Back in January, I took you through my first babymoon, traveling around Lake Geneva, Switzerland, and the wintry magic of small European towns, the scenic Alps, and how chocolate and cheese does wonders for the soul and pregnant bellies! That trip was about husband and wife, getting away for some R & R before their lives were about to be changed forever with the arrival of their first child. Babymoon Two, however would focus on seasoned vets in the parenting game looking to share some special quality time with each other and their first born, creating some new memories and enjoying the freedoms that the toddler phase allows, before doing it all over again with a new baby! Babymoon Two took us down Coastal California!
Everyone has his or her own opinion on what a Babymoon should look like. I think the first one was more in line with your typical, indulgent vacation away (though many people opt for warmer destinations, I, on the other hand, did not want to be overheating and stuffing my face in a bathing suit the whole time.) But for our second, we brought our daughter. Many people want that husband and wife time away, but for me, I’m happiest when I’m with my husband and my daughter. I want her to experience these new places alongside me, and giving her our full attention for her last trip as an only child was something I needed to gift to her. So, once we had determined we were looking for a child-friendly vacation, we narrowed down our destination pretty quickly with some specific requirements. I wanted to be warm, not hot, and only on a plane for 7 hours max considering my SI joint, sciatic nerve, pregnant belly and active toddler! Also, after just moving back from Europe, we knew we wanted to stay in the U.S. We had been neglecting all that America has to offer for some time, so I was excited to get reacquainted with this side of the world. This basically left us with Florida, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California, and California was just calling our names!
Here is an overview of our week-long trip beginning in San Francisco and ending with a flight out of Los Angeles. I’ll start with our flight, as (after traveling abroad many times with our daughter) we have kinda mastered the traveling with kids thing, and you may find some tips useful.
We always Uber to the airport and bring our own carseat. Since our daughter was only 22 months at the time of travel, she is not cleared for forward-facing car seats just yet, nor do I feel comfortable going without a seat. We have a very heavy Britax, and lugging this around would barely be possible without the wheeled backpack that Britax offers. I’m mentioning car seats because staying on top of my child’s safety is very important, and after extensive traveling, we have found ourselves in some difficult positions. For example, when we moved country, our car service forgot a car seat, I’ve been shocked by the quality of rented car seats, and, many people do not realize that European car seats are not deemed legal for use in the USA, and vice versa. For this reason, I always draw attention to what worked for us on a specific trip. Taking our carseat into the Uber and onto our road trip put me at ease because 1) Ubers do not offer rear-facing seats and services that do (like Kidcar) are SO expensive, 2) Car seats are free to check onto a flight and 3) I know my car seat’s quality and history. So, we Ubered. Got to JFK, checked said car seat right away, along with our checked bags and utilized our amazing travel stroller from the moment we stepped out of the car. You can gate check your stroller, but since our Mamas & Papas Acro is compact and approved for overhead bin storage, I always opt to bring it onto the plane with us. This way, I can open it right up the second we are off the plane and I don’t need to worry about damage from insensitive baggage handlers.
Once we were in flight, I pulled out my Mom Hacks to keep my daughter happy and entertained the entire 6+ hours. She no longer naps on flights. She’s just too big and uncomfortable as a lap child and excited, so I find that as long as she is kept occupied, we’re all good. My Mom Bag included SO MANY SNACKS, a lot of water, coloring books, crayons, books, comfort items, and an iPad loaded with Peppa Pig (this is especially important for parental relief–otherwise you are reading, coloring, and chatting for 7 hours straight). In addition, I packed her three new items that I ordered just for the trip. Two were interactive books and one was a 12-piece puzzle. Anyone with a toddler knows, the new toy gets the most attention, so reserving a few items to surprise her with is a game changer. I took one new item out every 1 or 2 hours, or so. And then, before we knew it, we were there!
