Weekend in Palm Springs

Just back from a quick weekend getaway to Palm Springs. Although we didn’t have much time, we got a good taste for the area and I am plotting our next visit.   I’d love to help you plan yours too!  If interested, email me at jrichardson@smartflyer.com!
How to get there – We flew nonstop to LAX and drove to Palm Springs from there. It was a haul (3 hours) because of traffic but if you time it well, you can make the drive in just under two hours. Palm Springs also has an airport, though flights to Palm Springs are not as frequent and may involve a layover along the way.   Tip – if you fly into LAX and rent a car, Hertz offers a pick up and drop off program where they arrange for a representative to bring a car from the rental area 5-10 minutes away directly to a parking spot outside baggage claim.  When you return the car, the representative jumps in and drives you directly to your terminal.  This saves the time and frustration of taking the shuttle to and from the rental car area.  Make advance plans for this service.  So convenient! Also this way you can break up the drive to PS by spending the afternoon in Venice Beach or Manhattan Beach – great way to break up the travel time, stretch your legs after the flight into LAX and grab a delicious lunch.
Where to Stay – There are many options but one of my top choices is The Parker (https://www.theparkerpalmsprings.com/). The design is super playful with artfully mismatched decor – think high-end flea market.  This hotel feels exclusive yet not pretentious.  Out back are beautiful maze-like gardens leading to many of their rooms as well as their pools and other public spaces reserved for guests only. Norma’s (of Le Parker Meridien in NYC) is their main restaurant and they also have Mr. Parker’s, which is opened on most nights for dinner. Mr. Parker’s has a retro, sexy lounge vibe with a beautiful baby grand piano. The restaurant was closed when we visited so we didn’t see it in action but I am guessing that live music is part of the equation there.  If you are visiting this hotel with kids, you need to be okay with artwork around the hotel that highlights drugs and nudie women.
L’Horizon is supposed to be great too for an adults-only experience (http://lhorizonpalmsprings.com/). Curated by A-list designer Steve Hermann, it has 25 bungalows set amidst three acres with views of the surrounding mountain ranges.
For a more traditional five-star luxury option, the Ritz is a classic (http://www.ritzcarlton.com/en/hotels/california/rancho-mirage?scid=bb1a189a-fec3-4d19-a255-54ba596febe2). It is beautifully set overlooking various mountain ranges in the area and the property is huge. The public spaces and rooms are  spacious but could use a bit of refreshing. I must give credit where credit is due: their service was impeccable – so polite and helpful. If you like to get your morning groove on, there are a few hiking options on property, including a daily, guided 7am hike.
If you’re looking for quirky and/ or more bohemian hotel options, there are plenty of those as well in the area!
To do
Joshua Tree National Park is an hour away by car and a must see. It’s also about 20 degrees cooler than Palm Springs, which was a steamy 105 during our stay. We only had a few hours at JT but it was so worthwhile. The Ryan Mountain hike is great with a huge treat at the apex in the form of 360 views of the surrounding valleys and mountains. There are a ton of hiking options of all levels throughout the park.  The Noah Purifoy Museum is supposed to be great (http://www.noahpurifoy.com/joshua-tree-outdoor-museum/) and the Integratron nearby sounds like a cool experience as well (book in advance) (http://joshuatree.guide/integratron/).
