What I’m most looking forward to in the coming year is camping, watching her grow and bloom, surrounded by the safe and loving hands of Mother Nature. I can’t wait to see what treasures and travels await us in 2014 and I can’t wait to share them with you!
The Channel Islands are a 160 mile-long archipelago sprinkled amidst the sprawling Pacific Ocean. In 1938, five of the 8 islands, positioned just off the Southern California coastal city of Oxnard, were established as a National Monument, then later in 1980 were designated as the Channel Islands National Park. They are a sight to behold and part of one of the richest marine biospheres in the world. From Los Angeles, an easy hour’s drive north will deliver you to a picturesque and thriving land that took Mother Nature thousands of years to engineer.
If you’re looking for a special outing that will create long-lasting memories for the entire family, a Channel Island’s Wildlife Cruise is one to add to your list. After 17 years of Southern California living and countless visits to national parks all over the world, I found it astounding that we had never made it to this National Park. A few months ago, as luck would have it, an invitation to do a wildlife cruise fell into our laps and excitedly, the whole family piled in to the car and up the coast we went!
On that Sunday, we arrived at the Channel Islands Harbor early, which was our luck because there was a quaint little Farmer’s Market steps from our cruise’s launching dock. We decided that would be the perfect place to buy some snacks and lunch to bring with us! The vendors offered a great variety of perfectly ripe, organic fruits and veggies and we snagged some to-die-for homemade hummus and pita chips, too!
The cruise out to the Channel Islands National Park is a half day affair spent skating across the wide open ocean, meandering about the islands and witnessing awe-inspiring beauty at its best; a day full of exploring, discovering and learning that was fascinating, not only for our 2 1/2 year old, but for the adults as well.
About half way out to the islands we were greeted by a pod of dolphins. Even the crew and captain of the boat commented that it was one of the largest pods they had ever seen in their 20 plus years doing charters. We watched them as they surfed our wake, swam sideways to get a better look at us and jumped for joy at the chance to play with us.
The entire boat was so enthralled that when the captain killed the engines to allow us to float with them for a while, no one on board even seemed to notice. The perfect escort for the beginning of a perfect day.
As we approached the island of Anacapa, we were welcomed by Arch Rock, its arresting natural trademark looming 40 feet above the ocean.
The islands are full of breathtaking natural features such as rock bridges, plunging cliffs, sea caves and tide pools. On this particular cruise, we weren’t allowed to disembark, but next time we go we are getting off the boat and you can bet that we will give ourselves even more time to explore the islands from land.
There certainly was no shortage of California sea lions and harbor seals and we had the best time mimicking their raucous manifestos and counting them perched out on the rugged cliffs sunbathing.
Due to the remoteness of the islands, its many secluded beaches and the abundant food of the surrounding waters, you have the opportunity to witness one of the world’s largest congregations of pinnipeds anywhere, representing more species than any other single place on Earth. In the winter months, you may even have the opportunity to spot the occasional Pacific Grey Whale as they migrate between summer feeding grounds in Alaska to their breeding areas in Baja, California.
These protected islands also provide a much-needed sanctuary; vital feeding and breeding grounds for 99 percent of Southern California’s sea birds. 99 percent!
More importantly they are the sole breeding ground for the California Brown Pelican which was only recently taken off of the endangered species list. We watched a brown pelican do laps around our boat for a good 20 minutes. He (or she) was having the time of his life, gliding past the side of the boat, then circling back around. To say it was a joy to watch would be an understatement. Needless to say, we too, were having the time of our lives.
Given its isolated and hard-to-reach location, The Channel Islands are one of the least visited National Parks in the Nation and that’s what makes it even more special to visit. Offering a wide array of exciting activities at your fingertips, the Islands boast world class kayaking, snorkeling, diving, hiking and camping or you can simply enjoy a little well-deserved peace and solitude. I can’t wait to adventure back, hiking boots on and ready to discover the Channel Island’s secret treasures hidden deep in the recesses of the islands coves, beaches and trails!
Here in Southern California, we are quite lucky that there is never a shortage of things to do with the family! Getting the kids out of the house and into discovery mode is as easy as a trip to the beach tide pools or one of our numerous kid friendly museums.
This past Fourth of July weekend, we took full advantage of our geographical location by visiting a few of our favorite family spots and discovering a new family fav! I also included two great summer festivals we enjoyed this year that will definitely be on our list for years to come!
Hollywood Beach, Channel Islands Harbor
|4th of July Gram Snuggles!|
We discovered Hollywood Beach by The Channel Islands Harbor just a few months ago and although it’s a 45 minute drive, it offers silky smooth white sand, zero crowds, calm surf and is loaded with sand crabs for the kids to discover! It’s located just blocks away from the Channel Islands Harbor which has it’s own share of fun activities including a farmer’s market, yummy fresh seafood markets and an outdoor Concert By the Sea series!
|Chillin’ with Baba!|
Gull Wings Children’s Museum
The Gull Wings Children’s Museum is a new discovery for us! At first glance, I wasn’t sure it was going to be worth the admission, but we decided to meander through and we were pleasantly surprised by its interactive exhibits designed to challenge and encourage a kid’s imagination!
|5 … 4 … 3 … 2 … 1 … Blast Off!|
We spent hours there exploring rocks and minerals in their “underground caves”, pretending to be a paleontologist in the Fossil Quest and an astronaut in their 5 chamber rocket ship! We’ll be back for sure!
Underwood Family Farms
Underwood Family Farms is in constant rotation on our activity schedule. Not only does the baby love it, but it’s seriously one of my favorite places too! We can spend hours strolling through its fields, picnicking under its majestic eucalyptus trees and eating the fruits of our picking labors. Over the Fourth of July weekend three generations of Fontaine females went and we picked our weight in sweet, delicious strawberries!
The California Strawberry Festival
The California Strawberry Festival has been around for almost 30 years and offers a massive kids area that includes, crafts, jumpers and a carousel.
Foodies can enjoy everything from Strawberry Beer to Strawberry Pizza, but our favorite was simply the Dark Chocolate-Covered Strawberries! Sooooooo yummy!!
The Simi Valley Cajun & Blues Festival
Ok, granted I’m from New Orleans so I will go anywhere and try anything that even remotely purports itself to be “Cajun” or “Blues” just to feel a sense of home and most of the time it falls miserably short, but not this one! Last year, I took the baby to The Simi Valley Cajun & Blues Festival on a whim and we had such a great time that the whole family went back this year! And yes, it is now My Mom Approved!
The festival grounds are on lush, open, soft grasslands, the live Cajun, Zydeco and Blues music is to DIE for, the food is AUTHENTIC (somewhat) and there is a great kid’s area! This is a must and we will be back next year!
This Sunday the family will be off to the woods!! We’ll be in Sequoia National Park decompressing and discovering all of the beauty Mother Nature has to offer! I can’t wait to share it with you when we return!