Monday, August 13, 2012

Road Trip to Santa Cruz, San Francisco, Sacramento

Santa Cruz, San Francisco, Sacramento

 Vacation 2012

I really like to take road trips because they are cheaper than flying and it's fun to explore new places along the way.  The focal point of the whole vacation was around river rafting.  I found many river rafting companies who give tours in the Sacramento River. So Sacramento had to be a destination.

We decided to go up the coast to Santa Cruz, then to San Francisco and finally to Sacramento.

Day 1 - Driving to Santa Cruz was about a 5 hr. drive, which was not so bad.  The girls had fun spotting how many potato and tomato trucks we drove past.  We got close to our motel when the GPS said we were at our destination.  We were kind of disappointed.  The outside looked pretty run down and had low expectations for the inside.  We were right.  It had the bare minimum, just to get us through the night.  I chose it because it has decent reviews from Expedia, and FREE cont. breakfast.

After settling in, we went to the Santa Cruz Boardwalk.  It's much bigger and better than the Santa Monica Boardwalk we have been before.  They had summer night specials on Mon and Tues. where you could buy hot dogs for $1, cotton candy for $1 and rides for $1!  That was dinner and entertainment for us that evening.  We enjoyed eating hot dogs sitting at a bench outside watching the waves and people playing in the sand.  The girls rode on about 10 rides and concluded the evening with some cotton candy.

Day 2 - From Santa Cruz we went to Roaring Camp Railroads in Felton.  We took the steam train, Dixiana, that went to the Redwoods.  The scenery of the tall redwoods is very pretty.  After the ride, we decided to leave to buy some lunch rather than pay the high prices of food there. We wanted to come back to have a picnic at the tables and hike through Cowell Redwoods. We opted for Subway because they had their $5 foot long turkey special for me and hubby to share.

We ate our picnic lunch, then went to do some hiking at Henry Cowell Redwood Forest.  The hike takes you through a loop and took us about an hour to complete it.  It was very pretty and we even saw two deer!

Afterwards, we drove to The Mystery Spot.  Tickets sell out in the summer, so it's best to order them ahead of time online. Tickets are $6/person plus $5 to park. It was a 45 min tour that didn't take you very far; but the tour guide was funny and the place was interesting.  It was neat to see the mysteries of gravity.  My youngest got scared of walking in the house cuz she kept falling over.  She and I just quickly went through it and watched hubby and my oldest try to walk through it.

After The Mystery Spot, we drove to San Francisco, which was about a 2 hour drive.  The hotel was nicer than the last which was a plus.  We ended up eating dinner at a Denny's which was right next door.  Kids eat Free on Tues!

Day 3 - Driving to San Francisco.  This was going to be our busiest day as we were going to cram in everything touristy in one day.  We left early in the morning around 7:30 to we could make sure to get to the Japanese Tea Garden on time.  If you get there before 9:00 or 10:00 you can get in for free.  We hit some traffic and had trouble finding parking, then finding the place, we barely made it on time.  The garden was beautiful with all the ponds, streams, and trees.

We spent about an hour at the Tea Garden before we headed to find the Golden Gate Playground.  This was another hard to find place.  We didn't realize this area of town was so big.  We spent about 30 min. trying to find it cuz the girls just had to play there.  We finally found it!  The playground is nice and big. But because we had to stick to the schedule, the girls only got 10 min. to play.  They crammed in a lot of playtime in those 10 min.

After playtime, we drove to China Town for lunch.  I read good reviews for the Capital Restaurant and decided to check it out.  We had more issues with parking but found a metered space on the street.  We walked about 3 blocks to get the the restaurant and was told they only take cash.  So, we walked another 2 blocks to the nearest ATM.  Walked back and finally sat down to eat.  This was the girls first memorable time eating Chinese food.  They loved the chicken chowmien and my oldest discovered she loves won tons.  They bought rabbit chop sticks at the Japanese Garden that they used to eat their lunch.

Next stop was to drive through the famous Lombard Street.  The wait was not very long and we were able to drive the crooked road in about 15 min.

After driving Lombard St., we were headed for Pier 39.  We paid $15-$20 to park at a lot for the remainder of our day.  We walked around the shops for a while, saw some sea lions and tried to find the Golden Gate Bridge.  We could not find it from this location.  We also tried looking for a mirror maze that we read was fun but came to the Ripley's mirror maze since we didn't see the other one.  We checked it out and were done in 5 min.  Nobody enjoyed it and it was the biggest waste of money.

We headed to our next stop which was the Duck Tour, the vehicle that goes on land and water.  I found tickets for half price on Goldstar. We all really liked this tour.  The guide told us some information along the way, played some fun music and the girls had fun blowing their duck whistles they give you.  People on the street thought we were the best tourist attraction as they were taking pictures of us.  The vehicle transforms to go in water which takes you around some bay and the guide lets everyone take turns driving it.  My oldest took her turn; but my youngest didn't want to.

After our tour, we were going to eat at The Cod-mother for dinner; but it was closed.  We ate at Boudin Bakery instead, which is famous for their bread bowls.

