A stop in Santa Barbara

To break up our journey from San Diego to San Francisco a bit, I decided we would spend a few days in sunny Santa Barbara, recommended by a few folks, and just an idyllic, pleasant town to hang around in. We did AirBNB again and were happy that the place was just as nice as it looked in the photos, with a backyard full of kids toys, a sandbox and slide which Baby J was super excited to get out and play with FIRST thing in the morning. We also met our host, Ty, and his two kids.

playing

Our first stop of the day was Alameda Park, a huge park that occupies 2 city blocks in the heart of Santa Barbara. We found a nice little area called the Alice Keck Park Memorial Gardens filled with plants, and there were paths to stroll along, ducks to look at, little steps here and there, trees with long gnarled roots, plus, a pretty pond that was filled with turtles! I noticed a couple of turtles on a rock and thought, isn’t that neat? and snapped a photo.

ducks

turtles

Then I looked up and realized there were tons of them on the other side of the pond! We made our way over for a closer look, being careful not to get too close (and I’m happy to report that Baby J was very ‘gentle’ and quiet, and looked, and didn’t cause any little wizened turtle heads to pop back into their shells. Not even a slow scuffle towards the water was initiated) although I’m sure they must be used to people gawkers like us.

gazebo

turtles

turtles

We took our time strolling the walkways, poking sticks into the streams, before taking Baby J across the street to show him Kid’s World – a huge castle shaped play structure with lots of climbing platforms and slides. He also liked climbing on the big whale and shark sculptures on the sand.

park

shark at the park

We made it home for a snooze and then ventured out to the harbour to watch the golden sunset along the boats. It was beautiful, and we spent some time walking the ledge around the boats, and watching older kids play in the sand.

boats

harbour

sunset SB harbour

We decided to try out the Santa Barbara public market for dinner after seeing a brochure advertising the Empty Bowl Noodle Bar. We grabbed a few dishes – the duck buns and dumplings, and while delicious, were not super filling. So we split an order of amazing Pad Thai as well, Baby J happily slurping up the sauce sweet noodles, I took the tofu pieces and Tyler had most of the chicken. The market has lots of little places to eat, with sort of a small food court style seating. We also eyeballed some treats on the way out, like ice cream and cookie dough bites, that looked pretty good.

Tyler’s been on a bit of a BeeGees kick lately, and one thing I’ll remember about Santa Barbara was the dance party Julian had on the fireplace, grooving, nodding, and arm-swinging to Stayin’ Alive. That kid is just getting into dancing and he was so smiley and happy, just doing his own thing and busting a move without a care in the world in the comfort of his little family bubble.

We decided our second day in Santa Barbara would be a Beach Day. I read about a few options and chose East Beach, with the idea that we might walk down the to wharf if we had time. The beach itself was glorious, deep blue sky setting off the tall palm trees, first a grassy area filled with little yellow flowers we had to stop and sniff, then sand dunes and ocean as far as the eye could see.

flowers east beach

east beach

I took J with me for a splash and a walk down the ocean, him running away as the tide came in but squealing with delight if the cool water reached his toes. We found a pile of rocks to squeeze through and carefully climb, and slide down on the sand ridges formed at the ocean’s edge for a few good laughs. We drove his little yellow truck around in the wet sand, and scooped and patted little hills.

east beach

After we rejoined Tyler, we played in the sand for a bit and sat and enjoyed the weather and just being there. More running and splashing as a little boy got bolder with the incoming rush of bubbly water, but we kept a good firm grip on him the whole time. After he’d ran and chased birds some more, we had lunch – sandwiches of any kind are a new favorite thing – and relaxed on our beach towels for a bit. I’d half hoped J would fall asleep, but after a bit of resting he was raring to go again. So we spent a bit more time racing around on the sand, and headed home for a short nap instead, following by more playing in the backyard.

sand

playing in the sand

beach

For dinner we thought we’d head out to California Pizza Kitchen but it (and every restaurant around it was just jam packed and lined up out the door). I was puzzled but then spotted a few families dressed in fancy pink and red outfits, and realized it was the day before Valentine’s day and a Friday night. So we just got 2 pizzas to go and ate them at home, before packing up for another day of driving up the coast!

Moving along to Santa Monica

We were pretty sad to say goodbye to our cosy home in San Diego after being there for over a week. As a first AirBNB experience, I couldn’t have been more thrilled at the value of staying in a house with a lovely yard over a hotel. I was so happy with it all that I started having visions of coming down for longer next year (who knows?) and really getting to know the neighbourhood. But on this trip our plan was to have more adventures and so off we set to start our trip up the coast. First stop: Santa Monica!

