Hacienda Hotel Old Town San Diego

Located in the heart of Old Town San Diego, the Best Western Hacienda Hotel is our favorite place to drop our bags. The location is walking distance from all the restaurants, shops and historical sites which is extremely convenient, especially if you plan on partaking in all the opportunities to enjoy wonderful tequilas and tasty yard beers.

The atmosphere is tranquil and charming, surrounding guests in early Californian Spanish-style. The wrap around balconies whine endlessly throughout the property. The beautiful palm trees, colorful flowers and peaceful fountains add a sense of serenity. There are plenty of courtyards and conversations areas to gather, enjoy a cool drink and take in the beautiful backdrop.

DSCN6802DSCN6800DSCN6813After a long day walking (and drinking) our way through Old Town, we like to end the day by taking the kids to the pool. When the kids are officially wiped-out we put them to bed and enjoy some adult conversation and tequila on the balcony as we over look the beautiful city below.

DSCN7013Like most decent hotels in San Diego, the rates are usually pretty pricey. A typical night stay will run you about $250 a night, but there are ways to get some pretty decent deals. The Hacienda offers a rewards program which sends specials through your email, but honestly the best deal I’ve had was through AAA at $99 a night. The rooms are a good size with a sofa, wifi, hair dryer, iron, ironing board, microwave, coffee maker and mini-fridge which is nice if you need to keep milk for the babies. Each room comes with two complimentary cold bottles of water and a complimentary breakfast (although I recommend going into Old Town for a delicious Mexican breakfast).

Other amenities include:
Fitness center
Old Town Tequila Factory Restaurant and Cantina
Room Service
Free airport, Amtrak and Cruise Terminal shuttles

Staying at the Hacienda Hotel is a great choice if you are planning to stay and play in Old Town San Diego. It’s great for families with small kids, because of the convenience of being walking distances from all the activities. Plus when you stay at the Hacienda you are only short drive from other San Diego attractions such as Sea World and San Diego Zoo. Hope you enjoy your stay as much as we do!

Newport Coast

A mermaid at heart, it is no wonder why I love the sea. The beach is my happy place and Newport Beach is like home. The beach of my youth, I grew up playing on Newport’s sandy coast, day dreaming about all things childishly magical. It is where I first tried my favorite mint chocolate chip ice cream during a family vacation at the age of five. It is where HotDaddy and I spent many lazy days of summer as teenagers. Now, it is where I get to watch my children play and explore as they make beachy memories that will last a lifetime. Newport Beach may hold a special place in my heart, but it also attracts millions of visitors every year. It is also where a couple of the OC Housewives reside. Many associate Newport Beach with pomp and circumstance, but Newport is very relaxed and perfect for families. Newport Coast offers something for everyone from the chic to the family-friendly. It’s a wonder I travel anywhere else.

IMG_2238Keep the Cost in Check:

Like most beach towns in California, rich people stay here and play here, but that doesn’t mean you have to rich to enjoy this beachy city. The beach is free and there are plenty of reasonable dining and accommodation options for those without bottomless wallets.

Drop your Bags:

Newport Coast has a wide range of hotel options from the ultra-luxurious to the simple and comfortable. It really depends on what you want your experiences to be about. For the epitome of luxury, stay at the Pelican Hill Resort, but for those that are more budget conscious the Little Inn By The Bay is sweet and conveniently located across from the beach.

Doryman’s Oceanfront Inn is one of my favorites. It is a Victorian dating back to 1880 and decorated with French and American antiques. It is across the parking lot from the sand and pier with gorgeous views and walking distance from all the activities. It is rather pricey, but perfect for a special occasion.

Another great option is beach house rentals. It is great for large families and easy way to keep the cost in check with meals at home. The more people you have the cheaper the financial burden on each individual adult. For more information on beach rentals.

Get your Grub On:

Spaghetti Factory is my favorite, because it is the only place I can get my Mizithra Cheese & Browned Butter. My mouth is watering already! Our family loves The Manager’s Favorite where you get to pair your two favorite sauces. For us, this always means meat sauce and mizithra. I recommend upgrading to the hearty portion, because it makes for a wonder leftover or late night snack! All meals come with bread, salad and ice cream which make this meal a great value for families. My kids LOVE the broccoli which is slathered in mizithra and browned butter. I order the large portion of broccoli for my son and he will eat the whole platter. They also offer whole wheat and gluten free noodles. The décor is unique with jewel colored velvet oversized chairs, dark rich woods, Tiffani light fixtures, stained glass and of course the signature red trolley. It is the perfect place to the end day and to satisfy that beach hunger.

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Crab Cooker always has a line around the corner, so you know it is good. Known for having some the best seafood around, Crab Cooker was featured in Coastal Living Magazine.

Charlie’s Chili is located right off the pier. They have fantastic chili (duh) which is even better over fries, but I really love the chef salad. It is always our first stop before we hit the beach and usually where Papa hangs out while the kids play on the sand. They serve breakfast as well and I recommend the chili omelet.
For a list of restaurants in Newport click: HERE.

IMG_0974Chug-a-lug:

For being considered a ritzy area there are a surprising amount of dive bars. So for those who what the beach bar scene, Baja Sharkeez, Beach Ball, Malarky’s Irish Pub, Blue Beet and Mutt Lynches are walking distance for the beach and great for a quick drink.
Charlie Chili’s has a good happy hour, but they don’t allow drinking on the patio anymore which is kind of a bummer.

