Birthday vacation in the Big City

The Birthday Girl on the Golden Gate.

The Birthday Girl on the Golden Gate.

We like to celebrate birthdays with panache in this family. When I turned 30, for instance, Powerwoman and I were living in Lima (in Peru), and we spent a weekend dining at some of the best restaurants in town. When L turned 4, we had a party with a cupcake-to-human ratio of at least 4:1. Last September, when R turned 2, we were living in London, she was obsessed with the London Eye, and all she wanted was to ride the thing (which we did).

Naturally, then, this year the pressure was on for us to take the fiesta to the next level.

After much deliberation, we decided to do what any San Francisco Bay Area-based parents of a tourist attraction loving-kid would do: We made plans to travel to the Big City and walk across the Golden Gate Bridge.

Because no Villano can ever do things half-assed, our plans comprised more than just a bridge walk. In addition, the itinerary included a) a Friday overnight at the Four Seasons Hotel San Francisco, b) a family dinner party at Mel’s Drive-In downtown, c) a morning trek to the carousel at the Children’s Creativity Museum, and d) a picnic lunch in the Marin Headlands.

The bridge walk itself was hilarious. It took us about 45 minutes to find a parking spot at the visitor center on the Sausalito (i.e., the north) side, then another 45 minutes to walk out part of the way. We didn’t even make it from the northern end of the bridge to the first station before the Birthday Girl announced, inimitably, that she was “freezing cold” and that she wanted to go home. Still, she managed to enjoy herself (and Mom and Dad managed to snap a few pictures).

What preceded the bridge walk was special for other reasons. We were welcomed at the hotel with special check-in amenities such as chocolate cake, Panda (as in, Pablo Sandoval) hats, and stuffed San Francisco Giants dolls. We commemorated the start of R’s special day with room-service breakfast. Because we got to the carousel right after it opened, we had the whole attraction to ourselves.

Oh, and at the family dinner, everybody (at least everybody in our immediate family) got milkshakes.

Technically, all of this happened less than 100 miles from our house. Still, because we overnighted, because we “road-tripped” to get there, we all considered it a destination birthday. (Yours truly even made special “road trip trail mix” for the ride down.)

Like I’ve said before, you don’t have to travel very far to have the kind of vacation about which you’ll be talking forever. And for us, R’s birthday celebration was yet another vacation to remember.

What are your favorite ways to mix birthdays and family travel?

Soaking Up the Holiday Spirit

Little R, mesmerized by a window display at Selfie's.

Little R, mesmerized by a window display at Selfie’s.

You don’t need much of a sightseeing itinerary when traveling during holiday season; all you need is time to explore.

I’ve been reminded of this simple fact numerous times over the last week or so here in London. Every time I head into the city for a day of big plans with L and R, we are sidetracked by a bunch of decorations.

One day, we spent two hours watching a carousel in front of the Natural History Museum. Another day, we spent 75 minutes admiring the windows in front of Selfridges. Today, little R and I counted giant ornaments in St. Christopher’s Place (which, by the way, has the best shopping in the West End). I’ve already blogged about some of the fun we had with my folks at a decked-out Covent Garden Market.

Later this week, our plan includes dragging Grandma and Grandpa with us to South Kensington to marvel at decorations at Harrods and Harvey Nichols.

Throw in ice-skating rinks, Christmas trees, caroling extravaganzas and holiday lights pretty much anywhere around the city and I’d say we’ve got enough to keep us busy from now until we head home Dec. 23.

Oh, and unless we ride the carousels or do the ice skating, all of the stuff is free.

The lesson here, of course, is that especially when kids are young, it doesn’t take much to create a fun day of experiencing a new place during the holidays. I like to think the equation looks like this:

Spectacle + Snacks + Public Transit + Downtime (when necessary) = Smiles

I know this equation isn’t universal. And I’ve been doing this family travel thing too long to know that this equation isn’t going to work all the time. But with the right weather and the right attitude (and the right snacks, I guess, and no public transport delays), it sure puts family travelers in a good position for a day that everyone will remember for all the right reasons. And it hasn’t failed us Villanos yet.

What is your equation for a good family travel when traveling during the holidays?

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