There’s something incredibly special about experiencing new things as a family, and this particular trip was no exception.
It totally blew our minds in so many ways.
It was built around a family wedding in Mexico which would have been too far to fly just for the weekend, plus Jack and Finn were ring bearers, so we didn’t want to miss it. So we made it our very special summer holiday.
We flew into LA, as the flights were considerably cheaper than into San Diego, and went with Air New Zealand through a friend’s recommendation. We’re so glad we did…the Skycouch has totally revolutionised economy long haul travelling (not that we fly long haul very often, but we definitely want to now). They are by far the best way to travel with kids, unless of course you can afford business class, and it doesn’t cost a huge amount more than a normal economy ticket.
The best things were…there was plenty of room for both boys to lie down flat, side by side, and sleep for about 6 of the 11 hour flight ( big win), there were specific seat belts which meant the kids didn’t need to be disturbed if there was turbulence, and while they were indulging in hour after hour of films at their disposal they sat in total comfort.
Top Tip – we needed new beach towels so I decided to buy the hamman towels by Sand & Salt which doubled up on the flights as blankets (see below), plus beach / pool towels.
We decided to pack a lot into our trip so only booked 3 nights in LA, landing in the evening of the first night so we only had two full days before we moved on to San Diego.
I found LA accommodation the hardest to decide on because they’re all so expensive!!! Again I went on a friends recommendation to stay in Santa Monica (v good choice) but found the hotels / Airbnb costly so decided to stay in Marina del Rey (approx. 20 mins cab ride). I chose the Jamaica Bay Inn for it’s location, it’s pool overlooking the marina (where you can paddle board), and the stunning view from the marina rooms. The place I would have loved to have stayed was Shutters on the Beach, strangely enough it was the most common hotel to appear on my feed every time I searched on Google (funny that), but there wasn’t a hope in hell unfortunately.
Our first full day was spent on Venice Beach. Wow. It rendered us speechless, there was so much to see and so much going on. The expanse of white sand, the pops of colour, the vibe, the Baywatch lifeguard stations, the skateboarding, bikes everywhere…just everything. It’s basically Camden by the sea which some people will hate but we loved. We then headed off to dinner at Coast in Shutters on the Beach. I’d be damned if we weren’t going to experience some part of that hotel while we were here (obvs). It’s certainly not cheap but worth the treat…divine roasted artichokes, clams, muscles, Prosecco…you name it, we ate it (and very kid friendly).
Our first day passed us by in a delicious, yet jet lagged, haze and I can’t say we were ready for the early morning departure to our surprise trip planned especially for the kids…Disneyland. It would have been daft to travel all this way and not visit, so we planned to make the most of it in one full day. We woke the kids at 06:30 to a wrapped present each hiding their Mickey Mouse t-shirts which you would have thought might have triggered an idea of where they were going but Jack especially was totally unaware, in his sleep deprived zombie state. An anticlimax at it’s very best (and I have the film to prove it).
Again, on a recommendation, we bought ‘hopper’ tickets for both parks, Disneyland and the California Adventure Park, as we were only there for a day and were told it would be possible to do both. They were absolutely right, you just have to prepare yourself for a really long day (14 hours in fact). It’s also best to head into the California Adventure Park first and Disneyland after so you can finish with the parades and fireworks (which are obviously two of the most magical parts).
We ordered an Uber for 07:30 (they are the only way to travel in LA if you don’t have a car), to arrive just in time for our pre-booked breakfast with Goofy at 08:30 (squeal). The taxi ride sparked excitement in Jack, and the questions started flowing…’Is it really the place we see on the TV?’, ‘What do you mean we’re having breakfast with Goofy?’, ‘Are we allowed to go on the rides?’, ‘What, all of them?’…his little mind was exploding.
Goofy’s Kitchen was great fun, unlimited food, singing, and something I would highly recommend because the kids get to meet so many of the characters in one place so you don’t spend the rest of the day chasing them around the parks and queuing with hundreds of other families for photos. Although Finn HATED every single one of the characters and screamed every time they came over!!!
