If you bought Red Bull in the USA thinking that the drink would follow through with its promise to provide you with wings, then you were entitled to a $10 refund from the company. Why? A court found that Salzburg-based Red Bull was guilty of false advertising because no one who drank it got wings. If you are only hearing about this little cash windfall now, too bad the lawsuit only applied to drinks bought between 2002 and 2014. On the other hand, are you still looking for wings? I’’ve got some beautiful angel wings for you, courtesy of American artist, Collette Miller. She started painting angel wings on buildings in 2012 in Los Angeles. Since that time, the Global Angel Wings Project has spread worldwide.
Angel Wings street art by Colette Miller are supposed to remind us of the good that is inside us despite the mistakes we make.
The Los Angeles Global Wings
Colette Miller is a Los Angeles based creative who has worked in film, music and art. She started the Angel Wings paintings as a way to remind people that people of the angels of the Earth.
In the very beginning I wanted the wings to remind humanity of their true, divine selves – the self we all have that is our higher nature.
The wings are an Instagram craze because they are human-sized street art. Pretty irresistible if you ask me.
Colette has given a TedX talk on the wings as well where she talks about how she started her street art project when she was driving around Los Angeles and saw all the empty walls in the city. Frankly, having experienced Los Angeles traffic myself, I can see that she probably sat in her car a fair bit and it would be a short step to hallucinating angels everywhere!!
There are now 25+ angel wings in Los Angeles.
We tried to find the first angel wings (near 5th and Main in downtown Los Angeles) which used to be the largest outdoor drugs market in the world. It may no longer have the title but there is still plenty of homeless people and unsavoury activity around the neighbourhood. I found it shocking to see people living out of shopping carts and tents in an American city this rich.
We hightailed it out of there in our suburban Dodge Caravan rental car which might as well have said ‘Rob Me’ on it. We found two of them in the Downtown Los Angeles Arts District (about 1/2 a mile from the previous location).
Angel City Brewery is covered in street art including Miller’s Angel Wings by the entrance. We stopped by the brewery for a drink amidst the city’s hipster crowd. On a Sunday afternoon, lots of young people were playing card games and hacky sack and drinking craft beer surrounded by children and dogs in a warehouse.There was music blaring and a craft market in one corner of the space. Really, it couldn’t be more of a cliche. Not that it stopped us from having a drink (or two).
My husband decided he was going to go with the Weeping Angels look from Doctor Who. Don’t blink!
There are also a pair of wings on a silver gate at Art Share which is also in the Los Angeles Arts District. Here I am trying to recreate John Singer Sargent’s Portrait of Madame X pose which was so shocking to Parisian society when it came out. Yeah, it was the best I could come up with.
The Global Angel Wings Project, an Instagram phenomenon started by artist Colette Miller
Orange County is the typical Southern California paradise that the world expects from SoCal. No wonder then that there have been so many recent television shows set in the area, including 4 seasons of the O.C. and reality television fodder, Laguna Beach, The Hills and The Real Housewives of Orange County. If people are going to be beautiful, wealthy and live a charmed life, the least they can do is let us watch them live out their lives and provide us with entertainment. So why should you visit? I’ve listed below 30 reasons to visit Orange County in California. Get off the couch, folks, and go live the life you see on television even if its only for a vacation.
Sunny, affluent Orange County is the dream California that advertisers sell.
The End of the Road
The famous Pacific Coast Highway ends at Dana Point in Orange County. If you’re going to do a road trip it makes sense to go to one end or another of the road, right? We did the smart thing and headed south on the PCH towards guaranteed sunshine in southern California.
Orange County is blessed with miles of sand and surf. But the kicker? It’s also got near-perfect weather all year-round so you can actually enjoy the beach for more than just the summer.
Another perfect beach day for residents.
Crystal Cove State Park, one of the best beaches in the OC, is 3.5 miles of beachfront perfection. There are lots of activities at the park – hiking, stand-up paddle boarding, kayaking etc. We went for the obvious simple pleasures – boogie boarding and swimming.
The beautiful Crystal Cove StatePark.
