Sep 14

Family Vacation on the Gulf Coast

Kelly Blumenthal is a long time Mom Mapper and an advocate for finding the best places for the family when traveling.   As both a parent and artist, she has made paintings for the Breast Cancer Auction – Komen Foundation. This past summer Kelly and her family visited the Gulf Coast region.   She has been kind enough to write a blog about this amazing place.

Families from the Mid-south flock to the cooler breezes of the Gulf Coast Region in the summertime. The refreshing salt air, leisurely pace, and family togetherness make a win-win for travelers.

From the Fort Morgan Peninsula to Pensacola, this region offers a variety of activities for serious beach goers to families who like experiential travel.

You can take excursions to beach trails in a variety of habitats, or enjoy touristy fun in Gulf Shores. My tween, teen, and techie husband enjoyed the mix of beach time and excursions. Whether we were searching for Ghost crabs at night, or using a fishing net to study the fish swimming under our feet, all provided hours of fun. Here are some of our favorite places to visit:

kids, travel, fun

Mobile Bay Ferry – Noted as “the Gulf-Coast’s most scenic drive”:   Ferries run across Mobile Bay connecting the Fort Morgan Peninsula and Dauphine Island. The trip is about 40 minutes. The ferry is great for bird watching and dolphin spotting.


Fort Morgan, Alabama:  If you are history buffs or have children that enjoy studying the American Civil War, this is a must see. Located on the tip of the Fort Morgan Peninsula, across from the ferry port. Fort Morgan is a historical settlement with original buildings. You can explore the large fortifications, bunkers, and tunnels.  They have an excellent gift shop and museum building on site, as well.

Fort Morgan

Fort Morgan

Dauphine Island, Estuarium at the Dauphine Island Sea Lab:   A research based museum featuring the unique wildlife of this estuary habitat.  Experience films, exhibits, and hands on stations with sea creatures. Complete the visit thru a salt marsh via a stroll on the boardwalk outside.

Lulu’s Restaurant at Homeport Marina, Gulf Shores:  Situated by a marina and is a complex with restaurants, live music, hula hoops, and balls in large sandy outdoor play area. It is also a farm to table restaurant, started by Lulu Buffet, the sister of musician Jimmy Buffet. There is the Mountain of Youth, a four level climbing extravaganza for kids. It spoke to their inner pirate.  You can even walk the plank, at the very top, if brave enough.

Gulf Coast Trapeze

Climbing structure

Gulf Shores Park:  Recommended as a must see by locals. This is a system of greenways connecting Orange Beach & Gulf Shores to the beautiful Gulf Shores Park. It is a wonderful trail system to bike ride as a family. Choose from 14 miles of paved paths in 6 different ecosystems.  We took the Rosemary Dune Trail which leads to a Butterfly Garden and Boulder Park, a climbing rock play area. The path is flanked by a pine forest. The trail passes through an alligator viewing swamp. We encountered vibrant dragon flies, a gopher tortoise, and  butterflies.


Gulf Coast Back Country Trail

Sea & Suds, Gulf Shore, AL:   A family tradition for many years. A cozy yet open eatery built over the water. Pure and simple, with friendly service. The kids will be entertained by walking on the giant decks that encapsulate the restaurant. Sit at the oyster bar and enjoy watching the oyster shucking, first hand.

Lillian’s Pan Pizza, Perdido Key, FL:  A pizza restaurant that serves a wide variety of delicious pizzas in addition to pastas, Italian specialities, salads, sandwiches, and desserts. Kids and adults will both be happy with the selections. An original restaurant enjoyed both by locals and tourists.

Visit the National Naval Aviation Museum, Pensacola, Florida: A FREE 350,000 SQ FT  museum of exhibit space. Visit this historical museum if you have time, or make it your number one priority. Spend a morning or afternoon here, exploring many facets of aviation history. There is also a space exhibit and a restaurant on premises if you need to refuel.

Most of all, make time to soak up the beach sand and waves.  On our last night, our family enjoyed studying the constellations. The stars shone bright, without the glare of city lights, and appeared limitless in their number and density.


May 13

Stuck in the Airport with Kids: Top 10 U.S. Airports for Long Layovers

While the availability of activities, access to kid-friendly attractions, and the destination itself can be major factors to take into account when planning family travel,  the “getting there” is often times the biggest challenge in itself. Whether you are planning a road trip, taking a cruise, or flying for your upcoming family vacation, there are a number of ways to avoid painful travel experiences and reduce the stress of traveling altogether. If you plan on flying, you can never guarantee a trip free of delays or layovers, so our friends at FlipKey have put together a list of the top kid-friendly airports in the U.S.  These airports offer a variety of kid-friendly amenities as well as designated family areas, and are all conveniently located within close proximity to great family vacation spots. Here are the top five on the list:


Chicago O’Hare

One of the world’s busiest airports is also one of the best kid-friendly terminals in the country. The airport boasts multiple play areas, including Kids on the Fly in Terminal 2. The 2,000 foot playground installed by the Chicago Children’s Museum features airport-themed climbing structures that the museum says allow kids to, “play, pretend, and practice skills.” The airport also has many kid-friendly, post-security dining options, including Garett’s Popcorn (Terminal 1) and Macaroni Grill (Terminal 3). While O’Hare is a busy international airport with popular flights to and from London, Toronto, and Frankfurt, we recommend avoiding it when you travel abroad with kids because the international terminal does not feature all the family-friendly amenities of the domestic terminals.