San Francisco does not have very reliable public transportation, so, following the advice of basically everyone, we easily got another Uber to take us the almost hour ride (traffic) from the San Francisco International Airport to the Nob Hill area of the city, where we checked into the InterContinental Mark Hopkins Hotel. Nob Hill is an affluent, historical district of San Francisco which we chose for its reputation as a safe neighborhood and its proximity to Union Square, a major part of the city. On our travel day, we basically had just enough time to check into the hotel, refresh, wander through Chinatown, and grab dinner at The Stinking Rose (a garlic-lover’s dream) and PASS OUT from our lack of naps and major jet lag.
The InterContinental Mark Hopkins Hotel is your classic old, luxury hotel. They could stand to come into this century a bit (my husband says any hotel that still has a phone in the bathroom as a luxury needs to renovated), but it was clean, provided a proper crib, and we’re not ones to stay in the hotel longer than we need to.
A DAY IN SAN FRANCISCO
We started our only full day in San Francisco at 4:00AM. I wish I could say we were just that excited, but the jet lag got the best of us. Thankfully, the nearest Starbucks opened at 4:30 so we could have our first out of many meals that day. We spent the morning lazing around, waiting for the West Coast world to wake up. Once it was socially acceptable and we were ready for our 8:00AM “lunch” we walked down the crazy hill to Roxanne’s Cafe, a modest diner with good bacon, before wandering through the Union Square neighborhood, ducking into shops to avoid the bouts of heavy rain. We spent the rest of the morning visiting with local family right on Sutter St. and hit the Trader Joe’s on our way back up the hill to stock up on goodies for our road trip down the coast and for lunch back in the room. I was hopeful we could all crash at noon (our normal nap time) but the jet lag made my little one overtired/stubborn/excited, so we just cuddled in bed, refreshed, and snacked, before Ubering to the Marina District of San Francisco. I coordinated with the restaurant where we were having dinner ahead of time, and was able to drop off our car seat there so we could wander around before dinner without a 30lb inconvenience on our backs. As mentioned above, staying safe often means a lot of forethought!
The main streets in the Marina District are so cute. We dodged some more rain at Le Marais, an independent coffee shop and bakery with huge pastries, window shopped, and took a nice walk to The Palace of Fine Arts–an architectural gem erected in 1915, surrounded by gardens, water features, and fowl. Just a short walk further north led us to East Beach, which provided a perfect view of the the Golden Gate Bridge, and was just a nice place to wander around and watch happy dogs catching balls and weaving in and out of the water. The experience was great (but would have been better if the rain wasn’t toying with us all day!) We slowly strolled back to Chestnut Street (while my daughter finally took a disco nap in the Acro) in time for our early reservation at The Dorian. There we had an amazing meal in a big booth where she kept busy coloring and I overindulged on everything they had on the menu. Favorites from the gastropub included Chicken Sliders, Mac and Cheese, and a 36-Hour Ginger-Cola Short Rib. After a satisfying dinner, we Ubered back to Nob Hill and passssssed out.
My daughter is OBSESSED with Daniel Tiger. Obsessed. Which I don’t mind because it’s PBS, Mr. Rodgers, and lots of good lessons that I sometimes need a break from teaching her them myself. And if you know anything about Daniel Tiger, you know he takes a trolley all over his pretend little neighborhood. This made the famous San Francisco Cable Car System the BIGGEST DEAL of our entire trip. The InterContinental is right next to a station, so a trolley was in our line of sight basically every other minute. She would clap and squeal and look for Daniel, so the morning before we hit the road south, we knew we had to take a ride!
We had another jet lagged morning with a 5:00AM wakeup (a little better) utilized our in-room Keurig with our Trader Joe’s milk and snacks, and left at 7:00AM for our trolley adventure. The Powell and California stop made for a nice ride and took us right to the end of the line at Fisherman’s Wharf. I had been to this part of the city before (it’s basically a tourist trap, but if you know where to go and what to look for, it can be pretty cool). We had breakfast at Eight AM at 8:00AM. The aptly-named diner was fantastic! I wanted everything on the menu, which had dishes ranging from Soy Vanilla Chia Seed Pudding to Crab Frittatas to Nutella Crepes. The quality was outstanding and I was impressed with how much fruit was served on top and on the side of the different dishes for the reasonable price.
