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So, what is glamping? Glamping is like camping—but not. Combining the words glamorous and camping, glamping includes amenities and comforts of home (beds, electricity, indoor plumbing). None of this sleeping-on-the-ground stuff. Not that sleeping on the ground is bad; everyone should do it at least once!

Just north of Santa Barbara, in the heart of the Santa Ynez Valley, is the small town of Buellton, California. Perhaps you know Buellton as the “home of the split pea” as it’s impossible to travel Highway 101 without seeing billboards announcing Pea Soup Andersen’s. What you may not know is there’s a mecca of awesomeness for outdoor play enthusiasts hidden behind the trees: Flying Flags RV Resort & Campground.

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Inside view of an airstream trailer; outside view of a surf cabin.


Well worth the five-hour drive from San Diego, Flying Flags offers a variety of unique, fun glamping options: luxurious safari tents, renovated vintage airstream trailers, and adorable furnished cottages and cabins. Plus, everyone receives freshly baked cookies at check-in (as if we needed more convincing). The surf-themed cabins have kid-sized bunk beds, in addition to a full-sized futon and queen bed. There are even teardrop trailers in an area affectionately dubbed “Canned Ham Village,” perfect for parent/child bonding as they only sleep two.

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Inside view of a safari tent.

For the ultimate glamping experience, we stayed in Safari Village, which consists of nine safari tents and six shared bathrooms (each with a private sink, toilet and shower). Safari tents feature very comfortable beds, air conditioners (heaters, if needed), a couch, TV, microwave, refrigerator, outdoor kitchen, covered patio table, and all dishes and kitchenware needed for cooking! Glamping in safari tents is amazing—a tenting experience I can get into.

During the day at Flying Flags, kids ride bikes and scooters (brought from home) through the pet-friendly, beautifully maintained property, swim in one of two resort-style swimming pools, challenge friends to bocce ball and horseshoes, and play on the playground. At night, families sit under the stars and roast marshmallows over a fire pit (many sites have their own).

If you don’t feel like cooking, grab a meal at the onsite Campfire Café or have a gourmet sausage from the Santa Ynez Sausage Co. airstream trailer—a cute venue to grab a delicious lunch and enjoy at surrounding picnic tables. Don’t miss the Flying Flags barbecue every Friday night (first come, first served), featuring tri-tip, ribs, chicken, a variety of rotating side dishes and dessert. Eat around the campfire or take dinner back to your cabin, safari tent or RV.

There’s no real need to leave the Flying Flags property, but there are fun things to do in the area that families love!


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Mendenhall Museum 

I wasn’t an automobile memorabilia enthusiast until I became an “American Pickers” junkie a few years ago. The thought of checking out antique gasoline pumps and porcelain road signs just like Mike and Frank on TV was exciting to my whole family. The Mendenhall Museum is literally a hidden gem—located behind an unassuming alley fence. As soon as you walk through the gate, the fascinating display—one of the largest petroliana collections on the West Coast—is a colorful feast for the eyes! Every inch is covered with cool antiques, vehicles, gas station and car memorabilia, and more. Started over 50 years ago by the late Jack Mendenhall, the collection is now maintained by his son and daughter-in-law, Mark and Vickie Mendenhall, who live on the property. Even if you’re just passing through the Central Coast on Highway 101, it’s worth a stop. Reservations required—no group is too small.

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Tour Santa Ynez Valley by Bike
Don’t even think about going to Buellton without exploring the backroads of the Santa Ynez Valley (even if you drive). Absolutely gorgeous! The best way to do tour the area is via electric bike. Not only are electric bikes super fun, but they make navigating hills more manageable. Pedal when you want, use electricity when necessary—it’s the best of both worlds while enjoying fresh air and stunning landscapes. As our family cruised around, we happened upon a family of bison—definitely a highlight of our trip.

Pedego Electric Bikes  is located in Los Olivos (about 10-15 mins. from Buellton). The electric bikes go up to 20 mph; therefore, you must be at least 16 years old to ride them. Helmets are provided.

Wheel Fun Rentals is a good option for families who have young kids—or who prefer to rent traditional bikes, tandem bikes or surreys.

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OstrichLand USA  

Have you ever fed an ostrich or emu? OstrichLand USA offers a unique experience that kids and adults will never forget. It’s a great stop for families and provides fun photo ops. Located just minutes from Flying Flags RV Resort.

Visit Solvang
Find Danish bakeries, boutique shops and Old Mission Santa Inés in the charming town of Solvang (10 mins. east of Buellton). Be sure to taste aebleskivers while you’re there—delicious balls of pancake goodness traditionally eaten with raspberry jam and powdered sugar. Yum!

Quicksilver Miniature Horse Ranch

Quicksilver Miniature Horse Ranch in Solvang (typically open Monday-Saturday from 10am-3pm) is a fun, free stop. Who wouldn’t want to visit adorable miniature horses? Get up-to-date information on their Facebook page.


Pea Soup Andersen’s  

376 Avenue of the Flags

Feeling nostalgic? Stop at Pea Soup Andersen’s for lunch (even if you don’t like peas)—there are burgers, sandwiches and more on the menu. Don’t miss the highlights of Buellton’s history upstairs.

Ellen’s Danish Pancake House
272 Avenue of the Flags
A local favorite for breakfast especially, you can’t go wrong with Ellen’s. Plus, breakfast is served all day. Woot!

Industrial Eats 
181 Industrial Way
Very popular with locals, Industrial Eats offers artisan meats, wood-fired pizzas and unique eats. Order at the counter and be prepared to share a table, as seating is limited. There may be a big wait during the busiest times, but it doesn’t deter locals from having a drink and socializing with “new friends” in the interim.

Bottlest Winery Bar & Bistro
Got a couple hours without kids? Bottlest Winery is a nice place to stop for wine and appetizers. Experience the “wine wall” where 52 wines are “on tap” for tastings, half or full glasses. Bottlest also offers online participants (ages 21+) the chance to be a winemaker. Craft a custom wine based on personal preferences and design a label. Learn more at

Learn more about visiting Buellton at


Lisa Gipson is the managing editor of San Diego Family Magazine. After years of tent camping, she’s ready to trade in her sleeping bag for a comfy bed. Glamping is the way to go!  Photos courtesy of Buellton Visitors Bureau except where noted.


sequoia trees

California National Parks are full of awesome wonders.

