Archive for the ‘local outdoors outings’ Category

After picking berries at Swanton Farm, we decided to explore Pigeon Point Lighthouse State Historical Park as it was just too breezy to sit on a beach (our original plan).  This historic lighthouse is a fun destination for kids and adults alike and we spent a good ninety minutes poking around the site and exploring the park’s short coastal walkways.

Pigeon Point is a cove full of history. I never really think of the Gold Rush as a naval event, but of course it was as the sudden and dramatic population growth in California post-1850 brought increased shipping to the area.  Pigeon Point itself acquired its name from the calamity that led, in part, to the building of the lighthouse. In 1853 the Boston-based clipper the Carrier Pigeon ran aground and was wrecked. In the following decade, as the volume of shipping along the coast increased further, three more ships were lost on the point and it came to have a reputation for being particularly dangerous. In 1872 the lighthouse was built to help ships navigate these treacherous waters.  In the following decades a small Portuguese whaling factory also sprung up in the cove, the remnants of which can still be seen on the rocks if you look carefully below the wildflower walk lookout.

The main attraction

While you can no longer go into the lighthouse itself, it is spectacular from the outside, and there are fun displays about the history of the lighthouse and the surrounding area in the outbuildings. You can also see a giant example of a Fresnel Lens which our three-year old found fascinating. And operate fog horns ‘through the ages’ which both The Monkey and The Puppy Dog loved. There is also plenty to see outside the lighthouse buildings. There’s a short walk among the clifftop flowers, spots to watch the spectacular waves breaking on the crags below, and a viewing platform for harbour and elephant seal and grey, blue, and humpback whale spotting.  We spent a long time with the boys watching three seals play in the water and the waves breaking on the rocks, which of course led to hundreds of questions from The Monkey about what made waves, whether seals get cold, what seals eat and where they sleep, what lighthouses are for etc? Very educational.

Studying the waves

There is also beach access to the tiny Whaler’s Cove from just outside the park. This is a cute little spot, but only a tiny area of sand lies above the high tide line. Plus, it’s usually much too cold and breezy on this stretch of the coast for sunbathing…


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One of our favourite things to do in the summer is to head over to a local ‘u-pick’ and load up with berries to freeze for the winter.  Usually we do our beloved Live Earth Farm’s strawberry u-pick, but we had to miss it this year due to a clashing engagement.  I’ve tried Webb Ranch Farm but have not been that impressed: no strawberries and an admission fee just to pick on top of the price you pay for the actual fruit just seems wrong to me.  So this year we drove out to Swanton Berry Farm near Santa Cruz to try our luck there.

Swanton is a no frills, low-key, traditional kind of place and lots of fun.  You just turn up, collect a box, and head right out to the fields where the berries are plentiful.  Payment is on an honor system — you weigh your own fruit and just leave the correct change on the counter — so make sure to bring cash.  In fact, bring extra cash, as there is little chance you’ll walk out of their farm shop without also buying some of the farm’s jam, pies, and crumbles.

Mmmm. So many to choose from.

The berries were good, though not as good as Live Earth Farm’s (but then no berry I have ever tasted compares to Live Earth Farm’s strawberries) but it was really nice to pick fruit with a sea view.  And the kids loved it. I think we’ll be back up there for blackberry season in a few weeks.

For more information on opening times, find the farm website here. I guess prices may vary over the season, but I thought the $2.50 a pound they were asking for organic strawberries this weekend was quite reasonable.

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Sure, it’s a bit of a drive from Palo Alto, but if your kids love water play, science and airplanes it’s well worth the effort. Last week we spent a happy morning wandering between the two parks.  We started with a walk around the ‘windy hill’ at Seal Point (do bring sweaters even if the sun is out in Palo Alto when you leave).

Cloudy bay views

The boys loved examining the local wildlife–there were bugs a-plenty, jack-rabbits, butterflies, ducks, and herons–and were fascinated by the beautiful, musical wind sculptures along the path.

