Seasonal activities such as apple picking, visiting pumpkin farms and taking hayrides make Oak Glen popular in the fall, but it’s a year-round destination offering fresh mountain air, fabulous living history experiences and loads of family fun. Oak Glen is just two hours northeast of San Diego in the San Bernardino Mountains. Whether you’re accompanying your child on a class field trip or planning a family day trip or weekend getaway, here are awesome things to do in Oak Glen.

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Los Rios Rancho
From Labor Day to Thanksgiving Los Rios Rancho offers apple picking (pumpkins in early October), live music, hayrides, horse rides, U-press apple cider on an antique press, and tours of the historic packing house.

Anytime of the year, shop the country store for specialty food items, adorable home décor and gifts; grab lunch in the sandwich shop/bakery and picnic on the lawn (weather permitting); be sure to set aside time to visit Oak Glen Preserve next door—an absolute delight (see details below).

Fun seasonal events include Old West Days (Aug.), an Apple Butter Festival (Nov.) and Apple Blossom Festival (April). Follow Los Rios Rancho on Instagram or Facebook for up-to-date information.

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Oak Glen Preserve
Don’t miss this hidden gem located right next to Los Rios Rancho. The Wildlands Conservancy, whose mission is “to preserve the beauty and biodiversity of the earth and provide programs so children may know the wonder and joy of nature,” does just that. Well-maintained nature trails feature interactive Kids Quiz stations that encourage kids to explore the natural world. Discover drastically contrasting eco-regions along a single trail, surrounded by gorgeous mountains. Enjoy the shade of California Conifers, stroll through botanic gardens, find boulders engraved with inspiring quotes and spend time bird watching on a floating dock.

Admission is free; donations are gladly accepted. Check the Oak Glen Preserve Facebook page for guided nature walks, junior ranger programs and other unplugged family fun.

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Oak Tree Village
Stop by Apple Annie’s Bakery for a delicious Apple Betty (pastry filled and topped with apples) or a Mile-High Apple Pie (it’s a whopping five pounds!) and Village Candy Kitchen for handmade confections, caramel apples, and barrels full of vintage candies. Kids enjoy the Animal Park & Petting Farm, featuring ponies, goats, pigs, horses and llamas. Oak Tree Village also features seasonal events for families.

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Riley’s Farm
Riley’s Farm offers popular living history field trips to schools all over Southern California, but this working apple orchard is also a fun family destination offering U-pick fruit, interactive educational experiences, a restaurant, dinner theater and seasonal events for all ages.

“Adventures in the Old World” activities are available to families on most Saturdays. Participate in candle dipping, tomahawk throwing and archery (ages 8 & up) for a nominal fee.

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Have lunch at The Hawk’s Head Tavern & Bakery (at Riley’s Farm), known for comfort food inspired by early colonial America (and servers who dress the part), such as homemade chicken pot pie with gravy and a flaky crust. Kids menu available. Annual popular dinner theater shows include Legend of Sleepy Hollow and A Christmas Carol. Make reservations early as they sell out. Riley’s Farm is closed Sundays.

Where to Stay
Planning to make a weekend of it and spend the night in the area? Check out Hampton Inn in Banning or Holiday Inn Express in Beaumont, both about 15 minutes from Oak Glen.


Lisa Gipson is managing editor of San Diego Family Magazine and mom of three girls.


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I had never even heard of Lake Gregory in California’s San Bernardino Mountains until a couple months ago. But now the secret is out! Bustling with fun lake activities for families, it’s a perfect summer retreat to the mountains as it’s less than two hours from most major SoCal cities. Lake Gregory is located in the small mountain town of Crestline—yes, that sign you see on your way to Big Bear or Lake Arrowhead (which is 10 miles north).


Play - One of Lake Gregory’s highlights is Rim of the World Waterpark, a ginormous inflated structure that floats on the lake, featuring slides, swings, diving platforms and more. The waterpark is for ages 7 & up who are 48” or taller. Teens and adults love it, too! Day or annual passes available. The Rim of the World Waterpark and swim beach are open Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend (weekends only until mid-June, then open daily).

Swim - One quarter of the lake is dedicated to swimming only and has a “swim beach.”

Ride - Aqua cycles, pedal boats, kayaks, paddleboards, motorboats and rowboats are available for rent on other side of lake.