Rockin’ Baja Lobster is across the parking lot from the pier and also has a good happy hour.

Newport Beach Brewing Co. is great for beer lovers and they offer some late night specials. Most of these venues allow kids during certain hours so be sure to check.

Entertain Me:

It is the beach! Have fun in the sun, sand and surf. Bring a nice blanket, some chairs and some toys and let the fun happen naturally. The kids have a blast just playing the sand and splashing in the waves. You never know what adventures will ensue.

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My daughter usually always makes a new friend and sometimes we even gets to meet some sea-life friends.

New Friends

New Friends

DSCN5415DSCN5407Newport has miles of coast and plenty of activities and attractions. For family fun I like to take the kids to Balboa to ride the ferries wheel.

DSCN9914Visitors can choose from a variety of water sports like jet packing, para-sailing, kayaking and Duffy boats, just to name a few. Our favorite thing to do is take the kids to Back Bay for some paddle boarding. It’s relaxing, fun for the kids and great core workout HotMama.

DSCN0397 DSCN0414I’m not a fan of marathon days on the beach, because it is hot and my kids are white. Luckily, Newport Beach is in the OC and that means proximity to fantastic attractions such as Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, OC Marketplace, Fashion Island, etc. So be sure to check out all your options before you plan you visit and have fun visiting Newport!
For more info: Things To Do

That’s a Wrap:
Newport Beach is rather large with nine different neighborhoods to explore, but the coast is a great place to start. The weather is rarely bad and the fun never stops. So pack up the kids, pack up the sunscreen and get ready for a wonderful family beach vacation in Newport!

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The Perfect Souvenir

Besides taking a gazillion pictures, souvenirs make for fun little reminders of our adventures. The problem is deciding what trinkets to bring home. I don’t know about you but I get this sort of panic that I may never come here again and end up grabbing every gaudy item possible to commemorate my trip. Those overexcited moments on vacation when I can’t seem to buy enough memorabilia often leave me stuck wondering how I’m going to get all this crap home. Luckily, I have learned to tame the shopping beast and have found the perfect souvenir that brings me daily enjoyment.

Now when I shop for souvenirs I focus on items that will give me the most satisfaction and evoke the most feelings long after a travel has passed. For the kids, that means a themed toy like a rubber alligator from Florida or my daughter’s favorite Mexican doll from Old Town San Diego. Sure, I’ve done the t-shirt thing, but they usually end up as gym shirts or cleaning shirts. As for the kids, they grow out of them too fast and the shirt gets thrown in a box within months. I have grand plans of making a quilt out of their souvenir t-shirts one day, but let’s be honest, I will never personally make a quilt. That’s my mother-in-law’s arena.

I still like my postcards, because they are easy to store and cheap. But, unless I incorporate them in a display they just get put away, never seen again until spring cleaning. I do have a multi-photo frame that I use to display vacation and holiday pictures and sometime intermix postcards and scrapbook paper with the photos to add some flare and excitement, but I rotate the photos out so often that my postcards get maybe a month of display time before being put in the postcard book.

I try to get a charm for my travel charm bracelet, but they are hard to find in some places and I usually waste too much time on the hunt. Again, the charm gets put on my bracelet and put in a jewelry box, only worn on rare occasions. I have toddlers so my jewelry wearing has become limited. Now I have a new focus.

So what is my new favorite souvenir? Coffee mugs! Yes! I also always pick up a shot glass as well; because it’s no secret HotMama likes her tequila. Although, the shot glasses make for a cute display on my bar, my coffee mugs get daily use first thing in the morning. I start every morning with a pot…uhm…I mean cup of coffee so when I pick out my mug I’m actually deciding which mental vacation I’m taking that day. It starts my day off in a great mood.mugs As I drink from that beautifully colorful piece of porcelain all the positive feelings of bringing somewhere I love come rushing back. I can feel my toes in the sand and the Florida sun on my skin. I can hear the Vegas slots machines ching-chinging. I can smell the pine trees of the mountains. It’s a wonderful way to start my day.

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My new St. Pete mug makes me think of…

Hammock

This!!!

I encourage everyone when hunting for the perfect souvenir, think about your everyday routine and find something that will be a daily reminder of your adventures as opposed to something that will get stored upon return. Here’s to great travels and great memories!

Bravo Farms

Although my kids have been raised near the sea, my daughter is a country girl at heart. She claims to want to live on a farm, milk cows, get her eggs from her own chickens and grow her own food. She loves the Food Network with her favorite shows being Pioneer Woman, Farmhouse Rules and Heartland Table. Fortunately, my niece married herself a real cowboy and we were invited to visit his family farm. My daughter had a blast feeding all the animals and letting the baby calves suck on her fingers. She was in country heaven.

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On the way home we kept the farm fun going with a pit-stop at Bravo Farms. It was a great way to break up the long drive with cute shops, an interesting diner, and fun attractions for the kids. Bravo Farms is very reminiscent of Knott’s Berry Farm’s beginnings. We had such a wonderful time, that we all agreed that this will be a regular pit-stop.

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Get your Grub On:

Café 99: The perfect way to satisfy that road trip hunger. Delicious burgers, sandwiches and salads washed down with a giant milkshake or a cold jumbo beer. Yes, please. With both outdoor and indoor setting, Café 99 has a wild roadside diner atmosphere with vintage road signs splashed all over the wall, pool tables, and neon bar signs.