These national parks in Southern and Central California are within a day’s drive of San Diego.

Celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service with a visit to one (or more) of these scenic destinations. Seven of America’s natural treasures are located within 400 miles of San Diego, allowing local families awe-inspiring opportunities to experience everything from crashing coastal waves and majestic green forests, to stark sizzling deserts.

Always stop into a park’s visitor center upon arrival to request information on current conditions, road closures and safety alerts. Also ask about Junior Ranger Programs for a fun way to engage the kids.

Channel Islands
Located off the coast between Santa Barbara and Los Angeles, these five islands are paradise for marine animal and bird lovers; view whales, dolphins, seals, sea lions, sharks and almost 400 avian species. Outdoor enthusiasts will also enjoy camping, kayaking, hiking, photography, boating, snorkeling and scuba diving. Don’t miss the interactive exhibits and Junior Ranger Program at the Channel Islands Visitors Center, located in Ventura.

Read more about visiting Channel Islands here.

Death Valley
A setting of extremes, Death Valley is one of the hottest, driest and lowest places on earth. Nonetheless, it manages to offer a comfortable visit – particularly in early spring or late fall. Don’t let the park’s name fool you; more than 1,000 plant species and dozens of types of mammals and reptiles thrive within its 3,000 square miles near the California-Nevada border.  

Visit salt-flats, sand dunes, badlands, valleys, canyons, mountains and mining ruins. Impressive wildflowers bloom from late February to early June, depending on elevation. Be sure to stop at Badwater Basin (282 feet below sea level, and with less than two inches annual rainfall), Furnace Creek (a natural oasis), and the Ubehebe Crater (resembles the surface of Mars). Snow-covered Telescope Peak towers over 11,000 feet.

Visitation is fairly steady all year; although cooler months are more pleasant, many come in summer to experience the infamous heat. A variety of lodging and camping options are available within the park.

Joshua Tree is a mystical place.
Photo by Lisa Pawlak

Joshua Tree
Few places on earth offer such a wondrous and seemingly out-of-this-world experience as Joshua Tree. Located a mere 175 miles away, the park has enormous rock formations, unusual Joshua trees, rugged mountains, sand dunes and green oases.

Throughout the year, family-friendly outdoor activities include camping, hiking, stargazing, wildflower and wildlife viewing, rock climbing and bouldering.

Learn more about Joshua Tree National Park in our article from the April issue.

Our newest National Park offers a peaceful, scenic landscape that rests in stark contrast to the volcanic eruptions that formed these geologic wonders millions of years ago. Notably, Pinnacles operates as a rare release site for captive-bred California condors.

The park, filled with chaparral, oak woodlands and canyons, also holds unusual talus caves and towering rock spires, along with over 32 miles of trails. Hikers and climbers love the park’s many adventures, including explorations of Bear Gulch and Balconies caves; enjoy stargazing, wildflowers in the spring, and fall foliage later in the year. Abundant wildlife includes raptors, mountain lions, foxes, bobcats, rabbits, deer, lizards and snakes.

Most popular during cooler months, the park has two entrances: East and West. Inner roads do not connect the two. Pinnacles Campground lies within the park and accepts reservations. There is no other lodging inside the park, but find a variety of options in nearby Soledad, Hollister or Salinas.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon
At these adjoining parks in the southern Sierra Nevadas are giant sequoia trees, black bears and mountain lions, one of the continent’s deepest canyons, remote wilderness, huge granite walls, shady forests, peaceful meadows, roaring rivers and splendid waterfalls. The entire region is pure bliss for hikers, climbers and nature lovers.

Take a scenic drive along Generals Highway (check road conditions—it can close in winter), which runs between the two parks. Stop at Giant Forest for the one-mile paved Big Trees Trail or to climb Moro Rock’s 400 steps to fantastic views. A tour of Crystal Cave requires advance ticket reservations. Grant Grove is home to some of the largest trees on the planet and Kings Canyon Scenic Byway (closed in winter) heads into the mile-deep, glacially carved canyon.

Weather varies significantly with the seasons and due to elevation changes. Winter conditions can limit accessibility, but also allow for fun snow activities. There are four park lodges (two open year-round) and 14 campgrounds. Backcountry hikes include parts of the Pacific Coast Trail and Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the lower 48 states.

Half Dome is an icon of Yosemite.
Photo by Kim Platt

Yosemite’s majestic beauty is truly a site to behold: the astounding waterfalls, grandiose rock formations, flowering meadows, giant sequoias, panoramic viewpoints, mirror lakes, rushing rivers and remote wilderness areas. Both relaxation and adventure await millions of visitors each year.

Yosemite Valley (about 400 miles from San Diego) can be toured via park shuttles and offers a variety of hikes and activities, including many geologic marvels. Cook’s Meadow trail is a serene one-mile walk that offers views of popular Glacier Point, Half Dome, Sentinel Rock and Yosemite Falls (the highest waterfall in North America). El Capitan, an enormous granite monolith, hosts world-class climbers. Lower Yosemite Falls and Bridalveil Fall can be reached via short trails. When you leave the valley, the Tunnel View Overlook is not to be missed.

Along with scenic drives and hundreds of hiking trails, there is ample opportunity for photography, biking, bird watching, camping, fishing, horseback riding, backpacking and winter sports. The park is open year-round and accommodations include everything from backcountry camping and campgrounds, to tent cabins and luxury hotels.

Park rangers recommend starting the day equipped with plenty of water, food and gas. Wear appropriate footwear and weather protection, use careful footing, and appreciate wildlife from a safe distance.

Lisa Pawlak is a contributing writer, Encinitas resident and mom of two boys.

Published June 2016

RV Camping

Taking It on the Road, Family Style!

Camping and touring in a RV

During a recent email session with an old friend about our summer plans, I mentioned that our family planned on taking our annual four-week road trip in our motor home. My friend emailed back and said he thought I was very “brave” to set out on such an adventure with two young children (ages 2 and 5). I chuckled when I read his email and wondered if he knew how much he was missing out on by shirking away from the idea of such a fun trip with one’s family.