The OC is famous for its tidal pools. We are talking hours of entertainment for inquisitive kids while you hang out in the sunshine on a beach chair.
Explorig tidal pools left in the rocks.
As you would expect, surfing is a big part of outdoor sports in the OC. Huntington Beach, known as ‘surf city’, is home to one of the largest world surfing competitions.
Get a panoramic view of the OC from 500 feet in the air on the Big Orange Balloon at Orange County Great Park. Bonus: It’s really cheap!
The tethered helium ballon takes passengers up into the sky for a panoramic view.
You can visit Mickey Mouse and friends in Anaheim – a theme park experience which can be made more fun with Julie’s 25 Secret Tips for Disneyland. Really need I say more?
A local favourite, you get delicious burgers and milkshakes with a view over the beach below.
California’s famous In-n-Out burger is headquartered in Irvine. They are famous for the freshness of their burgers so you know their stores in the area have to be good.
For dinner with a view, check out Splashes at the Surf & Sand Resort at Laguna Beach. The food was good, but the view was amazing. It’s right on the beach perfect for walking off some of the calories that you just imbibed.
Irvine has hundreds of miles of on-road and off-road dedicated biking paths. Obviously, these paths are good for hiking too.
A bike basket filled for a day at the beach.
A planned city built by the Corporation of Irvine, Irvine is pretty, landscaped and has roads that make sense. It consistently gets rated as one of the safest cities in the USA.
All tha sunshine and no rain does mean the non-ocean view is a desert landscape,
Orange County Great Park is a former Marine base turned into 1300 acres for outdoor enjoyment, including a Farmer’s Market, sports fields and playgrounds.
Great cycle trails but watch out for those hills!
Perhaps your idea of outdoor exercise, is flexing your credit card finger muscles. Even the mall at Fashion Island in Newport Beach has an ocean view!
In the Pageant of the Masters, European paintings by Old Masters are faithfully recreated on a stage by live actors.
I have to admit I did think that people getting dressed up and re-enacting Old Masters paintings for the Pageant of the Masters would be a good laugh. I came away impressed at the sheer pageantry of the show. It’s art, theatre and Hollywood magic all combined into one impressive show narrated by a booming Morgan Freeman voice.
Less fancy, and across the street from the Festival of the Arts/Pageant of the Masters is the Sawdust Art Festival which can basically be described as Etsy in the sunshine with sawdust.
In fact, there is art everywhere in the streets of Laguna Beach. What’s not to love?\
No, this isn’t in London. It’s a sculpture in downtown Laguna Beach.
Fun Day Trips
‘You can take a day trip to pretty Catalina Island from either Dana Point or Newport Beach.
You can also go whale watching trips from Newport Beach.
Both Los Angeles and San Diego are a couple of hours from the OC. Traffic, however, can make this trip much longer. Sure it could be a fun day trip or you could just go crazy sitting in the car for hours.
Orange County has so much to do but is also located near other great destinations.
Great Hotels and Transport
The Resort at Pelican Hill in Newport Beach is a fantastic place to stay (with or without kids). Set on 500+ acres with accommodation in little bungalows and a golf course, pools, spa, restaurants, you may be loathe to leave this hotel. It would, however, be a shame to miss the rest of the OC!
The OC has an airport named after John Wayne who used to live in nearby Newport Beach. Technically it is an international airport (probably because it flies to Cabo in Mexico?)
There is a super-cute Laguna Beach Trolley that runs a shuttle service around the town for free on weekends. Of course, the trolley starts at 11AM on Saturdays and Sundays because anything else would be uncivilised.
The cute little Laguna Beach Trolley operates on weekends to transport visitors.
For more suggestions, check out A Local’s Guide to Orange County by a blogger friendwho grew up in the area. Have you been to Orange County? What else do you recommend?
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The famed landscape of Big Sur in California is nearly vertical with the Santa Lucia mountains behind you and the rocky cliffs to the sea in front of you. On our Pacific Coast Highway road trip through Big Sur this summer, both natural and man-made marvels were spread out before us. The PCH is merely a strip of masking tape stuck onto the side of the mountains, a thin man-made edge where tourists flock to peer over the sheer drop to the ocean below.
