsake hats. One birthday boy hat, one guest/extra hat, a scepter and an “I Am One” high chair banner all perfectly coordinated. Sita’s hand-made creations are so sweet and thoughtfully made, I was so glad to have found something to take the place of that illusive hat from Villa Cucina. I liked Sita’s stuff so much that I also bought some of her hand-made bunting for E’s nautical themed bedroom.
As a result of being the primary camera wielder in the family, I have very few pictures of E and I together. Because of this I decided to hire a photographer. After receiving over thirty quotes on sites like Thumbtack, Guru, and some personal web research, I chose the best guy to do the job, Edward Hannigan. Ed had the best party photos I’ve seen to date. He is amazingly able to capture memorable moments without the images coming off at all posey or planned. All of the party images on this post are his. Thanks Ed!
As far as our venue (San Clemente Aquatics Center) is concerned, we were satisfied overall with the experience. Our party was from noon till 2pm (pool not opening to the public till 1pm). In the hour we had to ourselves they include two lifeguards who play pool games with the kids. After the party it was brought to my attention that they hadn’t done any of the games that had been advertised in the party package. I would imagine that it was because not enough kids had arrived at noon. A good portion of the guests had traffic issues and didn’t arrive till around 1 or 1:30pm. One other mishap was that the Aquatics Center staff had agreed to have 4 large tables for us, however, when we arrived, they only had two on hand. It just would have been nice for them to have notified us so we could have brought our own.
All in all E had a great time playing in the water and smearing organic, gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, dye-free cupcake frosting all over his face and hair. Yes, only the best, purest and healthiest first cake for my boy. Cupcake courtesy of Cloud 9 Bakers in San Juan Capistrano. Lola at Cloud 9 is able to make pastries, cupcakes, breads etc. to your dietary specifications (such as gluten-free, corn free, dairy free…) if quantity is large enough. Their bread is the best gluten-free bread I’ve ever tasted. Their gf cupcakes are better than any regular cupcake we’ve ever tried too.
We decided to accept book donations instead of gifts at the party as a part of the Milk and Bookies program. We’re happy to have collected more than 200 (and counting) books and toys for our local women’s shelter here in San Clemente. E is too little to remember birthday presents anyway!
I delighted in watching E toddle around in his aloha shirt and coordinating shorts, somewhat reminiscent of a Hawaii resort valet guy. All he needed was a set of keys and a ticket in his breast pocket. Happy birthday sweet baby/toddler. You’ve provided me with the absolute best year of my life. No tropical vacation, African safari, culture filled Euro trip, hike to the king’s chamber in the Great pyramid, snowboarding down mount Ruapehu in New Zealand etc. etc. could ever outshine even the least eventful day spent with you.
The Hilton Waikoloa Village is stretched out over 62 acres of pristine oceanfront Kohala Coast property on Hawai’i’s Big Island. It’s design was originally sketched out on a cocktail napkin by mega resort builder Chris Hemmeter, and came to completion in 1988. One of my favorite parts of visiting the Hilton Waikoloa Village are the lengthly corridors lined with unique artwork and artifacts valued at around $7 million USD.
Yes, I’ve spent a fair share of time here in my day. From kids birthday parties back when it was run by Hyatt, to spending the morning at Dolphin Quest with Yangsi Kalu Rinpoche, a recognized child reincarnation of a former teacher of Lama Yeshe in Sera Monastery, Tibet. Let’s not forget my later days of sneaking in at night with my tribe of other sixteen year old friends for an evening dip in the elaborate grotto housed fresh water pool surrounded by roaring waterfalls. All of this leading to my choice to marry D in the resort’s own Waiulua Bay chapel.