San Francisco

The airport includes nurseries in Terminals 1, 2, and 3; Kids’ Spot play areas in three locations, and three different aquariums in Terminal 1 before security. Dedicated family lanes also help families get through security at their own pace. The convenient security lanes can be helpful on very long layovers, as SFO’s location makes it relatively easy to escape the airport and explore San Francisco for an hour or two between flights. SFO is so dedicated to keeping your family happy and engaged between flights that they have put together self-guided tours of the airport terminals. The tours will lead you and your kids to the various exhibits, play areas, and airport features that make SFO unique. They also include questions and challenges to occupy the little ones. There’s no better way to spend a long layover than taking the family on a treasure hunt.

Boston Logan

Families facing a layover in Boston will find the airport well-equipped to keep your kids entertained. Two Kid Port play areas, created with the Boston Children’s Museum, are located in Terminals A and C. Like O’Hare, Logan’s indoor playgrounds feature plane and tower shaped climbing structures. These play spaces also include seating for parents, as well as an area for watching TV. Keeping the youngest jet setters in mind, Logan also features rocking chairs, family restrooms, and rooms for nursing mothers who want some space and privacy.


Considering a family trip to Hawaii but worried about how the kids will handle long flights? Think about connecting through Phoenix. Phoenix Sky Harbor is one of the five most popular airports in the lower 48 for flights to Hawaii, the others being Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, and Las Vegas.

One of the biggest perks about flying to Hawaii from Phoenix is that the airport has four play areas for kids. The flight across the Pacific is long, and it’s better to let the kids wear themselves out beforehand so they won’t be running up and down the narrow airplane aisles all the way to Honolulu.


Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson airport is the busiest airport in the world, and also one of the coolest airports for kids to visit. In addition to its two play areas, the Atlanta airport features a fully assembled skeleton of Yangchuanosaurus—a dinosaur that lived in China during the Jurassic period. This particular dinosaur now lives in the Hartsfield-Jackson Atrium, to the amazement of children and parents passing through.

Hartsfield-Jackson also features an Airport Art program that includes artworks and rotating exhibits that delight passengers of all ages. The Youth Art Galleries on concourses D, E, and T display art projects by Georgia students.



The music capital of the South puts its reputation on display in Nashville International Airport. Hit the airport at the right time and you’ll be lucky enough to catch live musical performances on one of the airport’s four stages. 80 to 100 bands perform at the airport each year, and Thursday and Friday afternoons are the best times to catch a show.

The airport also has an extensive public art program, including permanent installations and rotating exhibits.

For kids with the kind of energy that can’t be burned off enjoying art and music, the airport also features three play areas – one in each terminal. Airport guide, TravelNerd ranked Nashville the sixth most kid-friendly airport thanks to its three play areas, entertainment, and Redbox DVD vending machines.

Nashville is a regional hub serving 49 markets. It’s a great connection point for travelers headed to Memphis, Indianapolis, and Raleigh/Durham. The most popular flights to and from the Music City connect to Atlanta, Dallas, Denver, and Chicago.

Minneapolis St. Paul

Stuck in Minneapolis St. Paul between flights? This hub, which connects major US cities with Canadian airports and other international destinations, is subject to weather-related delays that may be impossible to avoid – especially if you’re traveling in winter. The good news is that it’s a great place to spend a few hours between flights because the airport is conveniently located near Mall of America and other local attractions.

Light Rail Transit connects MSP to downtown Minneapolis and Mall of America. The ride takes about 12 minutes each way and children under five ride free when accompanied by a ticketed adult. The train also provides convenient access to Mall of America, which could be worthy of a vacation itself. This modern American icon is home not only to shopping, but also to movie theaters, an Aquarium, and experiential stores from American Girl and Lego. Not to mention Nickelodeon Universe: this kid-centric indoor amusement park comes complete with characters and rides for all ages.

For layovers too short to leave the airport, there are two play areas located right in the terminals that have aviation themes. There are also rooms for nursing mothers and a family center where parents and children can relax together and take advantage of amenities such as a family bathroom, rocking chairs, and cribs.

Las Vegas

McCarran airport is a stop on the way between Southwestern destinations and major cities like Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Seattle. For travelers with kids, it’s not a bad place to pass an hour or two between flights.