We did the drive over the course of a day (primarily because the luxury accommodation in the area is not family-friendly). Moreover, my kids were over the rugged natural beauty of the coastline after an hour. (“It’s just trees!” “Why is there no WiFi?” “Can we have our iPads?”). Heathens.
A photo gallery of our Pacific Coast Highway road trip through Big Sur.
I’ve always wanted to see Big Sur ever since I saw some of Ansel Adams’ photographs of the area as a child. Ansel Adams lived on the Monterey Peninsula in the mid-20th century for over 20 years which gave him plenty of time to photograph the area. Adams was instrumental in protecting Big Sur as a conservation area for future generations.
If we join together to accomplish the preservation of our Big Sur Coast I will feel I have had a life fully lived.
This quote comes from a man who is a legend for his black and white photographs of the American landscape! You may not recognise the name but you will probably recognise some of his photos if you see them.
A Road Trip of Big Sur
Big Sur is a 90 mile stretch between Carmel and San Simeon along the central coast of California. Approximately 3-4 million tourists take this Pacific Coast Highway road trip through Big Sur.
There are plenty of road-side pit stops you can make to take in the fantastic views. We only stopped for lunch in Big Sur because the state parks were all closed when we visited. There were two major forest fires in the area.
The Santa Lucia mountains shrouded in mist.
Lots of secluded beaches because it’s pretty hard to get down to them!
Rock carved by the steady lapping of water.
Built in 1932, the concrete spans of the Bixby Bridge are widely photographed.
The rugged coastline kept most settlers away until the the 1960’s.
The rugged coastline were the sea and the mist meet on the horizon.
This is the sort of shoreline that really needs a lighthouse.
More sand, sea and rocks. Repetitive but still pretty.
My kids though the chipmunks were the cutest. Too much Alvin & the Chipmunks I think.
We could have watched these two play all day.
The mountains recede further from the coastline as you reach St Simeon.
Practicalities of Visiting Big Sur with Kids
Nepenthe has been a local institution since the 1940’s when the Fassett family bought the building from Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth. Falling in love with the view, the two Hollywood stars had built a cabin getaway on the site. The love shack never got used because they divorced in short order. Nepenthe is still owned and operated by the Fassett family. The current building was built by a student of Frank Lloyd Wright according to the vision of the Fassetts.
The Phoenix statue which is the symbol of Nepenthe.
Nepenthe is famous for its burger which we thought was pretty good. It’s a big rambling restaurant with fantastic views and decent food. Overall, I thought the place lived more on its bygone hype and the fact that there are limited places to eat in Big Sur. There’s usually a wait for the restaurant but you can easily kill time wandering around outside and in the fabulous gift shop downstairs.
You can see how big the forest fire was in the summer of 2016. 90,000 acres under threat!
Thanks to its conservation status, there are only a few places to stay in Big Sur. There are campgrounds in the state parks as well as some nicer hotels in the area. The area has limited WiFi.
If you want to stay in Big Sur in relative comfort, it’s a good idea to ditch the kids. Both the Ventana Inn and Spa and the Post Ranch Inn takes rustic chic to new levels. Both luxury hotels are also adults-only. The Ventana Inn and Spa was built by writer Lawrence Specter from his proceeds from the iconic film, Easy Rider. The Post Ranch Inn, an old ranch which was the homestead of W.B. Post in the 19th century, is still owned and run by the Post family. By the way, the Post Ranch Inn has a portfolio of Ansel Adams limited edition signed prints on display.
Accommodation is much cheaper and plentiful at either end of Highway One (as well as kid friendly). We bookended our Pacific Coast Highway road trip through Big Sur by staying at the Monterey Bay Plaza and Spa Hotel at one end of the drive and then Auto Aircamp in sunny Santa Barbara at the other end. After all the mist and cool weather of the central coast of California, we were really glad for some sunshine.
