Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Huntington Beach--My 3-year-old's Alternative to Disneyland

I love going to the beach--playing in the sand, feeling the waves on my feet, looking into the horizon. During our December trip when the sand was cold (the high temperature was around 58) and the water was very chilly, we had a blast.

Huntington Beach is a hidden gem.  Despite being off-season, the local surf shop was open with cheap wetsuits for rent and a large bag of sand toys to borrow.  Many shops are friendly and accommodating. This quieter beach has reasonably priced parking and a few shops to browse without being an overcrowded tourist trap.  Known for wind and surfing, Huntington Beach hosts many surf competitions and usually is a great place for kites.  Additionally, the large pier, filled with local fisherman, is fun to stroll along ending with Ruby's diner (be sure to grab a snack while taking in the view).

For our younger children, this was the first time they had seen the ocean and were delighted as the waves rolled in and out.  Our older children were not deterred by the cooler temperatures and dived right in (renting wetsuits helped).  Everyone loved hunting for seashells, burying each other in the sand, and watching the crabs.  My three-year-old enjoyed driving his monster truck through the sand.  My nine-year-old built a sand castle.  The seven-year-old chased crabs into temporary traps.  My eleven-year-old never left the ocean.  The baby explored the texture of the sand (and even tasted it).  I was enamored by the sound of the ocean and practically hypnotized by the waves.

After playing for a few hours, we packed up and walked along the pier to Ruby's www.rubys.com.  This diner offers unique burgers (my husband's favorite is the cobb burger), milkshakes, fries (regular or sweet potato), and other diner staples. Our kids enjoy sitting upstairs, ordering off the relatively large kid's menu, and being occupied by the cardboard menus which turn into cars and surfboards with decorative stickers.  Meanwhile, the views of the ocean are unparalleled and the price is reasonable (though you may want to consider splitting a meal, especially at lunch, or just ordering fries and a milkshake).  This is one of those places our kids still talk about it.

When vacation was over, our three-year-old named Huntington Beach as his favorite part of vacation (not Disneyland or the motel swimming pool).  Many guide books will tell you the same.  That is why, even off-season in cooler weather, I still recommend spending a day at the beach.  I also think children (and adults) need a break from the amusement parks and have a slower day to explore and play.  Ideally, families will plan a beach day mid-vacation to allow everyone to reenergize.  My only caution, be sure to use plenty of sunscreen so that the rest of your vacation will not be spoiled by sunburn!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

John Adams Tour--A Boston Must See

One of the hidden treasures of the Boston area is the John Adams Tour known officially as the Adams National Historical Park.  Just as the Kennedys (there is also a museum for that) dominated the American scene for the twentieth century, the Adams family was a powerhouse from the Colonial era through the Civil War.  Presidents, Ambassadors, Congressmen, Constitutional Framers, the lawyers behind the Boston Massacre and Amistad, this family did it all.

The tour begins at the visitor's center in Quincy.  Validation for parking is offered and the tour is $5 per person over age 16.  Tickets for the tour are first come, first serve (large groups are allowed to make reservations), so usually there is an hour or two wait giving guests time to explore the visitor's center and browse the store.  Having a history degree, I had read David McCullough's book John Adams as well as seen the HBO mini-series.  I thought I knew plenty and was simply there to see the sites in person.  I did not realize how little I knew about this family.  My knowledge of John Quincy in particular was incomplete. He began working for the federal government at the age of 14 and practically died on the steps of the Capitol.  He was the brilliant lawyer that successfully argued the Amistad case before the Supreme Court, all or whom were slave owners.  His tenure in the US Congress after being a President ended at the time of Lincoln's Congressional election.  His son, Charles, was ambassador during the Civil War, successfully arguing that England not support the Confederacy.  His wife was the charming lady that opened doors in Europe and America. And then there was the store. . .

After wandering through the visitor's center, guests ride a shuttle bus to three different homes owned by the Adams family as well as the Stone Library (built as a fire proof sanctuary for the vast collection and original documents that literally founded this nation).  The first stop is the original farmhouse and birthplace of John Adams.  This "country" lawyer, who was considered too poor to be a proper suitor for Abigail, was born in a respectable sized farmhouse with a handful of artifacts reminding visitors how primitive 1735 really was.   As an adult, John lived in the farmhouse next door where his law desk (still standing in the front room) was the place he stood (not sat) and penned some of the most important documents in history.  Seeing the farm that Abigail had to manage as soldiers wandered down the road directly next to the house is poignant.

The bus than whisks visitors to Peacefield--the manor house of the Adams post-Revolution.  The house is filled with original furnishings belonging to the Adams family--lamps, chairs, linens, paintings, vases.  Each room is a powerful museum where tour guides tell stories about key artifacts and the four generations of Adams that lived there.  After a tour of the house and gardens, the Stone Library contains one of the oldest American collections including the famous Treaty of Paris painting. 

At the end of this two hour tour, the bus returns visitors to the center.  The experience is incredible in teaching about the lives of two of our presidents and the legacy of their family.  It also demonstrates life in the 1700s and 1800s and the hardships endured by families.  The reality that John Adams' legal services was not sufficient income and was supplemented by the farm.  As a mother of 5, the colonial kitchen, bathroom, and laundry seemed particularly primitive especially when paired with a New England winter.

The tour does not include the final resting place of John, Abigail, John Quincy, and Louisa.  Their burial is at a neighboring church with separate operating times and fees.

Though I love bringing children to historic places and museums, this tour is more suited for school aged children.  The length of the tour and the inability to touch any artifacts within each house make this tour difficult for preschoolers and almost impossible for toddlers.

Be sure to add this powerful tour to your next trip in Boston.

The Stone Library