We walked off our breakfast, strolling through the less-favorable touristy area, but ended up at Pier 39, to view the celebrated sea lions that like to chill on the docks with a backdrop of the Golden Gate Bridge again, and Alcatraz. Sea lions are obviously a pretty big hit with toddlers. A cloudy day coupled with going pretty early meant no crowds, so that was a plus. By the time we were ready to trolley back, the sun was shining so we had our first experience riding on the outside of the cable car! I thought I was going to fall out the entire time and was white-knuckling the pole in front of me, but my daughter loved the experience and waved at every person on the sidewalk.
If you’re lucky, and have a cool trolley operator, your daughter will be invited to ring the car’s bell and you’ll be encouraged to hop out and take a picture in front of the famed, windy Lombard Street. Our early morning operator was not as cool, and was very irritated when I asked him a question or when we didn’t have exact change. The cable car fee is $7.00 per person, per ride. Not the most economical way to get around–there are day and monthly passes that are cheaper if you’re taking several rides, but we didn’t plan on more than two, nor did we seemed to really get charged anyway! On the way there, the operator told us to not worry about the fare since we didn’t have exact change. We even told him that we didn’t need the change, but he refused payment. On the way back, we boarded, prepared with exact change, and the collector gave us back half! He said we weren’t going that far and not to worry about it! So not sure if the posted fee is just to keep out the riff-raff, or what, but we made out pretty well on those trolley rides.
After our morning adventure, I packed up the last of our belongings while my husband walked a couple blocks over to pick up our rental car from Alamo. At around noon, we left San Francisco and headed down to Monterey. The sun shined our entire two and a half hour drive, and my daughter slept for two of those hours, waking with just enough time to get a snack in before the next part of our California adventure!
THE MONTEREY PENINSULA
We arrived into Monterey right around 2:30PM, parked right off one of the main streets, and stretched our legs as we strolled down to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. This aquarium was absolutely beautiful. The building itself was impressive, and offered great views of the bay from inside and outside. There was a decent variety of sea creatures, and there were several feedings going on while we were there. The feedings, however, were very crowded, offering limited views, making for too many nudging elbows and squirming children. That criticism is only second to the price. While I love aquariums, and know they do amazing things in terms of research, rehabilitation, and conservation, it was still the priciest aquarium I’ve ever been to. At $49.95 per person, it is $20.00 over your average aquarium ticket you may see around the country. Nevertheless, we had an amazing time and a great break from the car, before heading back into our rental and driving just twenty minutes south, where we would spend the night in Carmel-By-The-Sea.
I loved our Ocean View room at La Playa Carmel. After the InterContinental’s older decor, it was a breath of fresh air to be in an airy space, with light colors, surrounded by colorful gardens and the ocean breeze. There were still issues with a closet that didn’t close well, and outdated bathroom fixtures, but overall, I was pleased. We checked in, refreshed, and took a twenty minute walk to the Mission Ranch Restaurant. The walk reminded me of the streets back in my small Connecticut town, but with such interesting differences in architecture and that gorgeous ocean within view. It was a really pleasant pre-dinner stroll. Be aware, you’ll need to take an Uber or make arrangements with your hotel shuttle to get back after dinner, assuming it is dark by then. There are no streetlights and these backroads have surprise drainage systems, potholes, and drop offs everywhere. I recommend discussing your child’s car seat needs with the hotel ahead of time.
The Mission Ranch Restaurant was a lovely experience. It overlooks sheep grazing in a meadow AND offers views of the water that seems to be everywhere in this lovely little place. They do not accept reservations, but the wait was an easy twenty minutes where we talked to sheep, felt the grass, and enjoyed one of the nicer nights of our trip. Once seated inside, we found the place extremely kid-friendly with a kids menu, crayons, other children, but still on the nicer side to make for a very special night. The sun set as we listened to a charming pianist and enjoyed reliable American cuisine. Think of an old, charming country club. I would pass on the desserts next time, as neither my husband and I were impressed. I was impressed, however, with my hotel, which provides WARM, FRESHLY-BAKED CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES AND MILK every night in the lobby. It was probably the highlight of this preggo’s trip. My daughter went right down and my husband and I indulged in our second desserts. It was a nice evening.
