Monday, June 14, 2010

A purely Nor Cal experience

Pixies, men in sarongs, children in butterfly wings with painted lions on their faces, half dressed women hula hooping to reggae, wafts of marijuana smoke, this is our entrance to this emblematic Northern California event—the Harmony Festival. Created as a guide on how to live sustainably, this expanding Wine Country festival (which now stretches over three days in June) lures families from as far as Washington.

This year my family was invited to explore the wealth of activities for kids. Armed with a squirt bottle and some snacks, we entered the Children’s Magical Playground. Face painters and balloon animal artists shared space with a car shaped like a shoe with drummers and violinists towed behind on a flatbed. Like pied pipers, they handed capes to children and asked if they would join the People’s Parade. We surely weren’t in San Francisco anymore. Our son selected a blue cape, blew some bubbles, grabbed a free applesauce and started marching with the parade through the crowd.

Like us, he was quickly distracted by the wealth of stands selling everything from doll houses crafted out of real wood, leaves and stones to 3-D paintings. Everywhere we looked there was something (or really, someone) to marvel at: The pot-smoking tent, where smoking is encouraged in an area quarantined from the rugrats; the ecovillage cluttered with yogis stretching upside down and speakers touting the benefits of composting; the skate ramp, the food vendors hawking raw organic vegan wraps and peach lassis; and the music.

To draw city types and hippies from the innards of Mendocino County, the Harmony Festival has upped the ante, departing from its typical lineup of meditation guides (though they can still be found in the ecovillage) and peace loving songstresses (they too can be found in the aptly named Goddess Village), this year they brought Slightly Stoopid, Zion I, Chali 2na, and Lauren Hill to the main stage.

Instead of watching the music, my munchkin, Kai delighted in learning to skateboard from a couple of 9 year olds, playing beach-ball soccer with another toddler and hula hooping with the hottie hoopsters. This was exactly why we enjoyed these types of festivals—we can stand in the sun with a beer and enjoy live music (or not, in the case with a slightly bitter Lauren Hill) and all sorts of entertaining peeps—including the lady decked out in cowboy gear and furry knee-high boots.

In terms of Harmony, this festival brought out all types, but it was the families that shone amongst the crowds. How can you not appreciate the child being towed on a skateboard, the kiddos flipping in the bouncehouse, the naked baby taking a break inside a hula hoop, the tweens skating the half pipe, and their parents, deservedly lounging on grass, maybe smoking some of their own, or merely pausing in a sea of humanity to wonder what their little babe will become and if a trip to a wonderland like this festival can inspire a love for all people, and the planet?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Yosemite Waterfalls For Free

Just in time for the spring show, American's 392 National Parks offer free admission to to celebrate National Park Week, April 17-25.

Rumors up in the Sierra hint that the waterfalls of Yosemite have begun to sparkle and ultimately dazzle visitors.

If you have some spare time (or extra sick days) celebrate the end of tax season, the beginning of spring, the quiet of kids being in school, or your favorite national parks, with a visit to Yosemite.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Last Minute Spring Break Ideas

As spring break approaches, many families scramble to come up with a plan. Many of us yearn to jet off to tropical strands, while others plot endless snowy days capped off my hot tubs, hot toddies and exhausted kiddos. Here's my list of Northern California spring break ideas for families and the young at heart.

1. Take the kids to Wine Country. Sure moms and dads prefer to get sloshed without Little Timmy's constant whining, but I've found that my kid loves traveling to the country--and what better country to explore than one that promises insanely good food and world class vino?

Favorite destinations with kids include Sonoma's MacArthur Place, Calistoga's Calistoga Hot Springs Spa. For more info on Wine Country travel with kids click here.

2. Head to the beach. Though you probably won't be graced with endless sunny days to bake in the rays, you can wander through tidepools, hiking trails, and chill out with books and balls. My current favorite NorCal beachy getaways include Point Reyes, Pacific Grove, and Arcata.

3. Go Glamping: OK, this might have been a fad from a decade ago, but that doesn't mean it's not a blast to take the family into a plush tent to sleep in a fancy bed, while getting the perks of sleeping under canvas. My favorite spots include Safari West, Costanoa, El Capitan Canyon in Santa Barbara and Big Basin.

4. Hit the slopes. While the masses head for Tahoe, why not motor up Hwy 4 to Bear Valley or make the trek up to Mt Shasta for some stellar scenery to boot. The slopes cost way less and have way less folks slipping and sliding on them.

5. Stay home and make a weekend out of it. Instead of heading off to explore other places, why not enjoy a full fledged vacation at home. Try out new restaurants, check out a museum, and do the touristy stuff you often ignore. If you need some ideas and have an i-anything, Download this.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

New Family Friendly SF iPhone App Launches

My iPhone app -- Family Friendly San Francisco -- was just released this past week and is published by Sutro Media. It's available through iTunes (by searching "San Francisco travel Michele Bigley") or by clicking here (or copying and pasting this link into your browser):

If you are an iPhone/iPod Touch devotee, please feel free to download it and review it (and give me feedback). It's well worth the price of admission. (Hey, you probably spent more than this on a cup of Starbuck's this morning, and this app will last much longer..... You get free updates for life!!!!)

If you don't have either an iPhone or iTunes, but you have friends in SF or traveling to to the Bay Area, please feel free to forward this email to them. I'd be eternally grateful. (So will they -- it's quite good.)

What the heck is this app all about?? It has 100 "essential" entries and hundreds of photos -- entries about places to see, things to do, reliable eats, toy stores, bathrooms with changing tables, playgrounds, parks, beaches, touristy, hidden gems, and SF originals. I've included places that both parents and kids will appreciate. They're all sortable with filters for cost, distance (GPS), and neighborhood. Fun and utilitarian. Early analytics suggest it's being used as much by visitors as locals. Another 100 entries are on the way.

Keep your eyes open for my next iPhone app: Family Friendly Napa/Sonoma, which, of course includes wineries the kids will love as much as mom and dad.