Travel

By Jean Railla

“Do you know the difference between a trip and a vacation?” The question was posed to me by my brother-in-law Paul after I announced my desire to do more travelling with my two sons, ages eight and ten.

I waited for the punch line.

“A trip is when you travel with your kids and a vacation is when you do not.”

On a recent escape to LA with my husband and the boys, I set out to prove my brother-in-law wrong. With careful planning and booking the right hotel, Los Angeles is a city the whole family can enjoy, even the grown-ups. The trick is to balance kid-centered activities with relaxing downtime so everyone comes home with fond memories and some of that laid-back California attitude. Here are some tips to making a trip to LA work.

Stay Sunny in Santa Monica.
LA is famous for movie stars, perfect weather and, unfortunately, terrible traffic. In order to avoid spending the bulk of your time in your rental car (a must have) it is essential to stay in a convenient location. But in a sprawling city such as LA, what is central? Santa Monica with its boardwalk, pier, award-winning restaurants and several seaside hotels is as close to “the center” as you can get. It’s close to Hollywood, Westwood and Venice (and not far from Malibu) and, most importantly, it also offers plenty of local activities that are walking distance to many of the area’s hotels.

Splurge on the Hotel
Overlooking the Santa Monica Bay, the Loews Santa Monica caters to adults and children alike. While not a bargain, when you factor in location, service and the pool-scene, which manages to feel luxurious with lounge chairs and fire pits and yet entirely kid-friendly, it’s a good deal. The rooms are well-appointed, the staff is friendly and the lobby has plenty of public areas to hang out in. Having stayed at trendier LA hotels, I much prefer the more professional vibe of the Loews, particularly with the kids in tow. Located across the street from the beach, it’s mere steps to bike rentals, a playground, the ocean and a short walk to the Santa Monica Pier.

Avoid Disneyland
While Disneyland is about an hour south of Santa Monica, it pales in comparison to its sister park in Orlando. Plus, no matter what time of the year you go, Disneyland is guaranteed to be expensive, crowded and exhausting—and you will wait in hour-long lines to go on the best rides. If you must go, leave very early in the morning to avoid traffic and plan your stay so that you are back at your hotel in time to watch the sun set over the Pacific. A cocktail might help.

A much better alternative is Legoland in Carlsbad, CA. The Danish theme park is small, well-designed and even offers a number of roller coasters—all without the wait. Universal Studies, with its behind the scenes-look into movie-making is also a good bet, and it is conveniently located twenty minutes away from Santa Monica in Studio City.

Discover the Santa Monica Pier
At the end of Route 66 lies the Santa Monica Pier. For over a hundred years, the pier has been home to fishermen, local teens and tourists alike. With an aquarium, a historic Merry-go-round, a Ferris Wheel and even a roller coaster, it offers easygoing fun and an authentic experience of the laid-back California lifestyle. The best reason to go? It’s within walking distance from many Santa Monica hotels, which means you can leisurely wander over in the afternoon and stay as long as you like.

See the Stars on Hollywood Blvd.
Hollywood as a destination is less exciting than one might think. It’s an urban area with some shopping and historic theaters but it’s hardly glamorous and you are more likely to spot tourists than celebrities on Hollywood Blvd. Still, what good is a trip to LA without checking out the famed locale? The drive from Santa Monica to Hollywood is an interesting ride that takes you past UCLA, Beverly Hills and iconic clubs like the Roxy and Viper Room, with the Hollywood sign shining above it all. Here’s a tip: park near Hollywood and Vine, then catch a movie at the historical Chinese Theater.

Explore the Griffith Observatory
Located at the top of Griffith Park —LA’s version of Central Park—the Griffith Park Observatory offers unparalleled views of the vast metropolis, a museum and daily laser shows at the Samuel Oschin Planetarium Theater located at the Observatory. Programs include Water is Life and Light of the Valkyries.

Indulge in a Spa Treatment
The Loews Santa Monica has a full-service spa right on the premises, as well as a gym, steam room and sauna and it is open to the public. Let the kids play in the (heated) pool while you and your spouse take turns getting pampered, or if your spouse (like mine) isn’t keen on getting a Vitamin Sea Lift facial or Beachcomber Massage he or she can enjoy the fitness room and saunas.

Take a Night (or More!) Off
When we travel, I always plan at least one night where we stay in at the hotel, order room service or take-out, and indulge a movie or a couple of TV shows. I find we all need some downtime and this leaves us refreshed for more adventures the following day. Extra bonus: eat in bed!

The Final Verdict
Our family trip to LA was a success. The boys got to go Legoland, swim daily and play at the beach. My husband got time to hang out by the pool and read mystery novels and I managed to fit in two workouts and an hour-long massage. While it wasn’t a romantic weekend getaway with my just my husband, for this mom it was indeed a vacation.

Originally published February 2014
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