World-Class Waterfront Family Adventure Awaits in Oceanside

Surfers Oceanside Pier

“The ocean stirs the heart, inspires the imagination and brings eternal joy to the soul.” – Wyland

In the middle of what was one of the hottest Southern California summers on record, our dehydrated bodies craved cool breezes and our minds sought sanctuary. We yearned for the steady sounds of the Pacific’s thunderous waves to lull us to sleep and the joy-filled sounds of giggling children frolicking on the shore to ignite our imagination, so we loaded up the car and headed south to Oceanside, California for a quick weekend tryst.

An easy two hour and 30 minute drive from Los Angeles deposits bare toes on powder-white sandy beaches lined with quaint, family friendly spots for refueling, rental shops stocked with any type of water toy you could wish for, and an infectious beachy attitude. At first glance, Oceanside appears to be a sleepy coastal community, but with a population hovering around 170,000 and a California Welcome Center that sees more than 80,000 tourists annually, San Diego County’s 3rd largest city provides family adventure travelers a wide variety of activities and amenities.

We pulled into the SpringHill Suites’ entrance and were immediately greeted with the smell of salt air and an inviting, modern lobby teeming with friendly and knowledgeable Marriott staff. Just steps from the beach, this gorgeous property offers families a whole host of amenities including a rooftop pool, a game room, free breakfast, and panoramic views from your balcony, overlooking the scenic Oceanside Pier.

springhill-suites-oceanside
Photo Courtesy Kerem Hanci

Each one of this LEED-certified property’s rooms features a microwave, refrigerator, laptop safe, and separate areas for working and relaxing, which came in handy for those few brief moments when mom had to work. And the thoughtful, kid-friendly touches to the room, like a bathroom sink step stool and welcoming stuffed animals did not go unnoticed by these frequent travelers.

SpringHill Suites Oceanside
Photo Courtesy Kerem Hanci

Although we could have happily hung out in our comfy room for the rest of the afternoon, the beach was beckoning, so we slid on our flip flops and headed downstairs for some much-needed sun therapy. In exactly 3 minutes our trio of toes were emerged in the salty Pacific, watching surfers skillfully sway and spin the whitewater, while young hands patted down tilting towers of sand to create cafe au lait colored palaces.

After an hour or so of quiet observation, our inner-explorer took over and we made our way over to Wheel Fun Rentals to put our muscles and our minds to work.The Strand beach straddles the pier and its main leisure artery, The Strand is the perfect three-mile bike path for families looking to get a front seat view of Oceanside’s sparking topaz waters, and is just short enough to ensure short legs don’t have monumental meltdowns.

biking-oceanside-1
Photo Courtesy Kerem Hanci

A day of driving with a kid, mixed with sand, sun and cycling fun finally began to wind down our clocks, so we headed across the street to Hello Betty Fish House, serving up an energetic, casual vibe that is as enticing as their signature Ring of Fire margarita. The sun set on our table crowded with mouth-watering cuisine that affectionately reflected the eclectic personality of this cozy corner of the west coast, and being right next door to our hotel made it convenient to roll our over-stuffed bellies to bed.

hello-bettys-fish-house-oceanside
Photos Courtesy Kerem Hanci

Day two of our beach weekend getaway was reserved for one thing, and one thing only – to get on a boat – so we donned our best captain-of-the-ship attire and zipped over to the Oceanside Harbor. Whether you’re looking to rent watercraft for a low-key family kayaking or high-octane power boats, family-owned Boat Rentals of America has got you covered, and Oceanside Harbor Village‘s collection of waterside restaurants and shops makes for the perfect refueling pit stop and unwinding oasis.

boating-oceanside-harbor-1
Photo Courtesy Kerem Hanci

As our electric boat glided out of its slip and our daughter’s new best friend Ariel had taken her seat next to the captain of the ship, we immediately felt our bodies melt into relaxed-mode and with it melted away all of the hustle and bustle of LA life. We gazed with admiration as regal California pelicans dove for heaping helpings of halibut, laughed until our eyes watered at the raucous performance of a herd of zany harbor seals and it was then, in those moments that we reconnected with each other and with the wondrous world around us.


