The best Christmas present we gave our son this past year was the "Adventure Box." It's a shoe box covered in plain brown paper with a blank journal inside. At the beginning of each month we will hand our son an envelope containing the dates and details for a family-only activity that has been planned for that month. He can then gather tickets, photos and stickers to add to the journal and decorate the outside of the box. By the end of the year, he'll have a box full of memories to look back on and a whole bunch of road trips clocked in as well.
The very first envelope contained the tickets to the Lawrence Hall of Science in Berkeley, CA and lunch at Jupiter, a brewery that specializes in wood-fired pizzas. Upon opening the box, our son read the contents of the envelope and grinned wide...he couldn't wait to begin!
The Lawrence Hall of Science - Berkeley, CA
The drive from Bodega Bay to Berkeley on Sunday was an easy 90 minutes. Using GPS, we drove over the Richmond Bridge, through Cal State Berkeley and found The Lawrence Hall of Science perched on top of a hill with an amazing view.
The admission was $18 per adult and $12 for children ages 3-17, but this Coupon Queen scored a FREE child admission voucher using the "Discover & Go" program, a free service online through the Sonoma County Library using my library card. We also opted for the $5 per person 3-D movie entitled "Back From the Brink."
I spent a lot of time researching the various things to do at the Lawrence Hall of Science and quickly realized upon entering the first exhibit, that this was an experience geared toward younger children and NOT Teens or adults. This was not mentioned anywhere on their website. We trudged through any way, looking at all the science challenges and exhibits and noticed quite a few families with young children actively engaged. I felt really bad that I didn't know this ahead of time as we would've chosen a different venue all together. We watched the 3-D movie, which was good, checked out the view on the backside of the building and then left for our next stop - Jupiter Pub. We considered the money we paid as a "donation" to the Hall as it is in need of renovations. So far, the first stop on this Adventure Day was a BUST.
The drive to Jupiter was a quick 10 minutes and it took about another 10 minutes to find a parking spot. Once inside the restaurant, we were told to seat ourselves and we chose a cozy round table. The wait staff was super friendly and the service was fast which was great because we were starving. We ordered the large "Mediterranean Salad" and two 13" pizzas to share among the three of us and it was plenty. Pizza # 1 was called the "Aries" which was your standard pepperoni with cheese...this was mostly for our son. Pizza #2 was called the "Galileo" and featured artichoke hearts, mushrooms and more which is mainly for my husband and I. Both pizzas were delicious and took away any of the ad feelings we had about our bummer science hall experience. We ordered two sodas, refills were $1 each and iced tea...also really good. The restaurant was decorated with strings of white lights on the ceiling and we all decided that we would come back if ever in the area again.
On our way home we stopped at A&W in San Rafael and ordered root beer floats. They were delicious and it was a great way to end our day on a happy note.
I was surprised to find out that when a lot of my friends take trips to Disneyland, they don't venture out and visit any of the many other sights in Southern California while they are there. So. I've decided that I would share a few places to visit that are along the path of a road trip to Disneyland. This post will focus more on the hotel we stayed at along with two restaurants and a movie studio.
This past March, we made a last minute, 3 night trip to Disneyland. Since I have a friend that works for Disney, he was able to score a 2 day Hopper Pass for each of us making the trip even more affordable. The only to book was a hotel and deciding which route to take. We chose to take the I-5 and make a few stops before checking into the hotel.
FUN RESTAURANT #1
The Bear Pit BBQ restaurant. I grew up in San Fernando and so stopping here was like going back in time. The restaurant hasn't changed at all and the food is still scrumptious! Shortly after being seated, your server will bring a bowl filled with crushed ice and an assortment of dill pickles, carrots, celery and peppers. The food served here is authentic BBQ and the portions are big. Just beware...the BBQ beans are addicting and you'll want to take them home. Getting to The Bear Pit BBQ is easy - From the I-5 South, take the 405 South and 5 minutes later, you are there. Visit the link above for the website and more information.
Historic Movie Studio
Jim Hensen's Studio. Being a HUGE Muppet fan, this was a must for me. The coolest thing about this studio is that it was originally Charlie Chaplin's and the buildings and old sound stage are still intact. Right now they do not offer tours, but you can drive by and snap a few photos like I did from the car. 1416 North La Brea Avenue, Hollywood, CA 90028.
Fun Restaurant # 2
Bob's Big Boy Hamburgers. I know this may see like an odd one to add, but the Beatles ate here once and if you're lucky, you can sit in their booth! Plus Bob's is known for their famous sundaes. 4211 W Riverside Dr, Burbank, CA 91505.