DSCN0950 DSCN0951 DSCN0958 For more tasty treats be sure to check out the cheese shoppe, ice cream shoppe, fruit stand and Leo’s Barbeque.

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Chug-A-Lug:

When I’m the road all I think is: Cold Beer. Cold Beer. Cold Beer. Café 99 has a cute rustic bar and a great selection of large draft beers to help keep parents sane on long road trips. Cheers!

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Entertain Me:

Bravo Farms was fantastic for the kids. It is the perfect place to get them out of the car to stretch and wear out. The patio to Café 99 is like an American Pickers honey hole, loaded with bizarre almost junkyard pieces made into a playground for kids. There is a wonderfully whimsical seven-story tree house for kids (and parents) to explore. Actually, I could have moved in, it was so darn cute. There are tons of animals to feed and pet. Slides, tire swings, pretend horse and carriages, random wooden swings, wishing wells, miniature golf, shooting gallery, fun little antique vignettes throughout the property and much more.

DSCN0993DSCN0989DSCN0992DSCN0965DSCN0986DSCN0955DSCN0978DSCN0976The kids loved exploring the playhouses for sale. I wanted to buy each one, because they were so fun and unique. My favorite was the Saloon. It just seemed fitting for our family.

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That’s a Wrap:

One of the great things about road trips is the random treasures stumbled upon. Bravo Farms was a wonderful break from the long road ahead and a place went can’t wait to visit again soon!

Big Bear Shores RV Resort

When we were seventeen HotDaddy and I got into a big argument about where we would retire one day. I wanted to live by the sea and he wanted to live in a cabin deep in the mountains. We laugh about it now, but it was a pretty big deal back when we were emotional teens. Luckily, we live in Southern California where the best of both worlds is absolutely attainable. The beach to the mountains only takes about an hour, so it is not difficult to make frequent trips to Big Bear Lake. We have always rented cabins or stayed at resorts, but now we have a family RV and have happily become Big Bear Shores RV Resort regulars.

DSCN6409Keep the Cost in Check:

It is totally possible to get a good deal on cabins and resorts, but sometimes you have to sacrifice quality. I actually cried once after walking into a rental cabin. Having an RV is really cool, because the costs of RV sites are reasonable for high-quality. For example, $76 a night will get you a room at the worst motel in Big Bear, but for $77 you get a lot at a five diamond RV resort. Plus with RVing you tend to cook more, saving money from dining out three times a day.

Drop Your Bags:

Big Bear Shores RV Resort is just beyond. The lots are immaculate, the views of the lake are breathtaking and the amenities are great. It is our favorite place to stay when we visit Big Bear. Rates range from $77 a night to $125 a night for lake-front. The lots are privately owned while some rent their spots out. All the lots have cement pads, most have built-in BBQ’s and some even have fireplaces.

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What a lot looks like

What a lot looks like

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DSCN6405 DSCN6698DSCN6692Get Your Grub On:

We like to keep things simple when we RV. We have a lot of kids running around and don’t have the leisure to cook complex meals. Many of our meals are assemble-only, prepared at home and warmed up or delivered like pizza the first night. We even scatter a few restaurants in, because we like to see the village.

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Grandma’s Pasta Salad is a favorite!

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Simple snacks

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Lunch at Paoli’s

Chug-A-Lug:

Stocking up a well stocked bar is always important when RVing, because there is a lot of time to sit, chat and drink. So on our RV trios all our favorite buddies are invited.

DSCN6398Bloody Mary: She is fantastic! She helps us start the day off right, makes us alert, happy and really nice. Sorry coffee.

Spicy, savory, satisfying

Spicy, savory, satisfying

Rum n’ Coke: What a guy; perfect for bring the fun around the campfire.

Cerveza: That dependable friend that can hang all day long.

DSCN6701Vino: The gal you need for those mellow nights.

Fireball: Cause he is a blast and perfect partner post-cigar.

When we stay Big Bear Shores RV Resort, we like to venture into the village for a drinky. Many establishments offer beer by the pitcher, because you know we haven’t had enough beer. The cocktails are great at Peppercorns. I love their Peppercorn Martini. For a small mountain village, there are a ton of exciting options and it is fun to take a day to explore. For information check out Bars and Restaurants in the area.

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Peppercorn Martini

Entertain Me:

There is plenty to do at the RV resort which is convenient if you don’t feel like driving around that day. For owners the amenities include access to the club house, the fitness center and the private marina slips. Renters are able to enjoy the pool and spa, the tennis courts, the basketball courts, ping pong tables, horseshoes and foosball tables.

DSCN6645DSCN6647DSCN0653With kids you have to find ways to keep them busy and burn their energy up, so that they sleep and the parents can have some adult conversations around the fire. We like to spend days by the pool, followed by a nice scooter ride. We bring plenty of games, toys and activities to keep the kids (and dads) entertained at all times. You know I love a good theme, so I pick toys that represent our trip. If we go to Big Bear I bring the kids’ camping and bear toys.

DSCN6646 DSCN6659 DSCN6660 DSCN6661 DSCN6471DSCN6438 DSCN6664Then when things get calm we fill the kids with sugar. Yep, smore time around the fire and then off to bed. It makes total sense.

