California Dreamin’ (& Tips for Travel with Two Kids!)

Two weeks ago we packed up our bags and jetted off to C-A-L-I-F-O-R-N-I-A!  It was such a fun adventure, and our first solo vacation as a family of four!  The purpose of the trip – other than the obvious sunny, spring getaway – was to cheer Casey on as he ran the LA Marathon.  Besides the race, we only had one objective in mind.  The beach!!

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Because the finish festival for the marathon was in Santa Monica, we decided to stay there in order to minimize driving (I was really scared of getting stuck in crazy traffic with the boys!).  We found an AMAZING spot just about a mile south of the Santa Monica Pier (more on that in a minute). 

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We spent our first day there traveling and then did the race Expo and dinner out afterward.  On our first morning, we grabbed quick breakfast followed by a stop into a CVS that was a few blocks away.  A tip for beach travel by airplane – find some cheap beach toys!  When you road-trip you can take anything you like, but obviously things like buckets and sand toys do not pack well for airplane travel.  We spent about $10 on sand toys from CVS and they were worth every single penny. 

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The boys ran around digging, filling buckets, throwing sand at each other, etc. and Casey and I were able to relax for the first time in a LONG time.  I said it a lot on our trip, but I feel like we’ve MADE it.  The baby stage is over and the boys love playing together and it’s kind of amazing.  There are great things about all stages of parenthood and childhood of course, but it feels really nice to get a bit of myself back, as well as my marriage.  We talk about a possible third baby sometimes, but right now it’s hard to imagine rocking this boat. 

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Okay, so onto our accommodations!  This was our first time using AirBnB, and it was a total success.  I obsessed over where we would stay quite a bit during the planning, because – as anyone who has traveled with young kids can tell you – having the right space can make or break your trip.  It needs to be kid-friendly, walkable (dragging kids in and out of a car constantly = terrible), accessible to activities, have good sleeping options for everyone, and also have options for evening/naptime adult time.  We totally nailed it. 

We ended up renting a one-bedroom high-rise apartment about a mile south of the Santa Monica Pier (about halfway to Venice), and it was perfect.  We had a giant balcony that looked out over the ocean and mountains in one direction…

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And over the awesome LA territorial landscape and Hollywood Hills in the other direction.  At night, this view was nothing but twinkling city lights – perfection!

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We were one block off of Main Street, which was miles and miles of shops, restaurants, ice cream parlors, and anything else we could possibly need.  We only got in the car twice the entire four days we were there – to go to the race expo, and to watch the marathon.  That is my idea of the perfect trip – I love being able to walk or bike to everything!

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Just below our balcony was the building pool, which was another big reason we chose this spot.  I knew the kids would love the beach, but I also thought they would like mixing it up at the pool.  We did both every day we were there!

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Inside our space we had a full kitchen and a big living room space that was clutter-free and had nice soft carpeting.  As soon as we got there we did a small run to Whole Foods for basics like fruit, hummus, carrot sticks, yogurts, etc. – so the kids had plenty of healthy options, and so we didn’t have to eat out for every single meal. 

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Okay, so onto the sleeping arrangements!  We originally looked for 2-bedroom spots so we could put the kids in a separate room, but they were all way too pricey.  I knew when I saw the pictures of this place though that it would work for us to all sleep together.  My master plan?  We put Graham in a walk-in-closet!

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It might sound strange or mean, but it’s actually a great solution for baby/toddler travel sleep, and we did it a bunch of times when Cullen was a baby too.  Graham is a really light sleeper, and there is NO way he will sleep in a room where he can see us.  He needs a quiet, dark space of his own.  He didn’t cry once going to sleep in here, and he napped and slept really well this whole trip.  It was also SO nice to travel within our own time zone (which we never do), and was much easier on the kids. 

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This was our first time ever flying with a Pack N Play and – other than having one more thing to schlep – it was no big deal.  Delta lets you check them for free, and there was no damage or issue on either end of travel.

Cullen has been in a real bed now for over a year, and he’s way too big for a Pack N Play.  I bought this inflatable toddler bed for him for a trip we took last year, and we’ve gotten great use out of it since. 

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The nice thing about this bed is that it’s just like a regular toddler bed – it fits crib sheets and toddler bedding, which we already had so I didn’t need anything new.  I just packed a crib sheet and gave him an extra pillow off of our bed.  It also comes with it’s own plug-in pump, and folds down into a handy little travel bag.  For air travel, I put this inside the seat of Graham’s carseat (which was zipped into this carseat travel bag), which we checked for free through the airline.  Super easy!

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Cullen is pretty hit or miss on naps these days, but the sun and the sand wore him out so much that I think he napped every day that we were there.  Pretty amazing!  He sleeps like a rock, so it was no big deal to have him in the room with us. 

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Casey and I spent naptimes hanging out and relaxing on the balcony, and waiting for little people to join us when they woke up. 

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We also used the balcony as the main spot for the kids to snack and eat, since I didn’t want them trashing the white carpet inside the apartment.  It was really nice to have fresh fruits, veggies, and snacks on hand.

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As far as getting around town went, I stressed quite a bit ahead of time about what stroller we should take.  In Seattle, we use our BOB Duallie almost exclusively, but I have never flown with it and really didn’t want to.  I knew we would definitely need a stroller though, and since we’d be doing a lot of walking I knew both kids were potentially going to need to use it. 