From dinner, we continued our search to see the Golden Gate Bridge and to find a cable car stop.  After walking several blocks, we finally came to an area where we found both which was all the way at the end of the pier.  It was sunset by the time we got to see the bridge and there was quite a bit of fog where it was; but I still got a picture of the girls standing a million miles away from it.

We stood in line at the cable car stop which was about an hour in the cold.  The girls made a friend while standing in line.  Finally got on and ended up being a fun ride.  A little scary going up and down those steep streets.  Luckily the brakes worked good.  You could tell those brakes are being worked from the smell of them.  After 1 1/2 on the car, we drove to our next destination, Fairfield.  We arrived in Fairfield around 11:00pm and were exhausted.  Our hotels are getting better by each destination!

Day 4 - The Jelly Belly Factory, Fairfield.  They have Free tours!  We toured the factory which I think lasted about 45 min.  It was neat to see how Jelly Bellys are made.  They make you wear of paper hat before you go in.  They have several tv screens that show videos and my girls favorite part was when they passed out samples along the way.  You can even try free samples at the Jelly Belly bar.  They have some weird flavors that we tried such as Baby Powder and Dog Food.

After the Jelly Belly Tour, we got some lunch at headed to Sacramento.  Once we arrived in Sacramento, we took a rest at the hotel before our River Raft cruise in the late afternoon.  This was the highlight of our vacation. This would be our first time rafting, so we felt it would be best to do a guided tour than go floating down the river by ourselves. Who knows how may rocks we would end up hitting or how many times we would be tipping over.  We chose White Water Excitement, Coloma for our tour company and they were awesome!  We met them at a pizza place where they then drove our family as well as one other person in their van to our destination.  We got on board our raft and away we went down the river.  We chose a sunset cruise that is good for families and young children with a class 1 and 2 rapids that lasted about 2 hours.  This was perfect for us.  We saw an otter, and some other nature, my oldest got out to take a dip in the water and the guide was informative. My youngest got scared of the 1st couple rapids; but was having a great time after she got used to it.  It was a really fun trip and was only about $80 for all of us to go  Afterward, we ate dinner at the pizza place they met us.

Day 5 - All about the girls in Sacramento.  We went to Fairytale Town and Funderland so the girls could spend hours playing and riding on unlimited rides.  I found a buy one get one free coupon online for unlimited wristbands for Funderland. One wristband cost $15. It was great cuz the 2 places are right next door to each other and there is a park to eat lunch. In the evening, we went swimming in the hotel pool.

Day 6 - We went to Old Sacramento to rent some bikes, eat lunch and stroll through the shops.  They have carriage rides that we took that can take you to the park.  It was a fun experience.  Once we were done exploring downtown, we went to the State Capitol to take a tour.  Again, finding cheap parking is always the biggest headache.  After searching for the best parking bargain, we parked at made it for the last tour of the day.  I wasn't sure if the girls would be very interested in this tour; but it did keep their interests, especially since my oldest had been learning about how laws get made and the different branches of government.

Day 7 - California Auto Museum, Sacramento.  We ran out of time on Day 6 for the car museum hubby wanted to go to.  So, we made this our last vacation stop before heading home.  The employees there are super friendly and even gave us a private tour of all the cars.  I could care less about the cars but hubby loved this place!  We headed back home for our 6 hour drive that turned into 8 hours cuz of traffic.  We all had a great vacation!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Newport Beach and Harbor Cruise

I bought a Spreebird deal for $21 to do a harbor cruise, pizza and a ferris wheel rides for two at Newport Beach.  My car was in the shop at the only time we could use this voucher, so we borrowed my in laws mini van which was more roomy for the long drive than our Civic.  We left our in laws much later than anticipated and was hoping to make it to our tour on time.  Well, we were a couple minutes late and the boat was about to leave.  The employee at Fun Zone Boats was nice enough to suggest coming back an hour later when we might have a chance to see sea lions.  I said great!  Meanwhile, we went to the pizza place to get our big slices of cheese pizza.  The youngest didn't want pizza; so we brought a lunch from home for her.  After eating lunch, we went to use our Ferris Wheel vouchers.  My 8 year old and I went together.  Hubby and my 4 year old didn't want to go and my daughter discovered she does not like ferris wheels.  We were on there for a good while that we had to tell them to take us off since our boat tour was about to start.  We chose to sit on the top part, outside of the boat to get a nice view of the harbor.  We saw several sea lions on the tour.  Apparently, we were the 1st tour to see them in a while.  The girls loved spotting the sea lions and could care less of what famous person lived in the huge houses.

After our harbor cruise, we went to Corona Del Mar State Beach which was about 10 min. away.  We had to climb our way up some rocky paths to make our way down the other side where the cove was.  We made it down and discovered the cove was not as big as I expected.  We found a shady spot in the cove to set up.  The water is very very calm.  The girls were able to play in the water without waves knocking them down or taking them further in the water.  There was also a nice sand area for them to play and lots of shells and little crabs found in the rocks nearby.  This is a great beach for families an small kids.