My husband and I have been “RVing” for over ten years. We have swapped our motor home styles and sizes as our needs have changed and as our family has grown over the years. When we first started traveling, we took only short trips and actually didn’t go often enough to get the full benefits of “motor homing.” We certainly had some blunders that were not so funny at the time but seem to be funny now. In fact, on our first trip in the motor home to Pine Valley, we forgot our pillows and could not get the outdoor grill lit to cook dinner. After giving up on the grill because we had no flashlight with us and it was getting dark, we decided to bake our dinner in the motor home but could not get the oven lit! Going to bed a little hungrier than we had planned, my husband cut his back open on the curtain rod sticking out of the top window over our bed. It was that night that we knew motor homing was right up our alley!

Funny story aside, when we first started out in our little 24-foot RV, we did not notice as many motor homing families with young children as we do today. At most campgrounds you roll into nowadays, you will probably see little bikes, skateboards and toys near many of the already parked motor homes. We have noticed a great trend of families getting out in the motor home to be together.

Since we had kids, we have discovered a new world of family fun and family bonding within the walls of our motor home. We saw the Grand Canyon when our son was only six months old. We ventured up from southern California all the way to the Canadian border with stops everywhere in between in our motor home. Our kids love to pick out good, old-fashioned postcards to send off via “snail mail” to different family members on every trip. They keep a count on the states we have visited and have a list of states they want to call upon. Besides seeing amazing geological and natural wonders, breathtaking varieties of scenery, and different, unique animals we have been able to truly escape the daily grind so we can tune into our kids, ourselves and each other. Once we are settled into a campsite, our kids burst out of the motor home to climb trees, dig in the dirt, collect rocks, and keep a look out for animals. They search for the “best” play grounds and ride their bikes at every stop we make. After a few days out on a new trip, my husband and I realize we are able to clear our heads and suddenly have energy again to have fun with our little ones!

On our RV trips, we bring our cat, we cook for our little traveling family, play games inside and out, walk together, talk together, read, solve puzzles, enjoy music and movies. Don’t get me wrong, there is still the usual daily housekeeping, but it all seems easier and less tedious as we float our way along the highways of our country. We have met so many unique people during our trips. Some folks were locals; some of them were from other countries. Some of them were “full-timers” and some of them were just out for the weekend. Most of them have been amazingly nice and they usually have interesting stories to share. They help remind us of just how many people there are in our big world. There is so much learning to be had from a trek out on the road.

As our world gets more and more overloaded with DVRs (and believe me, we love our DVR), mp3 players, cell phones, texting, emails and video games, not to mention the bills, chores, groceries, laundry and schedules that go along with life, our family clings more and more tightly to the wonderfully simple idea of unplugging for a while and jumping into the seat to take a trip in our motor home. Not only do we come home with fun pictures of our wanderings, but are we able to build special memories for our kids to share with their kids. We want to spread the word and tell families of all kinds what enjoyment can be had from packing the family up for a trip in the RV.

Do your homework to maximize your RV trip. Here is a link to check out how your campground choice fared for other RVers:  

If you don’t have a motor home, you can rent one from several local RV rental businesses in San Diego. Following is a list of rental services in the San Diego area.

Notable Campgrounds around San Diego County. Some are rustic and some more resort-like. Check each website to see what suits your RV needs and camping interests. Don’t forget to save money on your campgrounds reservations! Be sure to ask if they honor AAA membership discounts.

Autumn Johnson is a freelance writer and mom of two young children. She has been traveling in a motor home searching for fun for over ten years. She can be most often found loading the motor home for the next trip on the road.

Cathedral Rock at Sedona

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Cathedral rock (photo credit: Geno Pawlak)

If you’re looking for an active family getaway that will recharge and renew your spirits, look no further than Sedona, Arizona. This spectacular destination offers the majesty of a national park, with all the conveniences of city life. Recognized by Good Morning America as one of the “10 Most Beautiful Places in America”, Sedona is surrounded by breathtaking red sandstone formations, unparalleled natural beauty, and, many visitors claim, the positive energy of uplifting vortexes. There is little doubt that Sedona offers peace and serenity to those who embrace it—along with a multitude of opportunities to explore the impressive natural surroundings.

General Information
Sedona—a four-seasons getaway—is about 460 miles from San Diego. A range of fun, outdoor adventures await your family’s arrival, including hiking, rock climbing and bouldering, mountain biking, horseback riding, and off-road scenic jeep tours. There is also excellent dining, shopping, galleries and museums.

If you enjoy lively surroundings, consider staying in—or strolling through—Sedona’s Uptown district. Filled with shops, boutiques and restaurants, the area is also packed with wellness centers offering metaphysical experiences such as aura photos and psychic readings. Uptown is also a good starting point for guided tours, which include everything from off-road wildlife jeep tours to meditative yoga trail outings.

Kids and sweets enthusiasts might want to try homemade ice cream, such as local flavor Prickly Pear, from Black Cow Café. Or, nearby Sabrina’s Gourmet Ice Cream offers outstanding views from their back patio.

For a more off-the-beaten-path vibe (with amenities), book a room at low-key Sky Ranch Lodge, located on the Airport Mesa. The relaxing grounds include gardens, a wine bar, pool/hot tub, sunset views and easy access to hiking trails. In the evening, take a short walk over to the airport’s Mesa Grill. Kids love the restaurant’s close proximity to the runway.

There is no shortage of restaurants in Sedona—you’ll find everything from standard food court fare to high-end dining. For breakfast, fuel up at Nick’s West, then pack sandwiches for the day’s expeditions. Grocery options include Safeway, Whole Foods and other natural markets. Or, if you are heading north of town, stop at Indian Gardens Café & Market for lunch; the outdoor patio is charming. Foodies will appreciate dinner at Elote Café (arrive early for first seating) or Cucina Rustica (make reservations); the whole family will enjoy pizza at Picazzo’s or burgers at Oak Creek Brewery.