Fish – The lake is stocked with brown and rainbow trout. There are free fishing clinics for all ages, plus kids ages 4 & younger fish for free.

Hike – There is a 2.7-mile walking path around the lake, plus other well-kept walking paths in the area. Heart Rock/Seeley Creek Trail is popular for families—hikers will find a heart-shaped hole next to a waterfall at the end!

Grow – Don’t miss the free “Fit Kids” program (third Saturdays during the summer) for ages 5-12. It’s health and fitness related, but the goal is to encourage kids to love and appreciate nature.

Other summer highlights include an annual Fourth of July barbecue and fireworks show over Lake Gregory, and Friday night fun featuring concerts, a farmers market and food vendors.

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Everyone is required to wear a life vest on the waterpark.
Lifeguards are always on duty on the swimming side of the lake.


  • There’s free street parking if you’re lucky enough to find a spot. Otherwise, it’s $10/day to park.
  • No glass or alcohol is permitted near the lake.
  • No pets are allowed in the beach area.
  • Night swimming is not permitted.


  • The North Shore Inn, located in Crestline, is right across the street from Lake Gregory.
  • Sleepy Hollow Cabins and Hotel -
  • The nearest place to camp is about 15 mins. away at Dogwood Family Campground. {link to} It offers tent camping and RV hookups.
  • Check Airbnb in nearby Lake Arrowhead.

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Learn more about Lake Gregory at


When Lisa Gipson isn’t wearing her managing editor hat, she’s out exploring new places to share with San Diego Family Magazine readers.

Published June 2018


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Thrill-seeking families have so many awesome amusement parks and exhilarating rides to choose from! From corporate amusement parks to smaller family-owned venues, here are some top picks in North America. Start planning your family vacations!

Cedar Point
Sandusky, Ohio
Touted as the best amusement park in the world, Cedar Point is filled with thrilling coasters, family attractions and great views of Lake Erie. It has 16 world-class roller coasters, and a new one for 2018. Some notable coasters are Millennium Force, a 310-foot giga coaster; Maverick, a multi-launch coaster loaded with intense turns; and Top Thrill Dragster, a short-but-sweet ride that is the second tallest in the world at 420 feet. Steel Vengeance (built by fan-favorite manufacturer, Rocky Mountain Construction) debuts this year. It offers airtime galore, guaranteeing Cedar Point will remain one of the most visited amusement parks in North America.

Kings Island
Mason, Ohio
Just 3½ hours from Cedar Point, this well-rounded park has a great variety of coasters. The Golden Ticket Awards (Amusement Today’s annual theme park awards show) has given Kings Island the honor of “Best Kid’s Area” ever since they started in 2001. They also won “Best New Ride” in 2017 for Mystic Timbers, one of the best wooden coasters in America. Other notable coasters are The Beast, the world’s longest wooden coaster; Diamondback, an airtime-filled hyper-coaster; and Banshee, the world’s longest inverted coaster. With all the critical acclaim, this park is a must-visit destination.

Canada’s Wonderland
Vaughan, Ontario, Canada
The only Canadian park on this list, Canada’s Wonderland wins guests over with its fun atmosphere and unique attractions. It features some of the most notable non-coaster thrill rides, many of which cannot be found anywhere else in the world. These include Sledgehammer, an overall disorientating experience full of spinning and sudden drops; Soaring Timbers, another bizarre and crazy experience with riders going every direction; and Skyhawk, where riders control the experience. When it comes to coasters, Canada’s Wonderland’s major attractions are Leviathan, a super tall and fast giga-coaster; and Behemoth, an out-of-your-seat hyper-coaster loaded with unique and graceful turns.

Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari
Santa Claus, Indiana
This holiday-themed park, known for its charming vibe and awesome wooden roller coasters, has areas for Christmas, Halloween, Fourth of July and Thanksgiving. The Voyage is a world-class wooden roller coaster with loads of airtime and intensity. Thunderbird is an out-of-the-ordinary, steel coaster where riders sit on both sides of the track, instead of on top. The employees at Holiday World have a stellar reputation, which adds to the calming and fun vibe of the park. Make time for Holiday World’s Splashing Safari, considered the best water park in the U.S. with two water coasters and tons of other fun slides. This is an absolute must for thrill-seekers and holiday enthusiasts.