They spin. They chime.

But best of all was the air traffic control feed.  At one stop in the park, just below the main set of stairs down from the summit to the bike path, you’ll find a display that lets you listen in to the communications between San Francisco airport and the passing planes.  There is lots of information provided too on the code words the pilots and controllers are using. My boys thought this was awesome.

Playing at being pilots

Then we strolled down to Ryder Park.  This is a lovely little play area with lots of interesting climbing features and some fun fountains (but note that the water is only switched on from 11am-4pm during the summer months).  I had heard that the park gets very busy, but when we were there around noon on a weekday morning there were very few other families around.

Fountains. Always a crowd-pleaser.

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This weekend we drove up to D L Bliss State Park on the South Lake Tahoe shoreline just north of Emerald Bay for a spot of camping. This beautiful and popular state park offers it all: camping, beach access, incredible views of the lake, and some great day hikes.  It’s also rather sprawling with 4 camping ‘loops’ which vary greatly in character. The sites near the beach have amazing views but are small, close together, and lacking privacy.  The sites higher up the hillside in the woods are larger and more private, some backing onto the wilderness to the extent they almost qualify as ‘walk-in’ sites. If you value quiet and privacy (as we do) I’d recommend the Ridge Campground (sites 91-114) and Pines Campground (sites 1-90).  The park has good, if old, facilities with plentiful toilet and shower blocks in each loop (bring quarters).  I had heard that guests at the park frequently encounter bears, but we didn’t see any (sadly) and each site comes with a huge bear box which minimises the chance of attracting wildlife.  There were lots of chipmunks and giant pinecones which the kids loved however.

Get a load of these pinecones Mom!

Our kids were happy playing with the rocks, pinecones, and sticks in the forest around our campsite for much of the time, but there are plenty of other things to do:-

Balancing Rock Nature Trail

Happy Trails

This is the shortest, most toddler-friendly trek in the park. It’s only half a mile long and on a wide, dirt track that winds round a huge granite outcrop, down the mountain and along the creek, and back up to the parking lot.  The trail would probably be suitable for jog strollers were it not for the fallen tree one currently has to scramble under at the creek.  It is officially a self-guided nature trail and has numerous markers indicating sites of interest. Unfortunately, no informational leaflets were available at the start of the trail as promised.  My boys enjoyed it anyway.  The Monkey had a great time scrambling down the trail finding all the numbers and was thrilled to discover that the giant granite balancing rock of the title looks a bit like a tyrannosaurus rex head.

T-Rex Head


Calawee Cove Beach

There are two lovely beaches in the park, Calawee Cove Beach and Lester Beach. The steps down to Calawee Cove are fairly steep. My three year old could manage them, but if you have a lot of stuff, or a boat, you might want to just head to Lester Beach where you can park feet from the sand.  Both beaches are small and can get a bit crowded in high season, but the views are spectacular and the colour of the lake an unbelievable blue. The boys had a great time paddling, watching the boats, and building driftwood forts. If you take food down to the beach, be prepared to fight off some of the most persistent and aggressive geese you’ve ever met.

Excited boys on Lester Beach

A fun nearby hike: Vikingsholm State Park

A couple of miles south of the park you’ll find the parking lot for Vikingsholm State Park–be warned, go early in the day as the parking lots gets insanely busy by mid-morning. The trail leads straight down the cliff but is gentle enough for toddlers to manage it with ease.  You could take a jog stroller as long if you don’t mind pushing it back up the hill at the end.  At the base of the cliff is a beautiful little beach and lagoon and the Vikingsholm itself.

Vikingsholm is the attractive summer residence built to the order of Mrs Lora J Knight of Santa Barbara in the style of a Norwegian farmstead. It has beautiful towers, wood carvings, and sod roof and is well worth a poke around. Even more fun, however, is the fact that Mrs Knight built a Tea Castle–yes, a castle in which to take afternoon tea–on the island (the only one in Lake Tahoe) that lies a couple of hundred feet off the shore.  The kids enjoyed looking at the house, walking out on the jetty, and exploring the shoreline. Again, beware the crazy aggressive geese if you bring food.

