Tag Archive for: Little River Inn

Room at the Inn for Family Travelers

Exploring our surroundings at the Little River Inn.

Exploring our surroundings at the Little River Inn.

For many family travelers, the notion of crashing with youngsters at a romantic inn is a recipe for an anxiety attack. What if they’re loud? What if they disturb the neighbors? What if efforts to control the kiddos trigger an all-out melt down?

Yes, these are all legitimate concerns. But in the right kind of atmosphere, the experience actually can be pleasant.

I came to this epiphany late last month on a solo road trip with my two girls. As part of our adventure, we spent two nights at the Little River Inn, a circa-1853 lodge-style spot along the Mendocino County Coast. A number of family-friendly amenities there made the stay palatable for all of us—and other guests, too. Here a closer look at those that made the biggest difference.

  • Suites. Standard rooms generally can feel cramped for a family of 3 or 4 (or more). Thankfully, the inn offered the Llama Barn Suite, a private one-bedroom cottage about a mile from the main lodge. The girls and I used the front room like a playroom, spending time there playing games, telling stories and horsing around. At night, when I put the kids to sleep in the bedroom, I used the front room as an office and workout space.
  • Kitchenettes. We family travelers don’t need a full kitchen with a stovetop and oven, but a refrigerator and, sometimes, a microwave, sure make things easier. At the Little River Inn, I stocked the Llama Barn Suite fridge with milk and fruit to give the girls as snacks. One night, I made us popcorn to snack on outside while we looked for the moon.
  • In-room dining. We tried meals out (one night in Mendocino, the other in the Main Dining Room at the inn itself), but after two debacles (L triggered the first; R the second), I gave up and ordered room-service breakfast on the last morning. This was a nice luxury, especially since the kids woke up early. It also saved me from the (inevitably hour-long) process of getting them ready.
  • Open (outdoor) space. Hotel lobbies are great places for letting kids burn off steam after a long day of travel. Open fields and/or meadows are even better. Our accommodations at the Little River Inn had two options for this: A patch of grass right off the patio of the front room, and the beach at Van Damme State Park, located just across Highway 128 from the main lodge. I set the girls loose (under supervision, of course) in both spots. They returned happy and tired.

The fifth and final element of a family-friendly atmosphere at a small hotel is one that’s challenging to define. I like to call it: the Wild Card.

This might be an on-site swing set or playground. It might be a waterfall just outside the room. Whatever it is, the Wild Card must be something that piques your kids’ curiosity. And it can’t ever get old.

The Llama Barn Suite had a few of these.

No. 1, of course, were the namesake llamas—four of them in all, housed in a pen just a short walk from our front door. Every morning the innkeepers Marc and Cally Dym left us with radish greens to feed the critters. And feed them we did; my girls were obsessed (and still excitedly pontificate on what types of greens and goodies would make for good llama snacks).

We also had access to a beautiful garden, a spot where the Dyms grew everything from Zinnias and Peonies to strawberries, raspberries and sugar snap peas. (A note in our room informed us we could sample the fruit, in moderation.)

Finally, of course, was Rosie, the Bernese Mountain Dog that patrolled the area between the Llama Suite and nearby homes. Even though the pooch was twice their size, my girls fell in love with her and showered her with attention pretty much every time we left the cottage. The dog became the de facto mascot of our trip; my kids drew cards for her before we left.

The bottom line: The notion of vacationing with young children at a romantic getaway doesn’t have to be an oxymoron. As I learned last month, a few tiny touches can go a long way.

Just make sure you pick accommodations from innkeepers who understand what kinds of touches those might be.

For what kinds of amenities and/or features do you look when you book accommodations on family trips?

The Most Kid-Friendly Travel Destination Ever?

L shows off a winning handful.

L shows off a winning handful.

In my experience as a parent, the most kid-friendly travel destinations involve adventure, interactivity, constantly changing scenery (to keep things interesting), and a quest. They take the ordinary and make it extraordinary. They spark imagination. And they allow for souvenirs.

For all of these reasons, Glass Beach, part of MacKerricher State Park in the tiny Northern California town of Fort Bragg, might just be the most kid-friendly travel destination ever.

As its name suggests, the beach is known for glass—specifically, beach glass. And there’s a whole lot of it; so much so that in any given handful bits of beach glass outnumber rocks by a margin of 10 to 1. Most of the bits have been smoothed and rounded by the churning of the ocean. For kids who like hunting for treasure and sparkly stuff, it’s the perfect activity for an epic day.

Also important: It’s totally free.

I first visited the beach eight years ago with my wife (on a trip to celebrate my first section-front feature in the San Francisco Chronicle). This past weekend, as part of a 3-day road-trip along the Mendocino County coast, I went back—this time with my two daughters.

To put it simply, the girls could not believe their eyes. My older daughter, L, thought I had brought her to a secret land of jewels. My favorite of her exclamations: “Daddy, the beach is glimmering!”

It helped that we selected a cove where there were no other humans in sight. From a parking lot near the trailhead, we hiked about a quarter-mile on an access path flanked on one side by wildflowers. Then we descended a steep trail to the beach—a typical NorCal affair, complete with bull kelp, natty sea grass, sand fleas and millions and millions of tiny rocks.