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Santa Barbara prides itself on being the California Riviera (so much so that its trademarked the slogan). A Riviera anywhere in the world conjures up images of beachside affluence and glamour. When you think of contemporary cool, you think of Brooklyn. What do you get when you mix the Riviera and Brooklyn? Something that is uniquely Santa Barbara – wine tasting rooms, street art and warehouse conversions that add a bit of gritty urban edge to this relaxed coastal city. Contemporary cool radiates out of the Funk Zone in Santa Barbara.
There’s plenty to do even with kids in the Funk Zone district of Santa Barbara
Where is the Funk Zone in Santa Barbara?
The Funk Zone district is wedged between the Pacific Ocean, Highway 101 and the Santa Barbara Amtrak Station. The perimeter streets of the area are State, Cabrillo, Garden and Montecito. It is a short distance to the well-touristed Stearns Wharf area.
In historical times, this neighbourhood held the manufacturing and marine industries in the area. In that respect, it is similar to Cannery Row in Monterey. Since the late 1980’s the area’s warehouses have been taken over by artists and alternative businesses.
You can see more Tolix chairs in this warehouse conversion cafe.
Fear not, hipsters, the funk in the Funk Zone refers not to anything smelling funky but rather the funky quirkiness of the area. Possibly in ages past it did smell funky with all the manufacturing and the fish nearby.
Exposed brick wall, tin tiles, industrial lighting & vintage print. An A+ tablescape from the Brooklyn School of Interior Design.
5 Things to do in the Funk Zone
The Santa Barbara Surfing Museum is dedicated to the sport of surfing. Keep in mind that they are only open for a few hours on Sunday though. Keeping regular hours doesn’t really gel with the whole Hang 10 lifestyle.
The Urban Wine Trail takes you around 20+ wine tasting rooms for local vineyards. Many of the tasting rooms are in the Funk Zone district.
Santa Barbara Winery (established in 1962) was around long before Funk Zone got trendy.
The Arts Fund is a community gallery exhibiting local emerging talent, including teen artists. There is a Funk Zone Art Walk every Friday evening from 5-8 pm where the galleries stay open for visitors.
I love the dripping paint exterior of this arts community centre.
2. Eat Up
For casual fare, the Lucky Penny has salads and sandwiches as well as excellent coffee. The Lark is a bit more fancy with its farm-to-table dining ethos.
The Lucky Penny cafe is covered in pennies.
Mixed color Tolix chairs go with the industrial vintage vibe.
3. Drink Some More
There are so many wine tasting rooms, bars etc. that it would be criminal not to keep these enterprises afloat. If you are a beer lover, there’s locally brewed craft beer at the Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company.
Flowers in a vintage bathtub, too cool for school
4. Brave Traffic
For cycling fun of both the two wheel and the four wheel surrey kind, check out Wheel Fun Rentals. We had done the silly surrey in Monterey though and were ready for something more epic. Unfortunately, the kids still aren’t tall enough for Segways (available from Segway of Santa Barbara).
Caving into the kids’ pleas, we decided to test the limits of California road safety with a three-wheeled SB Buggie. Basically it is a two seater scooter that putters along on regular roads with the minimum of steering and ignition. If you want to turn you need to do a really wide turn and hope no one is coming fast towards you. There’s no reverse function either. It is a lot of fun though once you get used to it.
We looked silly but we had a lot of fun.
There’s plenty of shopping available in the area from the random touristy stuff to the more avant-garde stuff.
Our favourite shopping was in a truck parked on the street. Technically Stabiles calls itself a mobile boutique (not a shopping truck) that sells artisanal goods. We bought a tillandsia (an air plant) that sits on its own artisanal stand (excuse me, sculpture).
A shopping truck selling home accessories.
Air plant sculptures done by local artist, Sam Guzman. Loved it so much, I bought one.
For other things to do, check out the Funk Zone website for the latest happenings. Spending the day here is an enjoyable alternative to the white bread affluence of the rest of Santa Barbara (with or without kids).
A Photo Gallery of the Funk Zone
It’s much easier to show you the contemporary cool that is the Funk Zone rather than to explain it in words.
Industrial paraphernalia used as planters.
My kids were fascinated with the Lucky Penny’s penny coins exterior.