We always knew this day would be more for Jack than Finn. Jack would be the only one to remember it so we gave him the map and asked him to guide us where to go, and in what order. We took it in turns to go on a ride with him, and because we’d downloaded the Disney MaxPass app we could easily see which rides had the shortest waiting time, plus we could book in our FASTPASS’ directly from our phone (massive win). Another great thing about the MaxPass is that all photos taken by Disneyland’s photographers during your stay are uploaded to your account so you can print them off when you get home, etc.
There’s something very magical about Disneyland which will forever be one of our greatest memories…the over the top American culture was just perfect and it felt like we were walking onto different film sets all day. I was blown away and Jack was mesmerised. Our favourite ride had to be Radiator Springs in Cars Land, and luckily it was my turn to go on with him. Jack went on rolling his eyes at me when I divulged the Cars were real and he came off whispering in excitement that they absolutely are real!!!!!
It was an exhaustingly long day, but we stayed until the bitter end but unfortunately didn’t see the fireworks as they were cancelled due to wind. Both boys were given a few dollars to spend while they were there, we walked forever, we ate huge chunks of water melon, Finn cried on almost every ride he went on, we dined in one of the Cars Land gas stations, ate far too much pop corn and Jack got to drive his very own car in Autopia in the middle of the night! What a very special experience which will make you smile for many months to come.
That was the end of our quick stop in LA, and the next morning we were checking out and heading to the train station for San Diego.
Lots of people suggested we hired a car and drove to San Diego but in reality hotels in LA charge a lot for use of their car parks (it costs much less to get an Uber everywhere), plus the Pacific Surfliner coastal train sounded easy, looked incredible and didn’t seem that expensive. The journey was going to be 2.5 hours, I pre-booked business class tickets ($180 for four of us) as you’re not guaranteed seats in economy (and that’s not viable with kids), they’re double decker trains plus it travels right along the coast so the views, I assumed, were going to be amazing.
I mean, it was unbelievable!
I could quite easily become a train nerd after that journey. The views were incredible, being upstairs on a train amazed Jack, we had table seats which meant the kids could play, colour, read in their own space (I could keep Finn out of the aisles), and we just managed to grab coffee and croissants before we boarded it as probably one of the noisiest, touristy hillbilly families to ever grace a quiet, businessmen adorned carriage who were peacefully working on emails (oops).
It’s hard to know what to bring two very different aged kids to keep them occupied on a long haul trip when you’re trying to keep baggage to a minimum.
Top Tip – I bought each a personalised toy bag with strict instructions that they could fill it with anything they wanted but this would be their only source of toys to play with whilst on holiday (Finn naturally chose cars, lego men and Woody / Buzz / Jessie figures, while Jack chose cars, UNO, fidget spinners, lego and his superhero figures). I found it a really good way to restrict what we took and it kept their toys totally separate – and no arguments! I also packed a colouring book each plus a couple of books. That was it.
Arriving into San Diego station was like entering into a different world. We left quite a dirty, industrial looking LA Union Station and ended up in a palm tree lined, glistening city which looked like it had been taken right out of the movies. It was love at first site.
I researched San Diego for probably the longest time as I knew very few people who had visited (hence not as many accommodation recommendations as LA) and had absolutely no idea where we should stay. The hotel I really fancied was La Valencia in La Jolla, but it’s quite far north, and even though it looked spectacular we were only in San Diego for another 3 nights so felt we needed to be more central to make the most of it. Again Uber is the way to travel around this city so we quickly booked one and made our way to The Dana on Mission Bay. (As recommended by my sister in law who’s wedding we were over for, and who lives in California).
The Dana…just wow!
The location, the view, the calmness, the marina bay pool, those garlic and soy edamame, that enormous bed..the wow’s were endless. I actually cried when I saw the view from our room.
We spent most of our time in San Diego really taking it easy. LA was so busy from the moment we landed to the time we boarded the train, plus Finn had developed croup, so we mostly went to bed with the kids at 20:00, indulged in great food, played table tennis, ate some more, and I went on a solo coffee run every morning at 06:30 just so I could watch the sun rise. Magical.