We spent about an hour down there, sifting through handfuls of rocks and glass to put together a modest collection. I instructed the girls to look for the rarest types: red and blue. They came up empty on those fronts, but ended up with a Ziploc baggie full of white, green and brown.

(Technically, at least according to signs all over the place, we weren’t supposed to take the glass off the beach. To any state park officials reading this: I confess. I’m guilty. I did it for the kids. And I’d do it again.)

The beach itself has a colorful (pun intended) history. One of my travel-writing buddies, Susan Kim, did a piece for Coastal Living a few years back on the place; in it, she notes that most of the glass comes from the site’s former life as a dump.

Of course I didn’t explain the true story to my girls. Instead, I let them tell the tales. L, who is developing an imagination to rival J.K. Rowling’s, said the “glass jewels” had been sent to shore by ocean princesses who wanted little girls to enjoy them. R, my younger daughter, was content to chant, “Beach glass! Beach glass!” incessantly (until a sand flea or seagull distracted her).

Three days later (and counting), the girls are still talking about the experience.

Here at home, the glass lives in a tiny jar, and L has counted the contents at least a dozen times. If R can’t spot the jar on the counter, she yells, “Where’s [the] beach glass?” until someone points it out. There have been pictures of the beach glass. Songs about it. Even some poems.

If all of this doesn’t prove that Glass Beach is the most kid-friendly travel destination ever, I’m not sure what else could.

What are some of your favorite kid-friendly travel destinations and why?



An Ode to Solo-Parent Family Travelers

Happy times, with a tree llama.

Happy times, with a tree llama.

After two-thirds of a mommy-free, 3-day road-trip with my girls, I can tell you this: Solo-parent family travel is a LOT harder than I ever thought it would be.

In my abbreviated experience, challenges generally come in two main flavors: Kid-time and alone-time.

The ones during kid time should come as no surprise. Meals are tough because you’ve got no help to feed or discipline or disrobe crayons or put together a puzzle or cut grilled cheese or chase down that piece of fried fish one of the children just threw across the room. Bedtimes can be rough when the kids are on different schedules and there’s only one parent to wipe butts and brush teeth and read books and sing songs and snuggle.

Alone time presents its own obstacles. Because there’s nobody else to watch the kids for even a moment, you find yourself Instagramming and scribbling story notes while adjudicating a game of “Go Fish,” eating dinner (of unclaimed pasta with butter sauce, natch) at 5 p.m., and engaging in training “runs” of four miles (in circles) around the living room of your rental cabin.

(Yes, I really did that last one. I know: I am a complete and total freak.)

Months from now, I’ll look back on this experience with my girls as difficult but fun. Heck, next week I plan to write about some of the amazing stuff we have done over the last 48 hours.

Right now, however, crashed out on a couch while the gals snooze away in the other room, I see the takeaway as more visceral: nobody—I mean, nobody—deserves more credit in the world of parenting than single moms and dads who vacation with multiple children multiple times a year.

For these parents, solo-parent vacations aren’t a choice.  For these parents, help rarely is even an option. For these parents, this rigmarole is reality, on every single trip.

In my book—especially tonight—that makes them rock stars; parents from whom I’ve got a ton to learn.

On the Road Again, Solo with Kids

Little R (and friends) on our last big roadie.

Little R (and friends) on our last big roadie.

A few weeks ago, when Powerwoman decided to book a 4-day trip to see friends and family members back East (we both hail from New York), I was left with a number of options to entertain the girls. The County Fair! Museums in the city! Kicking it at home!

Had I chosen any one of these, all three of us would have been perfectly content with the result. Instead, however, I opted for something far more adventuresome (and outlandish and insane): A road trip.

That’s right. A road trip. Alone. With two kids under the age of five.

The trip is this weekend. The plan is simple: We pile into a 2013 Toyota RAV4 Limited, take our time driving up to the Mendocino County coast, and spend the long weekend exploring nooks and crannies of the area from our home base at the Little River Inn outside of Mendocino.

Am I nuts? Am I delusional? Most of my friends think so. One buddy asked if I was going to hire help along the way. Another—a mom, mind you—said she would “dread” a roadie without “backup” (i.e., her partner). Even my own parents questioned whether I’d have the energy and wherewithal to handle the challenge.

I certainly don’t scoff at these concerns. I mean, save for day trips here and there, I’ve never traveled solo with both girls–not by car, not by plane, not by hang-glider. What’s more, it’s probably not the brightest idea to take two kids who get car sick on a road trip that involves windy roads.

Still, why not go? We’ve got the time. We’ve got the car. We’ve even got a collective will to explore.

(As an aside, our room apparently is next to a llama barn, so I could say, “We’ve got llamas.”)

In general, my motto when it comes to traveling with my kids is this: Go big. Go often. And go to places they’ll enjoy. On paper, this trip should achieve every part of that credo. Now all we have to do is get out there.

Stay tuned throughout the week for nightly updates from the road. For more up-to-the-minute coverage, follow me on Instagram and like the blog on Facebook.

What’s the craziest solo trip you’ve ever taken with your kids?