Archive for April, 2012

I’m pleased to announce that camping season is now underway!  Last weekend we decided that the evenings are sufficiently warm to take the boys out overnight and headed to Big Basin Redwoods State Park with a couple of other families for two nights in the woods.  This was an unusually luxurious trip for us as we stayed in the park’s tent cabins rather than in our little tent.  And it was a lot of fun.

The Park

The park itself is stunning. After the winding approach (and, be warned, 236 is windy enough to make kids car sick!) you feel as if you are in the middle of no-where when you finally reach the park headquarters.  All around are towering redwoods and sunny forest glades.  The campsites themselves are great – some of the nicest we’ve seen in a state park.  Each site is well set apart, spacious, private and characterful, with its own arrangement of redwoods, stumps and logs to be explored. The amenities are pretty good: hot and cold running water, coin operated showers, a ranger station selling camp basics, and even a coin operated laundry. The only real down-side is the super-aggressive squirrels: don’t keep any food in your cabin or tent unless you want visitors.

Big Basin is enormous and has miles of interesting hiking that is just too long and too remote for little legs.  But it also has some great trails for small people.  The weekend docent-led ramble along the Redwood Loop Nature Trail that leaves from the park HQ is perfect for toddlers.  The path is wide, flat and fairly even, and winds past some interesting sights that appeal to little ones.

lots of tall trees on this trail

Our ranger, Norm, was really informative and pitched his talk to the adults or the kids in turn, or to whichever combination happened to stay still at each spot on the way. He was knowledgeable and unflappable amidst the toddler chaos. Even the Puppy Dog learnt something: at the end of the hike he pointed to a redwood and said, in a rather serious voice, “tall tree Mama!”.

hanging on Ranger Norm's every word

It was amazing to see near 2000 year old trees, to learn about the forest ecology and about the cultural history of the park (did you know there used to be a dance floor and swimming pool there under the stars?). We also enjoyed the route along the creek from the Huckleberry Camp ground.  It was narrow in places, and the drop precipitous on one side, but the kids loved watching the white water and looking for bugs.  We simply headed down the trail awhile, and turned back when they’d had enough.

What’s really great about this campsite, though, is the possibility for unstructured outdoors play.  Our kids were happy wandering around our campsites and exploring the forest that backed onto our cabins. There were slugs to find, trees to climb, forts to make, log trains to be fixed and driven, games of hide and seek to be had.  The list goes on.  It was nice to let them wander free in a pretty safe environment and to have their own adventures while we watched from our camp chairs.

This stump was variously a train station, a fort, a hiding place and a baby bird's nest

The park comes highly recommended as a toddler destination, and we’ll be back.

The Tent Cabins

Depending on what you’re used to, these are either the height of luxury or beyond basic.  To us, used to rocking up after sunset, pitching a tent in the dark and trying to fire up the camp stove for supper while placating over-tired kids, it was wonderful to arrive and find linens on the bed, a lantern and propane set up for our use, fruit juice, towels and toiletries awaiting us .The cabin had everything we needed for the weekend and, depending on which package you choose, can also come with cooking equipment, a freezer box and ice.  The cabins themsleves were pretty clean and well maintained. See here for details and rates in case you want to book.

Bottom line for me – the cabins do make things easier if you have kids, but I did miss our little tent.


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Screen-Free Week

This coming week (April 30- May 6) is Screen-Free Week.  It seems like a wonderful idea to me — a week to focus on getting kids away from TV screens, ipads, smart phones, apps, games etc and to encourage them to do something more interesting and worthwhile instead. I’m just sad it’s received so little publicity in this area, and that no local events have been organised to ‘raise awareness’.  We’ll be ramping up our ‘screen-free’ efforts this week, however: TV will be totally off-limits, and they’ll be no laptop or smart phone use (by us – the boys are not allowed to play with such things) during the boys’ waking hours.  We’ll see how I survive with no daytime e-mail checking….

Anyone else celebrating Screen Free Week?

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It’s a bit of a light weekend, coming between Earth Day and the May ramp-up to summer, but there are a few things on:

There are docent led wildflower walks at Edgewood Park on Saturday 28th and Sunday 29th April.  I’m not sure about their suitability for small kids, but they might be worth checking out.  Find the details here.

The Cupertino Cherry Blossom Festival (Sat 28th and Sun 29th) looks fun and promises some kids’ events.  Find more information here.

There is still space in Hidden Villa’s 9.30-10.30am Preschoolers on the Farm Event.  To register, go here.

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Our search for the perfect local beach continues. This time we tried Bean Hollow State Beach.  This is a gorgeous, rugged little cove a couple of miles south of Pescadero.  It has a number of good points: it’s usually empty, has beautiful, golden sand, has lots of shells and rocks to examine, and there are rocks to scramble across and tidepools to explore (which only disappear at high tide I’m informed).  Furthermore, there’s no parking charge at this beach. On the negative side, it’s very exposed and wind-swept.  Another factor to bear in mind, which you may or may not like, it’s one of the few beaches that allows dogs and, while they are meant to be on a leash, the rule is not observed.

Rugged beauty

We plan to visit again: there was lots for the kids to do and we enjoyed the solitude.

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For a while now, whenever I looked at the map, I’ve found myself attracted to Wilder Ranch State Park. It just sounded rather cool.  Unable to discover too much about it on the internet, last week I persuaded my family to join me on an expedition to check it out.

What it says on the sign.