For the kids, McCarran features a huge unsupervised kids’ play area in Terminal D. The area has play structures and an interactive control tower. The airport is also home to some cool vintage planes, which will garner the attention of kids interested in aviation. The Las Vegas airport has also appeared in many Hollywood movies, so you can entertain the family by finding spots where famous scenes fromUp in the AirOcean’s 13, and Rush Hour were filmed.


Seattle-Tacoma offers a host of family-friendly amenities from car seat and stroller rentals to a private room for nursing mothers, complete with adjustable lighting and rocking chairs. The Mother’s room is situated in the Kids Play Area, so parents can easily take care of multiple kids. (It’s also located across from the Seattle Tap Room, so parents can take care of themselves as well.)

Cascadia Kids, a family travel website in the Pacific Northwest, highlights the airport’s rocking chairs as a major attraction for parents and children alike. Lora Shinn writes, “Near the gorgeous, floor-to-ceiling central terminal window, Sea-Tac offers wooden rocking chairs, so you can rock a toddler and watch the aircraft… Or let the kids rock while you eat lunch (it’s essentially the dining area for the food court).”

For more information on these airports’ family-friendly amenities, check out these resources:

Nov 11

iPhone Apps for Mapping Out Holiday Travel

With so many new smart phone travel products on the market everyday, there are a lot of great resources to help parents make informed choices about where they are going and how to get there. The majority of family travel apps fall into three categories:

  • trip planning
  • travel games to keep the kids entertained during the trip
  • map apps (my favorite)

But let’s face it, it is difficult to sift through the hundreds of apps out there to find the real gems. As a parent, avid traveler, lover of maps and app developer, I’ve put together this primer on some of the amazing things map apps can do as well as my shortlist of “must-have” family travel apps.

APIs: Getting Around A Map App

The basis of any good location-based app is a map that shows you where you are and what is around you. There are several map APIs (or programming interfaces) available, but Google’s Map API is most widely used because it allows us app developers to build on top of the Google’s already extensive map data.

Google’s Map API uses both address and latitude and longitude coordinates (latlong for short). For most purposes, address information is good enough to find locations, but latlong coordinates are even better for finding “hidden” places – like that playground in the middle of a park that can’t be found by street address alone.

Lists: Helping You Find the Good Stuff

Lists are another aspect of any good map app.  Lists are really helpful those who either know where they are going or just want to see what is around without looking at the map. A listing like this one from ikidny is easy to read and helps you browse locations and review the distance or time it takes to get there. These features utilize your phone’s GPS capabilities and sometimes communicate with an external website to transfer the key pieces of data back and forth and compute the distance. Most listings, like the one used by ikidny, will also provide a map option.

Interactivity, Video, and More: Personalizing Your Mapping Experience and Bringing Travel Content to Life

Every good navigation app has its own voice and perspective designed to give you valuable insight about what to expect when you get to your destination. Apps like TripDoc feature content from key travel bloggers and uses icons to highlight specific categories like hotels, shopping, restaurants and activities. It also incorporates ways for you to interact with maps – and your friends – by letting you make notes and email your recommendations to friends and family.

Apps like Sunday Drive allow you to interact with map data in other useful ways. Sunday Drive helps you find several places that are in the same general area and access driving directions or route information. Knowing where the nearest coffee shop, park or playground nearby a big attraction always makes an excursion go a lot smoother!

Improvements in smartphone and video technology are also enabling more and more map apps to allow you to view video within an app.  Noteworthy examples are Milwaukee Loves Kids and Madison Loves Kids by Julie Henning. By providing a video along with maps, and detailed text descriptions, these apps paint a much more vivid picture of each place than is possible through photos and text alone.

My app, Mom Maps, takes advantage of these kinds of interactive features to personalize your mapping experience and adds another layer of context with reviews and ratings from a diverse community of parents and family travel experts like Travel Mamas and Family Travel Forum. It’s like getting the inside scoop from a friend in the know on what’s worth your time and what makes the cut when it comes to family and kid-friendly… and, of course, you can return the favor by adding your own opinions to the mix.

Another example of the state-of-the-art in map apps is the hugely popular SitOrSquat. Like its name suggests, it provides critical information when you need it most – finding the closest bathroom wherever you are. SitOrSquat includes pictures, text, ratings and reviews, panning, great search capability, favorites, news, tutorials for using the app, and more. This sophisticated set of features sits on top a complex system of server scripts, requiring a seemless link between the app and back-end server necessitating all sorts of data flow and manipulation including actual position, desired position, search dependencies, panning and scrolling, and an interactive user interface.

The Future of Map Apps

What’s next? Map apps will continue to push the boundaries of what’s possible in search, user interaction and social engagement. Not only will they lead you to great places, they will lead you to great products and deals near you and create new ways for you to connect with family and friends in location-based ways. There is so much innovation happening in this space right now, it’s truly an exciting time to be a developer!