Just outside the West entrance of the park are a few cafes and a health food market if you want to grab a bite on your way in.   My top two choices are: The Three Sisters Cafe (http://www.naturalsisterscafe.com/) for grab and go style (and it’s two doors down from a great health food market) and the Crossroads Cafe (http://crossroadscafejtree.com/) for table service. Make sure to enter the park with plenty of water as there is nowhere to purchase or refill water once inside the park.
Pioneertown – Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace (https://www.pappyandharriets.com/) is a great stop after spending a day in Joshua Tree. It’s a restaurant with live music nightly (even some big names have been known to stop in and take the stage) and a crowd-pleasing menu. If you go before sundown, check out the village beside the restaurant, which was built in the first half of the 20th century by Hollywood celebs and investors as a movie set based on an 1870’s town.
Aerial Tramway – Gorgeous views with hikes at the top, plus dining options if it felt like a lot of work to get up by tram!  https://www.pstramway.com/
Architecture tours – If mid-century modern architecture is your thing, PS is your place. Even their airport and library boast a mid-century modern aesthetic! If you are looking to learn more about mid-century modernism in PS, there are plenty of tours that focus on that very topic. A few to check out are http://www.themoderntour.com/, http://www.palmspringsmoderntours.com/ and https://www.psmodsquad.com/.
Shopping – Palm Springs has its “Uptown Design District” which is a tiny area that focuses on unique and original home decor within about a 10 block radius on N. Palm Canyon Drive. The Shops at 1345 (http://theshopsat1345.com/) is a good starting point.  Also two of my favorite boutiques in Palm Springs are Elizabeth and Prince (https://www.elizabethandprince.com/) for women’s clothing (they have locations in Palm Springs and Palm Desert) and H2O Closet Apothecary (http://www.h2ocloset.com/) for skincare and candles. The owner Ken is an absolute sweetheart and I fell in love with their Maison Louie Marie scented candles.
Palm Desert is referred to by locals as the Rodeo Drive of the region with designer and big box stores like Apple, Saks and Lululemon alongside a handful of smaller boutiques.
To eat – So.Pa is a beautiful outdoor restaurant at the L’Horizon Hótel. The atmosphere is better than the food but the food is still really nice. The diver scallops are a must!  http://lhorizonpalmsprings.com/sopa-restaurant
Norma’s (https://www.theparkerpalmsprings.com/food-and-drink/) is always an easy, crowd-pleaser for lunch at The Parker and the setting is so happy and laid back!
Workshop (http://workshoppalmsprings.com/) is an upscale, industrial chic farm- to-table restaurant in the town of Palm Springs that gets a lot of hype. The food was good- not outstanding-although we did gobble up the fries, the roasted Brussels sprouts and the chocolate cake and homemade ice cream, which are not to be missed for dessert.
El Hefe (https://thesaguaro.com/palm-springs/#eat-drink is a Mexican joint inside the Saguaro Hotel. Their salsa, guacamole and chips hit the spot if it’s Mexican fare you’re craving and they have a full menu of tacos, quesadillas and salads if you are still hungry. Vibe is super casual, loud and dark. They don’t take reservations.
In Palm Springs the sun is always shining so if you need some Vitamin D this winter, let’s make that happen!  jrichardson@smartflyer.com.


