Ashley’s Preschool Graduation Holiday in Western US (SFO-LA-SAN)
Time is always best spent with your loved ones and this has been a year forged with many of these beautiful moments. This Halloween season, we fulfilled our promise to our little princess and brought her to Disneyland LA (together with baby Kingsley) before she officially graduates from preschool.
Flight decisions have never been as difficult given that we are now traveling with not 1 but 2 kids for a long haul flight. After several months of consideration and search, we decided to dive straight into a non red eye 15 hour direct flight to San Francisco. The weeks that followed up to the trip was filled with uncertainty on how the kids would fare on the trip and luckily for us, this was just overthinking on our part and we survived the 15 hour flight with no drama.
Knowing that we would be probably be zombified upon arrival in the early morning, I planned a leisurely day in which we did a quick drop by the Golden Gate Bridge before we head to our first accommodation of the trip, Hilton Garden Inn Fairfield. Fairfield is a half an hour’s drive to Napa Valley which made it a good location for families with young kids given that there are more food outlets and stores in the vicinity. On our second day, we travelled to Napa Valley and visited Castello di Amarosa, Old Geyser of California, Napa Premium Outlets. There are several wineries in Napa but most of them close at 5pm hence waking up late that morning did cause quite a bit of limitation in the places we could visit.
After 2 nights in Fairfield, we made our way to Lake Tahoe. This is a location not to be missed with the breathtaking view and beautiful weather in autumn. Sadly, we did not have much time at Lake Tahoe given the long drive to our next accommodation in Folsom. If time permits, you could pay a visit to Vikingsholm, Tallac Historic Site and Lower Eagle Falls.
Moving from Folsom, we headed straight to Best Western Gateway Yosemite at Oakshurst. This is the nearest town to Yosemite park entrance and boasts of a couple accommodations and for Yosemite visitors who are planning a trip, there is a new Holiday Inn accommodation under construction that you can check out. Personally, I love Best Western Gateway Yosemite. It gives the rustic feel from the moment you stepped into the reception and look at how the kids love the bear statues all around the estate. For nature lovers, you might want to avoid heading to Yosemite on a weekend as there is bound to be a crowd with families heading to Yosemite for picnics and overnight camps. Not to be missed attractions should you only have a day to in Yosemite would be Lake Tenaya (great venue for picnics), Tunnel View, Yosemite Falls (dry during the autumn season), Bridal Veil Falls and Half Dome.
From Yosemite, we headed southwards towards Anaheim, stopping overnight at Bakersfield and for shopaholics, you can swing by Tulare Outlets to quench your shopping thirst. Splitting the drive to Anaheim with an overnight stay in Bakersfield left us with a 3 hour drive and we were in time for lunch when we reached Downtown Disney. There are not many food choices in Downtown Disney for fussy eaters and one might be better off searching for cafes/restaurants in the vicinity. However, for Disneyland and California Adventure Park go-ers, there might be some pre-Disney shopping to do i.e. World of Disney, the Disney Dress Shop and Disney Pins and Traders.
Our last experience has taught us that one day pass would not provide sufficient time in either Disneyland or California Adventure even when Colin and I were a young couple. This time round, with our schedule, we decided on a 2-day park hopper pass in consideration that the little ones might not meet the requirements of most rides in California Adventure Park. As always, time will never be enough at Disneyland particularly with the little ones queuing for the meet and greet. However, if there is any consolation, there is the perk of park opening at 8am in Disneyland for the early birds. For both days, we woke up as early as 6am to get ready for Disneyland and we were able to go for the popular rides (Pirates of the Carribean, Haunted Mansion) before the crowd starts turning in at around 10am. In between our 2-day park hopper pass, we took a day break to visit San Diego. As wildlife parks are aplenty in Australia, we gave San Diego zoo a miss and visited La Jolla Tide Pools and Balboa Park. For people who are into beautiful architecture and museums, you might want to dedicate at least 5-6 hours to explore the attractions in Balboa Park including Spanish Village Art Centre, Museum of Man, Botanical Gardens and Alcazar Gardens.
With San Diego as the most southern part we would visit for this trip, we began to make our way back to San Francisco. Oxnard which is an hour’s drive from downtown LA, is perfect for premium outlets shopaholics as the Camarillo Premium Outlets boasts of a variety of brands for one to shop. En-route to Oxnard, we made a stopover at Lake Hollywood Park for not just photo taking at the Hollywood sign but there is also a nice sheltered playground for the little ones to stretch their legs and run around. If time permits, one can plan a visit to Universal Studios LA for their famous studio tour which is a must do for first timers in LA but this might be better suited for families with older kids as ride restrictions at Universal Studios are generally stricter.
If one is into beautiful architecture, a not-to-missed attraction would be that of Hearst Castle which is an hour’s drive from Atascadero. As we made our way back to San Francisco from Atascadero, we made a stopover at Gilroy Premium Outlets. The layout of Gilroy Premium Outlets requires quite a bit of walking from shops to shops and you might want to consider driving from block to block for efficient shopping experience.
By the time we are at the last leg of the trip, we had a good 3 days in San Francisco and without a doubt, we brought the kids to visit the ever-popular attractions i.e. Fisherman’s Wharf, Painted Ladies and Lombard Street. For ice cream lovers, you might want to include Museum of Ice Cream into your itinerary (although I must say that it would really disappoint one if you are expecting many ice creams to indulge in). Kids do love it though, particularly with the sprinkle pool for them to dip in. On our last day in San Francisco, we made a last shopping trip to San Francisco Premium Outlets and I must say the layout is really great and easy to cover within 3-4h (if you are a real fast shopper).
In a blink of an eye, our 18-day adventure concluded without us realising it and it was time to head back to reality (work or school) the next day after we landed back home. Fortunately for us, Kingsley has been a great traveller and he slept for a good 9 hours in the 15 hours flight before his jet lag kicked in for a week with him waking up at the wee hours to play with us. This 18-day Western US adventure is by far our greatest challenge to manage 2 young ones on a long haul flight and now we are more than ready to take on more challenges to create beautiful memories with them as they grow up.