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John Smelzer

Los Angeles, California

MY KIDS

My Travel Style

My wife and I were backpackers in our day. Not sleeping in dorm rooms, but no five star hotels either. Now we want our kids to see the world -- including our own back yard -- teaching them to be independent travelers in fun, safe environments.

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Arenal Observatory Lodge

La Fortuna, Costa Rica

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  • Little kids (3-5)
Visited: May 2013 | Submitted: Jul 12, 2013 | I traveled with little kids (3-5)

No Better Way to Visit Arenal

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It's a long and winding road to the Arenal Observatory Lodge, but well worth it. The setting is spectacular, and the lodge is very nice, if not a bit spartan. Paid a bit extra for a room with a private balcony overlooking the volcano -- again, well worth it. The kids wanted to hit the pool straightaway -- of course -- and so we did. The pool setting is unbelievable, with the volcano as a back drop, but the water was quite cold. And since you are half way up a volcano, the air temperature is quite temperate -- about 75 degrees F. The combination made for a chilly afternoon for the parents -- the kids were oblivious. Dinner was very mediocre and over priced, but unless you want to navigate back to town in the dark, you're a captive audience. Finally got the kids to sleep, as the howler monkeys howled and the jungle symphony hit full stride. The grounds are beautiful, icluding an awesome waterfall, and easy to navigate with the kids. Tons of nearby activities for older kids, all bookable in the lobby.

Tips for Families

Skip the morning group walk, and walk the grounds with your family in the late afternoon. Less people, more monkeys!

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California Science Center

Exposition Park, 39th St & Figueroa St, Los Angeles, California

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  • Little kids (3-5)
Visited: November 2012 | Submitted: Nov 26, 2012 | I traveled with little kids (3-5)

Endeavour!

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The California Science Center was a must see before, but now with Endeavour exhibit, it has to be in the top two or three attractions on your LA list. The standing eco-system exhibits are interactive and educational, and the giant aquarium-- complete with scuba divers instructing kids via microphones in their masks -- can occupy little kids for hours. But the new Endeavour exhibit is fantastic for all ages. There's tons of artifacts and multi-media exhibits leading into the hanger, but the sight of the actual shuttle took my breath away. You can just see the kids' minds racing to comprehend that this giant space ship was actually in space. Great photo ops too!

Tips for Families

Take the new Expo line. It drops you 100 yards from the Science center. Adult fares are $1.50 and kids under 5 are free.

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The Home Depot Center

18400 Avalon Blvd., Carson, California

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  • Little kids (3-5)
Visited: October 2012 | Submitted: Nov 3, 2012 | I traveled with little kids (3-5)

Great for Soccer

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The Home Depot Center is the home of the LA Galaxy of MLS and also occasionally hosts US National Team games, both men's and women's. Its an awesome venue, and much smaller than a typical football stadium, so easier to get in, get out, get food, etc. Soccer games are great for little kids because they only last two hours with no time outs or undue distractions.

Tips for Families

Be sure to tell the little ones about the fireworks during the Anthem. If you think they might be scared, you can stand in the concourse just outside the arena and drop into your seats right after they're done.

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Ronald Reagan Presidential Lib

40 Presidential Dr, Simi Valley, California

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  • Little kids (3-5)
Visited: March 2012 | Submitted: Aug 21, 2012 | I traveled with little kids (3-5)

What's Better than Air Force One?

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Politics aside, Ronald Reagan led a hell of a life, and its all on display -- if not somewhat white-washed -- at the Reagan library. The museum/exhibit can be a bit intense for kids, including dark viewing rooms with some disturbing footage of the man's life and near-death experiences. Usher the younger kids through quickly to the hall containing Air Force One, Marine One and the presidential limo. VERY cool for kids and grownups alike!

Tips for Families

It's a solid one hour drive from LA with NO traffic; be sure to avoid rush hour on the 101, lest you spend more time in the car than at the library.

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Will Rogers State Park

1501 Will Rogers State Park Road, Los Angeles, California

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  • Little kids (3-5)
Visited: July 2012 | Submitted: Aug 21, 2012 | I traveled with little kids (3-5)

Polo, soccer, hiking, horses, history......

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Will Rogers State Park is a true treasure in LA, and is unfortunately under constant threat of closure due to budget cuts. Perfect for kids, you can watch/play soccer, watch polo matches, visit the stables, take horse riding lessons and hike to the base of the Santa Monica Mountains to a spectacular overlook of LA and Santa Monica. Finish with a picnic on Will's former two-hole, par three golf course.

Tips for Families

By parking on the road leading up to the park and walking in, you are saving money but basically ensuring that the Park will close for lack of funding. Save the Park by paying to park!