My Must Have Map Apps for Family Travel

Mom Maps: Feel like a local everywhere.  Finds kid-friendly parks, playgrounds, restaurants, and indoor play areas around you.  Includes ratings and reviews, robust search capability, and allows you to share your favorites via email or facebook.  Available on iphone with plans to roll out Android soon!

ikidNY: A favorite of locals and NYC visitors alike, this essential tool will change your life in the city as you know it.  Imagine being able to find the closest parks, playgrounds, changing tables, indoor playspaces, museums, libraries, subway stations with elevators, kid-friendly restaurants, and more, all with the touch of a button.

Kid Friendly Milwaukee/ Madison Loves Kids: A friendly, affordable place to live and play, the Madison Loves Kids and Milwaukee Loves Kids iPhone apps offer options for family friendly fun in Wisconsin’s two largest cities. With urban, rural, and seasonal suggestions from tots to teens, the apps are written by cheesehead Julie Henning.

Sunday Drive: Sunday Drive takes mapping to a new level by mapping out routes that connect a bunch of interesting locations.  Making out great drives – for a Sunday or any other day – it does this by connecting points of interest and providing driving directions.

TripDoc: TripDoc create one map on your phone that shows everything you want to do with your kids on your holiday vacation – from playgrounds, to restaurants and activities. Get walking or driving directions from wherever you are to where you want to go next. Keep notes about each place, including confirmation numbers, recommendations, what you loved and more, and then share it all with your friends via email.

SitOrSquat: Just say no to accidents!  Sitorsquat is an app that is dedicated to telling you where the closest place to relieve yourself is and whether or not that place is worth even sitting or squatting (or standing) at. We all find ourselves needing a public restroom every once in a while, whether it’s walking down a city block or driving on a highway with a few whining kids in the backseat.

[And this is just the tip of the iceberg. For parents taking the smart phone plunge (or just thinking about it), there are many more available on the Navigation, Travel and Games sections on iTunes.]

Jul 11

Update on White House Champions of Change: Open Innovators program issues a Challenge!

On June 10th, I was in Washington DC to take part in great event – a White House Champions of Change event –  focused on open innovation.   Each week, the White House features a group of Americans who embody the President’s commitment to ‘Innovate, Educate, and Build’.

Sixteen citizen software developers met with White House officials at a “Champions of Change” event designed to showcase the potential of Web apps utilizing data sets made available by federal, state and local agencies.

The developers boasted apps that enable users to find and organize pick-up games at public facilities and that guide citizens through zoning ordinances and direct parents to child-friendly locations, along with numerous app and services.   More and videos of each innovator are available at GovTech.com’s website.

At the event, I spoke about open data platforms like Mom Maps and how they give citizens powerful ways to interact with government.   Citizens and developers can add value to government data by presenting the data in compelling ways.   Giving citizens access to information that they care about results in not only preserving and maintaining the data, but also it making it better.   Open data comes alive when citizens contribute to it, either by adding more detail or by making it more timely.  Better data leads to more vested interest in the data, which ultimately leads to better care of government resources.

Other presenters at the event included Leigh Budlong of Zonability who is bringing new meaning to real estate zoning and Conor White-Sullivan of Localocracy who blends local democracy with social media with an app that acts as open town meeting where users can get specific information on local initiatives.

The event was described well by Daniel O’Neil of Citipayments –  one of the Champions of Change – who has been an advocate for open data for many years and continues to post great ideas on how open data can be used.   Eric Reis, of The Lean Startup, also wrote about the event and echoed the excitement that many of us felt about how the White House has embraced open data:   “Data.gov was as a minimum viable product… In two years, it has grown from just 47 datasets to over 390,000. The process they used to build it is distinctly different from the old paradigm of slow-moving bureaucrats in league with even-slower-moving contractors.”

At the end of the event, awards were given to the government employees most instrumental in making Open Data a reality:   Todd Park of Health and Human Services for making health data more readily accessible, Steve Young of the US Environmental Protection Agency  for his work on RadNet, and John Ohad of the Dept of Defence  as the leader of Apps award – over 116 apps – which have been downloaded over 75,000 times!  It was incredibly encouraging to see the amount of energy and thoughtfulness being put into making our government more open and transparent.

The Challenge: After the event I enjoyed the opportunity to speak with US CTO Aneesh Chopra and Jeremy Weinstein of the National Security Counsel, who suggested that apps like Mom Maps could help parents in transparency-challenged countries to call upon their governments for more information on public facilities.  Mr.  Chopra asked if Mom Maps users could recommend and help endorse Open Data efforts internationally. These recommendations could then be routed to the Obama administration, which could send them to appropriate officials overseas.