I could wile away the time with a glass or two of wine here.
I love the use of old vintage windows as partitions.
A whole store devoted to stand up paddle boards.
Practicalities for Visiting
There are a couple of hotels in the Funk Zone in Santa Barbara, including Hotel Indigo (an eco-friendly boutique hotel) and the Harbor View Inn (across the street from the beach).
In keeping with our search for vintage coolness, we stayed at AutoCamp Santa Barbara which has restored vintage Airstreams available to hire similar to a hotel room. Our Airstream was adorable with a tiny kitchen, tinier bathroom and flat-screen TV. We had a double bed for ourselves and a pull out double bed for the children. Outside the Airstream, there is a little patio area with a gas grill, a couple of Adirondack chairs and two adult bicycles for your use.
Autocamp Santa Barbara rents out restored vintage Airstreams for tourists.
AutoCamp Santa Barbara has its 6 Airstreams located at one edge of a regular trailer park. I wondered what the families who live in the rest of the trailer park make of the steady stream of tourists who use AutoCamp. The Airstreams were all in use when we used AutoCamp. The family next door to us were tourists from London too. They were bemoaning how crazy expensive the USA was because the value of the British pound has plummeted thanks to Brexit.
Our kids absolutely loved the Airstream. My husband and I felt we were sandwiched in a sardine can. I preferred the Bacara Resort and Spa which is where we stayed last time we were in Santa Barbara. It’s got a great spa, pools, beach access and nice views of the oil rigs off the California coast. The Airstream was a fun experience but really it’s not my thing.
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The mind boggles when you think about how old the California redwoods are. When some of these trees in Muir Woods were saplings 900 years ago, the world would have been a vastly unrecognisable place. To put things in perspective, in 1144 AD, the French and Germans were off on a doomed Second Crusade. In 1150 AD Angkor Wat in Cambodia was completed as the Khmer empire reached its height. Nearly a millennium later, the Middle East is still a mess (albeit a different kind) and Angkor Wat is a well-trod tourist attraction.
We visited the California redwoods at Muir Woods with kids in tow because it was easily accessible to San Francisco. Even though we did not have time to visit Yosemite or the UNESCO world-heritage listed Redwood National Park, we still wanted our children to see a primeval forest.
Easy trails and its proximity to San Francisco make Muir Woods perfect for a family visit.
A Quick Intro to California Redwoods
Folk hero, Woodie Guthrie, wove the California redwoods into the American popular consciousness with his catchy song, This Land is Your Land. Luckily, the redwoods are mentioned in the first verse because, let’s face it, most people only know the first verse of a lot of songs.
This land is your land, this land is my land.
From California to the New York Island.
From the Redwood Forest, to the Gulf Stream waters,
This land was made for you and me.
Woodie Guthrie from This Land is Your Land
So, I grew up hearing about redwood forests without actually knowing what they were. It took a trip to Muir Woods to clear up what exactly redwoods are and how they are different from sequoia trees.
Why are California Redwoods special?
Trees similar to redwoods grew along the Western US coast hundreds of millions of years ago. Nowadays, there are two types of redwood. The coastal redwood which grows along the coast and its near relative the giant sequoia which you find in Yosemite National Park.
Redwoods get their name from the tannic acid in their bark which protects them from fire and fungal attacks.
The difference between sequoias and coastal redwoods
The coastal redwoods are taller reaching a height of up to 380 feet compared to the 300 feet of the sequoias. Redwoods are younger (up to 2000 years old) while sequoias can be up to 3200 years old.
This tree trunk that was felled in the early 20th century has the passage of time marked on its rings.
Redwoods are about half the diameter in width. The bark of redwoods are also about a 1/3 less thick than that of the giant sequoias. So we are talking tall and thin versus shorter and wider.
My kids could easily fit into one of the splits in a tree trunk.
The feed and care of redwoods
Coastal redwoods drink approximately 500 gallons of water per tree! In the winter, the area gets about 40 inches of rainfall per year. In the summer, the redwoods get most of the water from the fog and then when the water hits the soil, more water gets taken up by the shallow root system.