Los Angeles

Welcome to my first official post. Why is now THE moment, I sometimes ask myself, that I am starting this blog? Well that’s a loaded question, but the catalyst was the response I got from people when I told them I was going to Los Angeles with my family for winter break – a confused face followed by the question “do you have family there?”. The answer is, “we have very little family there” (who, incidentally, we only saw one day during our 8 day visit). We simply wanted to take a vacation and after discovering that the Caribbean and Mexico (more typical choices for us at this time of year) were out of the question due to ludicrous airfare and hotel rates, we thought L.A. would be a great option. So I am here to report that we had an incredible time. And to share…..

Immediately below is the skinny on our trip. For the uncut version, read on.

Duration: 8 nights over December break from school
Airline: Delta nonstop to LAX – approx. 6 hours going; 4.5 hours coming home
Hotel: Fairmont Miramar Hotel and Bungalows, Santa Monica (http://www.fairmont.com/santa-monica/) – great option for our family, would go back in a heartbeat…though not where I would stay if I were going sans children. Breakfast was a highlight each morning at their restaurant, FIG. It was included in the price of the room and the menu and service could not have been more ideal.
Third Street Promenade and Santa Monica Boardwalk and Beach (http://www.downtownsm.com/)
Venice Canals, shops and restaurants
Malibu Country Mart (http://malibucountrymart.com/) and Point Dume Beach in Malibu (http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=623)
California Science Center (http://www.californiasciencecenter.org/) – Cleopatra Exhibit (closed in 01/13) and Space Shuttle Endeavour. Check out web site for current exhibits –
Hollywood – Grauman’s Chinese Theater, Walk of Fame
Getty Center (http://www.getty.edu/)
Skirball Cultural Center (http://www.skirball.org/) – Excellent Jewish-American cultural institution/museum.  Don’t miss the Noah’s Ark exhibit with children.
Brentwood Country Mart (http://brentwoodcountrymart.com/) – Wonderful assortment of high-end boutiques around a great little courtyard with all sorts of fresh takeout on the perimeter and seating in the center, including picnic tables and counter-style seats around a central fire pit. Also a gourmet market and rustic style restaurant for table service.  Quarter rides for the little ones, plus a gourmet ice cream shop.
Noteworthy meals with kids – Zengo in Santa Monica (http://www.richardsandoval.com/zengosm/index.php), Malibu Country Mart Taqueria, Brentwood Country Mart ((http://brentwoodcountrymart.com/)) assorted takeout, Urth Cafe (http://www.urthcaffe.com/) – don’t miss their coffee
Noteworthy meals without kids – Tar & Roses in Santa Monica http://tarandroses.com/) Rustic Canyon in Santa Monica (http://www.rusticcanyonwinebar.com/), Gjelina in Venice (http://www.gjelina.com/)
Activities we did not have time for but would have liked to do – Griffith Observatory, Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens, La Brea Tar Pits, Farmer’s Markets, which I hear are terrific and fun for all ages, Zuma Beach in Malibu, Getty Villa, and Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).
Surprising Perk – despite rumors of L.A. traffic nightmares, we did not hit any traffic on any of our multiple excursions. NONE!
Critical Perk – sun was almost always shining and the weather was mid 60s…..refreshing departure from subzero temps back home

Uncut Version below:

It’s always my goal to plan a vacation that will be fun for the kids but not child-centric. This trip really hit the spot. After looking into a bunch of hotel options, we decided on the Fairmont Miramar Hotel and Bungalows in Santa Monica. Perfect Choice – we got a great rate on our room, very friendly staff, nice, clean rooms (though not my ideal style), and it’s almost directly across the street from the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, which provides constant entertainment. Almost any time of day or night on the Promenade you can find street performers that appeal to kids and adults alike. If you packed for the wrong weather, you can pick up a sweater or a t-shirt at one of the many big box stores on the promenade. And no matter what you feel like eating, you’ll find it on (or within steps or blocks of) the Promenade…though “foodies” will not be impressed. Also directly across the street from the hotel is the beautifully manicured boardwalk that follows the Pacific Coast highway and overlooks the Pacific Ocean. If it’s the sand you’re looking for, you’ll have to make your way across the PCH which is not far, but a bit more of a walk – still doable with kids ages 4+, and with a stroller for younger ones. The beach is lined with playgrounds from Santa Monica southbound to Venice, as well as a boardwalk with a biking and walking path. The Fairmont has complimentary bikes for its guests. Also along the path between Santa Monica and Venice is the Santa Monica Pier, which features all sorts of amusements and rides for kids and adults.

Day 1

We spent our first full day between the Third Street Promenade and the Santa Monica promenade and beach. While there, we grabbed lunch at Blue Point Oysterette (http://blueplatesantamonica.com/bpo/home/), which we liked for its cool, casual, almost beachy vibe (we ate outside at a picnic table). The food was more than adequate and given its proximity to the hotel, Third Street and the beach, and its kid-friendly vibe, I would definitely return there for another meal. That evening we brought in California Pizza Kitchen (right across the street from the hotel) for the kids’ dinner and my husband and I met friends at Rustic Canyon just a few blocks down from our hotel on Wilshire Boulevard in Santa Monica (http://www.rusticcanyonwinebar.com/). We were seated in a cozy booth and had a wonderful, farm-to-table dinner. The service, lighting and well curated wine list added points to the restaurant’s great menu.


Kids playing at Santa Monica Beach

Day 2

We woke up on Christmas eve and due to popular adult request (did I mention that my in-laws were there with us?), we headed back over to the Third Street Promenade in the morning for a few hours and within seconds of our arrival, the kids were engaged by a woman playing silver bells and a young man with a balloon stand. After a while we went to meet old friends in Venice.