Santa Monica is about 2 hours or so north of San Diego and is also not too far from LA. The drive is pleasant and since I’d taken a week’s vacation I really felt free and just wanted to stick my head out the window to bask in the sun like a happy dog (good thing I wasn’t driving). It seemed to take no time until we arrived at the Bayside Hotel, a cheap find amongst the steep prices of Santa Monica hotels, but it was clean and had a place to sleep, so it would do. Plus it had a grassy park area directly behind it: simple but oh so fun for people watching, and jumping. There were a few small dogs to pet as well and J made sure we all took a turn.

Once we unpacked our stuff, we walked down onto the beach in time for the last rays of the evening and a pretty great sunset.

We kept going until we got to the Santa Monica Pier and grabbed a bite at Bubba Gump Shrimp. It’s maybe not the kind of place I’d choose, but it was there and we were hungry and the food was better than I expected!

bubba

Baby J had mac n cheese (with blue jello for dessert) and while we were eating I glanced over and noticed hoe intent he was on using his fork, just eating quietly like such a big boy, and I caught Tyler’s eye too. He’ll never be this small again, we said. We’re so lucky to be on this trip with him and enjoy him as much as we can, soaking up these little moments as he gets taller and more words start to tumble out of his mouth. He’s just on the verge of boyhood and it’s so special and cute and we just so lucky to have him.

As we were walking back to our hotel, Baby J wanted to be carried – his little legs had had enough – and he put each of his arms around each of our necks and pulled us in close for a sweet family hug.

We woke up early the next day and grabbed a homemade bagel and amazing coffee at Dogtown cafe, sitting outside to breathe in the mild, salt-scented air that seemed to to linger in all of the outdoor patio areas near the ocean, and started walking around to check out Santa Monica a bit more.

relax

Since we were walking, we headed towards Santa Monica Boulevard – a lyric in a Sheryl Crow song that we both admitted to not understanding what she was saying the first few times we heard it (in fact, I didn’t know what she was saying there until I went into a sheet music store with my brother and took a peek at the music. How times have changed, a la smart phones and instant Google!)

Speaking of songs, on the way, we passed the Hotel California!

We played in the park for a bit and walked back towards the pier to check it out in the daylight. To get there, we had to climb a big bridge and Baby J was so proud to take him time and step down each on, holding onto the rail. People passed us, smiling at his slow progress, and when we got to the other side, he headed right for the sand and laid down, just happy to be there on solid, glorious sandy ground. We were right beside a bike lane/ pedestrian walkway and more people commented on how happy he was to be there. I cna’t blame him – the sand and sun were such a nice change in February for us.

At the pier, Baby J was really taken with one of the rides – a yellow truck, and pretended to drive it over and over again. He also had a little ride on a mini carousel, and we were lucky to get there at the same time as a little girl, so we each paid for a couple rides for both kids.

Then we had to break the news to Baby J: we were leaving the pier with the rides and heading to our next stop of the day: Venice Beach! We drove out and lucked into a good parking spot and got out to walk straight out on the pier there, looking sideways to see people with fishing poles set up, texting away while waiting for the fish to bite, and Venice beach laid out behind us.

I’m not sure if Venice Beach is really a must-see, but we enjoyed walking up and down and the people watching. We got a lot of exercise! I saw everything from noble seagulls perched on the roofs standing guard, Zen style houses with buddhas in front, to a dog with pink studded collar and matching heart sunglasses jauntily walking past. There were goth teens eating huge slices of pizza, a guy with electric guitar wearing roller skates and hockey pads, and people that had put out all kind of bowls asking for people to put money into the one with the sign for their favourite religion.

A guy tried to sell us his CD and when we said no, he offered to trade it for Tyler’s shoes. Still no, we said. But, it’s me! He called out, like we knew him. There were artists of all kinds and vendors with work on display, neat paintings and murals from freakshow figures to a starry, starry night replica.

We walked and watched, and we ate delicious gelato while J sprawled sleeping on this stroller, arms tucked behind his head as if he had no cares in the world.

After our afternoon, we drove to Malibu with the idea of seeing some fancy houses and pristine beaches, but instead just pulled off at a state park because it was convenient. We let Baby J loose to run and play for a couple of hours, enjoying the golden light and rugged beauty of the beach.