The perfect setting for afternoon tea.

All in all Emerald Bay is an easy place to go with toddlers. It’s perhaps a little busy and ‘touristy’ feeling for my tastes, but if you get out onto the trails or into the woods you can get away from the crowds. And it really is spectacular scenery.

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Saturday June 9th

The first in a three part series of ‘Preschoolers on the Farm’ starts at Hidden Villa, at 9.30am. Advance registration required.

It’s ‘sheep to shawl’ day at Elkus Ranch, Half Moon Bay, 10am-2pm, $7.50 per person.  A visit to Elkus makes a fun day trip when combined with an afternoon on the beach. Find the event flyer here.

9am-2pm it’s the Sand Castle and Sculpture Contest at Crown Memorial State Beach. Judging takes place at noon, and prizes are awarded at 1pm. It’s a free event, although there is a $5 fee to park.

Sunday June 10th

There’s still space on Hidden Villa’s 1pm farm tour. See here to reserve a spot.

From 1-4pm kids can help with the Historic Hay Harvest at Ardenwood Farm.

It’s the 5th Annual Silicon Valley Duck Race, 11am at Vasona Lake Park. See here for more information.

It’s the 13th Annual Butterfly and Bird Festival at Coyote Hills Regional Park, Fremont. 10am-3.30pm. See here for details.

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This year’s free Summertime Open House and Dance at Hidden Villa is on Sunday 15th July.  This event is lots of fun and sells out very quickly.  To make your reservations, see here.

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Saturday May 26th

The Midpeninsula Regional Open Space Preserve is hosting a bug and butterfly walk at Picchetti Ranch, 10am-1pm. Find hike details here.

Does your kid like elephants? If so, they might enjoy elephant day at Oakland Zoo. See here for the flyer.

Visit FarmFest–an event celebrating the region’s organic agricultural industry– in Pescadero, from noon-5pm. It promises to be educational and fun for families. Find the flyer here.

All Weekend

Civil War Re-enactments at Roaring Camp Railroads, Felton. Not sure how family-friendly this event is, but it might interest some older children. Event details are here.

Memorial Day

Entry to Ardenwood Historic Park is free for the day.

Tuesday May 29th

It’s time for the pigs at Ardenwood Historic Park’s Tuesday Toddler Time, 11-11.30am.

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That was the one who stole my sandwich Mom!

This weekend we went up to the Skyline Ridge Open Space Preserve for the Family Bird Festival which had been postponed from earlier in the year.  It’s always hard to know what such events will be like but this one, run jointly by the Regional Open Space Preserve and the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society, was quite lovely and perfectly suited for preschoolers.  I loved that it was a very low-key event with lots of ‘old-fashioned’ hands-on booths and friendly, enthusiastic volunteers who were eager to engage visitors.

The Monkey and I even learnt a little about birds.  We had great fun identifying some of the birds we’ve seen in the garden this year on the plentiful birding charts provided.  I was particularly happy to learn that it’s a Oregan Junco that my kids don’t like (apparently it has a mean looking head and likes to peck them whenever I go inside) and that the striking pair of brown, red and black woodpeckers who visit us on occasion are Northern Flickers.

Owl throw-up. Yum.

After we’d checked out the bird charts, we headed over to the dissection area where volunteers showed the boys how to take apart a barn owl pellet.  This booth had been set up with great thought.  First the kids could pull the pellets apart and discover little bones and skulls. Then they could glue the animal remains onto a chart which helped them identify the bones and hence what the owl had been eating.

Dad! The barn owl ate two moles and a rodent

There was also a crafts area where the kids made ‘water cycle’ bracelets and binoculars for bird-spotting, and a science area where the kids could look at, and touch, owl wings, feet and feathers and all different types of local bird nests.  The teen manning the area was impressive in his knowledge of bird biology and habitats and really good at talking to little ones in a way that made sense to them.  I also loved that the festival had set up a shady area with complementary drinks and healthy snacks where visitors could chat to local wildlife enthusiasts.

