Wednesday, March 31, 2010

California Vacation: Day 6

Farmers' Market, the Beach, and Lots of Food
Saturday morning, we started off the day at the Farmers' Market in Santa Monica, just down the road from where we were staying. We bought some citrus fruit, olive bread, and sun-dried apricots. Tornado was very proud of his apricots. It was the one thing he picked out, and he (with the help of his siblings) devoured them as soon as we got to the car. They WERE really good. I'm envious of the people who always get to shop at farmers' markets in California.
Next, we headed to Madeleine's Bistro in Tarzana. I think this was the restaurant I was looking forward to the most. We didn't go last time we were in CA because the boys were younger, and we were worried about their behavior in a more elegant establishment. (Ryan and I always seem to order the same type of sandwich; they're just so good. We're like Joey on Friends with our sandwiches.)
Tornado always orders mashed potatoes and gravy, any chance he gets. They were in love with getting to use the little serving pitchers.
Sissy had one, too, for her syrup.
I think everything we ordered was brown or white...yikes...we totally carb-ed out on this meal.
I ordered the crepes because I've never had them at a restaurant before. Two thumbs up.
We also ordered their version of beignets. (I am still not entirely certain how to pronounce that word; I just felt like I should order them because I've never had them, and I always read about people eating them.)

I wish we could have came back to Madeleine's for a later meal to try some of their other fancy vegetable dishes.

If you're just joining us (here on my blog) and wonder why on earth I'm posting pictures of the food I eat...well, I don't know. Vegetarians get really excited about vegetarian food at restaurants; it's just such a special treat. So, bear with me. Because we're getting ready to head to the beach, and that was lots of fun, too.
Ryan and I ordered fresh juice (his was apple, and mine was carrot/apple/kale/celery) to help us feel better about consuming all of the white and brown food.

We headed back to our apartment and spent the rest of the afternoon playing on the beach.

Dash kept running up excitedly with all of the "treasures" he found. He was particularly excited about finding seaweed.
Dash was, once again, the ocean man. He went out the furthest, and he got so mad at me for not going out past my knees. The water was COLD. Tornado was happy to just concentrate on the sand.
I forgot to mention this: as soon as we had gotten off the airplane and were getting our rental car, Dash had gasped, "LOOK! Palm trees!"
After we got cleaned up, we drove to Cruzer's Pizza in Los Feliz. I guess they started adding more vegan products, and their sales went up so much, they recently decided to become entirely vegan. I was pure giddy to try this place. It did not disappoint. I wish we could have went back another day (to try the calzones and other yummy-looking choices). Ryan picked the BBQ pizza.
Tornado chose pineapple and "ham." (I don't know if I had ever had pineapple on pizza before, and I am now a big fan of it.) Dash wanted those "round, red things" (pepperoni) on his half. Sissy and I just shared with everyone else. This pizza definitely lived up to the hype that I have been reading about. 10 thumbs up from our family.

Our plan was to take the pizza to the nearby Griffith Park Observatory. We got so lost trying to find the pizza place (I will NEVER go to a big city without GPS AGAIN.), that the little ones fell asleep in the car, it was dark by the time we made it up to the observatory, and it was sooo crowded up there. The only parking spots were probably a mile away, on this narrow, curvy road. We just couldn't imagine walking that road with the kids at night. We just got a 15 second glance at the stunning city view as we drove past, then headed back down the hill and ate our pizza in a random parking spot somewhere.

California Vacation: Day 5

Leaving Sequoia and Veggie Grill
The next morning we made our way down the mountain. You can see several levels of roads from the far left side to the right.
We got out at several look-out points to take pictures and soak in all of the beauty.
We stopped to use the restroom (you know it's a big, long mountain when it requires a restroom break) in the foothills area of the park, known as Potwisha. It seemed like all of the sudden that we were out of snow and in the midst of green grass and flowers everywhere.
We kind of wished we had been able to play in such a beautiful area yesterday when we were tiptoeing through the slick snowy paths.
Dash took some good pictures of us. He was turning the camera vertical and everything. (I'm posing with my arm out to make me look thinner.)
The road between Sequoia and L.A. is lined with orchards of all kinds.
Back in L.A...we stayed on the 4th floor of this apartment building. The Venice Beach boardwalk is right in front of these steps. We knew going into it this might not be the BEST place to stay with a family (there are a lot of different "personalities" present in Venice), but we really wanted to stay RIGHT on the beach, to make it easier with the kids. (My favorite place to stay in CA is Santa Monica; I think it's fabulous. However, even the beachfront hotels require crossing traffic and a bit of a walk to get to the ocean.)