J loved throwing rocks into the water and digging with sticks. We found a toy dinosaur skeleton buried in the sand, and watched the determined surfers get up and crash and get up again, soaring along the waves. Once we felt like most of the light was gone, we headed a little ways further to Malibu seafood for some fresh seafood (scallops for me, a squid steak sandwich for Tyler) and sat outside at a picnic table to enjoy the last few warm moments of daytime.

I wasn’t sure about starting our pacific coast drive at night, worrying that we’d miss some scenery, but we decided to make the most of the day in Santa Monica instead. Just as well, too because just as we reached the 1 highway, we were faced with a Road Closed sign. Luckily there was a diner right nearby that had a nice guy who sent us on a detour and filled up someone’s bottle of milk for a dollar.

We drove off into the night, tired from the long day, but excited to spend a bit of time in Santa Barbara!

Basking in Balboa Park

One of the last activities we undertook in San Diego was a big one: exploring the lush, large expanse that is Balboa Park. This park is San Diego’s Central Park, at 1200 acres of urban greenery, housing museums and the Zoo, gardens and walking paths. It was literally across the street from us, but so huge that it took us a few days of on and off exploring to cover as much as we could, from playgrounds to paths.

One day we decided to find this old carousel for Baby J to take a ride on. We parked, got out and walked, and walked…I tried my best to follow my Google map app but we kept getting nowhere and going in circles. So we gave up and took a different turn to this little area that is the Spanish Village Art Center, with art in every media, colourful stones on the ground and tiled roofs on the buildings.

spanish art

Next we wandered over to the Balboa park fountain and lingered for a bit. There was an instructor giving camera lessons, explaining how to capture the light and kids running around, a happy buzz meandering around in the sunlit air. Baby J loved climbing up all the steps and dipping his fingers into the fountain’s clear green-blue pool.

park fountain

dog at pool

We spotted a bridge near the fountain and decided to walk over it and see what else we could see. It spanned over a street and led us towards a garden which was just right for stretching our legs and exploring. It held the promise of flowers soon to bloom, and the dry, brittle branches had a kind of rustic appeal. We headed down the road, glimpsing cactus plants on the desert garden, but didn’t really stop for long except to let J twirl around and around a stop sign.

garden

playing near pink flowers

flowers

Crossing the street, we walked back towards the parking lot where our car was and realized the almost literally beside our car, inside a structure we’d noticed but not really looked at, was the whirling of old-fashioned horses, bobbing smoothly up and down to tinny circus-reminiscent music. I guess the windows were closed before and we felt a little dumb for looking so hard and missing it earlier when it was so obvious. You know what cheered me up, though? The happy face on a little person who was just so gleeful to sit on the sleek painted creatures, petting the horses mane, saying ‘go!’ while waiting for everyone to get on and the ride to finally start.

carousel

All of the most fun thing have to end, though, and it’s a hard thing to explain to a little fella who’d just as soon spend hours on the back of a wooden horse, gazing upwards at the spinning images on the roof of the carousel, bopping along to the music, holding tight to the shiny gold pole and riding around and around for as long as he could.

We softened the blow of it being over by taking a ride on the miniature train as well, spotting animals and going through a dark tunnel briefly (night-night, Baby J declared as we entered the dimness) before coming out on the other side to slow down on the clickity clacking tracks.

We took a Balboa park break then to have lunch and a good long nap at home, but returned towards the end of the afternoon to explore a bit more in the golden light. I was really glad we did, too. The area came alive as it grew into evening, with street performers, caricaturists, and lots of people to watch. Baby J was fixated on watching a steel drummer, first standing and staring, then dancing a bit, and finally getting behind a fire hydrant to drum along, happily imitating the drummer.

drummer boy

Amidst the beautiful old buildings was also a pond perfect for watching ducks and fat goldfish, trying to poke fingers in the water without leaning too far.

Beside the Balboa Park Botanical Building were a few trees with hammocks strung up between then, and we could hear the happy chatter of college students, sipping from cans and munching on snacks, laughing and taking and sounding so carefree that I wished for a split second I was younger. But we kept on going to watch a really neat duo – a fairy and guy playing the violin and singing in gloriously high voices, mimicking the violin notes with their voices, melding sweetly and putting on a mesmerizing performance.

We headed back towards the green lawns and noticed the students had piled out of their hammocks, spilling across the grass and a few of them started kicking a ball with J, letting him steal it and run away, encouraging him and telling us how cute he was as he scurried away, kick kick kicking, pointing his arms upwards as the bells rang and making everyone laugh.

soccer

It was a great evening that made me feel so happy. Everyone was so nice and low-key even though it was in a bustling environment full of music and people. It was a great close out to our time in San Diego!