Best Western Plus Orange County Airport North
OUR HOTEL. After doing a quick search on the internet, I opted for a 3-night stay at the
Best Western Plus Orange County Airport North. Our room had two Queen beds and included a hot breakfast and free parking. Using my Best Westerns Rewards Loyalty Number, (You should ALWAYS sign up for every hotel's program if they have one), and paid $337.14 for the 3 nights with their multi night promotion. The hotel was only about 8 miles away from Disneyland and I give it a rating of "C+" - FAIR overall:
1. NOISE. Be prepared. The noise level of this hotel is LOUD. Every room faces the pool and there were people using the pool even at midnight having a good time. There was also a family playing with a basketball on the bottom level and you could hear every bounce of that ball like counting sheep. I called down to the Front Desk to complain and was told that they would send the Security Guard around and the noise leveled out about 1 hour later. If you have light sleepers in your traveling party, this is not your place.
2. BREAKFAST. The breakfast was the same every day and they had 3 different plates to choose from. For example, "Plate A" had scrambled eggs, breakfast potatoes and sausage patty. You received 1 plate only and then had to find a place to sit. Every day it was a challenge to find seating and on the last day, a worker opened the pool area so we could use one of the patio tables. We noticed that a lot of families were opting to take their food back to their rooms. We decided not to do this because sitting on the beds to eat did not seem desirable. The food was OK but after 3 mornings...it was enough. Still, it saved from having to go elsewhere to find breakfast each day.
The Best Western Plus Orange County Airport gets a C+ rating because although the rooms are nice, recently updated and clean, the noise and the small breakfast room really bring the score down.
3. DISTANCE FROM DISNEYLAND. I originally chose this hotel because of the price and it didn't seem that far from the resort. It took us about 20 minutes to drive to the Mickey and Friends parking structure and that made up for the higher price of other hotels closer to the park. The drive was pretty easy and I wouldn't hesitate to find another hotel in this same location.
Armstrong Redwoods Preserve in Sonoma county has been a favorite destination every summer for my family so my 12 year old son is used to seeing redwoods. When I told him about the incredible trees in Humboldt county, he couldn't wait to see them and with that, the 1 night road old-fashioned roadtrip to see the "Big Trees" was born.
I booked a 1 night stay online at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites located in Eureka and got a good deal by not only reserving directly on the hotel's website but also using my AAA membership and rewards account number.
We started our trip in the morning, leaving the house by 9AM and made our way to the 101 Freeway headed North. Since the trip to Eureka was only going to take 4 hours, I had planned a few fun "campy" road stops along the way.
The Drive Thru Tree
The Banana Hut
The Best Grilled Cheese Ever
Avenue of the Giants
When our plans for a trip to the snow for New Year's Eve sleigh ride suddenly cancel due to "no snow", we had two choices:
1. Plan the trip further out and cross our fingers or,
2. Get on the computer and start searching for a quick replacement trip hoping to find something comparable on the "fun" meter.
I chose the later and boy, did we have fun!
Step 1: Find a main activity for New Year's Eve within a 3-4 hour drive.
I did a quick check on the computer looking at the two "local" amusement parks to see if they had any New Year's Eve festivities. I clicked on California's Great America located in Santa Clara and based on all of the photographs, I decided that this would be a really great option for my family. The event was called "Winterfest" and it was scheduled to be open from 5PM to 12:30AM. Perfect!
Step 2: Find a hotel close to the park to ensure a quick drive back after midnight.
My only real concern about choosing to spend New Year's Eve at Great America was what it would be like driving back to the hotel during what I consider a more dangerous time to be on the roads. After looking at several options, I decided on Homewood Suites by Hilton which was a quick 10 minute drive away, and considering staying over New Year's Eve, the price was right. More details on the hotel later in this post.
Sunday, 12/30/18: Mummies & Late Lunch
We packed the car, left at 9AM and headed to our local McDonalds for breakfast, our roadtrip tradition. The drive to San Jose was a little less than 1 1/2 hours away and after breakfast, we were ready. Our first stop was at the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum. I purchased our tickets online & printed them prior to our trip and saved about $3 using my AAA membership card, by using the code AAA. Link to purchase tickets here. Parking was free and the lot was located behind the museum. We took our sweaters and walked around the gardens and labyrinth, taking pictures of the outer museum before heading in. Upon entering, we gave the clerk our pre-paid tickets and headed down the stairs to the right, where the most impressive pieces of the collection are kept. In all, there are several floors to the museum, including a reading room with sofas if you want to take a little break. Our visit took about 2 hours and we saw several mummies, incredible artifacts and took the Tomb Tour which was really interesting. The only disappointing part of this museum was that they do not have a gift shop, something our 12 year old son was hoping to browse and pick out something fun to take home.