I ended up settling on taking our single BOB stroller.  Now let me say first that in no way would the BOB manufacturer endorse or support what I am going to show you – I am well aware of that!  That said, this worked for us, and with the right ages of kids it was a reasonable, short-term solution for something like a vacation.  Basically we put Graham in the stroller seat, strapped in as he should be.  And then Cullen hopped onto the footrest and sat between Graham’s legs. 

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I tried doing this when Graham was younger and it didn’t work at all because Graham just kicked Cullen constantly, which was no fun for anyone.  But at almost 18 months old, he understand things like “no kicking” and “make some space” and most of the time they both did really well.  Cullen knew to sit and keep his legs out of the way of the wheel, and he could easily hop on and off as needed.  I was SO glad we chose to travel this way – we used the stroller all day every day!

I also packed my Ergo and tossed it in the bottom of the stroller whenever we left.  If Graham started kicking or Cullen was sleepy and needed a real seat, I just wore Graham on my back.  Super easy!

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There was an awesome boardwalk along the beach that ran right from our building all the way up to the Santa Monica Pier.  It was such a gorgeous spot!

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On Saturday night we checked out the Pier, and of all the rides and games and things to do there – Cullen was dead set on riding this little taxi cab outside the arcade. 

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Easy enough!

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The boys also rode the carousel, which they loved.  They are at such a fun age right now for exploring and travel.

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Sunday morning was the big event – the LA Marathon!!  I was up with Casey around 4am to help him get ready and talk through the nerves.  The nerves were mostly mine, as the weather predicted record heat and I was really anxious about him running in extreme conditions.  He headed off to the starting line and I headed back to bed to wait for the kids to wake up.

I absolutely LOVE spectating races – it is one of my favorite things to do!  But I will admit that LA intimidated me, especially since it was a point-to-point course, which is much harder to jump around than a loop.  Plus, I was on my own with two young kiddos in a totally new city.  But I was determined to get around as much as we possibly could!

I originally planned to start out at mile 16, because I was worried that if I drove any further into the city I’d hit bad traffic trying to leave.  But the boys ended up waking up around 6am (groan), and I realized that I could probably make it to an earlier point on the course if we hustled. 

We went to Mile 12, somewhere along Wilshire , just in time to see the Elite men cruise past at lightning speed.  The fun thing about this race is that it was also the USATF Marathon Championships, so there was a really big pool of talent racing in the elite field!

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The men were followed closely by the pack of elite women leaders…

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And then Ryan Hall rounded the corner right in front of us – seriously awesome!

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Within a few minutes, the “regular” runners started to trickle along, and I scanned the crowd obsessively looking for Casey.  I kept the Graham in the stroller while Cullen jumped around and cheered on the sidewalk, and I fed them a constant stream of snacks to keep everyone happy.

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Right around the time we expected, Casey came running along looking strong and solid, and he ran over for kisses from his cheering squad.  He was really surprised and excited to see us!  We watched him run off and then I immediately packed up the kids and ran back to the car. 

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From the 12 mile marker, I made my way over to mile 17, which I picked out on the map based on accessibility and proximity to where I was before (not knowing anything about the LA neighborhoods).  When I got there, I realized I’d navigated myself into the heart of Beverly Hills!

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The kids sat on the curb and cheered, and we watched for dad again.  At this point, the morning cloud cover had burned off and the sun was shining.  It was starting to get hot, and I could tell that runners were starting to slow down.  We finally saw Casey and I could tell he was hurting.  He ran over and high-fived us and I cheered and yelled and told him I’d see him at the finish. 

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From there, the boys and I headed back into Santa Monica, where I battled four million other people trying to park and get near the finish line.  I finally found a parking lot and then ran close to a mile with the boys, before camping out around mile 25.  Both kids were hot and totally over it at this point, and we were looking about as ragged as the runners.  By the time Casey crossed the finish line, it was 87 degrees and full sun – brutal.  Especially for someone who trained through a Seattle winter!

Even though he finished much slower than he’d hoped for, he was still in great spirits and we were so proud of him for gutting it out on a really hot day.  It was an awesome race and one we’d definitely go back and do again, hopefully on a cooler day.  The boys were so excited to see dad and check out his medal.

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And even though the real hard work was all done by Casey, I will admit that I was pretty proud that I carted two kiddos around and navigated LA by myself, and made it to three different spots along the course.  We had so much fun and I really hope they grow up with great memories of watching us run!

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That night we walked into town and met my cousin and his wife for a yummy dinner.  We made it back to our place just in time to see a gorgeous sunset over the ocean.  California, I love you. 

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We stayed an extra day after the marathon so we could make it a long weekend.  We did some sightseeing…

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And spent all the rest of our time on the beach. 

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I am such a beach bum, and it makes my heart just burst seeing the boys love it so much.  And no trip is complete without the obligatory photo of the kids enjoying vacation together!  Or not…

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It was a fun-filled four days, and it was a really nice getaway after the long winter.  We definitely want to do more West Coast vacations in the future, as the flights were quick and really inexpensive, and staying in our time zone was much easier on the kids (and us!).  I have my eye on San Diego next time!

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Hopefully I touched on a lot of the travel questions that many of you asked on Instagram while we were away, but please feel free to ask anything else in the comments!  Happy Friday!!