In winter Redwood creek swells with torrential rainstorms.
Burls at the bottom of a tree are dormant buds that can sprout a new tree.
The trees roots go down only about 10 feet deep but spread out nearly 100 feet. You would think such a tall tree would just be top heavy and topple over!
So much ground cover in the forest.
We spent considerable time looking for a four leaf clover only to discover it was California sorrel, a different plant.
The undergrowth is so dense and you can hear the rustling of leaves and animals around you.
Why visit the California Redwoods at Muir Woods with kids?
We saw a family in front of us arguing with their stroppy teenage daughter who clearly did not want to spend the day with her family. So why should you visit Muir Woods if you are in the area?
It’s a short hop, skip and a ride away from San Francisco.
California redwoods are the tallest living things in the world (cool fact for little kids)
The hikes can be as short as 45 minutes or as long as hours depending on your abilities/interest.
The boardwalk paths make using strollers easy if you have toddlers with you.
You’d have to be a really stroppy teen to not appreciate the quiet and peace. Or, give them something really depressing to think about by telling them that their problems are a speck of dust in the vastness that is time as evidenced by the redwoods.
People have said that Muir Woods is a crowded tourist trap. I didn’t think it was but, even if it were, so? The redwoods are still amazing to see in real life. Neither did we feel it was particularly crowded. Sure, you don’t have the forest to yourself but we didn’t expect that level of seclusion either. I may have lived in Europe too long – for crowded you need to be in the tiny towns of Italy during holiday season.
History of Muir Woods
Redwood Canyon, the area that covers Muir Woods was a part of the many redwood forests that covered Northern California. In the early days, the trees in Redwood Canyon were saved from being cut down because it was a particularly remote area. Afterwards, it belonged to the landholdings of a private owner, Rancho Sausalito. The ranch got sold in the 1890’s and attention finally turned to the area. A local businessman and his wife, William and Elizabeth Kent, bought the land in 1907 to save it from developers and donated it to the federal government. The same president that created the first national monument, Devils Tower in Wyoming, designated the valley the United States’ 10th national monument in 1908.
As a member of Congress, in 1916 Kent also introduced legislation that created the National Park Service. The NPS is celebrating its centenary this year.
Muir Woods is administered by the National Park Service.
The national monument was named after the early conservationist, John Muir, who felt it was a great honour.
This is the best tree-lover’s monument that could possibly be found in all of the forests of the world.
The redwoods in Muir Woods are not the oldest of the redwoods. They are ‘merely’ on average 600-800 years old. The oldest redwood in Muir Woods is about 1200 years old.
The aptly-named Cathedral Grove trees soar into the sky like church spires.
Visiting Muir Woods National Monument
Muir Woods National Monument is a 560 acre park with 6 miles of trails. The main canyon trails are paved and an easy walk. The park office has maps with marked trails for you to buy onsite. Check out this website for some easy 2-5 mile hikes in Muir Woods. My 10-year olds had no problem with the easy 1/2 day hike we did in Muir Woods.
Paved trails make it easy for children, including younger children in strollers.
If that is not exciting enough for you, unpaved trails out of the canyon connect with the trails at Mt. Tamalpais State Park nearby. William Kent and others wanted to extend Muir Woods beyond its original area but they couldn’t because of the National Monument designation. Instead, there is a fairly seamless connection with Mt. Tamalpais State Park which was established in 1928 and de facto extended Muir Woods.
This path leads to the Canopy Trail from which you can access the state park or return to Muir Woods.
In the early days, visitors were allowed to climb on and around the trees! Needless to say, such activity wasn’t so good for the trees. There are signs everywhere to stay on the paved trails.
Although everyone says Muir Woods is busy, we found plenty of opportunity to strike out on our own.
Muir Woods National Monument is 12 miles away from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and about a 1/2 hour drive. There is parking available but it does get busy!
If you are like us and do not have time to visit Yosemite National Park, I would strongly urge you to visit the California redwoods at Muir Woods with kids. The California redwoods are magnificent and encourage you to think about what a small place you occupy in the world. A little retrospection and humility is good for everyone, including children!