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Mommy Hiker’s Guide to North America’s Best Waterside Campgrounds

Summer is officially here and there’s no better way to beat the heat and commune with nature than a waterside campground. Here’s our guide to some of the best family-friendly campgrounds in North America situated right on the water. Now get outside and chill out!

El Capitan Canyon, Santa Barbara, California

Family Camping at El Capitan Canyon, Santa Barbara, California

Nestled between the picturesque Santa Barbara mountains and the vast Pacific Ocean, El Capitan Canyon offers families 300 acres of camping, cabineering and luxurious yurts perfect for adventure and relaxation. Read more about this campground at Examiner.com!

Twin Lakes Campground, Mammoth Lakes, California

Family Camping at Twin Lakes Campground, Mammoth Lakes, California

Twin Lakes Campground in Mammoth Lakes, California offers family tent camping at its best. Boating, biking, hiking, fishing; it has everything an active family could ask for and is also perfect for just sitting around and doing absolutely nothing. Read more about this campground right here on MommyHiker.com!

Leo Carrillo State Park and Campground, Malibu, California

Family Camping at Leo Carrillo State Park and Campground, Malibu, California

Located 28 miles northwest of Santa Monica, Leo Carrillo State Beach is unique with a protected cove toward the north and rocky tide pools that can be explored at almost any time of day (low tide obviously allows for more wildlife). It’s a great family beach and with the Leo Carillo State Beach Campground just a stroll away, it can also be a great place to stay. Read more about this campground at Mountain Mom and Tots!

Carpinteria State Beach Campground, Carpinteria, California

Family Camping at Carpinteria State Beach Campground, Carpinteria, California

With 200 sites, Carpinteria State Beach Campground is busy place. Reservations are snatched up the moment they become available (six months in advance) so make sure you’re on the ReserveAmerica website early if you want a spot. Read more about this campground at Mountain Mom and Tots!

Highland Lakes Campground, Arnold, California

Family Camping at Highland Lakes Campground, Arnold, California

Escape to the California Sierras, to Highland Lakes for a more rustic car-camping experience with the beauty of lakes and lovely mountain peaks. Read more about this campground at Chasqui Mom!

Sand Hollow State Park, Hurricane, Utah

Family Camping at Sand Hollow State Park, Hurricane, Utah

Camping with close access to National and State parks, slot canyons, plus crystal blue water and cliff jumping out your tent door! Check out Sand Harbor State Park in Utah. Read more about this campground at Kid Project!

Payson Lakes Campground, Salem, Utah

Family Camping at Payson Lakes Campground, Salem, Utah

Payson Lakes Campground is situated on the Nebo Loop Scenic Byway near Payson, Utah. Payson Lakes is known as a fisherman’s getaway since the series of three alpine lakes are a great place to paddle, fish or swim. Read more about this campground at Mountain Mom and Tots!

Preston Valley Campground, Logan, Utah

Family camping at Preston Valley Campground, Logan, Utah

All the campgrounds in Logan Canyon are right off the main road which leads to a lot of road noise at night. The benefit is that it’s also right by the river which allowed us some short fun kayaking runs. Read more about this campground at Mountain Mom and Tots!

Primrose Landing Campground, Seward, Alaska

Family Camping at Primrose Landing Campground, Seward, Alaska

Primrose Campground is located the shores of Primrose Creek and Kenai Lake – a great base for a fishing adventure. The campground has 8 sites, no hookups and is within a short drive of Seward. Read more about this campground at Mountain Mom and Tots!

Exit Glacier Campground, Seward, Alaska

Family Camping at Exit Glacier Campground, Seward, Alaska

Exit Glacier Campground is unlike any other campground. Being a tent only, walk in campsite there are no reservations, no individual parking spaces and no picnic tables for each site. A communal cooking and storage area has three picnic tables and space to put food overnight. Read more about this campground at Mountain Mom and Tots!

Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park, Parksville, BC, Canada

Family Camping at Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park, Parksville, BC, Canada

For gentle waters to wade and paddle, head to Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park, Parksville. This family-friendly park is conveniently located near Parksville and is a short drive from the Departure Bay ferry terminal. At low tide, the beach is about a kilometre long! Read more about this campground Play Outside Guide!

Green Point Campground, Pacific Rim National Park, Ucluelet, Canada

Family Camping at Green Point Campground, Pacific Rim National Park, Ucluelet, Canada

Enjoy epic beach walks along Long Beach, learn to surf, or hike in the coastal rainforest while camped at Green Point Campground, Pacific Rim National Park. Recent upgrades have made the campground better than ever – there are showers (finally!) and walk-in sites now have fire rings, so you can stay longer and more comfortably. Read more about this campground Play Outside Guide!

Wya Point Walk-In Campground, Ucluelet, Canada

Family Camping at Wya Point Walk-In Campground, Ucluelet, Canada

If you like getting away from it all, you will love the private, secluded beach at Wya Point Walk-In Campground, Ucluelet. Although this is a walk-in campground, it has the amenities of a front country campground (showers, dishwashing sinks, flush toilets). Not prepared to walk-in camp? Stay at the lodge or seaside yurts! Read more about this campground at Play Outside Guide!

Two Jack Lakeside Campground, Banff, Canada

Family Camping at Two Jack Lakeside Campground, Banff, Canada

This extremely popular campground in Banff has no power sites for RVs so expect a natural camping experience. Reservations can be made early in the season and are absolutely necessary if you want to camp here during the summer season. Read more about this campground at Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies!

Interlakes Campground, Kananaskis, Alberta, Canada

Family Camping at Interlakes Campground, Kananaskis, Alberta, Canada

This beautiful campground is located right on the Lower Kananaskis Lake with approximately half of the 48 sites situated right next to the lakeshore. To get a site here in summer you’ll have to come mid-week because reservations are not accepted in advance. Read more about this campground at Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies!

Crimson Lake Campground, Alhambra, Alberta Canada

Family Camping at Crimson Lake Campground, Alhambra, Alberta Canada

This campground has 173 sites with power for RVs and all are reservable in advance which really helps families planning ahead. There are bike trails, hiking options, and other fun things to do in the Rocky Mountain House area. Read more about this campground at Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies!

Writing-on-Stone Campground, Aden, Alberta, Canada

Family Camping at Writing-on-Stone Campground, Aden, Alberta, Canada

There are 19 unserviced sites and 45 sites with power for RVs. There are also two group campgrounds and several comfort camping units. All sites accept reservations in advance. There is a great beach with sand and families can float the river in tubes from one end of the campground to the other on a hot day. Read more about this campground at Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies!

Surveyors Lake Campground, Wasa, BC, Canada

Family Camping at Surveyors Lake Campground, Wasa, BC, Canada

The campground has approximately 100 sites but note that there are no power sites here for RVs. It is located just outside the mountain town of Fernie in British Columbia and is extremely popular! Plan to make a reservation well in advance if you want to get a site here in the summer. Read more about this campground at Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies!

Inspired Ireland – Hiking the Dingle Way with Kids

by Jen Lumanlan

I’ve been a hiker for a decade and a half, and one reason I put off having a kid for so long was because I didn’t know how I was going to reconcile my lifestyle with being a parent. Yes, I have a day job that involves a computer, but I try to do a big hike each year. How would I do that with a kid?