For all Mom Maps users interested in international support – especially those overseas –  please send a comment via the White House website letting them know that you want to see more Open Data worldwide.    Feel free to use this text:

Dear Aneesh Chopra and Jeremy Weinstein,

Please advocate for Open Data for public places in <your country of choice> so that apps like Mom Maps can make use of it.

Thanks, A citizen for global open data

What’s next for Mom Maps and Open Data?

  • Work to improve APIs that access Open Data from leaders like DataSF and Socrata, who build data sets and APIs for  municipalities like San Francisco, Chicago and Seattle.
  • Work closely with new municipalities to provide broader support for  apps across the country.
  • Engage international communities on the importance of Open Data and how developers can use the data to improve and foster civic engagement!

I have since had time to reflect on the event and all the things I learned from the participants.   It was an incredible experience, not only to speak and be honored as an innovator, but also to see the incredible energy and enthusiasm for innovation in our government and among fellow developers.    Aneesh Chopra, the US CTO,  is leading the charge with enthusiasm and an understanding that combining government resources with entrepreneurs is a potent mix.   My favorite quote came from Vivek Kundra the US Chief Information Officer:  “Think big.   Start small.  Scale fast.”

Jul 11

Liza Sullivan Highlights Chicago Playgrounds – and issues a Challenge!

Liza Sullivan is passionate about play and advocating for play. As both a parent and educator, Liza is a resident of Winnetka, Ill., an Adjunct Faculty Member and Professional Development Instructor for the Winnetka Alliance for Childhood. This past summer Liza and her 4 ½ year old twins took part in Kaboom’s Park-A-Day Summer Challenge and is now leading the charge for this year’s national Park-A-Day KaBOOM! Summer Challenge.    She has also published and Op-Ed in the Chicago Tribune.

Co-Founder of ThroughPlay.com, you can read Liza’s blog about her family’s experiences during the Park-A-Day Challenge and learn more about her passion for play.

From Liza Sullivan:

“Last summer, KaBOOM! chose six families to participate in the first-ever Park-A-Day Summer Challenge. Over the course of the summer, these families visited over 50 different parks, playgrounds, and public playspaces in their communities. They shared stories in our Summer Challenge Discussion Group, as well as photos and reviews of each playspace in our Map of Play.

Children's fountain at Millennium Park in Chicago

A summer full of play sounds like fun (and everything a summer should be!), but it proved to be much more than that. Participating in the Challenge was a transformative experience for the kids and adults alike. Challenger Liza Sullivan (left, with her twins) has previously written about the six life skills her children learned; now, she joins us again to talk about the top 5 benefits to parents:

  1. Regular outdoor play is as revitalizing and energizing to parents as it is to children. The Challenge gives you a chance to be a kid again. No matter your age, activities like swinging, building sandcastles, rolling down grassy hills, and running through a fountain on hot summer days are good for the soul. You will also have incentive to escape from computers, piles of laundry, and other distractions.
  2. It will be easier to get your kids to bed. Each day will provide your children with opportunities to be physically active as they increase their strength, coordination, and endurance. As a result, they won’t be as squirmy at home and will rarely have trouble falling asleep at night!
  3. Your role as a parent expands. Rather than constantly playing the role of disciplinarian, you become a support to your child’s exploration, discovery, and learning. As you explore playgrounds and nature areas, your children will undoubtedly ask you endless questions, and each day will be filled with teachable moments. Regular outdoor play will help you instill independence, cooperation, resilience, persistence, and love of the outdoors in your children.
  4. You meet new people in your neighborhood. Parks are created to be social places for parents as well as children. As you explore, you will inevitably strike up conversations with other parents, contributing to a sense of community and connectedness. This can be particularly meaningful for stay-at-home parents – a job that is sometimes very isolating.
  5. Your family can experience new places right at home. Many participants, myself included, found that until they took on the Challenge, they were unaware of the surprising number of parks, playgrounds, and nature preserves in or near their community. They discovered hidden gems and explored nearby neighborhoods they had never had reason to visit before.

As a gift to yourself and your children this summer, allow for plenty of time to play, and consider being a part of the national Park-A-Day KaBOOM! Summer Challenge!”

Jun 11

White House Champions of Change – Open Innovators Event

White House, open dataLast week I was in Washington DC to take part in great event,  a White House Champions of Change event,  focused on open innovation.   Here is the email I received last week for the event:

The White House Open Data Event

Presenting at the White House

“You have been selected by United States Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra to be highlighted as a ‘Champion of Change’, which is part of President Obama’s Winning the Future initiative… As the White House executes President Obama’s plan to “out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world”, entrepreneurs like you are being recognized for the innovative work you have undertaken in your community.”

Each week, we feature a group of Americans who embody the President’s commitment to ‘Innovate, Educate, and Build’.

CTO Aneesh Chopra and CIO Vivek Kundra as well as other Administration officials will host an Open Innovation / Champions of Change event at the White House on Friday, June 10th , 9am- 11am.”