For more information on lodging, dining and activities, visit and

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Bell Rock (photo credit: Lisa Pawlak)

Hiking Sedona
The Sedona area offers hundreds of hiking trails for all levels. Don’t miss exploring the area’s impressive red rock formations on foot. Many of the area’s attractions maintain multiple trails up, down, around or along rock formations. For example, energetic family members can attempt a steep climb up to the saddle points of Cathedral Rock (1.5 miles), while others—especially those with younger kids—might be happier on the Easy Breezy trail that meanders below.

Bell Rock offers a fun, moderate hike (3.6 mile loop), circling Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte. Along the way, rock climbers and scramblers can ascend smaller structures or the face of Bell Rock, which requires varying degrees of difficulty depending on the route.

Other popular hikes include the Airport Loop (3.3 miles, easy/moderate), Broken Arrow (3.4 miles, easy), Devil’s Bridge (4.4 miles, moderate), Fay Canyon (2.3 miles, easy) and Soldier Pass (4.2 miles, moderate) trails.

Many trail parking areas require a Red Rock Pass, which can be obtained onsite at parking lot vending machines, or in advance from a number of local businesses. Head out early as parking fills up.

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Courthouse Butte (photo credit: Lisa Pawlak)

Other Activities
The Red Rock Scenic Byway, south of town, is a 7-mile scenic drive and gateway to the area’s most popular attractions. North of town, Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Drive is 14 miles and offers red rock, oak tree, and creek views. This area is particularly picturesque in the fall when the leaves change colors. During warmer months, nearby Slide Rock State Park offers swimming and a natural water slide. Oak Creek is stocked with rainbow trout for fishing enthusiasts.

Rent or bring bikes to explore mountain biking trails. Or get to know the area on horseback (tours available).

Finally, be sure to venture outside at night and look up. With clear skies the majority of the year, crystalline stargazing will leave the whole family dazzle-eyed and dreamy.

Lisa Pawlak is an award-winning freelance writer and outdoor enthusiast.

Published March 2018


traveling with kids

Here are some tips for traveling abroad with children.

International travel gives your child an opportunity to experience other cultures and customs, and is a great way to broaden her understanding of the world around her. If you plan to travel abroad with your kids, these tips will help ensure a successful adventure for the whole family.

Time it Right. Plan travels abroad to be ten or more days. This includes two days in route.

Put it in Perspective. Establish trip priorities based on your child’s age, personality and interests. Focus on places your child has heard about or may want to see.

Mix Things Up. Don’t over plan or sightsee all day, everyday. Mix structured activities with free time for your family to play at the park, shop or swim at your hotel.

Take a Tour or Map it Out. Consider taking a tour to make your visit more interesting. If you opt out of a tour, get a map of the site in advance to highlight items you want to see.

At-Home Primers. Look at globes and maps before your trip to get a distance perspective. Read child-friendly travel books and fiction titles set in the destination; watch related DVDs and take virtual tours of sites online. Teach your child a few basic words from the native language.

Journal. Purchase a journal of your child’s choosing. Encourage him record what he sees and thoughts about his experience. Take a child-friendly camera so he can take pictures and create a scrapbook.

Entertainment. Before flying, find out what kind of entertainment is on the plane. Consider taking a portable DVD player, favorite books, travel-size games and plenty of snacks.

Jetlag. Ease the discomfort of jetlag by staying awake the first day as long as you can. Leave that day open and flexible.

Accommodations. Many hotel rooms in historic districts are small with twin-sized beds. Email the hotel in advance and ask about bed and room sizes. Consider connecting rooms to give your family more space. When traveling with young children, choose one accommodation that is close to everything you want to see.

Culinary Adjustments.
In many foreign countries dinner may start later than what is customary to your family. Unfamiliar foods may not be palatable to your child. Take snacks and familiar foods, but encourage your child to try new things.

Transportation. Use public transportation in larger cities. Hop on, hop off buses allow you to stop at sites you want to see. Trains are often a great way to travel long distances. If you are going outside the city, weigh the option of renting a car with your comfort level of driving.

Prepare for Emergencies. Most touristy locations have medical facilities with English-speaking doctors, but check your insurance policy before you go. Most policies—even good ones—don’t cover medical in foreign countries. If yours doesn’t, get travel insurance that covers medical.

Denise Yearian is the former editor of two parenting magazines and the mother of three children.

Published: June 2014

bay area visit

Go on a San Francisco Bay area adventure!

Planning a road trip to the San Francisco Bay Area? Here are five kid-friendly stops from Gilroy (south of San Francisco) to Fairfield (north of San Francisco). Each super fun spot will entertain, educate and inspire the whole family. So start planning your northern California road trip now!

Gilroy Gardens Family Theme Park
Gilroy, 408-840-7100

Hidden in the beautiful trees of the Garlic Capital of the World (Gilroy) is a unique theme park that delivers family fun while inspiring an appreciation for horticulture and the importance of trees. Geared towards kids ages 2–10, the park features whimsical rides like the Strawberry Sundae, Artichoke Dip, Garlic Twirl and paddle boats designed like ducks and swans. The beautiful landscaping and majestic gardens create an unusual (but welcome) serene environment amidst the usual fun of a theme park. You have to experience it to believe it. If you visit during the warm summer months, Bonfante Falls, the Water Oasis and Splash Garden are sure to cool down the kids.

Gilroy Gardens is closed in January and February.

If you’re driving to the Bay Area from San Diego, this could be your first stop as it is located about 80 miles south of San Francisco.

California Academy of Sciences
San Francisco, 415-379-8000

Having grown up in the Bay Area, I was a bit embarrassed to admit I had never been to the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. My teens were begging me to go, so we did. Wow, what an awesome field trip full of discoveries! The biggest surprise: a huge underground aquarium with a touch-tank tidepool. We could have spent three hours in the aquarium alone, but there were so many other exhibits to explore. Even more impressive is the four-story rainforest featuring free-flying birds, butterflies and exotic reptiles. It is amazing. Other highlights include planetarium shows, the natural history museum, a living roof and the earthquake exhibit. Experience San Francisco’s two biggest quakes with a visit to The Shake House.

Families with young scientists-in-training should visit the Early Explorers Cove, a learning play space with activities designed for children ages 5 and under.

San Francisco, 415-528-4444

Recently named by Fodor’s Travel as one of the best children’s museums in the United States, the Exploratorium is a thrill for all ages. “Don’t come with a plan because you’ll never stick to it,” advises 12-year-old Maya. “There’s something for everybody here, so we always start and finish in a different place.”