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Back On The Beach

445 Palisades Beach Rd, Santa Monica, California

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  • Little kids (3-5)
Visited: August 2012 | Submitted: Aug 21, 2012 | I traveled with little kids (3-5)

Great Location; Standard Kid Fare

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Back on the Beach restaurant offers standard kid fare -- burgers, fries, chicken fingers. But that's not why you are there. Located right on the sand in the heart of the Santa Monica State Beach, the cafe is a chill spot for families, including its own little playground to hit while you wait for them to call your name -- 30 mins to one hour on the weekends. It also shares a parking lot with the Annenberg Community Beach House, with its free public pool. If you can't afford the Jonathan Club, this is the spot for you.

Tips for Families

Get there by 11:30am on weekends, put your name on the list and hit the playground while you wait.

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Santa Monica State Beach

Beachfront (along the Pacific Coast Highway and Ocean Front Walk), Santa Monica, California

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Visited: August 2012 | Submitted: Aug 21, 2012 | I traveled with little kids (3-5)

Under the Radar; Right Under Your Nose

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Santa Monica State Beach is often overlooked in favor of Malibu and Zuma to the North and Manhattan to the South. All the better for us locals. It's a long, broad, clean, kid-friendly beach minutes from anywhere in LA. The water can be a little murky (stay out after a bit storm), but its generally clean and safe. The setting is spectacular with the Palisades to the east, Malibu to the north and the pier (complete with ferris wheel) to the south. Park at the Annenberg Pool (see my review) and eat lunch at Back on the Beach. Its got your usual unhealthy kid fare -- chicken fingers, french fries -- but once and a while that stuff is ok.

Tips for Families

If you eat lunch at Back on the Beach, get there at 11:30 to get you name on the list, then play at the playground until they call your name.

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Back on the Beach Cafe

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Los Angeles Zoo

5333 Zoo Dr, Los Angeles, California

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  • Little kids (3-5)
Visited: May 2012 | Submitted: Aug 21, 2012 | I traveled with little kids (3-5)

Not quite San Diego -- in a good way

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The LA Zoo doesn't have the cache of its more well known cousin to the South, but its a great zoo in its own right. Kid-friendly from top to bottom, there's plenty to see and do, but without the overwhelming size of San Diego. Highlights include (roughly from entry on) the petting zoo, guerillas, giraffes, monkeys and a chill little play ground at the top end. And of course, the new elephant habitat is world class. Bring your stroller or rent one for cheap -- it's a lot of walking.

Tips for Families

If you live in LA, buy a season pass. If not, try to go off peak or first thing in the morning. It gets HOT in summer and they have a problem bees in August.

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The meer cats are my favorite! -- Luke, 5 yrs.

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Zion National Park

Highway SR 9, Springdale, Utah

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  • Little kids (3-5)
Visited: January 2012 | Submitted: Aug 4, 2012 | I traveled with little kids (3-5)

Easily-Accessible, Extraordinarily Beautiful

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Zion National Park is one of the most extraordinarily beautiful natural wonders in the world and it is incredibly easy to get to. About 6.5 hours drive from LA and 2 hours from Vegas, you can drive right into the Park and within minutes be on the very manageable Angel's landing trail. The trail is never very steep, but the many switch backs take you up about 1000 feet in relatively short order. My three year old was in a back pack carrier part of the way and my 5 year old made it the whole way, though we did have to take it slow. Mom, Dad, you need to be pretty fit to make it to the top with a kid on your back. By the "top" I mean the landing at the top of the paved trail. There is an extremely treacherous path which leads out to the end of Angel's Landing over looking the valley, but its simply too dangerous for kids.

Tips for Families

DO NOT ATTEMPT THE FINAL ASCENT WITH KIDS! Its simply too dangerous. Enjoy and relax the landing at the top of the main trail, and even then be extremely diligent about not going too near the edge.

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Sheraton Kauai Resort Koloa

2440 Hoonani Road Poipu Beach, Koloa HI 96756 United States, Poipu/Koloa, Hawaii

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KID-FRIENDLY AMENITIES

  • Rollaway beds available
  • Kids stay free
  • Babysitting
  • Kids' club
  • On-site restaurant(s)
  • Refrigerator in room
  • Cribs (infant beds) available
  • Outdoor pool
  • Kids' pool
  • Water slide


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Visited: April 2010 | Submitted: May 12, 2012 | I traveled with tots (0-2) and little kids (3-5)

Right on the Beach

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This is one of the older hotels on the South Shore and the Sheraton name is not as elite as say, Westin. But if you are a SPG member, this is an awesome place to burn some of those points. Poi Pu beach (and the near by Baby Beach) are the best beaches in Kauai for families due in large part to the fact that the South Shore of Kauai is sunnier than the North. The Sheraton is right on the beach and has an fine pool and a fun little water slide for the kids. You can also rent a private cabana on the beach - think shade on those endless beach days -- which are perfect for families.

Tips for Families

Be sure to ask for a room in the newly renovated wing on the beach side of the road.

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