I talked about open data platforms and how they give citizens more powerful ways to interact with government.   Other presenters included Leigh Budlong of Zonability and Conor White-Sullivan of Localocracy.

It was an incredible experience, not only to speak and be honored as an innovator, but even more so seeing the incredible energy and enthusiasm for innovation in our government.    Aneesh Chopra, the White House CTO,  is leading the charge with enthusiasm and an understanding that combining government resources with entrepreneurs is a potent mix.

With WHCTO Aneesh Chopra in white house war room

My favorite quote came from Vivek Kundra the Chief Information Office of the White House:   “Think big.   Start small.  Scale fast.” That characterized what many developers see happening with open platforms.    We also heard from Eric Reis, the author of  The Lean Startup who commented on his blog :  ” He (Vivek) said that “Data.gov was as a minimum viable product.” In two years, it has grown from just 47 datasets to over 390,000. The process they used to build it is distinctly different from the old paradigm of slow-moving bureaucrats in league with even-slower-moving contractors.”     That gives you an idea of what the event was all about.   When government makes data sets accessible and enables entrepreneurs that care about the information, things start to happen quickly.

May 11

5 family getaways from the San Francisco Bay area

Looking for something to do over the Memorial Day weekend?     There are many great kid-friendly weekend getaways that are a short commute from the Bay area!   Whether you are looking for ocean or mountain fun, you can find it all close by!

Napa Valley/Sonoma

Though Napa Valley is best known for being a vintner’s paradise, it has lots of great activities for the whole family and is just 90 minutes north of San Francisco. Fun family activities include:

  • The Petrified Forest – Take a hike through The Petrified Forest where kids will be amazed to see trees of stone.
  • Old Faithful Geyser – Enjoy the wonders of nature’s geyser eruptions while also visiting the petting zoo and picnicking.
  • Wineries – Contrary to what people may think, many wineries in Napa are family friendly and welcoming to children. Examples include Sterling Vineyards in Calistoga which has a gondola and Clos Pegase which has gardens and picnic grounds.
  • Napa Valley Wine Train – Older kids who can sit still for a few hours may enjoy dining on the Napa Valley Wine Train. The train ride runs approximately 36 miles roundtrip amidst beautiful scenery.
  • Safari West – Kids three an older will enjoy a jeep tour at Safari West to see wildlife animals such as zebra and antelope. Tented cabin overnight accommodations are also available.
  • Traintown – Kids who love trains will enjoy visiting Traintown in Sonoma where they can take a train to a petting zoo and play town area as well as going on other rides.
  • Sports – Wine country is a great area for biking, horseback riding, golf, or hiking. Bothe State Parkjust outside Calistoga is a favorite for families.


For those living outside of San Francisco, heading north to Marin is a great weekend escape. Fun activities include:

  • The Bay Area Discovery Museum – This is a hands-on interactive museum perfect for younger kids located at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge. On a clear day, you will be able to enjoy spectacular views of San Francisco.
  • Slide Ranch – Slide Ranch is a working teaching farm that borders the ocean. Be sure to check out Slide Ranch on one of the family days that they hold. Your kids will be able to experience life on a working farm amidst spectacular ocean views.
  • Muir Beach and Stinson Beach – Muir Beach is a protected inlet which makes it popular with families who are looking to swim in the water. You can also hike on several trails into Golden Gate National Recreation area from the beach. If you are looking for a more expansive beach, head to Stinson Beach which is almost a mile long. Kids love walking amongst the sand dunes and there is plenty of room for exploration. Both beaches have picnic space.
  • Mount Tamalpais State Park – On a clear day, the summit of Mount Tamalpais has great views of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco. Hikes up to the summit may be tough for younger children. One easier option is to park at the East summit and hike from there.
  • Point Reyes National Seashore and Tomales Bay – Tomales Bay is a coastal estuary with lots to do for the family. Enjoy a hiking excursion, hang out on the beach, or kayak in protected waters. Older kids may also enjoy a visit to the Point Reyes Lighthouse and Bird Observatory.
  • Six Flags Discovery Kingdom – Check out this amusement park in Vallejo if you are looking for a place with lots of rides, shows and animal attractions.
  • Safari West – Kids three an older will enjoy a jeep tour at Safari West to see wildlife animals such as zebra and antelope. Tented cabin overnight accommodations are also available.

Monterey Peninsula and Big Sur

Head approximately 2.5 hours south to the Monterey Peninsula and Big Sur for beaches, walks and magnificent ocean views. See bigbluetrunk’s 11 Fun Things to Do With Kids in Carmel and Monterey for some suggestions.