DSCN6602To change the pace, partake in the many outdoor activities offered in Big Bear. Take a pontoon on the lake, go fishing, jet ski, hike, ski (in winter), snowboard (in winter), take a scenic sky lift ride for gorgeous views of the Big Bear Valley, parasail or mosey into the village. There is a movie theater, comedy night at The Cave, shops, restaurants, bars, night clubs, trolley rides, horse and carriage rides and much more. For more ideas check my Big Bear with Kids post.

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For more entertainment, visit during holiday weekend. Check out 4th of July at Big Bear Shores.

That’s a Wrap:

We just love our trips to Big Bear. Big Bear Shores RV Resort allows our family to enjoy the beauty of nature in a comfortable and reasonable setting. The kids love the freedom to explore and I love the serene views of the lake, because you know HotMama has got to have water nearby. It is safe to say that Big Bear Shores RV Resort will be a part of our family’s regular RV resort rotation.

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4th of July at Big Bear Lake

I love to stretch events out as long as possible. Like most birthdays in my family, they are spread out throughout the month and the U.S.A’s BDay is no exception. The last few years we’ve kept the 4th of July pretty mellow with a simple BBQ/pool day and sparklers at home, but this year we went big. We loaded up the family RV and headed up the mountain for an unforgettable weekend long celebration.

DSCN6473Keep the Cost in Check:

Big Bear is not huge, but their 4th of July celebration is, so most accommodations book up fast. Week booked our stay a whole year in advance, so the best tip to save money is to prepare early. The restaurants don’t hike up prices or anything and the firework display is free to the public so it is possible to keep the cost in check.

Drop your Bags:

Big Bear Shores RV Resort: Now that we have the RV we try to use it as much as possible and honestly the RV resort is the most beautiful spot on the lake. The views are unreal. The sites are privately owned and some owners rent out their lots. The lots are impeccably maintained, many with built in fireplaces and BBQs. It feels like a wilderness oasis. For information check out my Hot Rving in Big Bear post.

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What a lot looks like

What a lot looks like

During the 4th of July, there are a number of festivities at the resort such as a chili cook-off, a decorating competition, parade of decked out golf carts and free hot dogs at the club house. It really brings about a certain comradely among the campers as everyone gets in the patriotic spirit mingles throughout the weekend.

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Chili Cook-off

Chili Cook-off

Amenities: The owners of the lots have more access to all the amenities such as private slips at the marina and the gym, but visitors have access to the pool, the tennis and basketball courts, ping pong, foosball and of course the gorgeous lake!

DSCN6645DSCN6624Other accommodations in Big Bear

Get your Grub On:

During the 4th of July BBQ is a must and the Big Bear’s Rotary Club’s 4th of July BBQ, located at the Marina Resort, is a crowd pleaser. With a choice of chicken, steak, hot dog or hamburger, each meal comes with potato salad and a choice of soda or water. There is a beer and wine garden for those who need something more refreshing. The BBQ offers some of the best views of the firework show as well as games, crafts and entertainment for those who attend.

In the village there are plenty of delicious options for the hungry. On the 4th we spent the day in town and tried to have lunch at one favorite Mexican restaurant in the area, El Jacalito. I say tried, because we were having a wonderful time until a sudden thunderstorm unleashed it’s fury on us as soon as our food hit the table, drowning my delicious Shrimp a la Plancha.

El Jacalito

El Jacalito

DSCN6508Since it was pretty busy this holiday weekend and the restaurants are small, the wait lists were long so we didn’t get to dine at our favorite Peppercorn’s, but we did get to discover how delicious Paoli’s was as they saved the day serving us drowned rats delicious Italian dishes.

DSCN6515Restaurants in Big Bear

Chug-a-lug:

At our RV site we had a fully stocked bar. It is a must when camping to have excess libations. We started every morning with a loaded Bloody Mary. HotDaddy’s secret Bloody Mary recipe, garnished with pickles, okra and olives. Starting my morning with one of these bad boys made me more alert, happier and nicer. Sorry coffee. Good Morning and Happy 4th!

Spicy, savory, satisfying

Spicy, savory, satisfying

DSCN6398It is fun to grab a drink in town and there are some great places to quench your thirst. El Jacalito has a great happy hour, a good selection of beer by the pitcher and some amazing margaritas. Luckily, most places in Big Bear serve beer by the pitcher which is great of us lushes. There is also the new Big Bear Brewing Company that just opened this year!

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Baby Girl with her Strawberry Margarita (virgin duh!)

Baby Girl with her Strawberry Margarita (virgin duh!)

DSCN6506Bars and Nightlife in Big Bear

Entertain Me:

Independence Day is a big deal in Big Bear. The Firework Spectacular is a 30 minute fantastic display above the7 mile long lake is rated top five in California. It is free and easily viewed throughout Big Bear Valley. It was beautiful to see the boats floating out on the lake as the fireworks lit up the night sky. For the accompanying music to the show, tune into 93.3 KBear for a truly amazing experience.

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So excited for fireworks!

So excited for fireworks!

my attempt to photograph fireworks

my attempt to photograph fireworks

Other Festivities included:

Captain John’s Independence Day Extravaganza: In North Shore Dr. Fawnskin has live Reggae music, Hawaiian style BBQ.

4th of July Cruise on Miss Liberty Paddlewheel Boat: Watch the fireworks from a boat, non-alcoholic drinks and hors d’oeuvres are included with your ticket, but beer, wine, soft drinks and snacks are available for purchase. Adults are $80 kids are $40.