Discover six main galleries featuring hundreds of hands-on science experiments, art activities and interactive exhibits that provide hours of thought-provoking fun. Engage your senses, investigate living things, explore the local environment and “think with your hands.” You’re guaranteed to learn something new.

After 44 years at the Palace of Fine Arts, the Exploratorium is now located at Pier 15, not far from the Ferry Building.

Mrs. Grossman’s Sticker Factory
Petaluma, 800-429-4549

Factory tours are a blast—and who doesn’t love stickers? Get the best of both worlds at Mrs. Grossman’s Sticker Factory—a family-friendly field trip that is sure to delight all ages. Behind-the-scenes tours of the working factory reveal fascinating sticker history and little-known facts as you stop at six different stations, where each visitor receives free stickers. The tour wraps up with a fun, hands-on sticker art project. A stop at the store is fun for kids and a trip down memory lane for parents.

The factory is located in Petaluma, a 40-mile drive north on Hwy 101 from San Francisco. Tours run Monday through Thursday and reservations are required, so be sure to call before visiting.

Jelly Belly Factory
Fairfield, 800-953-5592

About 60 miles northeast of San Francisco (and directly east of Petaluma), you’ll find the Jelly Belly Factory in Fairfield. It’s a fascinating and “sweet” experience to learn the process of making a Jelly Belly (and the irregular “Belly Flop”), which is detailed in a series of videos throughout the free working factory tour. Other highlights of a visit include tasting free samples, seeing Jelly Belly art, eating Jelly Belly-shaped food in the cafeteria and stopping at the Jelly Belly Candy Store and gift shop.

Tours are held daily (except certain holiday) and depart every 15 minutes, but be prepared to wait in line during peak times. Please note that during weekend tours, candy-making machines are not in operation.

Lisa Gipson loves exploring and traveling with her family. She is the managing editor at San Diego Family.

Photo credits: Photos were provided by Mrs. Grossman's Sticker Factory, California Academy of Science and Chris Picon.

Published: March 2015

family on beach

family on the beach

Resorts your family will love! Looking for a local family getaway where there’s relaxation for adults and fun for the kids? These resorts offer plenty of amenities for families -- guaranteed to make memories that last a lifetime.

Southern California

great wolf lodge

Great Wolf Lodge
12681 Harbor Blvd., Garden Grove

Looking for an awesome one-of-a-kind getaway for your family? Great Wolf Lodge is the only indoor waterpark and resort of it’s kind in California. The indoor waterpark—available to lodge guests only—features a variety of attractions that satisfy everyone from toddlers to teenage thrill-seekers, making it perfect for families. Some highlights include River Canyon Run (raft ride), a lazy river, children’s activity pool, tube slides, a 40-foot drop slide and Fort Mackenzie, a multi-level structure with suspension bridges, spray stations and a giant bucket that dumps water on people below.

The resort also features numerous attractions on “Main Street”: glow-in-the-dark mini golf, an arcade, Scooops Kid Spa, Ten Paw Alley (pint-sized bowling balls!), and Howly Wood Theater, an interactive, 3D motion ride. 

Don’t miss the Forest Friends animatronics show and evening story time, where families are invited to attend in pajamas. “My son and nephew loved story time,” says mom, Jennifer, “and they loved the dance parties!” And then there’s MagiQuest, an interactive virtual game that takes participants on quests throughout the lodge, wielding a magic wand. The wands also make characters come to life in themed suites such as the Wolf Den and KidCabin.

Several eateries on the property make Great Wolf Lodge a one-stop family destination. They even have a Dunkin’ Donuts. Great Wolf is located just 90 minutes north of San Diego and down the street from Anaheim. There is a shuttle that will transport Great Wolf guests to Disneyland for the day.

So, why does SoCal need an indoor waterpark? Here are some of the benefits:

  • It’s an all-weather destination. Great Wolf Lodge keeps the air and water at 84 degrees at all times.
  • No need for sun protection.
  • No fear of sunburn, tan lines or losing sunglasses.
  • No wind means you don’t freeze when you’re wet and standing in line for the next waterslide.
  • No birds to steal your food.
  • It’s not like any other resort experience in SoCal.

Kid-friendly getaways
Welk Resorts
8860 Lawrence Welk Dr., Escondido

Mario Kart tournaments. Free kids golf clinics. Family puzzle challenges. Mini-golf madness. Toddler finger painting. Build-a-Sundae Night. This is a sampling of the regularly scheduled activities you’ll find at Welk Resort in Escondido. Surprised? Perhaps you thought Welk Resort was a timeshare property for seniors. It’s true that Welk is mostly a timeshare community (for all ages), but a number of newly renovated villas are available for the public to reserve, making their family-friendly awesomeness accessible to anyone. Although it’s just 40 miles north of downtown San Diego, the beautiful grounds and surrounding mountains will separate you from the demands of daily life.

Local mother of four, Rachel Hensley, has taken six one-week trips to Welk Resort with her family. “Being so close, Welk is ideal because we just pack up our food and go,” says Hensley. “We love the waterslides, organized crafts and pool games, candy sushi-making, game room with pool tables and foosball, catch-and-release fishing, ice cream socials and on-site pizza delivery. It’s relaxing for everyone and a good place to spend family time together.”

hotel del coronado
Hotel del Coronado
1500 Orange Ave., Coronado

The storied halls. The sparkling beach. The legendary playground by the sea. The Del has witnessed the wonder of children growing up and then returning with little ones of their own. It's been the backdrop of happy holidays and celebrations for more than 128 years and inspired generations of family traditions that bring you closer to the ones you love.

The holidays are a magical time at Hotel del Coronado. From its enormous lobby tree decorated with seaside accents to strolling Victorian carolers and more than 100,000 twinkling white lights strung throughout, The Del is pure holiday enchantment. Whether you’re there for a few days or just a few hours, there are plenty of family-friendly activities to get you into the holiday spirit.

The iconic Del is an adventurous world all its own, where beach-loving families from near and far write their fondest stories on its glittering sands. From surf camps and boogie boarding to sandcastles and coastal bike rides, the best memories begin at The Del.

