Highway 1 // California Coast

Our adventure’s continue in California, when we left off we had just explored Tilden Regional Park and before that we had our first Airbnb Experience in a Vintage VW van through Napa. California just keeps getting better.

We turned off “highways” on our gps system and took the backroads to another winery called The Russian River.

Berkeley, CA trip 2018

Berkeley, CA trip 2018

Berkeley, CA trip 2018

Berkeley, CA trip 2018

We actually thought we would be able to get dinner at this winery from everything we had read, but we missed the part about needing a dinner ticket for their supper club. They were wonderful, offered to get us in that evening with their ticket holders but we decided on a shared plate, a glass of something white and to enjoy the quiet view of their farm for a while before continuing our backroads tour of the region … looking for highway 1.

I couldn’t tell you at which part we finally connected with highway 1, there were amazing little towns we went through and all kinds of winding roads and then our view just broke open. Just like that.

Berkeley, CA trip 2018

Berkeley, CA trip 2018

Berkeley, CA trip 2018

Berkeley, CA trip 2018

Berkeley, CA trip 2018

I mean, it was stunning. I probably wrote poetry about it. We just meandering through this weird and beautiful outcropping of water and rock and the salty air, and the little beach towns, and the dive hotdog bars, and the succulents! You guys. The weather-worn shacks and cottages with million dollar views, the surf boards. It was just as I’d imagined it would be: breathtakingly beautiful, a little haunting, but in a good way. A day I’ll never forget.

Tilden Regional Park // Berkeley, CA

While we were in California last month we explored a lot of the local area where we stayed, which was right in Berkeley. The hills in Berkeley are just nuts, driving was an adventure.

One of the places I had researched ahead of time was Tilden Regional Park, from what I could tell there was great hiking, a fun steam train (for the kids, but honestly – it was so much fun), gardens and much more.

Our favorite way to travel is to just get lost. Know enough, but then just go, and this trip was without kids so we had a lot more freedom to spend time day-tripping and getting lost without people losing their marbles.

Tilden Regional Park

I remember places by their public spaces. The parks, the gardens, the greenhouses. Detroit? Belle Isle. Holland, Mi? Windmill Island and the greenhouse in the middle of the city. Oregon? The International Test Rose Garden.

Berkeley, CA trip 2018

So Tilden was a must-do on my list, her Botanical Gardens a prize winning first place for me.

Berkeley, CA trip 2018

Berkeley, CA trip 2018

Berkeley, CA trip 2018

We spent the most time “forest bathing” as we walked around the Botanical Gardens from habitat to habitat. Desert, to hillside, to giant sequoia grove, to forest, to bridges and lawn, to pond life and prairie.

Berkeley, CA trip 2018

Berkeley, CA trip 2018

Berkeley, CA trip 2018

Berkeley, CA trip 2018

Berkeley, CA trip 2018

It was magical, what can I say? I loved it so hard. The parking was free and there was no admission to get in to the park. After we spent a couple hours at the garden we went to the Steam Train for a ride. Tickets were $3 each – the ride was a good ten minutes through the trees and little tunnels. It was like riding on the set of Thomas the Train with miniature buildings and working water towers for the train. You could buy 5 or 6 rides for cheaper, like a “pass”, which multiple parties did because once you ride the train you just don’t want it to ever stop. Many people got off and right back on again.

Berkeley, CA trip 2018

Every so often the conductor would ring the bell and blow the steam and we’d see this beautiful smoke stack rise through the trees.

Magic, I tell you.

Don’t miss it 🙂 On our way out we stopped at a couple of the lookouts off the road and grabbed some great views. The fog moved in almost every day we were there and it was as if a blanket was being gently laid over the city.

Berkeley, CA trip 2018

Berkeley, CA trip 2018

Later this same day we road-tripped to Highway 1, another winery in a small town called “Russian River” and meandered through some beautiful hillside as we made our way back to Berkeley which I’ll cover in the next post soon!