Annual Big Bear Lake Independence Day Festival & Craft Show at the Convention Center has one-of-a-kind items, activities and entertainment, Wyatt’s full-service menu & full service bar.

We enjoyed walking around the village, stopping for treats and checking out the various shops. The Summer Art Walk which showcases work by local artists had great music and beer/wine garden.

DSCN6535DSCN6531DSCN6523DSCN6521DSCN6518List of 4th of July Events

That’s a Wrap:

We had an incredible 4th of July weekend in Big Bear and have already booked our stay for next year. We took one day of hot dogs and sparklers and turned into a weekend long spectacular. Happy Birthday, America. Here is to the freedom to have fun!!!

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Thread Up 4th of July wear

Is everybody as psyched for the holiday weekend as I am? I’ll own it. I am a dork who loves a good theme, as you may have noticed in my Hello Coordination post. Well, we got the RV loaded up and we are ready for a fun-filled patriotic weekend representing our red, white and blue. One of my favorite preparations for a trip is planning the family’s wardrobe and coupled with a holiday I am on cloud nine. Not only is HotMama and family going to rock the colors of U.S on the 4th, but we are going to rock them all weekend long baby! Happy Independence Day!

DSCN6385How are you celebrating this weekend? What are you wearing?

Check out why we love Big Bear:

Knott’s Berry Farm

Before Knott’ Berry Farm became the theme park it is today, it was once a literal berry farm owned by Walter and Cordelia Knott way back in 1920. Once a roadside stop selling berries, preserves, pies and fried chicken, they eventually added attractions such as the Ghost Town to entertain their visitors. Even though there have been some major changes in the last 84 years, Knott’s Berry Farm has still maintained many of the original fixtures, keeping the quaint country feel that people love. Knott’s holds a special place in my heart, because it is where my husband asked me to his girlfriend in high school and the location of our wedding in 2006. Now eight years and two kids later, we still visit to enjoy Knott’s Berry Farm as a family.

DSCN1066Keep the Cost in Check:

Knott’s is actually very reasonable when compared to other amusement parks in the Southern California. Daily tickets for an adult are about $40 and $35 for kids when purchased online. Disneyland is more than double that cost for a single day. Annual passes are the best value with as little as four $24 payments. In addition to low ticket prices, Knott’s is always having some sort of promotion to offer discounts or even free admission.

Drop your Bags:

Knott’s Berry Farm Hotel: Walking distance from the park, this hotel is reasonable as well as convenient. What is really awesome about this hotel is that they offer great packages for saving money. When you book with Knott’s Berry Farm Hotel you receive exclusive discounts for tickets into the park. Also, when you book your stay online they offer a payment option to pay for your room. They are very family-friendly and respect affordable family vacations by offering so many discounts and perks to their guests.

 Get your Grub On:

There is a wide variety of quick-service and table-service dining options. Each section has a theme and corresponding restaurants such as the retro-themed Broadwalk area which has Johnny Rockets and Coaster’s Diner Drive-In.

Johnny Rockets

Johnny Rockets

Knott’s Dining:

Ghost Town

California Marketplace

Fiesta Village

Camp Snoopy

Broadwalk

HotMama Picks:
Mrs. Knott’s Chicken: The restaurant that started it all. A staple of the park since 1934, Mrs. Knott’s Chicken is a must. This delicious meal still features Mrs. Knott’s original fried chicken, biscuits and boysenberry pie. It is a huge meal for the price: salad or soup, cabbage or corn, chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, biscuits and boysenberry pie for dessert. To wash it all down, I recommend the boysenberry punch. There is always a line out the door, testament to how fantastic this meal is and it is worth the wait.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA DSCN7394Chug-a-lug:

Calico Saloon: Located in Ghost Town, it is a great place to sip on a cold beer, glass of wine or boysenberry punch.

T.G.I Fridays: Located in California Marketplace, it makes for a great happy hour break.

 Entertain Me:

Ghost Town the first attraction built by Mr. Knott. This old western town represents the real milling villages of the western United States and houses some of the best entertainment in the park. The Bird Cage Theatre has two fantastic seasonal performances, one during Christmas and one during Halloween.

Old Jail where kids talk to the prisoner. Very cool.

Old Jail where kids talk to the prisoner. Very cool.

DSCN1280HotMama Picks:
Timber Mountain Log Ride: Original to the park, it has recently gone through a remodel. It was my favorite ride growing up and now I love loading the family into a log for a wild ride together.
knotThe Calico Mine Ride: Kids will love going deep into the mountain on this crazy mine train. It got a little intense for my son, but what an adventure.

DSCN1206Calico Railroad: I love this ride. Load onto a real steam engine and tour the park, but wait there is more! Western Train robbers hop on the Train car to terrorize (entertain) the innocent passengers.

DSCN1208 DSCN1212Old School House: An old school house from the 1800’s, this is my daughter’s favorite attraction. She loves to sit in the original school desks and listen to the teacher. Pictures of the original classes adorn the walls as well as old school books and maps of the U.S.

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Graveyard: Fun and creepy. It was my favorite spot when I was kid to play and now my kids love to let their imagination run wild. There is grave that when you stand on it you can still feel the heart beat under your feet.