Paradise Point Hotel
1404 Vacation Rd., Mission Bay

This 44-acre tropical island resort offers a number of holiday events for families, including a Kids Kandy Kane Race, Afternoon Cookie & Cocoa Break and the Jingle Shells Bay Sail. Finish your evening with s’mores at a beachside fire pit.

Omni La Costa Resort & Spa
2100 Costa Del Mar Rd., Carlsbad
Omni features several beautiful pools, waterslides and a splash landing activity pool, the Omni Kids Crew program, Kidtopia Kids Club, teen fun in the Vibz Game Lounge or sport court, and family activities such as s’more roasting and dive-in movies. 

5885 The Crossings Dr., Carlsbad

A LEGO-lovers dream come true! Choose a pirate-, adventure- or kingdom-themed hotel room featuring a separate kids sleeping area with bunk bed and trundle. Your stay includes nightly kids entertainment, kid-friendly breakfast buffet and early access to LEGOLAND.

The Mission Inn Hotel & Spa
3649 Mission Inn Ave., Riverside

Whether you stay overnight or go for the day, The Mission Inn Festival of Lights is not to be missed, featuring more than 4 million lights, animatronic characters, nightly carolers, horse drawn carriage rides, visits from Santa and more.

Is this list missing one of your favorite family resorts? Email your suggestions to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and tell us why it’s your favorite.


Lisa Gipson is the managing editor at San Diego Family.

Published: November 2014; Updated: April 2016

zip line in Hawaii

Taking a family vacation to the island of Oahu? Sure, you’ll lounge on the beach, build sandcastles and play in the water; but why not dig a little deeper into the culture, traditions and excitement of Hawaii. There is so much to do and discover with kids! Here are family-friendly adventures on Oahu that will bring out the “keiki” (child) in all of us.

Zipline in Hawaii 
Keana Farms Zipline
  Photo courtesy of CLIMB Works

If you’re a thrill seeker, an afternoon of ziplining over Keana Farms is a MUST! Ziplining on Oahu’s North Shore with CLIMB Works Keana Farms was an absolute highlight for my daughter and me. The three-hour adventure includes eight ziplines, three sky bridges and an ATV ride up the mountain through tropical farmland. The ziplines are side-by-side, so we were able to soar through the air together (or in competition with each other!) as we took in the gorgeous panoramic views. The trained staff educates participants on Hawaiian culture and history while keeping safety at the forefront of the experience. For ages 7 & up. CLIMB is an acronym for Challenge, Learn, Inspire, Master, Believe. We touched on all of those things that day!

Try this delicious eatery when visiting Oahu
Kahuku Shrimp Truck and Matsumoto Shave Ice

While you’re on the North Shore, have lunch at a famous Kahuku Shrimp Truck, then stop at Matsumoto Shave Ice for authentic shave ice. It’s a favorite stop for locals and visitors alike. Lines can get long, but it’s worth the wait. Add vanilla ice cream and Azuki beans to your favorite flavored shave ice for a real treat.

Ukelele factory in Honolulu
Ukelele Factory

Take a ukulele factory tour at Kamaka Ukulele in Honolulu. Discover why the ukulele is such an important part of Hawaiian culture and see how they are made. A free, guided tour of the Kamaka factory is given Tuesdays–Fridays at 10:30 am for families. Reservations are required for groups of 6 or more. The tour lasts about an hour.

Aquarium at Waikiki
Waikiki Aquarium
  Photo courtesy ofHawaii Toursim Authority, Tor Johnson

Learn about Hawaii’s marine life and conservation efforts through fabulous interactive exhibits at the Waikiki Aquarium. Observe tropical fish, green sea turtles, jellyfish, seahorses, sharks and more. Behind-the-scenes tours, nighttime activities and classes for kids are also available with reservations.

Bishop Museum in Honolulu
Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum
Photo courtesy of Bishop Museum

Visit Bishop Museum in Honolulu, which offers family-friendly cultural activities, planetarium shows, and a vast collection of interesting artifacts. Don’t miss the Sports Hall of Fame and the Science Adventure Center, where kids can learn about Hawaii’s volcanoes through a lava-melting demonstration. Bring lunch and a blanket to picnic on the museum’s large grassy area. Closed Tuesdays.

Kualoa Ranch is where scenes from movies like Jurassic park were filmed.
Kualoa Ranch
Photo courtesy of Oahu Visitors Bureau

Explore the “Hawaii Backlot” at Kualoa Ranch and see where Jurassic Park, 50 First Dates and dozens of other blockbuster movies were filmed on the Hollywood Movie Sites Bus Tour. Or explore 4,000 acres of Kualoa’s beautiful terrain via ATV, horseback or treetop zipline. Visit the website for details on each tour, including age restrictions and prices. Kualoa Ranch aims to preserve and protect the natural surroundings while sharing its unique Hawaiian culture.

The Dole Plantation in Hawaii
Dole Pineapple Plantation

We were warned that a visit to the Dole Pineapple Plantation might be for younger kids, but my teen daughter and I thoroughly enjoyed our visit. Yes, we rode the Pineapple Express train, where we learned fun facts about pineapple growing and agricultural history; then we made our way through the World’s Largest Maze (two acres) at Dole’s Pineapple Garden. Don’t worry—you won’t really get lost as there are multiple openings throughout the maze. It’s more like a fun scavenger hunt. Don’t leave the plantation without having a cup of refreshing Dole Whip, of course!

The USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor is a must see
USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor
  Photo courtesy of Hawaii Toursim Authority, Kirk Lee Aeder

No visit to Oahu is complete without a visit to the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor. It’s a compelling and educational snapshot of our nation’s history. You may even get lucky and meet a Pearl Harbor survivor (we did!). Kids are given a Keiki Ranger (Junior Ranger) activity book that will take them on a historical journey of what happened that fateful day on December 7, 1941. Note: Go EARLY! The Navy will "shut down" the bay if it's too windy, which means no tour boats will be permitted to go to the memorial site. This happened to us, but we still spent a couple hours going through both museums and seeing the 20-minute movie (part of the experience when you buy tickets). It was time well spent. Also note that all purses and backpacks must be stored in lockers before entry; it is not recommended that you leave valuables in your car.

