We took our little family to California for spring break this year and I wanted to share all the fun things we did. We split our vacation into two smaller trips: 3 days in Santa Monica and 3 days in Carlsbad (Legoland). This post is about our trip to Santa Monica and I’ll share our Legoland trip later this week.
I should start this post with a huge shout out to my family! Our two hour flight left PDX at 7am so we had to be out the door of our house at 4:45am. I had absolutely zero expectations for my kids because I thought waking up at 4:30 would be difficult and they would be tired and cranky all day . Not only did Henry (7) and Matilda (5) follow directions and help load and unload the luggage, they were so helpful with the baby (11 months) and had a permanent smile on their faces. They carried their car seats in the airport, helped distract the baby when he was antsy, and waited patiently to get through security. It was the baby’s first flight and he did amazing! All three of the kids did so great and I was completely surprised by their awesome behavior and helpfulness!
After arriving at LAX, taking a shuttle to the car rental, and waiting 45 minutes in line to get our rental car, we were finally on our way to Santa Monica. Thankfully, it was a quick drive because we were starving! Our first stop was at Bagel Nosh Deli. The reviews were great and we had a lot of faith that this place was going to have delicious bagels. Unfortunately, it was just okay and I don’t recommend eating there. The service was great and the staff was friendly, but the food was nothing special. I know I have high expectations because the bar is set at Bagel Land here in Portland, but the food was just blah in my opinion. The good news is our food experience only got better from here!
Matilda was happy with bagel nosh deli because they have rainbow bagels (plain bagel with food coloring). Again, nothing special, but she was happy!
P.S. She has “hipster bangs” as I like to call them because she got slime stuck in her hair and we had to cut it out!! :)
After getting some food in our tummies, we took a short drive to Will Rogers State Park (about a 12 minute drive). I knew we were arriving in LA at 9am and couldn’t check in to our hotel until 4pm so I researched plenty of activities to fill our day. Of course I had to find the best hike possible since this is our favorite hobby!
We honestly could have spent the entire day at this gorgeous park! The park had so many awesome features like a charming ranch and a super cool polo field. We wanted to schedule a horse trail ride for our kids, but the minimum age is 8— maybe next time! What I really loved about this hike was the view! There were views of LA, Santa Monica, the ocean, and gorgeous wildflowers in every direction. The hike was relatively short (a little more than 2 miles) and had nearly 400ft of elevation gain. It was the perfect distance for a leisurely hike with kids and with unbeatable views! The hike took less than an hour and allowed us to stretch out after traveling all morning. It was definitely my favorite part of Santa Monica!
In the picture below you can see Santa Monica in the distance (the city on the ocean).
Here is the view of downtown LA (city on the left)
The hike took up just enough time to put us close to check in. We wanted to eat healthy for lunches and snacks so we stopped at Sprouts (local healthy grocery store) for food and drinks to bring back to our hotel. I’m sure I’m forgetting something, but here are screen shots of what we bought and our meal plan for vacation.
After grocery shopping we checked into the Shore Hotel. It was the most expensive part of the trip, but the hotel was clean, modern, and the staff was helpful and friendly. We picked this hotel because of its sustainability features which is important to us. The view from our room was a-m-a-z-i-n-g and we really enjoyed our stay!
After settling in and spending some time at the pool, we were ready to head to dinner. The hotel had valet service which we felt was necessary since the city is extremely crowded and street parking is limited (basically does not exist). I cannot say enough good things about the valet staff. We have three kids in car seats, a diaper bag, etc. They helped our kids get in and out of the car and were so nice! It was a great teachable moment for the kids too because we were able to teach them how to thank and tip the staff for working hard to make our vacation relaxing.
Tacos Por Favor was one of the restaurants that had a ton of good reviews and was highly recommended. We decided to try it for our first dinner in Santa Monica. We were a little hesitant when we pulled up because it didn’t seem to be in the greatest area, but the food turned out to be absolutely delicious! The tortillas were authentic and the house-made salsas and dips were fresh and flavorful. I definitely recommend this charming little restaurant if you‘re in the area.
Our family ordered and shared a hard taco, taquito, breakfast burrito, soft tacos, and a quesadilla.