DSCN1213 DSCN3563Fiesta Village: This fun village celebrates California’s Mexican heritage. There great live entertainment, fun rides and delicious food.

The Boardwalk: 1950’s broadwalk embraces California beach life.

Indian Trails: A smooth transition from Ghost Town, Indian Trails honors the Native American Culture, with performance and unique shops.

DSCN1114Camp Snoopy: All about the kids. A land filled with age appropriate rides. It was recently remodeled and better than ever.

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Well, 2 out 3 love it.

Well, 2 out 3 love it.

fun bridges and caves to explore

fun bridges and caves to explore

DSCN1179 DSCN1193 DSCN1199That’s a Wrap:

Knott’s Berry Farm has been an Orange County favorite for over 80 years and it continues to thrive every year. A favorite in HotMama’s family, Knott’s is affordable enough to visit over and over again. We love the history, the old west theme and all the exciting entertainment. Knott’s keeps us coming back for more!

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Disney California Adventure

Opening in February of 2001, Disney California Adventure stole the show (a least in my opinion). The theme park recently went through a complete remodel this year, whimsically representing California and highlighting the state’s diversity. Visitors can wonder through Hollywood, stroll along the boardwalk or hike through the wilderness before taking a break to sip wine in Napa or listen to the Mariachi Divas over a margarita. It is all here to enjoy. I love the vibe at California Adventure and it is definitely our favorite park to visit. Find out why.

DSCN5741Keep Cost in Check:

In regards to Disneyland and California Adventure, the best value is the annual passport. If you can’t make it to So Cal more than once, leave enough time to take advantage of the hopper tickets. The single day/single park tickets just aren’t worth it.

Drop your Bags:

Paradise Pier: Embracing California’s beach culture, Paradise Pier is the epitome of seaside resort (minus the sea). In the heart of Anaheim, every day is a beach party at this hotel. We’ve stayed here a few times, because we just love the laid-back hang-ten vibe. The rooms have splashes of beach accents like the beach ball pillows that lay playfully on the bed. The pool is on the rooftop which is kind of fun and unique. Like all great Disney resorts it has an amazing water slide for the kiddos. In the hotel is kids movie area set up like a day at the beach with darling little Adirondack chairs, perfect for their little bodies.

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My nephews

Even when we are not staying at the Paradise Pier we like to visit the Disney PCH Grill. It is a really fun character dining experience. I like it more than Goofy’s Kitchen, because of the all music and dancing. It is constant entertainment and a buffet of yummy food which makes it a great value. Breakfast is my favorite time to go the PCH Grill to the day started off right.

My Daughter's 1st BDAY Breakfast.

My Daughter’s 1st BDAY Breakfast.

My Nephew's 3rd BDAY Breakfast

My Nephew’s 3rd BDAY Breakfast

Grand Californian: The mountain lodge theme makes this hotel so cozy, despite the grand size. We often escape to the lobby to enjoy a nice cocktail surrounded by the warm woods, dim lighting, comfy conversational seating and piano music. There is story time by the roaring fireplace for the kids (my daughter’s favorite). There are even sweet miniature rockers for the kids to sit and enjoy Disney cartoons while Mama and Daddy sip their wine. When we are ready to head back the park we just go through the entrance conveniently located off the hotel lobby. The Grand Californian is really something special, plus this is home to my nephew’s favorite pool.

DSCN4130Get your Grub On:
At California Adventure there a ton of dining options ranging from the full-service to quick service.

Carthay Circle Restaurant is fine dining 1920’s style. It is beautiful for a romantic dinner for two or a really nice dinner with the family. Like Disneyland, above Carthay Circle is a secret restaurant for members only.

I like to be outdoors whenever possible which makes me a bit of a patio freak. If the restaurant has a patio then you can bet that I am on it for sure. Luckily for me, California Adventure has plenty of options. I like hanging at the Pacific Wharf not only because it is outdoors, but it is on the water. Plus they have AMAZING Chowder in a sourdough bread bowl. Holla!

DSCN4556Ariel’s Grotto is a character dining experience overlooking the water and Ferris wheel. What is really cool is the World of Color package where guests get to dine while getting front row seats to this spectacular water show.

Yes, the restaurants are nice, but in all honesty my family’s favorite eat at California Adventure is the chimichangas sold of a cart in the Hollywood section. We never leave the park without one.

Chimichangas

Chimichangas

Something sweet is always fun!

Something sweet is always fun!

Chug-A-Lug:

Okay. My favorite part!!! Drinks at Disney!! Yes, Disney California has alcohol. From craft beer to craft cocktails, Disney can be fun for parents too.

Carthy Circle Lounge: For a real pre-prohibition craft cocktail experience, this is the place. It is my husband’s favorite. The dim lit dark bar with leather seating, marble tables and chandeliers takes you back in time to early 1900’s. What I love about Disney is that I can rolled up with my double wide stroller and still get this HotMama a drink at really classy joint with no judgment. I definitely recommend the Manhattan! Simply superb.

IMG_2419There are plenty of beer stops around the park and yes, I have my route mapped out. My favorite place to grab a beer at California Adventure is the Karl Strauss beer truck. Centrally located, this is my first stop once we enter the park.

DSCN4929Cove Bar: Located just upstairs from Ariel’s Grotto, this bar is outside with gorgeous views of the park and delicious cocktails.

