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December 2007

December 21, 2007

Avila Beach: A Secret Stopover Between L.A. and San Francisco

From the coves of La Jolla to the vistas of the Golden Gate Bridge at San Francisco's Baker Beach, California's shoreline deserves its legendary stature. Well, now you can add the sleepy hamlet of Avila Beach to that list of must-sees. My family and I had just driven a little over three hours north of L.A. when we veered off Highway 1 to grab a bite. Three days later, we were still here soaking up the sunny bliss. It wasn't the white-sand beach that seduced us, nor the mountains that hem in this small community. It was the utter lack of humans. 

Living in Huntington Beach years ago, I had come to the conclusion that if you really wanted to savor a sublime stretch of Californian coastline, you had to share it. This is especially true in the warm summer months. That hidden beach south of Dana Point spoken only in secret circles among surfers would surely be overrun by that same tribe at sunrise. The rocky shores north of Laguna, favored by seals, are also a popular retreat for seal watchers, binoculars in tow. 

Continue reading "Avila Beach: A Secret Stopover Between L.A. and San Francisco" »

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Related Topics: Beach Vacation · Family Vacation · Road Trips

December 20, 2007

A Pre-Travel Checklist

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My family and I are just getting ready to leave for a two-week trip to Scotland over Christmas and New Year, and it just dawned on me that we've been so focused on our final packing preparations that we're in danger of overlooking the little details at home. Beyond simply switching off lights and turning down the thermostat, there's a bunch of things you should consider before locking the front door and hopping in that cab to the airport. And without causing any extra alarms bells to ring (I for one don't need any more stress—we leave in less than 12 hours!), here's a few useful tips to consider:

Continue reading "A Pre-Travel Checklist" »

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Related Topics: Family Vacation · Travel Tips

December 19, 2007

Sites We Like: Park City Interactive Vacation Planner

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Park City Mountain Resort has removed the hassles of the family ski vacation. In addition to capping the student-to-teacher ratio at five to one in their Signature 5 classes, they've got a family-friendly interactive Vacation Planner. This online tool lets skiers and boarders of various skill levels plot their entire trip, including which routes to ski so that everyone takes the correct runs, rides the same lifts, and finds each other at lunchtime. While you're there, you might also want to check out the latest deals, including several family deals that bundle lodging, lift tickets, and airport transfers into one package.

For more Park City inspiration, check out's Interactive Guide to Park City, including a photo gallery and screensaver.

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Related Topics: Family Vacation · Skiing & Snowboarding

December 18, 2007

Blog Radar: The Inside Scoop from the Experts at

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Our friends at (an partner site) recently launched a new travel blog written by staff members and freelance contributors, which includes a useful (and growing) section about family travel. Looking for attractions in Orlando that don't cost a dime? Then check out the Lego store at Downtown Disney or the exhibits at the Orlando Science Center. Worried about finding good babysitting services while on vacation? Get some top advice from staffer (and parent!) Drew Miller. Check back here on a regular basis for the latest highlights from that blog.

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Airboarding 101: Your Guide to Winter's Latest Craze

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The travel gurus at Lonely Planet just posted this story about the increasingly popular winter sport of airboarding, also called snow bodyboarding. It's still very much a niche activity compared to skiing and snowboarding—plus has some big detractors among sniffy skiers and 'boarders who don't want to share their piste with what are, essentially, turbo-charged snow rockets that can hit speeds of up to 80 mph. However, for families who want to amp up the fun or those with kids who don't feel comfortable skiing, this is a good wintertime alternative like tubing, snow biking, or snowshoeing. Check out the video below, plus read our selection of the best North American ski areas for sled-heads.

Continue reading "Airboarding 101: Your Guide to Winter's Latest Craze" »

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Related Topics: Family Vacation · Outdoor Adventures · Travel Raves

December 17, 2007

Bring the Family on Your Next Adventure

The biggest trend in adventure travel these days is bringing the whole family with you on vacation. No longer do you have to savor your love of the outdoors solely with your old college buddies. More than a quarter of all Backroads trips are now booked by families. The outfitter steers away from its typical inn-to-inn biking trips to offer a different sport each day of the week. For example, in Costa Rica, Junior can hike in the rainforest, bike along the Pacific coast, sea-kayak in a sheltered cove, raft down one of the country's tumultuous waterways, and ride a zipline above the rainforest canopy—all with mom and dad in tow, all on separate days.

Posh Butterfield & Robinson is also getting in on the act. Indeed, spokesperson Cari Gray says they have more families signed up for their Tuscany trip in 2008 than honeymooners! Heck, why leave the kids at home when you can create incredible memories for all.