The next morning, our little lady slept in until 5:30AM (halfway through our trip and halfway adjusted to the time change…) and we packed up our room at La Playa Carmel while waiting for breakfast to open. There we had the lovely buffet before my husband took our daughter down to walk through the garden. I enjoyed a little quiet time, read a newspaper, had a big cup of coffee, and watched the two down below play with an oversized chess set, run through the damp grass, and admire the fountain. A very peaceful morning which would turn even more beautiful when we walked the two blocks down to the beach! Not exactly sunbathing or swimming weather (except for the surfers) we instead had fun walking along, writing our names in the sand, watching doggies with balls, and throwing rocks into the sea. Once we had our beach fix, we checked out of the hotel and walked the other direction to hit Carmel’s town center. We browsed the kid’s boutiques and toy store and grabbed an adorable lunch at Tuck Box, which has a limited menu, but is too cute for words in a tiny cottage–transporting you into what feels like the setting for a childhood nursery rhyme. After lunch, it was time to hit the road down the California coast to Santa Barbara!
Traveling down the famed Route One (PCH, Big Sur–the stretch of coastline has many different parts and names) was one of the driving forces behind this trip. Everyone said it’s something you need to do once in your life, and after not appreciating the American landscape for awhile, this little getaway seemed like the perfect time. The scenery is unreal. While reminiscent of driving on the edge of some of the Greek isles, the California coastline is really its own thing. I think the complete lack of everything surprised me. The lack of homes. Gas stations. Cell service. For hours. It was just road. Completely beautiful, on the edge of a cliff, waves crashing, blues and greens, breathtaking road. That said beautiful road, though, scared me with every twist! I must have yelled at my husband to slow down 400 times with which he would reply “I could take these corners at 70 right now, and I’m only going 24. Chill out.” But, seriously, I don’t know if it was Mama Bear being pregnant and protective of the toddler in the back seat, but there are basically a million opportunities to plunge off those cliffs at any moment with minimal guardrails for protection.
As for logistics, make sure you pack plenty of water and snacks, as rest stops are far and few between. Don’t count on there being too many bathrooms, either. Luckily, there are tons of areas to pull off, stretch your legs, take photos, and relieve yourself the way God intended. My newly-potty trained 22 month old had to learn how to go number one outside on this trip, which was hilarious and a huge milestone. It was inevitable on the almost 6 hour drive from Carmel to Santa Barbara. We did the journey in one shot, minus the few times we pulled over on the side of the road and one stop at a proper gas station. Lastly, since there is no cell service, make sure you know where you’re going and your iPad videos are all downloaded prior to your journey. We totally unplugged this trip–no TV or iPad videos anywhere except for the flight to and from California and this big journey. Otherwise, you’ll have a miserable kid and you’ll go crazy.
We arrived at the Santa Barbara Airport at around 5:30, solely to return our rental car. My sister picked us up for the last portion of this trip, where we would crash at her house located in the quaint little town of Summerland. If we did not have her vehicle available, we would have just kept the rental and returned right at LAX for our flight home. (Santa Barbara Airport did not offer any direct flights from California to New York, so pregnant with a toddler and a bunch of stuff…no thanks.)
SANTA BARBARA AND BEYOND
After returning our rental, we checked in to my sisters hygge apartment complete with a friendly cat and an ocean view. We got takeout veggie and beef burgers from The Nugget nearby (food was pretty good aside from the BBQ sauce and sweet potato fries), tried way too many versions of donuts from Hook & Press (the maple was my favorite), and worked on a puzzle (which is one of my family’s favorite pastimes.)
Our low-key night and early bedtime was just what we needed to keep fighting the jet lag which reared its head at 6:00AM that next morning. My husband walked down to Red Kettle Coffee to fuel us up before we embarked on our big day. Red Kettle had my favorite coffee this entire trip, FYI. Don’t pass this one up.