Santa Cruz area

Santa Cruz is approximately 90 minutes south of San Francisco and is a convenient location from which to explore areas along Highway 1. Activities that appeal to kids include:

  • Roaring Camp Railroads – Kids will enjoy taking a steam train ride through the redwood forest atRoaring Camp in Felton. Another option is to board a train that takes you to the Santa Cruz boardwalk. Roaring Camp also has special event days that kids love such as Thomas the Train days in the summer or holiday light trains in the winter.
  • Santa Cruz boardwalk – Check out the rides for all ages on the Santa Cruz boardwalk or visit a beach nearby.
  • Swanton Berry Farm– Depending on the time of year, kids will enjoy picking berries at Swanton Berry Farms just north of Santa Cruz. They have strawberry and ollalieberry fields as well as kiwis.
  • Beaches -– There are numerous beaches in the area including Natural Bridges State Park, Twin Lakes State Beach, and Panthers Beach. You can also drive north on Highway 1 all the way to Half Moon Bay and check out different beaches along the way.
  • The Seymour Marine Discovery Center – This is a great place for younger children to learn about marine life through touch tanks, exhibits and aquariums.
  • Gilroy Gardens – Located southeast of Santa Cruz, Gilroy Gardens is a great theme park for younger children. It is spacious and has lots of rides and a water play area to keep kids occupied.
  • Capitola – Check out some casual restaurants with outdoor seating and little shops in Capitola which is nestled next to a wide beach.


If you are looking for a low key camping option by the ocean, try visiting Costanoa which is located approximately an hour south of San Francisco off Highway 1. They have lodging options ranging from camping to cabins to hotel rooms. It is a great way to introduce your kids to camping or partake in aspects of camping such as cooking your food outside without actually having to pitch a tent. From Costanoa, you can easily head south towards Santa Cruz and stop for lunch in Davenport or head north towards Half Moon Bay and stop in Pescadero for berry picking at Phipps or to try Duarte’s Tavern’sfamous artichoke soup and pies. If you are visiting the area from mid-December to March, consider visiting Ano Nuevo State Reserve to see elephant seals during breeding season.

By Letitia Chan
October 4th, 2010

May 11

Fun and free family events for East Bay kids: weekend of May 21-22

Submitted by Heather of 510Families on MAY 19 2011

There are some big events happening around the Bay Area for families if you’re willing to commit a day to the festivities:

  • Doof-a-palooza. Celebrate Food spelled backwards by having fun and eating well at Jack London Square.
  • Maker Faire. Crafts, electronics, mobile cupcakes, and fire set the tone for this celebration of creation in San Mateo. Arrive early to beat some traffic.
  • Paddle Fest. Paddle boards, kayaks, and canoes are out to watch and play with at Quarry Lakes in Fremont. Kids under 12 are free.

If BIG, epic, and all-day are not your style, here are a few small-scale outings for your little one:

May 11

Kid-Friendly Activities in Kauai

By Letitia Chan

Kauai is one of our favorite islands to go to with kids. It is the greenest and lushest Hawaiian island with great hikes, beautiful beaches and picturesque scenery. You won’t find opulent shopping malls or tall mega story beach hotels here which makes it a great escape for families in search of relaxation or active adventure.

There are three main resort areas in Kauai, all of which can be good bases to explore the entire island. The South Shore (Poipu) is the sunniest and driest part of the island. The East Coast (Coconut Coast) is the most built up with stores, condos, etc. The North Shore (Hanalei) may get the most rain on the island but it has spectacular scenery and is the least built up area of the island.

Here are some ideas for family activities when planning your trip to Kauai.

Beaches, beaches and more beaches
Some of the calmer beaches that are good for swimming and snorkeling with kids in Kauai include: Anini Beach and Hanalei Bay Beach Park on the North Shore; Lydgate State Park, Kalapaki Beach, and Anahola Beach Park on the East Coast; Poipu Beach Park on the South Shore; and Salt Pond Beach Park on the West Coast.

Other notable beaches which are great for taking in the scenery (but not necessarily for swimming) include: Lumahai Beach, Tunnels Beach and Haena Beach Park, and Kee Beach State Park on the North Shore; Mahaulepu Beach on the South Shore; and Polihale State Park on the West Coast.

You can find more information on Kauai’s state parks at:


Sporting activities
There are plenty of water activities in Kauai for kids who like to get wet. Kids who love water and waves could try taking a surfing lesson. Margo Oberg Surf School in the South Shore guarantees that you will surf after one lesson. They welcome children of all ages as long as they know how to swim. There are an ample amount of other surf shops on the North and South Shores of the island that rent surfboards and also provide lessons. Boogie boarding is also a great alternative for those who are less adventurous.

Kayaking into the Huleia National Wildlife Refuge amidst lush scenery and endangered birds could be a great adventure for the whole family. The refuge is closed to the public so you will need to book your trip through a tour operator. The minimum age requirement on most tours is 6 years. However, there are a few that allow younger children on the tour.