Our first ‘Airbnb Experience’ // Napa, Ca

We’ve had a busy summer traveling all over the PNW. I’ll write a few more posts about the other things we did and where we traveled but for this one, I wanted to tell you how awesome our Airbnb Experience was in California. And nope, this is not an ad.

We’ve been traveling and using Airbnb as our wayfinder for housing for just over 5 years now and we LOVE Airbnb. So much. So so much. Immersion travel is our bag. This past year Airbnb launched (or maybe it’s older than a year, I don’t know, I’m not the spokesperson, just super excited) “Experiences” and, I don’t know, maybe I’ve been trying to travel to places BECAUSE OF THE EXPERIENCES THEY OFFER.

I. Am. So. Jazzed. About. This.

Airbnb Experience: Napa Valley by VW Bus Tour

When it became clear that our kids would actually get into their respective sleep-away camps the same week it meant we could get away together. Alone. Our anniversary isn’t until the end of August but we used this week in July as our excuse to celebrate 15 years of marriage.

I had no idea where I wanted to go but I’ve never been to Napa so I looked at a map, picked Berkeley as our home base, and booked the Airbnb Experience of a Winery-hop in a vintage VW bus all over Napa.

Airbnb Experience: Napa Valley by VW Bus Tour

Airbnb Experience: Napa Valley by VW Bus Tour

The tour took us to 3 different wineries with another couple who had signed up for the same day as us. I think there’s room for a total of 6, but the day we went there were only four reservations. We met and quickly made friends with this other couple, celebrating her birthday all the way from Minneapolis.

Airbnb Experience: Napa Valley by VW Bus Tour

We had a ton of fun, she’s my kind of girl.

Airbnb Experience: Napa Valley by VW Bus Tour

Airbnb Experience: Napa Valley by VW Bus Tour

Airbnb Experience: Napa Valley by VW Bus Tour

Airbnb Experience: Napa Valley by VW Bus Tour

Airbnb Experience: Napa Valley by VW Bus Tour

Airbnb Experience: Napa Valley by VW Bus Tour

Airbnb Experience: Napa Valley by VW Bus Tour

Turns out wine tasting in California is much more expensive than in little ol’ Northern Michigan. When we go to Traverse City and Lelanau it’s $5 a pop for a tasting. In Napa? $40. Per person. So you know. Uh. Be aware that your adorable “anniversary trip excursion” will look like that really pretty necklace you were hoping for. But you have all the photos instead of a shiny rock. Some how it doesn’t feel the same.

Airbnb Experience: Napa Valley by VW Bus Tour

But it was so worth it.

My tips for traveling with [older] kids

My son did the math for me recently – our daughter is almost in high-school, which means almost college, which means almost out of the house. (This is how I spiral, it’s ok) It’s only five years away. It goes fast. So fast. Fast fast fast FAST.

Traveling is one of our favorite ways to spend time together as a family. And it can be camping within our home-state of Michigan or flying to Florida for a long weekend, driving across the country for 6 weeks in the PNW or jumping the pond to immerse ourselves in other cultures.

Traveling with kids that aren't in diapers, don't scream, aren't crying because their ears hurt, can feed themselves, and are easily entertained .... Game changer.

No matter where we go though – I have a few things I look for each and every time. We aren’t theme park people (we did Disney for our daughters 5th birthday and, I won’t say never, but probably will not ever go back. Ever.) and we love immersive travel which means Airbnb or Vbro are our favorite conduits to travel. We prefer to go to places where we can stay for a while and because of my husband’s ability to work from anywhere if needed, this is an option available to us.

When we have a destination planned, a house booked, or tickets purchased I start researching the area more in depth.

I always look for local libraries.