Once ready for the day, we drove the ten minutes over to Cafe Ana for probably our favorite breakfast of the vacation. Casual with an order-at-the-counter, take-a-number attitude, but in a clean setting with Scandi decor, and amazing, unique, healthy, quality foods, made this an awesome start to the day. My husband had the Breakfast Plate and us girls had the Oatmeal. Everyone was happy.
After breakfast we walked off our meal along East Beach before ending up at the Santa Barbara Zoo! Much more reasonably priced than the Monterey Bay Aquarium (at just $18.00 per person), and equally as wonderful, the small zoo is manageable with a toddler in just one morning. We lucked out with some sunny weather (finally!) and enjoyed giraffes, elephants, gorillas, and more!
We next grabbed lunch to go at the Santa Barbara staple, La Super-Rica Taqueria. Julia Child once labeled this no-frills taco joint her favorite restaurant, and it has probably had a line ever since! Well worth it, though. We arrived around 11:30AM, so only had to stand in line about fifteen minutes, but heard the line can back up pretty far around the block. The earlier the better, I would say. The food is unbelievably inexpensive and delicious. We got a mix of tacos, tamales, enchiladas, and quesadillas to share and enjoyed it all back at the house before putting our toddler down for her three hour nap.
Daddy was on duty while baby slept, and my sis and I snuck away to Santa Barbara’s Angels Nails for a little afternoon treat. My nails are bare my entire pregnancies, with the exception of my “baby moons” (even though this one includes our daughter, and now my sister). I try to stay away from as many unnecessary chemicals as possible, but give my fingers and toes a little special treatment once, around month seven! Luckily they had a huge selection of organic nail polishes (I don’t even know what that means, but it sounded good.) The place is clean and cheap, but the nail tech made my sister bleed twice and my massage was pretty lame, so take from that what you will.
Once my daughter woke up back at the house, we all got ready for an afternoon out in Santa Barbara before dinner at a classic seafood joint. We wandered the Santa Barbara Stearns Wharf Pier for some touristy goodies and pictures, and hit up a halfway point playground as we headed to the opposite side of the harbor for a waterfront meal at Brophy Bros. This casual, open air, seafood spot was a hit with the whole family. I had amazing crab cakes, my daughter was happy as a clam 🙂 with her grilled cheese, and my husband and sister both said the sea bass was the best they ever had. My husband was actually depressed when his meal was over and thought about ordering a second. I wouldn’t go that far about my crab cakes, but they were good. The place doesn’t take reservations, but we got right in for toddler-hour, around 5:30PM.
After dinner, my pregnancy sweet cravings popped back up, so we hit Monkeyshine for some ice cream treats to enjoy back at the house so we could put the still-jet-lagged toddler to bed while we went crazy working on our puzzle. Parenthood. The ice cream hittttttt the spot. Chocolate ice cream, covered in Nutella and sprinkled with Captain Crunch and Fruity Pebbles cereals. I’m pregnant. What do you want from me?
THE END IS NEAR
For our last full day in California, we finally found ourselves adjusted to the time, waking up just before 7:00AM. We didn’t need an early coffee or snack run to get us through. We were actually able to get ready and head right to breakfast at an appropriate hour. The Summerland Beach Cafe was perfect for an easy breakfast with a toddler. Think high-quality diner. Great bacon, omelets, huge muffins, and a lot of variety. The strangest part of the meal: they offer bottled water at no charge to help conserve water which is a big issue in many parts of California. That part is not strange, it’s great. The fact that it was Voss water was what threw me off! Usually reserved alongside bottle service at a club, the cylindrical glass bottles were not what I expected! Maybe they want to stay away from plastic?
After a tasty meal, we walked around Santa Barbara’s State Street for a little retail therapy. Chicken Little is probably my new, all-time favorite kids’ store. Anything you’re looking for, chances are they have it and you want it. Very stylish versions of everything and priced reasonably. If you’re not in the market for kids’ stuff, or anything for that matter, State Street is still a nice place to take a stroll. It’s large, but not overwhelming and a very well maintained city center!