It ended up being a great place for us to stay, though. We had a full kitchen, fold-out couch and separate bedroom. One of my only complaints: there was no air conditioning (a lot of places along the beach don't have it because of the cool ocean breezes) because there were certain times of day we got pretty hot inside. (We weren't inside a lot, though, anyway.) Also, I felt like we had to "shush" our kids more than in a bigger hotel.
The hotel was old but renovated, with lots of remaining character, including the cage-type elevator.
After we got all checked in and unloaded, we drove to El Segundo, which wasn't too far away. (It took us awhile to get there because we took a wrong turn...Ryan was remembering once again why he hates L.A. traffic.) We ate supper at the Veggie Grill, and we loved it.
You can always tell when we are HUNGRY going into a restaurant because we order a lot of food. The kids loved being able to order off the kids' menu for a change. The kids' meal was veggie nuggets, carrot sticks or sweet potato fries, chocolate pudding, and lemonade. Ryan and I shared the Chickin' Caesar Wrap and the Santa Fe Crispy Chickin' Burger, which were both delicious. The kale and sweet potato fries were yummy, too.The largest Whole Foods in SoCal is located in the same shopping area as Veggie Grill. I ran inside and stocked up on a few items for our apartment. I hate having to rush while in a new Whole Foods. I would have liked to mull slowly down every single aisle, looking for products I've never seen. I actually didn't see that many new and different things. They do sell Daiya cheese, which was thrilling. They also had fresh pizza made with Daiya. And I had been wanting to try Amy's new rice macaroni and cheeze (also made with you ever get tired of me saying that word?). It was delicious, but I only ate 2 bites because it has 520 calories and 22 grams of fat in one container. It was great for the kids, though.

That seems like a weird way to end my day's story, but it's all I've got for now.

Monday, March 29, 2010

California Vacation: Day 4

The next day, it was interesting to witness in the daylight what we'd seen the night before...
We stayed 2 nights at the Wuksachi Lodge, high up into Sequoia National Park. This is the main building, and our room was in a separate building down the road a bit. It was only about $80/night and had everything we needed, even a fridge in the room.
This was the walk from our building to the parking lot. Although it didn't snow while we were there, you can see how deep the snow is. They seem to do a great job keeping the roads and sidewalks cleared. (They generally require you to bring snow chains in your car because the weather is unpredictable.)

Dash, standing on the front porch of the lodge
one of MANY trees we "checked out"
This also shows the depth of the snow. We were standing on a trail, but we were high above the fence.
That's Dash standing in front of the General Sherman, the world's largest tree.
another shot of General Sherman
We didn't get to see any black bears, like we had hoped (They said they were still sleeping...although there are bear warnings everywhere. You have to sign forms verifying you are aware of the risks of bears. You aren't allowed to leave any food in your car.), but we did see this character, who just sat and watched us. (I took this from my car window, by the way!)
the fallen tree you can walk through
Inside the Giant Forest Museum, there were many exhibits including this one that kind of gives you an idea regarding size of the trees (comparing it to the Titanic and the Statue of Liberty, etc.). The Sequoias are fatter around; the taller ones are the Redwoods in Northern California.I think the kids could have stayed for hours in this spot. They were pretending this was their house, and they were "decorating" it. They made so many trips in and out, collecting pinecones, branches, moss, bark, etc. to use for dishes, food, and decor for their home. How I wish we had a tree like this at our house!
This gives you a better idea of how big this tree was and how much room the kids had inside to play.
There is a gigantic snow play area...we couldn't pass up this opportunity...despite the fact the 3 boys were wearing...ahem...Crocs. We weren't quite prepared for all of this snow. I thought there might be a little snow on the ground here and there, but we were traipsing through snow several feet deep. (And also we just didn't have room in our luggage to bring everything that I would have wanted to bring.) We would be walking along on top of frozen snow, then our whole foot would disappear in a soft spot. We (at least) put plastic bags around our socks, which helped a little. (And I had bought those little packaged handwarmers, which were very helpful.) We were COOOOLLLLDDDD by the time we got finished - but no harm done. No hypothermia. No frostbite. Just lots of fun memories.
The view going down...we were going to buy a sled, which they had for sell (around $15). They happened to have one at the lodge that someone had left, so we were able to just borrow that one.
Needless to say, the kids have never had this type of snow experience before. (Remember: we live in Arkansas, where we get little snow at all. They don't really even sell sleds locally.)
And, of course, nothing says mountain wilderness like Chocolate Chunk Cookie, right? (We were excited about trying a new product from Whole Foods...eaten with a spoon right out of the container, of course.)

