Follow my advice on how to avoid a bumpy ride — or should we say mom’s worst nightmare ever? — on a roadtrip from Los Angeles through Oregon, Washington state and Vancouver.
There’s a lot to remember when you’re traveling alone with kids: passports and parent permission letters, emergency meds and favorite snacks. We loaded our Windstar up with eight 12-gallon Akro-Mils toteboxes, three bikes, one tricycle, a backpack and jogger, assorted umbrellas, our ‘earthquake kit,’ a cooler, and little rolling activity suitcases for each child, for our winter trip from Los Angeles to Vancouver.
Our journey was going to be as short as I dared make it; I was traveling with two little kids (3 and 1) and an impatient, very long legged, non-driving teenager, getting the family to our new temporary home in Vancouver…
We ended up taking almost five days – I was laid out by food poisoning for two of them, and we had to make up for lost time, losing our treasured reservations at the Sylvia Beach Hotel.
Our return home a couple of months later was very relaxed; the same distance took us nine golden days. The extent of our planning was to call ahead for lodging as we saw what town we would end our day’s drive in. We used the AAA travel book as a rough guide for planning. We stayed in a couple of truly marvelous places and only had two bad experiences.
We were fortunate – we had enough money to travel in comfort, eat what we chose, stay where we wished. Our decisions were made by what was available (lots, in the off season) and what looked interesting. Of the places that we stayed on our trip from Los Angeles to Vancouver and back again, the most expensive one was a depressing bust and one of our two favorites was the cheapest. Here’s our story…
Starting Out, North through California
Our first night was spent at our Nana Lizzy’s house in Los Osos, halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. It was great having a place to readjust our packing and seating after the first 250-mile shakedown cruise, as well as a fine fridge to ransack to improve our provisions cooler.
We spent most of the following day at the Monterey Bay Aquarium (831/648-4800.) The kids loved it. In early January, with everyone just back in school, the aquarium was almost deserted and we were able to see and touch everything we wanted to. Afterwards, we struck out over a couple of San Francisco’s bridges, deciding to drive as long as the kids were okay and we were still having some fun.
That night we checked into Granzella’s Inn (800/643-8614, 530/473-3310) to the side of Interstate 5. We took the presidential suite for a very low nightly rate. It wasn’t palatial, but it did have enough beds for everyone in two separate rooms. The staff couldn’t have been friendlier, or more honest, as I discovered later. Sometime that evening, I dropped a beloved (and very precious) necklace that my husband had given me. It wasn’t ’til days later that I realized that it was gone. I called the Inn, with little hope, and discovered that it had been turned in by a woman in the cleaning crew, and would be returned to me forthwith.
Granzella’s also has a large, very comfortable, family-friendly restaurant and deli where we enjoyed great Italian food – I loved the gnocchi, and even more loved that our tired little party was bumped to the front of the busy line waiting to get in.
After a visit to friends on Mount Shasta, we left California and at Grant’s Pass, cut westward from Rte. 5 to visit Out n’About Treehouses. I can’t imagine a more perfect place to be deathly ill.
The Ups & Downs of Tree Living
High in the branches of an oak grove in Takilma, a pretty little valley in the rolling gold and cave filled Siskiyou Mountains, 10 miles from the small town of Cave Junction is a quirky magical family-friendly treasure. Michael Garnier and Peggy Malone have built a community of 13 different tree houses ranging from a tented aerie 30 feet in the air (big people only please) to an immaculately detailed suite with stained glass windows and a claw bathtub luxuriously housing an entire family.
Kid-Safe Tree House
From June through Labor Day, the Out ‘n’About Treesort (541/592-2208) is dominated by children and new and repeating families, and during the off-season (when we were traveling), they specialize in romantic interludes. We had the resort to ourselves and were able to explore everywhere. The tree houses are astonishingly beautiful and thoughtfully designed with kids in mind. After an eight year battle, the county recognized the built-in safety features of the tree houses and has grudgingly come to respect the Resort’s successes. Michael, the architect and master builder says, “the main thing is the foundation, you need a healthy tree and then it’s how you attach everything to the tree.” Attached to the oak trees are elegantly constructed tree houses like the Swiss Family Complex (with a separate small-doored unit for the kids attached to the adults with a swinging bridge), the two-story Cabin Tree (sleeping five comfortably) and the 20-foot-high Peacock Perch with its gracefully hand carved door.