I got off on the right foot by hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc with my daughter Carys in September 2014 when she was eight weeks old, and after that I started thinking about the location of my next trip. In March 2015 a friend mentioned that the Euro was really cheap, which lit a fire under me to find a good European destination for the year. I briefly considered the Cinque Terre hike that Jennifer Fontaine recently did with her family but ultimately decided that Ireland was a better fit because; (1) I found a reasonably- priced, direct flight, (2) I speak the language and didn’t want to have to manage Carys plus difficult communications, (3) there’s established infrastructure where the B&Bs shuttle luggage along the route, and (4) I wanted to hold a low-mileage destination (like Cinque Terre) in my back pocket for future years when (I assume) Carys will be even heavier than she was in Ireland.

Carys mostly slept on the TMB but hiking was a whole different ballgame at 10 months. She was 10lbs heavier for one thing. She had opinions. She napped twice a day, not ‘all the time except when she was eating.’ And we were by ourselves for the first time and for a long stretch.

May and September are great months to hike in Ireland. While the absence of rain is never guaranteed there’s a decent chance of good weather and you miss the summer holiday crush. When schools are out in the U.K. the B&Bs book up weeks in advance, but I wanted the flexibility to be able to not hike if the weather turned. We booked in May because I had my eye on a hike in Colorado in September.

The trip didn’t get off to an amazingly auspicious beginning. Although Carys slept OK in her Aer Lingus ‘bassinet’ (aka ‘cardboard box’) we were both very jetlagged, and she woke several times for long periods during our first few nights. Luckily I had given us one night in Dublin before we drove across the country the following day but in retrospect I should have allowed more time for us to acclimate.

Gallarus Oratory

We didn’t start out until noon(!) on our first day of the hike, which ended up working out well because it had rained all morning. It was spitting on and off as we headed up the (small) hill dividing the Dingle peninsula and as Carys plopped her head down for a nap I wondered whether I was crazy to attempt this trip alone with her. When she woke up we shared lunch and looked down on Inch Beach. A sign on the beach shouted that we should SURF HERE but I think it would have been pretty frigid.

The on-again, off-again rain continued for the next day or so. We met an American couple who were annoyed that they would not get to use the bikinis and trunks they had brought for their summer holiday, but we were quite comfortable with Carys bundled in warm clothes under the rain cover as long as it either stopped raining or we could find shelter when she needed to nurse.

deuter kid comfort ii pack cover

Fabulous weather was in the forecast for our third day, which was really the highlight of the trip: walking around Slea Head. Visiting the Famine Cottages along the way was quite sobering, especially upon reading that there actually was plenty of food being grown in Ireland at the time of what we call the Great Famine: it was all being exported to England to pay rents, which is why the Irish call the episode the Great Hunger instead. Doubly ironic that there is now a smart restaurant on the site (in the former landowner’s house!) to serve the busloads of tourists who regularly pass through. All those dry stone walls disappearing up to the top of the hills in my photos were public works projects, and were never intended to be useful.

The trail continued above a stone wall skirting the slopes of Mount Eagle and paralleling the coast for several miles. We passed the remains of several clochans, also known as ‘beehive huts,’ built sometime between the 8th and 12th centuries. The views got better and better as the Blasket Islands appeared around Slea Head, and were only improved by a fortuitous food find: an American woman selling baked goodies in a parking area. She even took dollars! The Blasket Islands are a huge part of the cultural identity of the people on the Dingle Peninsula. Inhabited until the 1950s but with no shop or church and confounded by persistent emigration of young people, most of the residents packed up and went to Springfield, Massachusetts.

Rain was forecast for the next few days and emerged in full force, causing us to take shelter in the Blasket Islands Heritage Center one day, and to unfortunately skip the Brandon Pass crossing two days later. Our penultimate day dawned clear and while the weather forecast described the conditions as “fresh” I would have used the words “gusty” and “rather strong” – not a great combination for a beach walk. We got absolutely sandblasted, and cut across the peninsula to Castlegregory instead of walking around – some Germans whom we’d seen several times on previous days showed up at the town bistro while we were having dinner having done the whole walk and they looked absolutely shattered. The last morning of the hike was sunny and breezy (tail wind!), and as we wandered down lanes and along another beach I reveled in how proud of us I was for doing the best we could do in difficult weather circumstances, and having a good time along the way.