Folks like to stand next to the big gun at USS Bowfin Submarine Museum at Pearl Harbor
USS Bowfin
  Photo courtesy of Hawaii Tourism Authority, Tor Johnson

Families will enjoy exploring the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum, otherwise known as The Pearl Harbor Avenger. Take a self-guided tour of the historic World War II (WWII) submarine, located in Pearl Harbor. Learn about other Pearl Harbor subs with a visit to the museum and waterfront memorial honoring American submariners lost in WWII.

Have fun at the Children's DIscovery museum in Hawaii
Children's Discovery Center Photo courtesy of Children's Discovery Center

A visit to The Children’s Discovery Center is perfect for families with younger children. Kids are encouraged to explore the interactive exhibits of “Fantastic You”, “Your Town”, “Hawaiian Rainbows” and more. Exhibits are specially designed for children and adults to play together.

just one of the delicious entrees available on the island of Oahu
Grilled fish with Thai red curry & green papaya salad from Uahi Island Grill

Culinary Adventures
Our family travel adventures often involve visiting restaurants featured on Food Network’s TV show, Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Here are restaurants on Oahu recommended by “Triple D” host, Guy Fieri:
Uahi Island Grill
Nico’s at Pier 38
Hank’s Haute Dogs
Highway Inn
Poke Stop
Rainbow Drive-In
Camille’s on Wheels

Where to Stay
There are many kid-friendly hotels and resorts on Oahu. Here are a few we recommend. Where are your favorites? Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and let us know.

Outrigger Hotels & Resorts 

Aulani, a Disney Resort 

Hilton Hawaiian Village

Find more information at the Oahu Visitors Bureau.

Lisa Gipson is the managing editor of San Diego Family and a mom of three daughters. She loves going on new adventures with family or girlfriends.

published: August 2015


Zion National Park is a rainbow of colors.
Photo by Lisa Pawlak

Breathtaking, colorful Zion National Park embraces towering cliffs, glimmering waterfalls, emerald-green pools, blue skies, red sandstone river canyons and massive multihued rock formations. It offers the perfect extended weekend get-away, with activities for everyone in the family—memorable scenic drives, panoramic views, relaxing picnic spots, wildlife viewing, nature walks, strenuous hikes and extreme adventures. Located in southwest Utah, about a 7-8 hour drive from San Diego, Zion is gorgeous to visit during all seasons. Experience spring blooms, starry summer skies, fall foliage or winter snow dustings that will welcome your family into this natural wonder.

Where to Stay

The comfortable Zion Lodge is the only lodging (and dining) option within the park’s boundaries, though the nearby town of Springdale has a range of motels, hotels and eateries.

Campers will enjoy the park’s two campgrounds located near the south entrance. Both offer flush toilets, fire pits and water—and they fill up quickly. Watchman accepts reservations during high season (mid-March through October), South is first come, first serve. A third campground with primitive sites, Lava Point, is located an hour outside Zion Canyon. Permitted backcountry camping within the park’s boundaries is an option. Privately owned campgrounds are available outside the park.  

Getting Around the Park

Zion is divided into two sections: Zion Canyon and Kolob Canyons. Internal roads do not connect the two, so you have to exit the park to move between them.

Most first-time visitors spend their time in Zion Canyon, which is often considered the heart of the park. Along Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, travelers can stop at any number of recreational sites that include everything from restful areas to exciting explorations.
During high season, no private vehicles are allowed in the park; however, an eco-friendly, free shuttle system is provided. Those who get an early start can catch a shuttle directly from the Zion Canyon Visitor Center, otherwise, visitors will need to leave their cars in Springdale and ride a shuttle from there.

Most visitors self-tour and hop on and off the general shuttles, but a narrated two-hour Ride with a Ranger shuttle is also available. These run every 15 minutes, so long waits are rare.

The Kolob Canyons area is located in the northwest portion of the park. Due to its isolated location, it has fewer visitors and is better suited to those wanting to get off the beaten path. One backcountry destination, the Kolob Arch, is one of the world’s largest and most impressive freestanding arches. Kolob Canyon Road offers a gorgeous 5-mile drive into the wilderness.

Nature Walks and Hikes

Many of Zion’s treasures are best seen on foot. A variety of family-friendly hikes are available and easily accessible in Zion Canyon from nearby shuttle stops.

Emerald Pools Trails, located just across from Zion Lodge, has several path options to visit three separate green pools. The lower pool trail (1.2 miles, round-trip) is paved, shaded and stroller-friendly, though the hiking becomes more challenging if you continue towards the middle and upper pools.

Weeping Rock is another good stop. A short nature trail (half-mile, round-trip) brings you up behind an overhanging rock, where you can view water seeping out from the rock. Additionally, more strenuous trails start from this area, if time and energy allow.
The Riverside Walk, starting from the Temple of Sinawava at the end of the shuttle route, is an easy, paved, 2-mile stroll—and the park’s most popular trail. At the end of the path, can get a glimpse of (or possibly continue into) The Narrows, Zion’s most famous slot canyon.

Those interested in entering The Narrows need appropriate footwear and waterproof gear because it requires walking in the Virgin River. Flash floods, cold water and strong currents are all real dangers, so be sure to check the weather forecast and with a park ranger before venturing out. Monsoon season is mid-July through September. This hike is not recommended for young children.

Another well-known Zion trail is Angels Landing, known mostly because of the precarious, final half-mile. This portion is not for young kids or anyone who fears heights; it requires the use of safety chains along a narrow ridge, with huge drop-offs. However, if the family can make it as far as Scout Lookout (located before the final half-mile, but after the trail passes through Walter’s Wiggles’ 21 switchbacks!) the views are well worth the effort.

Other Activities

Beyond day hiking, Zion offers opportunities for backcountry excursions, canyoneering, climbing, river trips, bicycling, horseback riding and more. Permits are required for many of these activities.

Zion also offers marvelous birding and wildlife viewing; it is home to California condors, bighorn sheep, tarantulas, falcons, mule deer (look for them near Zion Lodge) and the endemic Zion snail.