We had very wide, safe stairs sweeping up to the stained glass windows and sophisticated joinery of the Schoolhouse Suite. Inside, we had a kitchenette (fridge, microwave, coffeemaker and toaster) with dining area, a master bedroom with plenty of drawer space, a double futon in the sitting area and a loft that accommodates two children.
Self Catered With Help Nearby
We had been advised beforehand that (off-season) it would be a good idea to bring food in to eat or cook. After a long day of driving with the kids I didn’t feel like braving dark country roads back to town for dinner, so we had stopped at a supermarket in Cave Junction and picked up a precooked chicken and some other supplies.
During our first night in our tree house something I’d eaten during the day came back to haunt me. Before dawn I was vomiting precociously, unable to walk even as far as the bathroom. Eventually I was able to rouse the teenager and when light came he dressed the little ones and headed to the Innkeeper at the big house with a short list of instructions:
- Tell Michael that I am very sick and we need to stay here another night
- See if there is anyone who we could hire for the day to watch the kids
- Cancel our reservations at the Sylvia Beach
- Tell my husband that we had a little problem but not to worry
I had a nasty fever, too, and wandered in and out of consciousness. I remember looking through the big glass doors at the foot of my bed at the ponies in their winter coats grazing below us.
Every now and then the teenager or the Innkeeper would come in and check on me. By twilight I could sit up and eventually coaxed myself out of bed, down the big wide safe stairs, and over to the big house.
Outside I found the teenager rappelling up and down trees, preparing to walk across a sky bridge that the guys were constructing. Inside, I found the little kids happily watching TV. They had spent the day feeding the horses, and playing with the dogs, were well fed and full of stories. Later that night Michael even picked up a pizza for my hungry brood. It wasn’t ’til a couple of days later that I could keep food down.
Speaking of food, a continental breakfast with homemade pastries is provided (in season) for all guests, and families are on their own for the other meals. There are good restaurants within seven miles and to prepare your own food there are supermarkets in town 12 miles away.
Activities for all Ages
While the entire resort is designed with children of all ages in mind, there are few amenities for infants or very young toddlers. A playpen/crib, a child-gate and an extensive toy box are available on request. Guests have complete run of the resort: there are barbeques, picnic tables, a dirt basketball court and a river-fed (cool and refreshing) stone-lined swimming pool.
Horseback riding was available for an additional cost. Guests pick mounts from the herd that roams the grounds. At 4 or 5 years, the children are led around the yard on the ponies and by 6-10; the kids are big enough to go on a hill and dale trail ride, crossing the river on horseback. Advanced equestrians can enjoy a rigorous mountain ride. All the children (including mine) are taught how to behave around the good-natured horses and how to feed them with open hands. Michael says that no food is allowed in the pasture, not because of nipped fingers but because the horses might crowd around the little people and tip them over. This June or July the children can even welcome a new foal!
Ropes courses are conducted for kids 4 – 73. It was thrilling to see the teenager high up in the oaks, safe in his rappelling gear! This year the staff is building a sky-trail, 30 feet up in the old oak trees. Craft classes vary by the year. Apparently some years there is a lot of tie-dying, other years lots of tile work. Other free activities include swimming, hiking, biking and question asking.
Needless to say, there are tree house classes for parents and interested older kids offering vocational instruction in basic engineering, design and construction methods (as well as the tricks involved in getting these very safe tree houses approved by building departments.) The staff is experienced in arranging all manner of outdoor educational activities including whitewater rafting, hiking, bicycling, and horseback riding. Please be aware that infants and small toddlers aren’t welcome in the local caves.
Rates: tree houses run $110/N to $220/N. One signed and dated “Out N’About” T-shirt came free with each night’s tree house stay.
Sylvia Beach – One of these Days
It was with great regret that I cancelled our reservations at the beautiful and romantic Sylvia Beach Hotel (541/265-5428). My husband and I, on our courting trip, had been unable to secure a bed for the night there. We’d been able to have a wonderful Trencherman’s Breakfast with the guests, though, and promised ourselves that we would make it back to stay in one of the literary themed rooms.
This trip I had arranged for the teenager to stay in the Dr. Suess suite (I had thought that he would pick Poe or Hemingway) and I had booked myself and the little ones, into Collette, all frills and lace, with a fireplace and typewriter, and endless views of the Pacific. The two rooms were adjoining – perfection I hoped.