The Wilder Ranch lands have a long and colourful history.  The watershed was used by the Ohlone Indians for many centuries before the dedication of Mission Santa Cruz (1791) brought European diseases and livestock into the area. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries the land was used for grazing, and slaughtering, mission cattle and became known as “Rancho Arroyo del Matadero” or “ranch of the streambed slaughtering ground.” A parcel that contained the current state park was later owned by a Russian sailor who had abandoned his ship, naturalized as a Mexican citizen and who divided his time between raising livestock and smuggling, and subsequently by a dairy farmer who sold fancy butter in San Francisco.  It was purchased by Deloss D Wilder in 1871 and his family ran a successful dairy farm there right up until 1969.  California State Parks acquired the property in 1974 to preserve the landscape and the historic ranch.

The aloe grove

What’s there now?

Wilder Ranch State Park is enormous — 7000 acres–and is mostly wilderness with many interesting looking hikes.  I’m told there is a beautiful trail that leads along the cliffs but it’s too long to do with small children unless one carpools (and if anyone is interested in doing that…drop me a line).  The park also contains an historic ranch which is easily accessible by car and a short walk.  One can tour the old farm house, watch historic cooking in action (and sample the baked goods), check out the farm animals, and examine the old farm buildings.  There’s a really nice smithy and wood work shop which fascinated all the men in my group, young and old. It contained a Pelton water wheel constructed by the original Mr Wilder himself in 1889 and which the docents enthusiastically operated for us.  But best of all are the ranch’s gardens–they’re fantastic for small boys to play in.  There are giant aloe groves riddled with secret tunnels and pathways for little ones to explore, and this incredible tree which my boys could have played in all day:

Quite a tree

A good day out for toddlers?

Yes and no.  Our kids loved the gardens and would have stayed there all day — that alone was worth the $10 parking fee — and they were happy to explore the farm buildings with us for a while (especially when they found the tractor barn). But the hiking available was not terribly preschooler friendly, and was just too much even for our intrepid pair.  I would say that the park alone isn’t worth a trip from Silicon Valley for kids this age, but it would make a fun stop if you were in the area.  Wilder Ranch would, however, be an interesting hiking destination for older kids so it’s going on my list of ‘hikes for the future.’

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water, water, everywhere

Enjoy them before they get clogged with sand and are unavailable for the rest of the summer 😉

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This weekend we decided to check out a new local beach. Although we’d been warned it’s often a little wind-swept, we settled on Pescadero.  It was such a hot day that we figured a little wind would be ok.  And we were pleasantly surprised.  Although it was a little breezy, the sun shone and the boys happily cavorted in their new swim suits while we took turns to nap on the beach.  I think it turned out to be a good choice for a hot weekend: while the other nearby beaches (esp San Gregorio) were packed, Pescadero remained relatively empty with only a few families sharing the sand.  I recommend heading right out of the car park down the smaller trail to the little beach if you want solitude– the other side of the bluff did get busier.


Pescadero itself is a beautiful sandy beach with enough shells, sticks and stones to keep preschool collectors happy.  There are also rocks to scramble over and a few tide pools at low tide.  The surf is pretty dangerous, however.  I wouldn’t let small kids swim (it was too cold anyway!) and I kept a very close eye on the boys when they were paddling in the shallows.  There is something quite idyllic though about the electric blue sky, the giant green surf and the empty golden sand at Pescadero.

Fetching water

Driftwood driving levers

I should also note that we saw lots of ‘sand fleas’ on the beach.  They didn’t bother us at all, but I think they can sometimes give a painful bite.

Facilities in the car park are limited: only one uni-sex porta potty (pretty gross even by state park standards) and a couple of picnic tables (which means no large family gatherings with booming sound systems) .  $6 day use fee – remember to bring change.

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If you visit our local state parks often, an annual vehicle day use pass can be great value.  It’s currently $125 for the year, but is increasing to $195 from the 1st May, 2012.  Order your pass online this week at the webstore to avoid the extra charge.  See here for details.

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Saturday 21st April

Menlo Park Kite Day at Bedwell-Bayfront Park, noon-4pm.

Earth Day on the Bay, 10am-5pm. See details here.

Touch a Truck in Redwood City, 10am-2pm. Check out the flyer here.

Fitzgerald Marine Reserve Earth Day Beach Clean Up. 9am-noon. Meet at Mirada Surf.

Sunday 22nd April

Sheep Shearing Day at Ardenwood Farm, 11am-3pm. $6 adults, free for the unders 4s.

Earth Day Celebration at Full Circle Farm in Sunnyvale, 11am-4pm. Find the flyer here.

Los Altos Hills Earth Day Celebration — featuring big cats – 1pm to 4pm at Westwind Community Barn, Los Altos. Information here.

Earth Day at Curi-Odyssey, noon – 5pm. More here.

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As an Englishwoman and an historian it was with some trepidation that I attended Ardenwood Farm’s Tartan Day, for such US events are often historically inaccurate and offensively anti-English.  And indeed it was both: there was the usual concentration of interest in three Scots eras–Picts, Mary Queen of Scots, and Bonnie Prince Charlie–all heavily romanticized, and a fair bit of nonsense about those evil men and women south of the border. But it was also jolly good fun.  Scots-Americans from all over the area met up with their clans to celebrate their shared, distant heritage.  There were bagpipe bands and highland games and some pretty good British fish and chips.  Several Mary Queen of Scots wandered around amongst highland warriors and Pictish encampments, while visitors could browse the stores, inspect weaponry or try their hand at shinty.

The first Mary Queen of Scots of the morning


Nice swords.


I was only partly tempted to set up a stall selling The Invention of Tradition at next year’s event…..

and if one had enough of all things Scots, there were always animals to pet, historic trains to ride and tractors to inspect.

Few things can compete with a John Deere

A fun day out in the sunshine with lots for little ones to see and do.



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