If you're looking for another prime adventure base camp, then consider the Canadian Rockies. Backroads offers a weeklong family jaunt that starts off with a bang in Banff, where you'll bike along the Bow Valley to that exquisite gem of water, Lake Louise. The World Heritage Site is perfectly perched a mile high and is ringed by the snowcapped Rockies. Stash the bikes to hike the trail fringing the lake and then ascend through glacial moraines to the historic Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse. The next day, you'll drive north from Banff to Jasper along the eye-popping Icefields Parkway, stopping midway to take a guided walk on the sprawling Athabasca Glacier. Of course, more adventure awaits in Jasper, with rafting, biking, and hiking all on the itinerary. -- Steve Jermanok

Photo: Athabasca Glacier, Alberta (courtesy, Travel Alberta)

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Related Topics: Family Vacation · Outdoor Adventures

December 13, 2007

Road-Tested Travel Tips from Fellow Parents

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We recently canvassed some of our readers for the ultimate advice they'd give to families looking to hit the road. Here's a sampling (minus the folks who told us, "Tip 1: Leave the kids at home!"). If you have other ideas, tell us in the comments section below or send us an email. We'll check back on a regular basis and update this section with the best new advice.

>> We tried to resist the temptation of portable DVD players, but there are only so many I-Spy games you can play. A useful addition, but house rule, is that the DVD can only go on once the car battery has charged up the DVD.
>> Bring spare clothes for little ones. Include a few diaper or plastic bags as vomit receptacles...
>> Try to leave early in the morning—take breakfast (granola bars, jelly sandwiches, fruit, etc.) with you so the kids are still lethargic from sleep when you set off. Then eat on the road (assuming no- one suffers from car sickness), which also uses up some extra time.
>> Get a roof box, which is priceless for all the little extras.
>> Pack the car the night before (and make sure Dad has beer to do it).

Continue reading "Road-Tested Travel Tips from Fellow Parents" »

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Related Topics: Family Vacation · Road Trips · Travel Tips

December 12, 2007

Sites We Like:

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What did we do before the iPod? (OK, we listened to Walkmans, but that'd be showing our age…). If you're facing a long stretch in the car this Christmas season, check out, where you can download dozens of audio tales for free. Here, you can find classics like Dick Whittington or Alice in Wonderland, plus some original stuff about Prince Bertie the Frog and his gang of pond-dwelling friends. Rip the audio files to your computer or iTunes, then burn them to a CD or your iPod for storytime in the car.

Does anyone have any other ideas for fun ways to pass the time on a long plane journey or car ride? Tell us in the comments section below.

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Related Topics: Family Vacation · Road Trips · Travel Websites

December 11, 2007

Worth the Drive in Costa Rica

Frankly, I think the beaches and dunes in Cape Cod are superior to the Pacific Coast beaches of Costa Rica.

That's why I can never understand why people would travel all the way down to this sliver of a country in Central America just to hit the beaches of growing Guanacaste. To truly appreciate the beauty of Costa Rica, you need to check out one of the most active volcanoes in the Western Hemisphere, Arenal, and the emerald-green pasture and jagged peaks of the Cloud Forest in Monteverde. Unfortunately, the road to Monteverde is a rocky, pothole-strewn obstacle course that requires the use of a 4WD.

Rent a car at San Jose's International Airport and weave your way through the city north to the rim of Poas Volcano, where you can spend your first night at the Peace Lodge. The next morning, walk the grounds of the La Paz Waterfall Gardens and you’ll find five waterfalls, the largest butterfly observatory in the country, gardens filled with orchids, and a reptile area holding snakes and frogs. Then drive onward to the Arenal Observatory Lodge, perfectly perched at the base of the cone-shaped volcano. Keep the kids up late to see the nightly light show of lava running down from the crater. In the daytime, you can check out the hot springs in nearby Tabacon. Then you have the long drive around the entirety of 25-mile-long Lake Arenal to Monteverde. The last hour or so is on that nightmare of a dirt road. Simply slow down and enjoy the views of sloping pastureland dotted with sheep, cows, and horses.

Continue reading "Worth the Drive in Costa Rica" »

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December 07, 2007

Minor Miracles on Mexico's Pacific Coast

Mazatlan, Mexico | In the quiet of the room you can hear it—a faint, persistent scratching.

Dr. Eréndira Gonzalez Diego moves down the rows of boxes, listening. If there's scratching, she reaches in and collects tiny Olive Ridley hatchlings that have broken through their eggs and dug their way to the surface. For 48 hours the hatchings are biologically compelled to move their tiny flippers in an effort to reach the sea (biology doesn't care that they're in a box). It's in this period that the endangered turtles must be released from their safe haven at Estrella del Mar Golf & Beach Resort's Sea Turtle Sanctuary, where Dr. Gonzalez has cared for them. Resort guests are encouraged to visit the preserve (the tour is free), and it's a great way for kids and adults alike to get a hands-on perspective about the ecology of this endangered species.

Today, we resort guests help release some 70 hatchlings. It's nearly sunset and most seabirds have roosted for the night, giving the turtles a better chance of reaching the water. Still, there are obstacles—a footprint is like a ravine to these little guys (I fill in footprints so they don't fall in). Eventually, the hatchlings find the water and we wave a bittersweet goodbye.

Continue reading "Minor Miracles on Mexico's Pacific Coast" »

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Related Topics: Family Vacation · Mexico Travel

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