Library in Lynden

Library in Lynden

Boulder, Co Day 3

Boulder, Co Day 3

Libraries have amazing programming, often free, and always age appropriate. In 2011, we went to Boulder, Colorado and while my husband worked normal hours from coffee shops or our airbnb, I would keep us busy with story time at the library, events with naturalists (all from the library), organized playgroups at the library and well, you guessed it – crafts at library. In 2016 when we spent the summer in Washington I signed my kids up for events at the local library. They participated in a kid craft fair, signed up for their summer reading programs and we made weekly (sometimes more than once) trips to the library for books and movies.

I search the local chamber of commerce and event calendar.

Next, I always look at the events calendar for the places we’ll be visiting for the time we’ll be there. We’ve stumbled on some pretty fun stuff just by checking this out. While in Lynden, Washington we were in town for the local Raspberry Festival. Which was a big deal – and tons of fun.

It's the thing to do, we hear, to have a raspberry sundae at the Northwest Raspberry Festival. The kids and Grandpa Roger did it up 👍

Had fun at the Raspberry Festival today!

If we’ll be in a different city for longer than 5 days I always check local art councils as well. They often have classes or camps for kids and I’ve been known to sign mine up for some music/drawing/dancing. The classes are usually 2 to 4 hours for a few days and it gives them something to do that they enjoy and I get a small break to be able to grocery shop, work, grab lunch with my husband, or just relax in the middle of the busyness of traveling with kids.

I try to find a place to stay with a kitchen.

Not always possible, depending on where we’ll be, but even hotel chains offer suites with kitchens. It’s always worth looking for us because we don’t love eating out. We love good food, and if restaurants come highly recommended, we’ll try them. But with kids, the food experience at restaurants is often above their pay-grade. They’re learning to enjoy a good dining experience but while traveling, my husband and I love discovering new places, going slow, and taking the time to enjoy our surroundings. Kids are sort of the anti-relaxer. So instead we look for great breakfast places (because first thing in the day they’re more likely to be on board with our “slow living” pace) and we leave the rest to snack plates, picnics or kid friendly options.

Last Sunday, our first real meal in our rental. It was @thekitchenbeet's mushroom stew which = therapy. Cupboards open, a pot simmering on the stove, haphazardly organized space. But it smelled amazing. And tasted even better.

Boulder, Co Day 6

This is one of the reasons we love booking our stay through sites like Airbnb or Vbro. We get the immersive travel by picking a place to stay right in town, or in a neighborhood close to the action (or away from it – if that’s the goal), the hosts of the places we’ve rented are always so helpful and accommodating and we get great tips of things to do or try from them as well. And … we get a kitchen, a separate sleeping space from the kids and walls to give us a bit of anonymity when we need some “down” time. It’s also more walkable, we’ve found.

I use Pinterest, Yelp, Google Maps, Groupon, etc.

And lastly, one of the main things I do while I’m putting together a trip is consult the internet. There’s so much information, so many recommendations, and so many ideas right there. I usually start with Pinterest and search for the area + “things to do”. or + “kids” and start looking at everything that sounds fun/frugal or free/worth it.

We love hiking, local history, walking tours, book stores, farmers markets, interactive classes, water of any kind, tours, and sunset activities.

I would also take advantage of whatever the hotel, home, resort you’re staying in, has to offer. In Florida we were able to take a Chef guided tour of their bee-keeping initiative and local farming operation for free.

Amelia Island, Florida 2017

Amelia Island, Florida 2017

The same resort (which I found on priceline for a steal of a deal) had a ton of fun stuff the weekend we were there – like a donut wall!

Amelia Island, Florida 2017

And we were able to rent a golf cart to tool around in, which was so much fun and cheaper than the bikes we were hoping to rent 🙂

Oliver loves a good golf cart - really he loves anything with a motor and wheels that he's allowed to drive. Florida: 👏

Amelia Island, Florida 2017

For more on this specific trip to Florida (2017) – go here.

Lastly, I look for parks.

One more thing, if we’re going to be somewhere longer than 2 nights, I usually look for parks. If we’re not staying in a hotel with a pool, I know I’ll need to get my kids outside to run off energy.

