Friday, August 26, 2011

Disney in a Day

If you are here with children of a certain age, Disney is an inescapable stop, and this summer we decided to work it into a trip to Orange County. But with so many other great spots to visit, we didn't want to spend our entire time in line for rides. So we decided to try to do Disney in a day, and I'm happy to report that, with a little advance planning, it is indeed do-able. We decided which rides made our top five list prior to our leaving; arrived at the park half an hour before it opened (you can go through the gates and up Main Street prior to park opening); and made sure we went on a day when season passes were blocked. With the help of Disney's FastPass system we were able to hit four out of our five highlights by 9:30 am! All the planning was worth it, as we then had time to enjoy some relaxing time at the beach. Newport Beach is your quintessential southern Cal beach - miles of big white sand in each direction and a boardwalk full of cruiser bikes. Laguna Beach, just a few miles south, is a totally different experience. The big white flat beaches give way to low cliffs, and the park that follows the coast is dotted with stairs down to various small, secluded beaches. Unlike Newport Beach, the town of Laguna Beach itself is steps from the water and offers a great range of shops and restaurants - we particularly liked the Ocean Avenue Restaurant on, you guessed it, Ocean Avenue.  Our final stop on the way back was the Grammy Museum in LA. We had never heard of it either, but with a couple of music fans in the family this new, interactive museum proved to be a good stop and a welcome change from all the sun.

The LA area is so large, with so much to offer - and such terrible traffic - the only way to tackle it is a piece at a time. Orange County, which must surely be used in all those California travel ads, is certainly a piece worth seeing.

North of the Golden Gate

While Napa and Sonoma may be the first stops that come to mind when you think about a drive north across the Golden Gate Bridge, northern California has much more to offer than vineyards. I mentioned our trip to Muir Woods and Stinson Beach in an earlier post, and this time we ventured farther north, to the funky little town of Mendocino, almost a 3 hour drive north of San Francisco. This part of the coast is wild, windswept and unspoiled. Mendocino is a great spot to spend a weekend with excellent restaurants, many eclectic shops - several of which feature the works of local artisans - and miles of hiking trails in every direction. We chose to camp at Russian Gulch, a small state park two miles north of Mendocino. It's known as a hot diving spot, and is also popular with kayakers and canoeists. To break up the drive on the way there we stopped at the Charles Schultz (creator of the "Peanuts" cartoon) Museum in Santa Rosa, a small museum but one that had enough to interest all ages and a good spot to stretch our legs.

On the way home we elected to drive the Coastal Highway all the way to San Francisco, and it proved to take about the same time as 101 - but much more scenic! The Point Arena Lighthouse was a great stop on the way back, and the views from the top of the 110 foot structure make it worth the climb. With much more to see and do, we will certainly be heading north again.