We got back to the hotel after dinner and called it a night! We had been up since 4am and had a full day of activities planned for Saturday, so an early bedtime was a must!
We started the next morning off with a tasty brunch. I have been following this restaurant on Instagram for months and have been dying to eat there. If you are new to our blog, you may not know that our baby is named Huck. I’m obsessed with everything huckleberry since giving the name to our son. I have been stalking the menu and was thrilled to see that the restaurant uses local ingredients. The food was heavenly.
The pancakes were LEGIT.
I ordered the fried egg sandwich and the aioli is what made that sandwich. Brian ordered the country breakfast and actually liked the arugula the most.
After breakfast, we went to the Broad Stage for the Story Pirates Live show which was the reason we were in Santa Monica in the first place. When we found out they were putting on a live show, we had to make the trip out there for Matilda’s 5th birthday.
The show was organized so well from start to finish. Before the show started there were art tables set up for kids to make bookmarks. The actual show was interactive and was developed based on the answers from the children in the audience. After the show, the cast was in the lobby signing books and talking to families. They were great with our kids and it made their day!
P.S. The show was enjoyable for parents and kids; we were laughing just as much as the kids!
The theater was modern and we admired the venue.
We stopped at our hotel for a quick lunch after the story pirates show. We had sushi, veggies & hummus, fruit, and lots of water! After lunch we drove to Venice Beach to walk along the canals.
This was my second favorite part of Santa Monica. It wasn’t too touristy and the houses are stunning. We are in the processes of designing our dream home so it was fun for us to pick all the little details that we liked.
We ended up liking this little farmhouse on the left in the picture below. It was the most simple and basic house, but it was our favorite!
I had SERIOUS garden-envy. I think I might have obsessed more over the gardens than the multi-million dollar houses!
The colors of this neighborhood, you guys!!! They were vibrant, exotic, and absolutely mesmerizing! The houses and landscaping were just beautiful!
The kids enjoyed the venice beach canals too! The ducks were funny and the kids were happy to see all the little dogs and cats in everyone’s yards.
The houses are so interesting! We were talking about how different the home owners must be from us! I could never live somewhere that people walked around outside my property every day of the year. The home owners we met were SO friendly. We are not city people AT ALL, so it really felt like we were in a different country.
I wish I could have captured the smell of these gardens. So refreshing and flowery.
The house covered in ivy was interesting! I would try to camouflage my house too if I lived it the city ;)
Matilda’s favorite house was the “castle house” as she named it..
The most iconic cactus..
We worked up quite an appetite wandering the canals. Multiple people told us to have dinner at C&O Cucina— specifically for the garlic knots. It was knot disappointing!;) We ordered tapenade and marina for dipping the rolls. It was SO GOOD. I’m not going to admit how much bread our family consumed, but we were nearly too full for dessert. I ordered linguini with clams and Brian ordered linguini with lobster.
After eating our body weight in rolls, we headed to Dolcenero Gelato on our way back to Santa Monica. I ordered Tiramisu which was my first mistake. I don’t love tiramisu, but it sounded really good after eating our Italian dinner. The gelato was good, but it just wasn’t that great. There was not enough seating inside so our gelato melted pretty much immediately outside. I ended up just throwing my cone away before I could really eat it because it was dripping everywhere and I had used so many napkins just to hold it. It just wasn’t worth it to me. Brian ordered the salted caramel and really enjoyed his and said he recommends it. I’ve had gelato before and it didn’t melt that quickly. I wondered if maybe it isn’t stored at a cold enough temperature, because it was just instantly pouring down the side of the cone onto our hands.
We were there for 5 minutes and it did so much damage to our clothes. My kids were covered in gelato and it took more time to clean them than to eat it. It would have been more enjoyable if there was additional seating inside.
The picture below is right after she got her cone… See how melted that is? Maybe I will try it again next time, but it was kind of a bummer.