Take some time to simply relax and picnic at the Grotto area or visit Canyon Overlook for a fantastic panorama of lower Zion Canyon. Throughout your visit, look up to see unique hanging gardens high on the cliff walls. At night, if weather allows, stargaze into Zion’s dark skies.

The Zion Nature Center offers a range of exhibits, activities and programs for families. Kids ages 4 and up can complete an activity book to earn their Zion Junior Ranger badge.

The stunning beauty of Zion’s ancient geologic ripples combined with a wealth of family-friendly recreational activities make for a memorable visit. Don’t forget your camera!

More information

Zion National Park

Zion Lodge

Watchman Campground Reservations

Lisa Pawlak is a contributing writer, Encinitas mom of two boys and a hiking enthusiast.

Published June 2016

paddle board

Paddleboarding is just one of the many fun things to do while visiting Catalina Island.

What do wild bison, an awesome zipline, a casino and walking on the ocean floor have in common? Catalina Island, of course.

Looking for a fun family day or weekend trip? I’ll let you in on a little secret: There’s a fantastic island getaway practically in our backyard, San Diegans. Catalina Island. There is so much to do and discover (or not) and it’s all in a fun, relaxed, island atmosphere. It only takes only a couple hours to get there, but feels like you’re a world away when you arrive.

Find Insider’s Tips When Visiting Catalina here.

When to Go
Peak months to visit Catalina are July and August, but Catalina is a year-round destination, so pick a date that works for your family. The weather is very similar to that of most of Southern California, so most activities are offered year round as well.

Getting There
The most common way to get to Catalina is by boat. The Catalina Express departs from Dana Point (closest to San Diego), Long Beach or San Pedro and takes about 70–90 minutes, depending on your departure point.

Did you know you can also get to Catalina by helicopter? In a mere 15 minutes you’ll be transported from Long Beach to the Avalon Helipad. Taking a helicopter is also a great option for those prone to motion sickness.

Fun Stuff to Do
Family-friendly activities abound on the island, everything from adventurous water sports and island expeditions to relaxing on the beach or enjoying a day at the brand-new Island Spa (opening September 2014). There really is something for everyone.

Zipline Eco Tour
If you have a family of thrill seekers, then you must go on the Zipline Eco Tour. The two-hour “tour” is ridiculously fun and was a highlight of our trip! This adventure is a little pricey, but here’s why: You will soar through the air on five separate ziplines through Descanso Canyon. Each zipline ranges from 400 to 1,100 feet long and riders reach speeds of up to 40 mph! Since you are 300 feet above ground, the views of the canyon and water are breathtaking (sometimes literally).

Descanso Beach Club
One could easily spend a whole day at Descanso Beach enjoying water activities (kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, snorkeling, swimming), a rock wall or hanging out on the private beach ($2/day) to collect shells and observe hermit crabs. As an alternative to sitting on the sand, rent lounge chairs or a private oceanfront cabana where you can have food and drinks delivered to you. There is also a beachside drink and snack bar with ample seating on the patio.

Jeep Eco Tour
One of the best ways to explore the island’s rugged interior is on a Jeep Eco Tour in an open-air Hummer. We learned a lot about the island as our tour guide shared interesting and entertaining facts. We saw bison, the island fox, mule deer, and enjoyed spectacular views of the ocean. This is also how we learned about the Catalina Island Conservancy.

The iconic circular building you see in every photo of Catalina Island is the world-famous Casino. Here you’ll find the Catalina Island Museum, an enormous art-deco theatre that plays first-run movies, and a gorgeous 20,000-sq.-ft. ballroom. Take a guided tour to get the inside scoop on the Casino’s fascinating history that dates back to 1929 and to take photos from the top floor terrace that wraps around the building.

Other fun things your family can enjoy include the glass bottom boat tour, mini bowling (yes, mini balls and mini lanes), hiking, miniature golf and a visit to Lloyd's candy shop where they pull fresh saltwater taffy in the front window. Be sure to stop by Big Olaf's Ice Cream shop for a freshly made waffle cone. As for walking on the ocean floor, that’s exactly what you do when you take a Sea Trek Tour (for ages 8 and up).

Getting Around
Almost everything in Avalon is within walking distance. It’s an easy 5-minute walk from the boat landing to Crescent Ave., the main street that runs along the harbor and connects all the quaint boutiques and eateries.

Other ways to explore town and the residential areas are by bike (rent beach cruisers, electric bikes and mountain bikes for a nominal hourly fee), by Segway, and by trolley. The trolley makes several stops during its easy 45-minute ride around town. You are permitted to exit and re-board one time. This is a great way to get to Wrigley Memorial and Botanic Garden, but you could also walk or ride a bike.

The most popular mode of transportation on the island is by golf cart (sorry kids, you must have a driver’s license to drive a golf cart; and if you’re renting one, you must be 25).

Where to Eat
There’s no shortage of restaurants in Avalon, from casual corner stands to fine dining. Bluewater Avalon is the perfect spot to enjoy delicious seafood in a casual atmosphere while taking in the harbor view. We had a memorable lunch at Maggie’s Blue Rose, an authentic Mexican food restaurant on Crescent Ave. that opened this year. Just upstairs from Maggie’s (and owned by the same couple) is Steve’s Steakhouse, which is known for its excellent food and service. Coney Island West is a local favorite to grab a hamburger, hot dog or sandwich. Order at the walk-up window and have a seat on the patio.

Where to Stay
We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at the beautifully landscaped Pavilion Hotel, which offers nice rooms, comfortable beds, excellent service and a convenient location. Just steps from the water, the hotel courtyard lends itself to people watching or enjoying the view of the harbor. A real plus for families is the daily complimentary breakfast. Don’t miss the wine and cheese happy hour.

Take a break from the chaos of life and plan a day or weekend family adventure in Catalina. You can also camp, backpack, and send your kids to camp on the island. Are you sitting on the edge of your seat with excitement? Excuse me, I have a boat to catch.

Before you go, be sure to read my Insider’s Tips when Visiting Catalina.

Find more information about visiting Catalina Island at

Lisa Gipson is the managing editor at San Diego Family Magazine and is looking forward to her next exciting adventure to Catalina. Photo by author.

Published: August 2014

  • Another fun cover shoot!

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  • San Diego Travel Guide Out & About With Kids Coming Soon!


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