Saturday, March 27, 2010

California Vacation: Day 3

Whale Watching and Hugo's Tacos
Day 3 in California had us checking out of our Anaheim hotel and driving over to Dana Point Harbor. Many months ago, I won 4 Whale Watching Cruise tickets on Kristi's (she's a sweet, creative momma from Orange County, CA) blog, Orange Juice. I was thrilled to win a blog giveaway (no matter that the tickets had to be used in CALIFORNIA...I would use them...I just knew it!) Thank you, Kristi; we had so much fun! (and saved another $100...we just had to buy one $19 child ticket)
Here we were, leaving the harbor. I can't quite emphasize enough HOW MUCH my children (and husband) love animals - reading about them, watching shows about them...they BEG for any opportunity to watch National Geographic with Ryan in our bed. (It's one of the things we actually use as a reward or incentive.) I can only sit through about 5 minutes of a wildlife show before getting bored; I'm glad they take after Ryan on this one. They're always excitedly rattling off cool facts that they've learned from these programs. ("Momma, did you know...") They particularly love marine animals, (and I think Ryan wishes he could have been a marine biologist) so it was definitely cool for them to go out looking for real sea life.
I'm not sure if there are whale watching cruisers who do not keep animal's interests in mind, but our crew seemed very respectful and conscious of what they were doing. They kept a mindful distance from the animals, kept the boat at a slow speed and didn't watch any group of whales for too long. They made comments about not wanting to upset the animals or interfere with their natural patterns. Seems like a better alternative to Sea World to me.

The weather was PERFECT. We couldn't have asked for a better day.

We even got to see a bunch of sea lions up close.
They were so cute! We saw them flipping around and playing in the water, at all points throughout the trip, too. There were two levels on the boat. You can sit at booths up top or stand along the side down below.
They do not guarantee that you will see a whale during the trip. We got to see them a lot, though. The gray whales are passing through the California coats right now, on their migrating journey.
It was hard to get a good picture because by the time you see one pop up, you've missed the shot.
We could see and hear the water spray up from their blow hole each time, which was cool.
There were three of them in a group together.
The cruise was two hours long, and Sissy fell asleep during the last 15 minutes. The weather was so nice and breezy, I could have fallen asleep, too. I told Ryan we should start our own cruise adventure for people who just want to take a nap. We could just have a bunch of beds and hammocks lined up. I think it would be a hit.

So...Ryan asked me before we got on the boat if we should be concerned about seasickness. Tornado and I are the ones who usually get motion sickness. I told him we would probably be fine. For the first hour, I was thinking he had worried for nothing. And then it set in...ugh, I felt very seasick. I think if I could have just sat down the whole time, instead of walking all over the place, keeping up with the kids, I would have been okay. (But they did NOT fall overboard, Mom.)

Tornado started feeling woozy right about the same time that I did. He had to go to the restroom, and while we were in there...he puked. It made him feel a little better, but he was still a little out of it, as you can see (above). I think he even fell asleep on our way back into the harbor.

We had plans to hit the vegan pizza place on our way to the mountains, but we called and found out they weren't open yet that day. We checked my handy trip guide and found another place close to the freeway: Hugo's Tacos. It's a small taco stand with outdoor seating in Atwater Village. It's not completely vegetarian, but there is a list on the window of everything that is vegan. There were many items on the menu labeled organic, too, which I thought was interesting (cool!) for a place like this. I ordered the nachos with soy chorizo. I liked the layer of organic white beans at the bottom.
I think this would be one of my sister Tracy's favorite places to eat, if she lived nearby.

They even had soft-serve! It was delicious!

We got back into the car for our (approximately) 5 hour trip up to Sequoia National Park. It was dark by the time we made it up the, it was an incredibly winding road. I'm glad we got to drive the road at night, actually, because it just seemed so enchanting. We were surrounded by these abnormally large trees and deep ravines. There was just so much wildlife and just so much green everywhere, lit by the moonlight...we half expected an elf or a hobbit to pop out at any moment. It definitely made us excited for our next day.