After Gelato, it was time to experience the iconic Santa Monica Pier. I was dreading this because 1. I hate crowds 2. I hate fairs/carnival rides 3. I don’t like super touristy stuff... BUT, my kids wanted to ride the Ferris Wheel and play some arcade games. We had a view of the pier from our room so they had been asking about it all weekend. I knew we had to walk down to the pier with them just because it’s a famous attraction. Even though, it’s not my scene, I planned to go at 6:30pm because the sun was scheduled to set around 7:30. I thought it would be perfect to watch the sun set over the coast from the ferris wheel. My timing was PERFECT and we were able to watch the sun set while we were actually stopped right at the top of the ferris wheel.
See how crowded this place is?!
So pretty though…
The sun dipped into the ocean right when we were at the top of the Ferris Wheel!
Sunday was our last day in Santa Monica and we needed to make our way to Carlsbad. For that reason, most of the activities were planned outside of Santa Monica and throughout LA.
The first thing we needed to accomplish was dining at Farmshop for the best meal of the day. I have to admit that our favorite brunch was at Farmshop! I wanted it to be Huckleberry, but the food at Farmshop was undeniably the best.
As the name implies, Farmshop is also a shop with mostly specialty items. I wanted to buy so many things… it was a real struggle.
When I saw Jacobsen Salt (my favorite and also local to us), I knew the food was going to be exceptional.
also Mama Lil’s Peppers are addicting and also happen to be from our home state! We are so spoiled with the best culinary talent in the PNW!
I’ll wanted one of everything.
we ordered the Brioche French Toast with whipped mascarpone, coastal huckleberries, & candied almonds with zoe’s applewood smoked bacon as well as the Mike & Sons Farm Egg Frittata withshaved weiser farms fingerling potatoes, pickled fresno chilis, green garlic confit, and mezzaluna fontina cheese.
Do I even need to say anything else orrrr???
Next on the agenda was the museums in LA! Can you tell that my kids like dinosaurs?! They full on sprinted towards the building.
This picture is hilarious to me! Looks like a photo shoot for an album cover.
Henry was so cute! He read all the plaques to his sister and had tons of questions! The museum is HUGE and we missed a few things, but the kids enjoyed it and still talk about the life-like exhibits.
My kids spent a lot of time in the dinosaur section. They were thrilled to learn about different fossils.
The walk from the natural history museum to the science museum was only a few minutes away. We packed water and protein boxes (grapes, apples, cheese, crackers, salami, egg, carrots and hummus) to snack on while we walked because we only had a few hours to spend at the museums.
Matilda, our future veterinarian, was having the best time exploring the Dog Tail Exhibit. I wish we had more time to watch the 3D film about rescue dogs. She was just so excited to be there! The exhibt was awesome and super interactive. The kids were able to participate in a ton of hands-on learning here. Just to name a few: there was a jeopardy game with a host named Alex Trebark, a station where kids could run and it would compare their speed to different dog breeds, and a station for learning about animal laws with true or false questions. Matilda’s favorite was the Vet Clinic where she could brush their teeth and fur.
Can we take a minute to appreciate that Henry wore a pug print shirt to the exhibit?
After exploring the museums, we made our way down to Carlsbad. To break up the 1.5 hour drive, we stopped halfway in Irvine for two special treats. One for me and one for my mini!
First stop was at Skin Laundry! My skin was glowing for several days after my facial. I have terrible skin so it was an absolute treat to look and feel like a goddess for the rest of our vacation. :)
Since this trip was for Matilda’s 5th birthday, we had to stop at the Hello Kitty Cafe in Irvine. Her eyes lit up when she saw the shop! It was the sweetest little surprise and meant so much to her.
Seriously, tho… How adorable is this?! It made her day and it makes me so happy to know all of these little things are going to be the best childhood memories for her.
I. Want. To. Frame. All. Of. These. I could stare at these pictures of her endless smile FOREVER.
I ordered a latte, Brian and Henry shared cinnamon-sugar donuts, and Matilda got a berry pie (similar to a pop-tart). Everything was SO cute and delicious! The donuts are in my top 3 favorite donuts. If you have ever had Pip’s donuts here in Portland, these are comparable to Pips.
I will share our adventures at legoland (the second half of our trip) later this week! Stay tuned and check out our instagram stories for more pictures and videos of our vacay!
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