Sunday, November 28, 2010

Weekend Getaways: LA

As US transplants, we decided to forgo cooking our own turkey dinner and take advantage of a rare four day break to head south for Thanksgiving. With some trepidation - given the horror stories we had heard of highways turned into virtual parking lots - we decided to explore the northern reaches of LA County.

Leaving Thanksgiving Day early in the morning was a smart choice, as we sailed down the highway. Our first stop was a highlight: the end point of iconic route 66 brings you to Santa Monica, with its truly fabulous, big, white, quintessentially California beach. Lots of scope for puttering about on the pier, the path above the beach or the many shops and restaurants, all in walking distance. For Thanksgiving dinner, we selected I. Cugini on Ocean Avenue. I'd recommend it based on the food and service alone, but they could hardly compete with the jaw dropping sunset we watched from our table on the patio - even the wait staff paused to admire!

Staying in Burbank provided a great base for exploring the area. Next day began with a tour of Warner Brother's Studios - interesting, especially for TV and movie buffs. Good, but not cheap. Hollywood was a short drive (a go-once-because-you're-there type of place) as was the Getty Centre (free, and worth the trip alone for the impressive architecture and setting, even if you are not a huge fan of what's on the inside). The Getty also gets points for its cafe, which offers freshly prepared foods a cut above the traditional cafeteria fare, and for building in some clever tricks to keep kids amused, making it a rare family-friendly cultural destination.

We hit Griffith Park, the country's largest urban park. The observatory at the top (also free) not only provides opportunities to view the sky; as the sun went down and the lights of the city came on, it provided a perfect vista to appreciate the enormous sprawl that makes up Los Angeles.

Our final stop was Malibu, the one place we probably could have skipped. It is quite small population wise, but stretches on for close to 30 miles, with homes strung along either side of the coastal highway (and that's about all there is to it!) This means the beach is not terribly accessible in most places, and views are rare. By the time we did stop at Leo Carrillo State Park, the coastline had morphed back into the more rocky, narrow beach we see in Northern California, and one the park's advertised features - tide pooling - was not nearly as good as what we had found at Natural Bridges State Park in Santa Cruz. Perhaps if we had timed our visit around a meal at Paradise Cove, with its prime location nestled on the beach, I would have come away with a different impression.

A great weekend, and as we watched the thermometer in our car gradually dip as we headed north, we were already busy planning our next southern California get away. Santa Barbara in the spring sound good?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Useful weblinks part I: Weekend plans

You know there is so much to do....what's the best way to find out about it? Below are a few of our favorite sites to help plan our weekends. Please help us add to the list!

Future posts will focus on great sites for finding the best places for skiing, outdoor activity ideas, wine country links and more.

Bay Area on the Cheap - Heads up on various deals in the Bay Area; everything from discount theatre and sporting tickets to special events.

Stub Hub - A great resource for scoring tickets to sporting events and concerts, this site provides a place for people with unwanted tickets to sell them to those who do.

SFStation - For those who want to know what is going on with the bar and club scene; plus music and restaurant reviews, events and more, check out

SFGate - The site of the San Francisco Chronicle, the city's major newspaper, provides a comprehensive listing of all sorts of events happening in and around the area.

KQED - KQED is Northern California's National Public Radio station, and at you will find a diverse line up of event listings.

Group-On - Deals are emailed to you daily when you sign on to this site - everything from restaurants, events, activities and services, all at a special member discount.

Bay Area Parent
- this magazine, which publishes three versions (San Francisco/Marin/Peninsula; East Bay; and Silicon Valley), also has a wonderful website. An optional monthly email provides a neat summary of family-friendly events and weblinks; the site also offers ideas for birthday parties, child care, kids camps and more.