Checking out the wings

As well as the little exhibition area, the festival also included several docent-led bird walks in the preserve.  We didn’t sign up for any as I was concerned our children would be too disruptive, but from what I saw on the day I think it would have been fine to have taken them along and next year we’ll sign up for one.  Instead of a formal tour, however, we did our own little hike round Horseshoe Lake and the boys had great fun spotting lizards, butterflies, ducks and their perennial favourite, sturdy sticks.

The local wildlife cautiously eyeing our children

The Wing Ding Festival was a really wholesome, educational and fun event and the only thing that made me a little sad was how poorly attended it was. There were maybe ten other families there, and I counted only two other preschoolers besides our kids.  I’m really curious as to why that was.  Was the festival just poorly advertised? (I think events like this don’t receive sufficient publicity and that’s one of the reasons for this blog). Was it too far away? Did it sound unsuited for preschoolers? Or did it just sound too dull? Or is it just that weekends get busy?

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What’s on this weekend?

May 19th and 20th

US Geological Survey 10th Triennial Open House, Menlo Park, 10am -4pm. For more information, see here.

The Maker Fair! See here for this awesome event. My three year old loved this last year.

Saturday May 19th

Last spring tour of Deer Hollow Farm, Rancho San Antonio. 10am-1pm. Admission $5. See here for details.

Sunday May 20th

Wingding Family Fest, Skyline Ridge Open Space Preserve, 10am-3pm. Bird related fun for the whole family. See here for the flyer.

Bol Park Fete, noon-4pm.

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Bol Park is one of Palo Alto’s hidden gems. It has it all: a great playground, a large field for ball games, some woody scrubland for hide and seek, chickens, goats and donkeys to visit and a creek to play in. It’s the perfect destination for a long summer afternoon.

The Playground

The rather hot playground

This has plenty to keep very little ones and older preschoolers amused, including some slightly more adventurous climbing opportunities.  The Monkey and his chums particularly love the tyre swing. The playground backs onto a large open space which is itself edged with woods that the kids love to explore.  It’s really rather bucolic considering the park is only minutes from El Camino Real.

Space to run

The Animals

To find the chickens and the goats, just take the bike path at the edge of the playground deeper into the park.  The animals are attached to a private house on the right about 5o meters past the end of the play area.  The (super kind) owners seem very relaxed about kids petting and feeding the goats, just be careful to read the signs explaining what they can and can’t eat.

I wonder if we can catch one?

To find Barron Park’s two famous donkeys (well, one of them is THE Shrek Donkey), keep going along the bike path for a couple of hundred meters. They’re over the bridge on the right.  Again please pay attention to the posted information about feeding, or rather not feeding, them.  If you want a closer look at the donkeys, their handlers bring them into the playground area most sundays around 10am.

Barron Park’s own furry superstar

The Creek

Bol Park also has a wonderful creek which is perfect for paddling, throwing stones and making rock channels, especially in the warmer months when the water level is low.  There are also a couple of nice rope swings there for bigger kids.  To access the creek take the dirt path that runs along the opposite side of the field to the bike path.  There are some steps down to the creek midway between the donkey field and the playground.

There’s nothing more fun for toddlers than throwing stones into a pool of water.


Bol Park is also the venue for occasional special events, and it just so happens that one of our favourites is coming up this weekend.  On Sunday May 20th it’s the Bol Park Fete running from noon until 4pm. This is a lovely, low-key event perfect for little ones. In past years there’s been maypole dancing, children’s games, music, fire trucks and police cars to sit in, the donkeys and ice-cream.  It makes for a relaxed family afternoon.

The Negatives?

No toilets and not too much shade in the playarea itself.  On very hot days we head to the creek.

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