We ventured out one evening to Mission Beach, a lovely walk from the bay, and stumbled across the most amazing sushi restaurant – Cannonball. I had no idea San Diego was famous for it’s sushi but it certainly has something to be proud of. We inhaled two rounds of utter deliciousness, which the kids loved, all on an oceanfront roof terrace with Ibizan musical vibes tinkling in the background.
For our last full day in San Diego we decided to visit Coronado Island (another recommendation), which is only accessible by ferry or one road from the mainland. We decided to Uber it.
This place quite rightly stole my heart.
The most velvety expanse of the whitest sand I have ever seen. Edged with sand dunes, and peppered with red topped parasols which belong to, and match the roof of, the infamous colonial Coronado Hotel (another place we’d love to stay, probably never).
It’s probably also the windiest beach we have every been on plus a seagull stole our tennis ball, but glorious all the same.
Another interesting but unknown fact about San Diego is they celebrate Taco Tuesday. Apparently it’s busier than a Saturday night out and lucky for us our last night was on a Tuesday, so there was only one thing for it…we went in search of taco’s.
So on the way back from Coronado Island we headed to San Diego’s ‘old town’ which we were told would be heaving on a Tuesday night, and we chose Casa Guadalajara which suited us perfectly as we entered as wind swept, sand covered and salty hair tinged, hungry tourists. Unbeknown to us they also made the biggest and best margaritas I have ever tasted! Delicious.
Needless to say we left San Diego very happy, very chilled, Finn’s croup was in it’s last stages and we were ready to meet up with the Irish family for the eagerly awaited wedding…in Mexico!!!!
After being picked up from The Dana by the bride, we travelled as a three truck convoy (totalling 30 from the Irish side of the family) to the border on the way to the wedding hotel in Ensenada, Mexico, where we stayed for the next 5 nights. Travelling through borders by car is an experience in itself if you’re not used to it and after our very calm week in our bubble of four, this is where the fun really started!!!
The difference in landscape as soon as you cross the border into Mexico is astounding, it’s a little less well kept and a little more rugged but the views and the sunsets are just as beautiful.
Hotel Punto Morro is spectacularly positioned on the edge of a cliff with breathtaking views from all rooms, the pool, the restaurant and the wedding marquee. And Ensenada itself really is a culturally exciting place to visit. We watched a famous Mexican boxing fight in a local Mexican bar plus briefly experienced their festival before heading back to hotel, all kids in tow, to sit around the fire pit and join the Mexicans and Irish in what they do best…drink ice cold beers, from the many cool boxes, and sing until your hearts content.
The Mexican’s and Irish are big on family values and the wedding reflected every part of their inspirational cultures. It was hands down the most beautiful, vibrant, fun, colourful, music filled and family orientated day…and it’s true, they sure know how to party!!!!
After the wedding we visited a local vineyard for dinner. Not really knowing what to expect from the desert surroundings we were overwhelmed by the beauty of Finca Altozano, especially the astonishing oysters, delicious octopus, deep fried brussel sprouts (life changing) and melt in the mouth sweetcorn bread.
As we left Ensenada we stopped off at Ortega’s a local ocean side restaurant in Lobster Village, Puerto Nuevo, witnessing another stunning sunset, delicious lobster and a brilliant mariachi band.
The last stop of our adventure found us back in California, specifically in Imperial Valley, staying with family in their home. Our last few days consisted of witnessing (and being very much part of) more of the Mexican’s amazingly family orientated life. Including getting used to fully air conditioned houses (it’s 40 degrees a lot of the time), our niece’s birthday party, the sudden drop in temperature when we visited nearby mountain villages like Julian, the tastiest apple pie which would give our recipes a run for their money, plus the pure joy on Jack’s face to have a pool in your back yard!
And then it was over.
The trouble with going on such an unbelievable holiday means that coming back is so much harder, and the jet lag on the return well, whoaaaa…no-one prepared us for that!
But what returning home does do, very positively, is reaffirm the strength of your family unit, it reminds you how much you love spending time in your bubble, it reinforces all the fun you can have together, and above all it makes you want to work harder and strive for more unbelievable memory making experiences.
I would highly recommend all of the above, ten times over, and travelling with kids (at any age), and making new memories with them, is absolutely the best part!