Around Lynden

Around Lynden

If we’re camping, then this is no problem. Usually where ever we are parked is playground enough for them with hiking trails nearby or pavement to tool around on with their bikes. But if we’re visiting a city … green space is key.

Ping Tom park

Amelia Island, Florida 2017

And there you have it! My tips for traveling with older kids.

We have a list of places we want to see, go, or things we want to do compiled and when the budget allows and deals arise or we’ve accumulated enough points for travel – I keep an eye out for the destinations we want to see. Usually I’m looking months in advance (or for “regular travel times” like spring break or holidays – a whole year ahead), but some of the best deals are within weeks of looking/researching them.

How do you travel with (or without) kids? What do you look for?

Wilderness State Park

This year for Spring Break we headed North. Did I want to go to sunny Florida? Georgia, even? Um, I live in Michigan so that answer is automatically 100% yes. But! We did something different and it was awesome, too. Much colder, snowy even, but a blast nonetheless.

Spring Break 2018

Our kids are 13 and nine and while I used to make things like the Summer Jar for school breaks, I’ve broken that habit since moving in to our current house almost 6 years ago. Sad, but true. This past year has been a difficult one, full of stops and changing plans when we thought everything was green light GO! It wrecked a piece of me for a while, I can’t lie to you. And then a couple weeks ago I decided to literally fuck it and took my life back. We’ve been living in limbo, in the ‘not there yet’ and ‘no longer here’ for way too long. A bunch of wait, so much of “when X happens, or Y starts, or Z is done” we’ll finally be able to / get to / go there.

And traveling is one of the many things we’ve been putting off for good reasons until I couldn’t justify them anymore and it was time to escape.

TO THE WOODS!

Waking up like this

Pour over, slow mornings

My husband spends a few nights at Wilderness State Park every year with the same group of guys. This year will be the 20th year consecutively that they winter together, in the woods. As our kids have gotten older and more curious – they’ve expressed interest in seeing what he does every year. So, we went!

Snow was in the forecast and my kids forgot their winter coats (my son forgot a coat entirely), I forgot my camera (hence the iphone photos here), we forgot to pack things like the french press and a pan for boiling water. You know. Essentials. But we remembered the coffee and the fruit and cheese.

We stopped on our way up to buy a pour-over 1 cup coffee brewer (and it worked like magic) and a few other things.

A love letter // a short list of things we forgot: *Upon entering Wilderness State Park, Oliver proclaimed he didn’t pack a coat. (It’s snowing) *Something to brew coffee, but we remembered the coffee. *Something to boil water in, but we remembered someth

Hikes, hikes, and more hikes

We hiked and saw the tee-pee my husband and his friends built years and years and years ago, and it’s still standing. We hiked over little bridges and creeks and found beavers’ dens. We walked out as far as I could handle with my best friend anxiety riding shot-gun on the ice of Lake Michigan, and we played rock ball in the freezing rain.

The Tee-pee Aaron and his buddies built almost 20 years ago

Playing "rock ball"

Free range

There was a lot of cooking over coals, an incident with the Whirly-pop and a lot of smoke, the dinner I turned into charcoal, and the naps and reading and coffee and games and laughing. There was a lot of laughing.

Playing games

Spring Break 2018

When making popcorn over hot coals inside means you get smoked out ... unless you’re a die hard popcorn fan.

Playing "rock ball" 2018

Spring Break 2018

It was a great escape. We stayed in the Sturgeon Bay Cabin and we’re able to drive in (not always the case, and had we not been able to it would have been a 3 mile hike in to the cabin), they supply the firewood for the wood-burning stove and a couple of rolls of toilet paper – but the rest is up to you. Bedding, all dinnerware and cookware, food and drink. The cabin is dry, no running water, and there’s an outhouse for yo’ business time.

But it was breathtaking and worth every effort.

Spring Break 2018
[Click on image above to play video]

Links:

*Reservations for Wilderness State Park
*Wilderness State Park Trail Map
*Helpful information and other camping options