Six Flags Great Adventure
Jackson, New Jersey
Known by many as the best in the Six Flags chain, Great Adventure offers some of the biggest thrills in the country. This massive park is home to Kingda Ka, the tallest roller coaster in the world; El Toro, perhaps the best wooden roller coaster ever made; and Nitro, a super speedy and tall hyper-coaster. The park is half amusement park, half zoo, featuring tons of animals, from gorillas to lions. The park also has a massive Bugs Bunny-themed section for the little ones to enjoy. This park is great for families with kids of all ages, from younger children to teens.


Connor Gilbert is a freshman at Mission Bay High school and avid coaster enthusiast.


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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.


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8 Survival Tips for Family Road Trips

Taking a family road trip this year? You are not alone—traveling to a vacation destination via car is still popular with families. While sitting in a car together for hours doesn’t sound like a vacation to some families, others believe that getting there is half the fun. If you are looking for ways to make your next road trip more enjoyable, check out these eight survival tips.

Play Games. Choose classic road trip games that you played as a child: 20 Questions, Road Trip Bingo or the License Plate Scavenger Hunt. Pack board games like Trouble or Battleship (where the pieces stay in place) or card games like Apples to Apples that can be played without a table. Bring a small dry erase board and play Pictionary. Put dice in a clear sealable container to keep them from getting lost while you play games like Dice War or Odds and Evens (explained below).

Get Creative. Give your kids an outlet for creativity. Purchase sticker scenes to create their own beach, farm or dinosaur world. Foam sticker mosaics are a less messy version of paint-by-numbers. Take along some colorful pipe cleaners so the kids can make jewelry or fun shapes. Let kids decorate the car windows with washable window markers and stencils.

Listen to Books on CD. Let your child use his imagination while listening to a story. Find something the whole family will enjoy. While your family might like a fiction series like Harry Potter, don’t overlook non-fiction books. Check out true stories about inspirational teens, sports heroes or a person who ties into your vacation destination.

Start a Conversation. Families are so busy that they often don’t have time to catch up. Not sure how to start the conversation? Get a little help from games like Would You Rather?, TableTopics or the Kids’ Book of Questions. You will be amazed what you learn about each other.

Busy Books. Fill binders will fun printables—coloring pages, maps, word searches, mazes, tic tac toe boards—and pack a simple sketchbook and colored pencils so the kids can create pages themselves.

Snacks. When we are on vacation, we allow special treats that we usually say no to during the school year. You’ll want to limit sugar since you will be in a small space, but consider letting the kids get a slushee at the gas station or fast food for lunch.

Make the Most of Stops. Kids and parents alike need to run out some sillies after being in the car too long. Plus, a little fresh air makes a better trip for everyone. Stop at a restaurant with kid-friendly play space or a rest stop with playground equipment (or blow bubbles or draw with sidewalk chalk). Better yet, pick up a copy of “125 Wacky Roadside Attractions” by National Geographic Kids to see if any entertaining landmarks will be in your travel path.

Allow a Little Movie Time. If your car doesn’t already have a DVD player, pack a small one and bring a couple movies. Allow movie time to wind down after lunch or to get through the last leg of the trip.

Easy Road Trip Dice Games

Odds and Evens
Multiple players; three dice
Place three dice in a sealable clear container to keep them from getting lost in the car. Each player takes a turn rolling (shaking) the dice. Players get one point for each even number rolled (2, 4 or 6). If the player rolls a triple even number (all 2’s, all 4’s or all 6’s), the player gets double their total score. When a player rolls an odd number triple score (all 1’s, all 3’s or all 5’s), their total points are zero. The first player with 100 points wins.

Dice War
Two players; one die
Place one die in a sealable clear container to keep it from getting lost in the car. Each person takes a turn rolling (shaking) the die. The person with the higher number on their roll subtracts the lower number thrown by the other player and his score for that round is the difference between the two numbers. For example, if one player throws a five and the other throws a three, the person that threw the five will get two points. The winner is the highest score after 100 rolls or a set time.


Pam Molnar is a freelance writer and mother of three. Her children are seasoned road trippers and enjoy the car ride almost as much at the destination.