We’re still hoping to make it back to this “Oceanfront Bed and Breakfast for Booklovers.” The hotel, built between 1910 and 1913, has 20 guest rooms, a gift shop, an oceanfront library ascending into the attic and of course, the restaurant “Tables of Content” where delicious fixed price breakfasts and dinners are served family style. Every night at 10, hot wine is served in the library. Other themed rooms include Mark Twain, Agatha Christie, Tennesse Williams and Oscar Wilde. Although the hotel is not designed with kids in mind (except for Dr. Seuss, of course) the owners were very welcoming of our young brood, especially during mid-week, off-season. The hotel fills quickly and rooms are often reserved a year, or years ahead for specific dates.
So, after our unplanned extra night in the tree house we had to head quickly for Vancouver. We woke up in the dark, packed the car and high-tailed it north for a grueling 550-mile drive. That’s a long way with little kids, especially with a sick driver. We arrived in Vancouver, to pouring rain, just in time to put the kids to sleep. Mommy had a hot bath and went to bed.
Vancouver to Victoria to Washington: By Ferry
Our trip south, this time with my husband and little kids (the teenage was at school) was much more leisurely; our top mileage for the day was 200 miles. We stopped often and ate very, very well. There was even a lot more space in the car as I had inexpensively shipped most of our household boxes (and somehow there were many more) back to Los Angeles via Air Canada Cargo.
We took the ferry from Vancouver (actually Tswassan) to Victoria and spent a comfortable night in a two level suite (with kitchenette) at what was the Ramada Huntingdon Manor Inn (800/663-7557) on Victoria’s Inner Harbor, which is currently called the Hundingdon Hotel and Suites at Belleville Park. Victoria is a great kid town, there is so much to do: even from our hotel room we watched sea planes land and take off. During the day we took the kids to a marvelous museum, to have tea (well, hot chocolate, really) and scones with clotted cream and jam at Murchie’s, and to a duck pond by the ocean. Among the things we missed were seeing the monkeys in the crystal palace next to the Empress Hotel, a children’s farm, many other child-friendly gardens and a glass-bottomed boat tour.
Mid-afternoon we took the international car ferry from a dock right across the street from the hotel. We cleared customs in Canada and in the crisp, clean Olympic Mountains of Port Angeles WA, drove right off the boat. The Olympic peninsula is a whole ‘nother vacation trip; besides the mountains and lakes there are glorious ocean-front parks, trout streams and even a retirement home for Hollywood stunt animals!
The Salishan is a Bust
Our big disappointment was the Salishan Spa and Golf Resort (800/452-2300) in Gleneden Beach, Oregon. We called the Westin from the car to arrange accommodations for ourselves and our tired and cranky kids. My husband checked in and was handed thoughtful little bags for the kids (age appropriate cups, a very nice night-light, and some of those socket plugs, which might hamper less ingenious kids) by the friendly staff. He was also given (and paid for) a ‘special’ price for the night because of our platinum AmEx that was actually higher than the price given to me over the phone as we were driving in to look at the resort.
When I had called the lodge I specifically asked for a suite with a separate bedroom in which we could tuck our soon-to-be-sleeping, very photosensitive children. When we got to the promised suite, there was no separate room. We were all to sleep together, the kids on a fold-out couch. I was angry at being misled and called to complain but no more suitable rooms were apparently available at the nearly empty resort. The room was large and attractive with a fireplace and comfortable bed, but as the kids have lights out at 8:30 we were unable to enjoy the room or any adult time together. I spent part of the night reading in the bathroom, utterly miserable; the extensive Westin toiletry package just didn’t compensate for my distress.
Although we aren’t a TV kind of family we tried to plug in the kids while we set up for the night. There were very limited channels and none were remotely interesting (much less appropriate) for little kids. We tried ordering kid videos but none were available. The woman at the desk seemed surprised that the resort brochures even mentioned having them.