I’ve stayed here more times than I can count, and this visit has been the best by far. We chose a newly renovated room in the Lagoon Tower, ground floor so my one-year-old had a grassy lawn out beyond our terrace for convenient exploration. Our view of the 4 acre salt water lagoon and ocean was extraordinary. E liked to toddle over and get a closer look at the mama dolphin nursing and playing with her baby at Dolphin Quest. Procreation is how the animal caregivers know these animals are happy in their living conditions. In the early morning we’d watch the resident honu family glide through the water occasionally popping their heads up for a refreshing inhalation.
I remember when I got married back in ’04 I had left a muffin in a sealed bag on the bedside table. By morning there were lines of ants coming from more than one direction completely infesting the tightly wrapped, seemingly impenetrable paper bag… Guess it wasn’t. This time some of E’s cereal puffs had accidentally fallen down behind the dresser the first day we arrived. By check-out I had a look and the puffs were still there. Not a bug in sight. Magnificent. I was obsessed with the lamp on our desk… It has a night light setting perfect for E’s nap time.
We frequented the Kirin Chinese Restaurant which has delicious egg fu yung and shrimp fried rice. D loved their cashew chicken, orange chicken and lemon chicken. As I’m sure you’ve gathered by previous statement, he thrives primarily on fowl.
Chef Dane in the resort’s main kitchen (ext. 2522) was happy to accommodate for my gluten-free dietary requests. Kitchen staff will prepare and deliver special items to your room, or, they’ll have them ready at any of the property’s restaurants so you can dine along with your gluten-tolerant friends. When heading to the Water’s Edge Ballroom for breakfast, I made sure they had steamed zucchini and carrots ready for baby. They also made some fabulous gf coconut muffins and gf pancakes with coconut syrup. Thanks to the Japanese portion of the breakfast buffet I was able to have a hot cup of miso soup too.
At the time if our stay the resort was at 51% occupancy. We never had to wait for a table at any of the restaurants, any time of day. We’re too scattered to make reservations so things worked out well for us.
We spent an hour leisurely touring the lagoon on a paddle boat for $33. Some spastic fish (malolo I think) would sporadically leap from the water every so often and give us a fright. E would always be thoroughly entertained by riding the choo choo tram or boat taxi through the canals to different on-property destinations. We found ourselves having to take the long way to wherever it was we were going due to our ball and chain a.k.a. The Stroller. I can’t complain though, I can appreciate the extra onslaught of physical exercise. Do plan a little extra time if you’re in a wheelchair or use a stroller though.
The poolside and lagoon side bars offer delicious blended cocktails made from fresh ingredients instead of a standard slushy type icy/smoothie machine often used in resorts. The non-alcoholic chocolate coconut smoothie was fabulous.
There are a few cute souvenir and clothing shops near to the resorts own, Kohala Spa. We got E a cute handmade pendulum frog clock by Allen Designs for $68. The owl clock was equally adorable but the frog matched better in his nautically themed room.
I look forward to the day when they re-open the Kimo Bean Coffee Bar on the Lagoon Tower end of the resort. It is undergoing renovation, so the only other coffee shop was inconveniently (for us) at the opposite end of the resort by Ocean Tower. A sign read ‘Re-opening this summer’, so it must be due to open soon… Since summer is essentially over.
Resort staff were friendly and responsive to our requests. A few people who made our stay especially memorable were front desk manager Merla Cline, Wesley at concierge, Ululani A. at Big Island Breakfast and of course head Chef Dane in the resorts main kitchen. Just a heads up, call 45 minutes before you need to leave at check out for the bell man to take your bags.
I highly recommend a visit to Lava Lava Beach Club, a short drive or 20 minute walk to Anaeho’omalu Bay (A-Bay). The beach front location is stunning for cocktails at sunset, however, despite the creative plating and presentation of the food, our menu items were disappointingly flavorless (Chipotle Chicken Tacos and Pineapple Fried Rice). The sunset lighting was beautiful for photos, but watch out for thorns from the surrounding kiawe trees… They’ll even penetrate thick rubber slippers!
Let me know if you have any Big Island questions. As always I’m happy to offer advice stemming from my perspective of Hawaii.