Hiking the Dingle Peninsula: If you go

When to go
Hiking with kids requires flexibility, which is much harder to find in the height of summer. Check the dates of the UK school holidays here, and plan around them. May and September are good bets for reasonable weather but this is Ireland and you should come prepared for rain.

Transportation
Aer Lingus offers reasonably-priced flights from several American gateways. It is possible to get around Ireland on the bus but rental cars are cheap (make sure your American insurance covers you as the cost of adding insurance when you get there is several times more than the cost of the car itself) and much more convenient. Make reservations for your first day or two of accommodations before you arrive, and be sure to confirm that your first B&B (in Tralee or Camp) will let you leave your car there while you hike.

Accommodations
B&Bs can be found in every town and village, and the owner of the one you’re staying in tonight will be happy to help you call around the next town to arrange your subsequent night’s accommodation. Book ahead in Dunquin, where options are limited. The B&Bs will either shuttle your bags for you themselves (for a fee) or may help you arrange a taxi shuttle instead, so you only need to carry with you what you need for the day. This site has a wealth of information about B&Bs as well as the walk itself, although its B&B list is not exhaustive. If there is nowhere to stop for lunch your B&B will usually pack a lunch for you. I found the B&B owners to be very welcoming of my (fairly well-behaved) child; I think all but two had travel cots/cribs available. I took the Baby Bjorn Travel Crib with us which was shuttled each day along with our duffel bag of clothes and other gear.

Hiking
Signage is generally excellent on the trail and I mostly used maps for planning purposes. A good portion of the route (I’d estimate 30%) follows roads rather than trails but many of them are quiet to the point of being almost disused. The official route starts/ends in Tralee and is lollipop-shaped so the last day repeats the first. This section is apparently rougher the rest so consider skipping it (as we did) and starting in Camp if you have young kids in tow.

The Dingle Peninsula is just one of four peninsulas that are each amazing hiking destinations in their own rights. The Ring of Kerry on the Iveragh Peninsula is always jammed with tour buses and the hills are larger, making hiking more difficult than the pastoral Dingle Peninsula. I also hiked a couple of days on the Beara Way on the Beara Peninsula, which was very different (quite lonesome and barren) in character again. Sheepshead is the smallest but also has its own loop. Do one of the loops and then follow up with some day-hiking on another.

Blasket Islands

Top Stops
The view looking down onto Inch Beach was spectacular, as was the whole day of walking around Slea Head.

It would be fabulous to visit the Blasket Islands if you have time; there are ferries from Dunquin and Ventry. You could even stay over if you were really determined – make sure you have scheduling flexibility in case you get stuck there due to bad weather.

The Castle House B&B was the nicest one we stayed in on the trip; be warned that if you don’t cut the day short (like we did) there is no signage advertising the house coming off the beach. Make sure you know where you’re going.

Eat all the roast dinners you can, especially if it’s lamb. The most tender lamb we had was at An Bothar Pub, and they also had pillow top mattresses. Major win.

Must-Have Gear

  • Full rain gear for all hikers who are walking independently.
  • Waterproof shoes
  • Hiking poles (for balance in sloppy trail conditions)
  • For hikers who are carried, be sure you have a good rain plan. I use a Deuter Kid Comfort II (which carries everything I need for a day; I am limited by weight not volume) and purchased the Deuter sun/rain cover separately. You can buy a full rain cover as well (the sun/rain cover is of limited use in Ireland because you need full-body wind protection even if it isn’t raining) but I made mine by sewing a couple of clips to an old backpack cover.

Dingle Way Hike 2Jen Lumanlan lives, hikes, and dreams about backpacking trips from a lovely spot in the San Francisco Bay Area. She recently started blogging about her adventures in hiking – and parenting – at www.NotJustForChristmas.net.