Silver bells at the Third Street Promenade

Venice. What a cool little enclave – it has style, great food and even European culture. Our first order of pleasure was to get to the “European” side of town where developer Abbott Kinney built the “Venice of America” in 1905. Think beautiful man-made canals surrounded by some of the most interesting and eclectic homes you’ve ever seen in one small area. We walked alongside the canals and over the foot bridges in this area until we had seen it all. The sun was shining, the water was glistening and even the ducks were out and about to greet us as we walked through. It was a wonderful few hours. After that we ventured over to Abbott Kinney, a street aptly named for the developer, which is chock full of chic boutiques and several top notch restaurants. We got a snack at Lemonade, a healthy, immaculate “fast food” cafe (http://lemonadela.com/) and then strolled along Abbott Kinney for some window shopping.


The Venice canals

We returned to Santa Monica for dinner at Zengo (http://www.richardsandoval.com/zengosm/index.php), at the corner of Third Street and Broadway. We loved it! Menu was great, service was polite and the food was yummy, as long as you’re okay with an Americanized, trendy interpretation of Latin-Asian food. Given our 5pm reservation (the benefit of going with young children), we took the kids and had a terrific meal. Zengo is a Latin-Asian fusion restaurant with a dark, sexy vibe. However, the edamame, noodle dishes, chop sticks, roomy booths and super cool fireplace made it perfectly suitable for the children.

Day 3

Despite the overcast sky, we crossed our fingers and headed north to Malibu hoping we would find the sun there, perhaps hiding on a beach. A scenic 15 minute drive up the Pacific Coast Highway brought us to the Malibu Country Mart where the high-end, luxury boutiques were closed but the taqueria (Howdy’s Taqueria) and playground were open. We had a yummy lunch of assorted tacos, guacamole, salsa and chips at the outdoor picnic tables smartly placed around a central playground. The kids had a ball climbing, sliding, swinging and petting strangers’ dogs while we alternatively joined in the fun and relaxed on the sidelines. Next we drove to Point Dume for a beach visit but by the time we arrived the clouds had turned to rain and two of our three children had dozed off. Oh well, good to know where it is for our next visit, which would happen a few days later.


“Hangin'” at Malibu Country Mart

Day 4

Shortly after breakfast, we headed to the Getty Center. I had NO idea what a treat we were in for. The sun was shining as we arrived at the foot of the tramway just after opening at 10am. After waiting on a short line we took the tram up the mountain to an impressive cluster of modern, yet classic, buildings designed by famed architect Richard Meier. Modern for its clean lines; classic for the Italian travertine square tiles that make up the majority of the buildings. The setting was majestic, set high on a hilltop overlooking the Santa Monica mountains and Los Angeles. The gardens on the property, made possible by landfill used from the dirt that had to be dug up to build the Center, were exquisite. My seven year old son, my mother-in-law and I took a one-hour tour of the grounds, led by a volunteer docent who led us around the property with such enthusiasm I would have thought she was new to the position except that she had such a wealth of information to share I knew she must have done this many times before. The tour covered the history of the Getty Center, including how it was constructed, and pointed out many of the intentional details used by Richard Meier. We visited a few of the exhibits very quickly, but given that we had three young children in tow and the weather was so perfect, we spent much of the afternoon outdoors. We had lunch at the Center on a veranda, basking in the sun and taking in the city views. The food was easily the best, freshest food I have ever seen offered at a museum, with a nice selection of wine to boot. After lunch we spent the balance of the afternoon strolling through the gardens and playing tag with the kids on the pristine lawn. There was also a children’s activity center that I hear is interactive and enticing for the younger set, but we did not make it there.


A bird’s eye view of and from the Getty Center, and a tiny glimpse of the gardens

In the evening, the kids were thrilled with CPK again, while my husband and I went to Gjelina in Venice, which was excellent. The restaurant has a dark, sexy vibe with a gorgeous garden in the back. Amidst trees, a slate wall, tons of candles and space heaters to keep us toasty, we dined on some of the freshest and most delectable locally sourced fare I’ve had in a long time. Even my husband was salivating over the grilled radicchio, which is saying A LOT for a meat and potatoes kind of guy. The menu was filled with creative vegetarian small plates as well as plenty of seafood and meat options for pescivores and carnivores. The wine was equally enticing. The service, while prompt, was the only service in L.A. that was snooty. It didn’t matter though, because one bite of dinner wiped away the bad taste left by our waiter. If you want to go here, reserve early. They book up to a month in advance.