We didn’t eat at the Salishan’s renowned dining room but did have a very mediocre (not very good, not very bad) meal at the Cedar Tree grill [Editor’s Note: Now this restaurant is just called The Grill], served by a cheerily discombobulated staff. The presentation was a little late 80’s (like the kiwi salsa that was pretty but weirdly incompatible – it made me think that Hilton was using an executive chef back in New York or Miami, or somewhere, to decide on menus, rather than relying on the good common sense of the local chef.) I don’t think that the meal would have bothered me as much if we hadn’t been eating so splendidly to this point – we had spent days devouring freshest crab at least once a day, delicious fishes, Tillamook cheeses on artisan breads, great honest soups of locally grown vegetables. What a let-down this pretentious food was! Who cared that the kids ate free?
The resort is a collection of low wooden buildings with pretty wooded walkways (even over a waterfall.) If we had stayed for longer we would have golfed and swam, but after the first hideous night, a second was out of the question. In addition, the resort is too far from the ocean to be much fun (there is beach access through the golf course and private homes), and the resort is too close to the highway. In exchange for our limited view we had the unlimited roar of the highway.
Would I bring the family back again? Absolutely not. Would I recommend it to someone else? No. Our overall experience was rotten. I don’t mind paying well for something that provides great memories but I begrudge that our most expensive night of the trip was this middling middle-class resort.
Oceanside Beauty, Next Time… the Temple of Isis
On a happier note, just a few miles away from the Salishan Resort in Gleneden Beach, for $50/N (firewood included) we stayed at in an immaculate, three-bedroom cabin right by the ocean. We were thrilled by our very cozy time-warped cabin with stone fireplace and original 40’s decor. All cottages have open fireplaces with the wood furnished, and electric heat. Some of the newer (less rustic) cabins have ocean views, but all are a two-minute stroll from one of the prettiest wild beaches you’ve ever seen.
Nearby are great unpretentious restaurants. Our family was given seats of honor right by the picture window at Jot’s Rod’n Reel (‘you’re a stranger here but once’) before being fed a really great meal of local catch. Other local activities include horseback riding (we didn’t this time), and beachcombing for agates and driftwood. Ireland’s Rustic Cottages (541/247-7718) is a comfortable place that we could imagine staying for a week or so in the summer, exploring the area and coming back at night. There are no special provisions for children, except for the lovely little swing out front, but it is still a very happy place for them.
We loved each mile of Washington and Oregon beaches, we loved being nestled into oceanside hotel rooms during winter storms. On our next trip we hope to spend more time at a couple of places we just looked in on. Besides the entire Olympic Peninsula (which we circumnavigated in the dark), there is a Museum of Flight in a couple of enormous Zeppelin hangers in Tillamook, Oregon, and we would love to go back and send more balsawood gliders off of the Astoria Column in Astoria, OR (although it is better for older children; I was terrified my toddler would slip through the very unchild-proof stair railings to the tower floor 120 feet below), I would eat again at the Chinese restaurant (recommended to us by the Syvlia Beach Hotel) on the harbor in Newport, Oregon, where we were serenaded by sea lions and where the chef stepped down to the ocean to retrieve the crabs that we would eat for lunch.
We would like to go back to Real Goods’ Solar Living Center (707-744-2017), in Hopland, California, for a morning or afternoon and enjoy their inspiring and very child-friendly sanctuary of gardens, waterfalls and ponds. Real Goods is a public company which demonstrates examples of sustainable living. They have a very interesting shop (which you may know by their catalogue) but the Center alone is well worth a visit.
Not too far away are the Temple of Isis and the Isis Oasis (707/857-4747). I had originally read about the place in a book of spiritual retreats and had wanted to see what it looked like. The main attraction for kids is, far and away, the Temple’s compact zoo. There are many exotic birds in the oasis (including white peacocks, one of Isis’s special creatures) and there is a collection of endangered cats, as well as llamas, goats and a living unicorn that guests have an opportunity to feed. On the 10-acre grounds are a spa, a large, lovely pool, a swan pond, and waterfalls.
Accommodations range from a 100-year-old farm house which will sleep up to 15, a tiny charming tower for two (with a huge tiled shower room), an enchanted cottage with private hot tub, king size bed and four twins, assorted yurts, a geodesic dome (really!), and even more exotic lodging including a wine barrel, teepees, and a pyramid. All guests enjoy a complimentary healthy country breakfast, and other meals are provided at reasonable cost. Massages, past life readings, and weddings are extra. The place looks a little faded in the off season but I can imagine what it would be like in the summertime and would like to add it to another family journey.
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