After our visit, it was time for lunch and we headed toward Santana Row for some really good food choices. After parking, we decided on the Italian restaurant, Maggiano's, and after waiting only 15 minutes, we were seated at a cozy table. Our food server was great and we all ordered from the "Today & Tomorrow Pastas" menu - Order and eat one pasta entree, receive another to reheat and enjoy at home. Our son ordered two children meals, one to eat and one to take back to our hotel so he could have same experience. All of our meals came with a dessert and by the time we were finished, we were stuffed. Our server brought our meals to take home along with the check and we saved $10 off the bill by joining the restaurant's E-club while we were waiting for our table. We left happy and full and headed towards our hotel for the night.
Homewood Suites by Hilton San Jose-Silicon Valley.
We arrived at about 5:30PM and checked into our King Suite. I had requested a quiet room location and we were put in the 500 building which was all the way in the back. We parked and used a valet cart to gather our luggage and rode the elevator to our floor. Upon entering, our suite felt more like a cozy apartment than a hotel room and all three of us really enjoyed this type of accommodation. I had reserved a 2 night stay online and using my Hilton Honors membership, securing a discounted nightly rate of $134.00 usd which included a Premium King Bed Fireplace Suite with sofa bed, kitchen, daily buffet hot breakfast and a nightly reception, M-Th only. The "Premium" option included daily snacks like bottled water, soda chips, crackers etc, delivered to our room daily. Our kitchen was equipped with a refrigerator, freezer with ice maker, 2 stove top burners, dishes, silverware, pots & pans, sink with dish soap and a dishwasher. The fireplace was wood burning, not electric as I had hoped, so we opted not to use it because two of us have Asthma and wood smoke is a problem. We put our meals in the refrigerator, settled in for the night and relaxed over a family game of Monopoly at the dining table. We woke the next morning refreshed and ready to go.
Monday, 12/31/18: Carmel, The 17-Mile Drive & The Tuck Box
New Year's Eve morning, we headed down to the main lobby where the complimentary breakfast was being served from 6AM - 9AM. The breakfast was very filling and included scrambled eggs, sausage, potatoes, assorted breads, oatmeal, made to order waffles, yogurt, fruit, juice and dry cereal. After breakfast, we packed a day bag with snacks from our room and headed out for the day. Our first stop, the Pacific Grove lighthouse, was about 75 minutes drive from the hotel. We we arrived, the lighthouse was closed but we were able to get some pictures and then continue on to the 17-mile drive. We were treated to some amazing coastal vistas and beautiful homes. The cost to take the entire 17-mile drive is $10.25 and you are able to stop at any of the many beaches and spend some time. We drove the entire way and then made our way into downtown Carmel, as I wanted to see the "Storybook" Hugh Comstock cottages I've read about for years. After driving around for about 30 minutes using a rough map that I found online, we found a couple of the cottages and then decided it was time for lunch. The Tuck Box had been on my Bucket List for years and it did not disappoint. It was one of the "Storybook" cottages built by Hugh Comstock and the details were amazing. I ordered a pot of hot tea with a scone, which was delicious, and an egg salad sandwich. After eating and taking a few pictures, we headed back toward San Jose to get ready for the big evening ahead.
We arrived back to our suite, changed clothes and drove a short 10 minutes to California's Great America. Tickets to the Winterfest were running $33 per person, and after researching the many different online discounts out there, I actually saved a bundle by purchasing 4 tickets on Ebay for a total of $30. I had pre-printed the tickets at home and that saved time at the entrance as we walked right in. The party was fantastic! From the decorations, food and music, it made Christmas last a little bit longer. A lot of the amusement rides were open and the park was not overly crowded so we rode quite a few. At 8PM, the park started handing out New Year's Eve party hats and blow horns following with a huge fireworks display at 9PM. We stayed until midnight and then made our way back to our hotel and slept good.
Tuesday, 1/1/19: New Year's Day, we woke and ate breakfast. I put some ice in a ziploc bag and put it in the bag with our "take home" meals from Sunday night and after checking out of the hotel, headed our way home. The trip was fun and relaxed and a real bonus was having those "take home" meals from Maggiano's because we just heated them up and dinner was served.
Considering this was a trip planned at the last minute, we were all really happy that we went. I've decided that we will try out more Homewood Suites in various locations on future trips and to continue looking for discounts on Ebay when it comes to tickets.