Day 5

We went to the Skirball Cultural Center (http://www.skirball.org), which is one of the most captivating, easily navigable museums I have ever visited. It melds Jewish heritage with American culture in an extremely didactic, yet approachable manner. It is meant to appeal to people of all backgrounds and while its signature exhibit traces Jewish history back thousands of years, it also has some great American cultural exhibits, such as its First Amendment room which contains interactive exhibits meant to get visitors to question what limits should be placed on First Amendment rights. The “piece de resistance” of this museum for us was the Noah’s Ark exhibit, which recreates the story of Noah’s Ark in a 6,000 square foot interactive exhibit that is meant to be touched, climbed on and played with every step of the way. It is eye candy galore for children and adults alike. Every space of the exhibit is filled with details from the story of Noah’s Ark. For example, with a twist of a wheel or push of a lever, even my two year old was able to create the wind, rain, thunder and lightning that came before the flood. And in the same moment, the adults can marvel over the sophisticated animals made from recycled materials (also meant to be touched by the kids) and the evolution from animals entering the ark “two by two” to making friends with animals of different species. There is a two hour time limit in the Noah’s Ark exhibit, which was about the time it took us to get through it. Pretty impressive that an exhibit can keep young children busy for that amount of time. That afternoon we went to a friend’s house in Brentwood and then to Brentwood Country Mart for dinner (http://brentwoodcountrymart.com/). I love this “country mart” concept they have going in L.A. – sort of like an outdoor mall, except with great, high-end boutiques organized around a square rather than in a strip – with terrific little takeout food options, including several healthful alternatives. We ordered from a Mexican taqueria, a rotisserie chicken stand and a burger joint, and all ate around a fire. The kids loved the quarter rides and the homemade ice cream for dessert.

Day 6

Today we headed to the California Science Center. Our purpose was to see the Cleopatra Exhibit, which most of us were able to visit at least for a little while between taking turns to stroll outside under the warm sunlight with our sleeping toddler. The exhibit was incredibly well curated for both adults and children age 8 and over, with an informative and captivating audio self-tour to accompany the visitor’s tour through Cleopatra’s life. My husband took the older kids to see “The Blue Planet” at the IMAX on site, which they all enjoyed.  They also got a quick glimpse of the Space Shuttle Endeavour, but did not spend as much time as they might have had everyone not been so tired. The Science Center took up most of the day. We picked up sandwiches from Urth Cafe (www.urthcaffe.com) in Downtown L.A. for a late lunch. Love that place – healthy-ish, yummy, homemade sandwiches, salads, desserts for everyone and the BEST coffee I think I’ve ever tasted in my life.

Day 7

On our last full day we headed back up to Malibu for playground time and lunch at the Malibu Country Mart. This time we ordered over-priced but tasty Mediterranean food and ate at the picnic tables around the playground once again. Then it was off to Point Dume for the afternoon. WOW! The beach was vast and clean, and the water, though cold, was sparkly and blue. We began our adventure with a little hike up to Point Dume, which took 30 minutes, including a 15 minute stop at a rest area with a stunning lookout where the kids had snacks and we spotted a whale out in the Pacific.  Once we reached the top of the “Point”, we were surrounded by views of mountains, beaches and cliffs, with the bright sunshine above.  We took our time getting back down to the beach, where we spent hours playing in the sand and watching in awe at the people climbing and repelling from a huge, perfectly vertical cliff just a few feet away. If it were not for the early evening pangs of hunger calling our attention, we could have stayed until the sun went down. The kids were content for hours playing in the sand and enjoying their surroundings.


View from Point Dume hike and the cliff at Point Dume – thrilling!

Day 8

We woke up at the crack of dawn and headed out for LAX to return our rental car and catch our flight back to New York. As far as traveling days go, this one was seamless. Kids were great, flight was smooth, and we were back home before dark, filled with excellent memories.




We spent several days of our Los Angeles vacation in Malibu. The beaches were irresistible, the hikes ideal for our 2.5 year old, and the drive from Santa Monica was so easy and convenient. This picture is taken at Point Dume. We loved our entire vacation in L.A. but I must say that Point Dume transported us. Peering out from atop Point Dume, we could have been in Italy or South Africa. Read on for tips about the rest of our vacation and why L.A. is such a great place to travel with kids.