IMG_0660Mad T Party: Hands down, my favorite thing at California adventure. I love dancing to the Mad Hatter Band while sipping on my light up beers and cocktails. It is MAD!!

DSCN5720IMG_0208Entertain Me:

Attractions & Entertainment: Disney California Adventure has a plethora of attractions and shows, everything from the thrilling to the mild. We have been enough times that we are pretty relaxed and don’t waste our time with really long lines. If there is a really popular ride that is a must, make sure to get a fast pass first thing.

Hollywood:The Tower of Terror ride is extremely popular and heart stopping, but my three year old loves it. Think that is normal?

IMG_1874The Monster’s Inc ride which is a favorite of my kids is it located by the Mad T Party, so between sets we take the kids for a ride.

DSCN4947Mad T Party: My favorite. My favorite. My favorite. The band is fantastic, the music is great, there is beer, cocktails, mocktails, dancing and best of all the kids can party along with you! My kids love dancing the night away at this MAD party.

Dancing

Dancing

Mad Hatter singing to my girl

Mad Hatter singing to my girl

Funny flamingo things

Funny flamingo things

Disney Junior Show: Great for the little ones. My kids just love this interactive show, but beware it is floor seating and my foot falls asleep every darn time!

DSCN4559Aladdin Musical: Really great show. The characters come out into the audience, holding the attention of my toddlers the entire time.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMuppet 3D: Really cute and fun for the kids. It is a great escape from the heat as well.

Bugs Land: Very kid-friendly for the little ones in your group. There are also plenty of places to get cooled off on those hot day trips.

DSCN0515DSCN5449DSCN9320Cars Land: The newest land added to the park. Looks just like Radiator Springs. Very fun and very cute, but home the most popular ride: Radiator Springs Racers! Want to ride this get a fast pass early or be willing to wait in an hour long line. Ugh. Avoid the Luigi’s Flying Tires, it barely moves and even my toddlers were bored.

DSCN4435Paradise Pier: Another staple in the family, the Ariel ride. We have to ride every trip. My kids just love it. This is a fast loading ride so the line moves really quickly.

DSCN2981King Triton’s Carousal: My son could ride this all day if I’d let him. Now that my daughter (3) has moved up to the more daring rides like Tower of Terror, it is a bit slow for her. I love the sea creatures and the whimsical colors.

DSCN4453Phineas and Ferb Rockin’ Dance Party pops up at scheduled times throughout the day in front of Pacific Wharf. It is really fun for the kids to get up and dance with scouts.

DSCN8071Grizzly Peak: Home of the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail, perfect for burning up those kiddos’ excess energy. Plus they get to meet the characters of UP.

DSCN8943 DSCN4433Condor Flats: Where my husband’s favorite ride is located, Soarin’ over California. It really is a full sensory experience.

Throughout the park and on Buena Vista Street is parade and impromptu concerts all day. The Pixar Parade is the main parade that travels the entirely of the park featuring all your favorite Pixar characters. Don’t miss the World of Color which is the last show of the evening before closing.

That’s a Wrap:

Tired already? Prepare for meltdown.

IMG_2358Disney California Adventure has literally become our favorite park to visit. It is easy to get around, less crowded than Disneyland and it has real drinks! Everyone is happy. I understand for those who don’t get to visit Disney often seeing the original park is important, but California Adventure is way more fun in my opinion. Grab the kids, grab a cold one and have some fun!

DSCN4942Also see out adventures at Disneyland Park.

Disneyland

The original Disneyland Park, located in Anaheim, Ca first opened 06.17.55. Almost 70 years later Disney is as popular as ever attracting 17 million visitors a year. My Great Aunt Betty took my mom when she was a little girl the first week the park opened, I grew up going and now my family continues to be among the crowd, visiting multiple times a month. We have practically made Disneyland our second home, so we got this on lock and it’s time to share my tips with you!

Keep the Cost in Check:

Disneyland is supposed to be the happiest place on earth, but high ticket prices, crowds, long lines and expensive food can easily make visitors angry, tired and broke. There are tricks to avoid this pit. Hands down the annual passport is the best the value. The pass gives you so much freedom and solves many of the issues that make people go anti-Disney. Choose to pay all at once or make small monthly payments. I recommend adding parking to the pass which saves you from paying $15 every time you visit. When you don’t have to pay every single visit, you are more likely to visit more which relieves you from the obligation of having marathon Disney days. Shorter visits mean fewer meals which saves a ton of cash. Traveling anywhere with kids requires an arsenal of snacks. Keep the kids happy and full. Heck, keep mama happy and full. Disneyland allows food to bring into the park so pack lunch and snacks to avoid buying expensive food. Grab your passes and your food and let’s go to Disneyland.

Castle

Castle

Drop your Bags:

Disneyland Hotel: Great for an encompassing the whole Disney experience. All the rooms are modern and chic with touches of Disney magic and whimsy. To break up the hot summer days, the tropical pool and water slide is fantastic for keeping the kids cool and entertained. When you’re hungry the Disneyland Hotel has great family-friendly restaurants like Goofy’s Kitchen; a delicious character dining experience and the spot where we celebrated my son’s first birthday.

Goofy's Kitchen

Goofy’s Kitchen

Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar is a fabulous mix of relaxation and adventure. Adults can enjoy exotic craft cocktails, while kids can sip on interesting mocktails within a magical tropical Hawaiian oasis. The tiki bar does turn into an adult’s only party after 8:00pm, so bring a babysitter and get those kiddos to bed.