We were faced with a ton of rain (AGAIN) so luckily already had plans to duck into the Santa Barbara Public Market. Food halls are always great with kids because you can usually find a safe corner to trap them while you and your spouse take turns browsing local shops and restaurant booths. This market is pretty cool–offering a bar, a diverse wine store, a huge assortment of food, and my other favorite coffee of the trip from Green Star Coffee. Since we were still full from our big breakfast, we got our lunch to go to take back to the house to break open during the toddler nap of the day. The Empty Bowl Gourmet Noodle Bar‘s Pad Thai was FANTASTIC. I miss that dish more than a reasonable amount. I haven’t had great luck in finding my end-all Pad Thai in NYC. I’m working on it.
Another highlight of my California adventure was spending part of that rainy afternoon at The Sacred Space in Summerland. This unique gift shop manages to act as a spiritual oasis for its visitors. While wandering through the many rooms of The Sacred Space, you are offered tea, a chance to sit and reflect in the lush, outdoor gardens surrounded by Buddhas, water features, and books of thought-provoking wisdom and places to journal. You can view a chair where the Dalai Lama once sat, and learn the meaning behind pretty much every stone and crystal imaginable while also stocking up on some essential oils. It’s really quite the place. And, if it all seems a little too crunchy or holistic for you, have no fear, there are plenty of oddities in the shop to prevent you from getting too lost in the magic. Like the endless pictures of celebrities that have visited plastered everywhere, the giant Range Rover with the license plate “Sacred1” and the owners who didn’t seem to know too much about their products, but were happy to whip out a catalog with descriptions or pull an employee who did. The place was funny and beautiful and I would go back in a heartbeat. I got a couple goodies to set my intention for my upcoming birth experience, and an amethyst for my daughter because purple is her favorite color. I was very happy she was left back at the apartment with Daddy, FYI. This zen, cluttered, sparkly shop is not meant for kiddos.
After that, we regrouped, packed up the majority of our belongings for an early flight out of Los Angeles, and headed to Santa Barbara’s Loquita for dinner. A pretty tasty tapas restaurant with cool decor, but horrible acoustics. I felt like I was screaming the whole time and saying “What’s that?” over and over. My poor daughter was drowned out the entire dinner, but was luckily very into her colored pencils and trying little bits of everything. Normally her funny little thoughts are the focal point of every meal, so I guess she needed to be kicked down a notch, anyway. The restaurant gave her very bizarre waxy disposable toys to play with. Think skinny miniature pipe cleaners? I think a previous diner must have left them behind because I couldn’t imagine that would be their go-to distraction over crayons and paper. Whatever, just thought they were funny. We toyed with the idea of dessert, but remembered leftover Monkeyshine in the freezer and a puzzle calling our names.
We unfortunately had to hit the road for LAX the next morning before Red Kettle opened, so we stopped in the next town over for coffee and pastries to get us through the 1.5 hour ride down to Los Angeles. We stopped at the Lucky Llama Coffee House in Carpinteria for probably the most filled almond croissant I’ve ever had. I was very hungry and grateful. My sister dropped us off at the JetBlue terminal with perfect timing, we stocked up on some plane snacks, and flew back to JFK. The way back’s shorter flight time agreed with us, and we were able to gather all of our belongings at the airport, order Mexican takeout from the Uber, unpack a little bit, eat, wash our faces, cuddle the cat, and all get in bed by 9:00PM. It was a successful trip, and once the exhaustion and jet lag would wear off, we would have a million memories to reflect on.
So there you have it. Truly a little bit of everything, which was great considering we had pregnant needs, toddler needs, girls, boys, and the appearances of childless friends and family to take into consideration. This gave us a little Mexican, Thai, Italian, and American cuisines, lots of coffee and sweets, an aquarium, a zoo, beach life, city life, zen time, shopping, pampering, walking, and sightseeing in a pretty awesome area of the United States. I highly recommend taking this West Coast journey if you haven’t already, with or without kids, and, clearly, rain or shine! Feel free to contact me with questions! X