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The secret is out: San Diego is amazing. In fact, it’s a top U.S. vacation destination. So while the rest of the country is descending upon San Diego this summer, consider venturing away from the crowds for a few days. A road trip to California’s Central Coast offers tons of fun for families and has plenty of space to explore, roam and discover. Add these stops to your family road trip.

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EAT in Camarillo
Have breakfast at Waypoint Café at Camarillo Airport. Sit outside to watch planes land and take off while enjoying Cinnamon Roll French Toast (or indulge in a delicious shake at lunch). Kids love exploring the miniature “airport” off the patio, featuring a replica of the control tower and runway. Visit this local favorite during the week or at off times, or be prepared to wait.

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STAY in Oxnard
Looking for a relaxing beachside community that is void of crowds? Stay in Oxnard—it’s so awesome. Who knew? I’ve been driving past Oxnard my whole life, having no idea there were pristine beaches lined with sand dunes, miles of bike and walking paths, fun-filled parks, and farm stands selling local produce just minutes off the freeway. If you only go for the day, be sure to visit Channel Islands Harbor for a peaceful family-friendly kayak tour through Marine Emporium Landing or take a gondola ride through the Harbor’s Seabridge Canals. Rent bikes or surreys and take the path along Hollywood Beach and Mandalay Beach, where you’ll find a huge playground to spend a couple hours. Ride the opposite direction to Channel Islands Maritime Museum at the end of the marina.

Find more tips about visiting Oxnard here.

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WINE & DINE in Ventura
If you have access to a babysitter, be sure to stop in Ventura for dinner at Rumfish y Vino. The outdoor patio provides ambiance perfect for a date—but if your kids are older, even teens appreciate the cool vibe and outdoor fireplace. My husband summed the meal up pretty well, “I'm not gonna lie. This is some of the best seafood I've had." He was talking about the fish stew. I argued that my sea bass was better: perfectly cooked with coconut rice, bell peppers and charred cherry tomatoes. Regardless of what you eat, get a margarita—they’re on point.

Find more things to do in Ventura here.

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DISCOVER in Santa Barbara
The new MOXI, The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation is a must-do field trip for families. Indoor and outdoor highly interactive exhibits engage and delight all ages. Make discoveries about sound, light, speed, color, gravity and much more. Our family spent more time than we should have competing at Quiet Quest—a test to see how quietly people can walk through a rock path. Needless to say, I beat my husband and teen daughter at this challenge, but didn’t have as much luck when it came to testing jumping ability upstairs. Don’t miss the rooftop Sky Garden where you’ll find an interactive water exhibit, lookout tower and glass sky deck, not to mention a stunning 360-degree view of Santa Barbara. With surprises around every corner, MOXI is an absolute blast! Plan to spend several hours.

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PLAY in Avila Beach
Just half a mile off Hwy. 101 (Avila Beach Dr. exit) is Avila Valley Barn, a fun-filled stop featuring farm animals, an ice cream shop with gourmet treats, and a country barn filled with baked goods, fresh produce, and specialty items. There is no entry fee to visit with animals, which include goats, pigs, miniature horses, sheep, alpaca, chickens and donkeys. Kids can even pet and feed some of them (buy a bag of feed in the store). Hot corn on the cob is available right from the corn roaster. On weekends, kids love tractor and pony rides for a nominal fee. Check the schedule online for seasonal u-pick opportunities on the farm.

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SHOP & EXPLORE in San Luis Obispo
San Luis Obispo (SLO) is heavenly with tons of gorgeous trees and a rushing creek running through downtown. Follow the San Luis Creek path to explore, then cross the footbridge from Mission Plaza to Higuera Street where there’s great shopping, plenty of comfortable coffee shops and infamous Bubblegum Alley. Head uptown to Monterey Street to grab lunch at SLO Provisions, where you might get lucky to find the rotisserie pork sandwich with lemon herb spread and fennel slaw as a daily special. Either way, there are delicious offerings for everyone in the family. If you happen to visit SLO on a Thursday, stay for the evening farmers market downtown—it’s been a local highlight for more than 30 years!

Planning to drive further north up the coast of California? Read “5 Fun Things to Do with Kids in the Bay Area.”

When Lisa Gipson isn’t editing San Diego Family Magazine, she loves to discover new places with her husband and teen daughters.



Published July 2017



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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

bell rock 2149

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

  • Another fun cover shoot!

  • Help for families with speical needs

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


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