Disneyland Hotel Pool

Disneyland Hotel Pool

If you plan on staying and playing, look for vacation packages. It really is the best value if you don’t have an annual passport. Disney is a tough nut to crack and it is really hard to find good deals with outside sources. Normal rates for the hotel range from $200-$500 a night, but annual passport holders get discounted rates. For the best rates, avoid prime season which is summer and Christmas.

Hotel

Hotel

In addition to the Disneyland Hotel, there are a plethora of hotels and motels in the area choose from. For more detail information on the following hotels, check back Friday for my post on Disney California Adventure.
Disney Grand Californian
Paradise Pier
Neighborhood hotels

Get your Grub On:

We usually always pack a lunch and save money for dinner. We also pack tons of snacks and water bottles to keep the kids (and adults) energized. Kids are whole lot less irritable when they have munchies and cool drink.

Disneyland Park has plenty of dining options, but here are few of my favorites.

HotMama Picks:

Blue Bayou Restaurant (table service): Although pretty pricey, I just love at atmosphere. Dine over candle light while on the bayou of the Pirates Caribbean ride as you watch the boats float by. As a kid, I loved waving to all the ride-goers and listening to the sounds of the bayou, letting my imagination run wild. It makes for a great escape on hot summer days.

Blue Bayou

Blue Bayou

Big Thunder Ranch (table service): The BBQ is yummy, but what really makes this place fun is the live entertainment.

The Golden Horseshoe (quick service): It is inexpensive, indoors (hello cool air) and has hilarious live entertainment. My dad and hubby were picked to participate on stage one visit, leaving me in stitches! I laughed so hard, tears rolled down my face.

HotDaddy and Papa on stage at Gold Horseshoe

HotDaddy and Papa on stage at Gold Horseshoe

Hungry Bear (quick service): Rarely does a trip to Disneyland not include this venue. Located on the lake, the view is beautiful and relaxing. I love to take the kids to feed the ducks and wave to the Mark Twain River boat cruise through the channel while I sit back and watch the peaceful water.

Hungry Bear

Hungry Bear

Delicious honey cupcake

Delicious honey cupcake! Yes it sparkles!

Redd Rocket’s Pizza Port (quick service): Cause who doesn’t love pizza?

Pizza Port

Pizza Port

Tiki Juice Bar: Best pineapple floats and ice cream ever!!!

Chulg-a-lug:

No alcohol is served within the Disneyland Park (sad face). Club 33 (a secret restaurant above the Blue Bayou) is the only place within Disneyland that alcohol is served, but you have to be member to dine. No worries! Take a break from Disneyland to grab a well deserved libation at Downtown Disney or hop over to California Adventure.

Entertain Me:

Before getting annual passes my husband was not down with Disney, but now he loves it. The pressure is off. We only go for a few hours per visit, see a couple things and go. If the lines are too long then we don’t go on the ride and save it for next time. Not stressing about seeing everything in one day makes for a much more enjoyable experience.

Innovations

Innovations

As much as I go to Disneyland, Great Tips for Family Trips offered a great tip about slow-loading vs. fast-loading rides. Basically, slow-loading rides are ones that load all the passengers at once, the ride resumes and concludes and then unloads everyone before taking on more passengers such as Dumbo (the longest line ever! Ugh). Fast-loading rides are continually loading people as the ride rotates, hence the line moves faster even if it is a longer line like Small World. The blog suggests hitting all the slow-loading rides first, early in the morning before the crowds. Then save all the fast-loading rides for later. It is a fantastic suggestion, making me look at rides completely differently. So if rides are important to you and your family, this is a great time-saving strategy.

Dumbo

Dumbo

Disneyland Attractions: There are tons to do and see at Disneyland, but we never leave without going on the Haunted Mansion, Jungle Cruise and The Pirates of the Caribbean. Fantasyland is usually the busiest land at the park, so if you want to hit any of those rides go there first.

Jungle Cruise

Jungle Cruise

Entertainment: In addition to the ride, there is always a show going on somewhere. There are parades, fireworks and character meet n’ greets. We to love hangout at the Jamboree, located behind Thunder Mountain. There is a petting zoo, tons of activities for the kids and characters roaming around.

Jessie at Jamboree

Jessie at Jamboree

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Petting zoo

Horse at Jamboree

Horse at Jamboree

We try to see a new character every time. I track down characters locations with the Disney Magic Mobile App. The app also tells me how long lines for rides are running so I can make the decision which land to head to next. I love this app!

Belle

Belle

Tangled

Tangled

That’s a Wrap:

I know there are a lot of people out there that are not Disney fans and think a day a Disneyland sounds dreadful. My thoughts? They don’t know how to do Disney correctly. If you spend your day wasting money on expensive food, waiting in lines and trying to accomplish too much, then you are setting yourself up for failure. It is all about the attitude. Like I said, my husband was not thrilled when I got our family passes, now he loves going. If you know the tricks to save money and time as well as avoiding crowds and long lines, then your day will be great. Don’t try to cram in too much or you just make everyone tired and annoyed. Prioritize what you want to see before entering the park and don’t be afraid to take breaks. It is not a waste of time, it is a mental and physical recharge. So make a plan and have some fun!

Off to Disney

Off to Disney

Also see my tips on California Adventure.