With calm beaches everywhere that are great for snorkeling, Kauai is a great place for kids to learn more about marine life. SeaFun Kauai is one tour operator who gives basic instruction and allows kids age 5 and up on its snorkeling tours.

For kids age 5 and up, tubing through tunnels on a sugar plantation would be a unique and fun ride. Kauai Backcountry Adventures runs these tours on the East side of the island.

Other popular water activities include fishing, water skiing, and wind surfing.

For those who prefer sporting activities on land, horseback riding could be a great way to see parts of the island. Minimum age requirements vary from 4-8 years depending on the tour. Additionally, Kauai has several spots for good biking. You could do a sunrise or sunset ride from Waimea Canyon to the ocean. Other sporting activities on land include renting ATVs and golf.

Hike in paradise
Kauai is a hiker’s paradise and there are trails for all abilities. On the West side, visit Waimea Canyon which resembles the Grand Canyon. This is one of the driest hikes in Kauai so there is less risk of slipping if you are carrying little kids on your back. There are long rigorous hikes as well as shorter wide fire road type trails. Kokee State Park is at the end of the road through Waimea Canyon. One fairly easy hike in Kokee State Park is the Halemanu-Kokee trail. Kids can also visit the Kokee Natural History Museum to learn about the native birds of the island. There is a short quarter mile nature walk beginning near the museum to learn about different plants. Your child may also be tempted to buy corn to feed the many wild chickens you see near the museum. However, contrary to what you see, the park actually discourages it as the chickens are bad for the native plants and birds.

On the North Shore, the Kalalau Trail in Na Pali Coast State Park is a rigorous 22 mile round trip hike. It is a stunning hike but probably better for those with older children as it is physically demanding with slippery conditions in areas.

A few other interesting and easy hikes in Kauai include walking along Makawehi Point on the South Shore. This is a sand dune bluff with great views. Additionally, the half mile round-trip at the Keahua Arboretum Trail on the East side is popular with families.

Take a boat or helicopter tour of Na Pali Coast and Waimea Canyon
A boat or helicopter tour is a wonderful way to see the stunning scenery of the Na Pali coast and Waimea Canyon. Captain Andy’s Sailing Adventures is a great tour operator and children aged 2 and above are allowed on the cruises. Be sure to get in some whale watching if you happen to be in Kauai from December to March.

Feast at a Luau
Though a Luau seems like a tourist trap, it is actually a fun dining option for young children as the dancing and music can keep them entertained for hours. Smith’s Tropical Paradise Luau at the Wailua River on the East coast is a popular luau with kids because you can also start your evening with a tram ride and tour of the garden. Most major resorts also offer Luaus.

Check out some museums, gardens and playgrounds
While on the North Shore, don’t miss the Na Aina Kai Botanical Gardens. There is a children’s garden here that has a tropical jungle gym, tree house, maze, Jack and the Bean Stalk Giant, and a train ride. These gardens also lead to the ocean.

Also on the North Shore is the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge. This is great place for kids who are interested in birds as you can see dolphins, monk seals, and all sorts of birds.

If you are near Lihue, you can go on a train ride at the Kilohana Pineapple Plantation . Kids will learn more about the history of the land while feeding animals and seeing indigenous agriculture.

One of the most notable playgrounds in Kauai is the Kamalani playground on the East Shore which has a volcano slide and Japanese garden.

Lastly, if you are in search of an option on a rainy day or an escape from the sun, visit the Children’s Discovery Museum on the East side which has lots of exhibits to keep kids busy.

Apr 11

Bigbluetrunk now part of Mom Maps!

Big Blue Trunk logo - family travelI am excited to announce that as of today, bigbluetrunk, founded by Letitia Chan Peypoch and Tamara Russel,  is now a part of New Media Parents: the company that produces the Mom Maps iPhone app and the Kids Play Guide website.   Bigbluetrunk family travel content will be incorporated into the New Media Parents portfolio of mobile and web applications. As of April 26th, 2011, the bigbluetrunkwebsite will cease operation as an independent service.

New Media Parents is pleased to include bigbluetrunk into our family of products and believes that Mom Maps and its line of mobile applications can make bigbluetrunk’s vision of great family travel a reality.   As part of that vision, Letitia Chan Peyoch will act as an advisor to New Media Parents.

Since launching bigbluetrunk in 2008, its users, contributors and articles have created a sizable source of family travel resources.   Bigbluetrunk has consistently provided great family travel ideas, practical advice, and given parents the inside track on family outings and trips with the kids!   New Media Parents is pleased to include these contributions – and the users who created them – into to the New Media Parents family.

Letitia and Tamara from Big Blue Trunk

Letitia Chan Peypoch and Tamara Russel of bigbluetrunk.com

On behalf of everyone at New Media Parents, we thank the bigbluetrunk community for your contribution to family travel over the past two years and hope that you will continue build on the great family travel ideas going forward.  Happy travels!