Category Archives: Things to do at…

New York City Adventures: Central Park, Morningside Park, and Ice Cream!

October 14, 2011

I am sitting in a cabin in a holiday park in the Poconos, PA, rain alternately pouring down and sprinkling lightly outside, while Eliane sleeps in one of the two bedrooms.

Chris has taken the other kids into town to do some washing.

looking down at central park through the window of an apartment across the roadWe spent a day and a half in NYC and drove up here to Gouldsboro in the Poconos late yesterday.

New York was awesome, though very short. We were incredibly lucky to stay with a friend of a friend on the Upper West Side,  right across the road from Central Park.

We arrived late on Tuesday with just enough time to eat some cheerios for dinner and then get everyone to bed, after a 24+ hour day, since getting up in Athens.

Wednesday we spent exploring Central Park. We started by exploring the West end of the park, starting with a playground just inside the gates, then took the subway down to the Museum of Natural History on 81st and made our way back into the park from there.

We were all a little tired and grumpy after the previous long day of travel, but managed to enjoy ourselves all the same. We treated ourselves to hot-dogs and shared a warm pretzel.

A hot dog and ptretel standard in Upper West Side Manhatten

We didn’t manage to have a bagel with cream cheese, which was one of my NYC food goals (not that we can’t do that in Berkeley, but it’s just not the same, you know?), and Central Park’s famous carousel was closed, which was disappointing.

The highlight of the day for the kids was hiring a remote control sailing boat, which cost $11 for a half hour, but I’m sure we had it for something more like an hour. We all took a turn with this, and it was harder to control than it looked!

While the big kids played with the boat, Eliane spent a happy hour pottering in a nearby sandpit (just far enough from the lake to allow me to relax and watch squirrels preparing for the winter while she played).

By the time we got close to the zoo, which we had thought of visiting, it was getting on for four o’clock, so we didn’t mention it to the kids and just kept wandering. We also didn’t go into the museum, which would have cost around $50 (I can’t remember exactly) for the lot of us.

I had thought perhaps Chris could take Liam and maybe Mikaela back there (though I think Kaely would have quickly tired of it) when I took Eliane home for a nap, but time got away from us and Elli didn’t get a nap that day.

mosiac tiles adorn the ceilingMy favorite part of the park was Bethesda Terrace, which has beautiful tiled ceilings, among other things. The kids enjoyed it too, though perhaps more for the fountain and the many stairs, than the ceilings!

We also all got a kick out of all the tunnels in the park, which have amazing acoustics. Tunnels are the sorts of things kids just love regardless, but Liam and I also got a kick out of singing in some of them, and finding the best spots for magnification.

We finished the day with ice-creams at an ice-cream shop (I think it may have been a diet ice-cream shop actually, as odd as that sounds!), on Broadway, and then caught the subway back from there (we’d made it all the way down to 57th Street).

The next morning we continued the park theme, heading up a block to explore Morningside Park. It has at least three playgrounds which the kids enjoyed, though I think they liked climbing in the rocks, both there and in Central Park, just as much.

A girl climbs a boulder in Morningside Park, NYCWe were planing to get up above the park to see the huge cathedral there, but we hadn’t counted on the size of the park.

By the time we made it up to the cathedral we just had time to take a few snaps from the outside, before heading back to have some lunch, pick up a rental car, and head up into Pennsylvania – and we still didn’t manage to get here before dark!

Depending on how early we get out of here on Tuesday morning, we should have another half day or so in NYC next week. We fly out early in the morning, so we’ve booked a hotel the night before close to JFK Airport.

If we get there in time, we might either take the Staten Island ferry out to see the Statue of Liberty (and by ‘see’ I don’t mean line up for four hours with a slight hope of getting in) or maybe take the subway to Times Square, which was what we were planning to do Thursday morning, but traded in for Morningside Park (which was far more fun for the kids).

All in all we had a lovely couple of days in New York with the kids. I do hope we are able to get back there sometime.

Photo Blog

the family posing at the end of a large tunnel in Central park

In Central Park we wandered through the Shakespeare Garden…

Sign announcing Shakespeare Garden, "This bud of love, by summer's ripening breath, May prove a beauteous flower when next we meet." Romeo and Juliet. In Loving Memory of Roberta C Rudlin from her family June 1 1989

…which was quite picturesque with plenty of flowers despite the late season.

Facing wooden benches in the Shakespeare Garden
We then walked up to Belvedere Castle to take in the views:

Belvedere Castle through the trees, with fall leaves on the ground alone the path

We came across this statue of Alice in Wonderland sitting on the mushroom, with the Mad Hatter and White Rabbit for company.
Alice in Wonderland with the Mad Hatter and the White Rabbit.
And is this squirrel I watched run back and forth collecting nuts for the winter…

A squirrel collects nuts for the winter - and holds on in it's mouth.

…While Eliane played in the sand and Chris and the big kids played with the remote control boats.
A family concentrating on their remote control boat in central park

San Francisco with Kids – Golden Gate Park

We picked a fabulous day to visit the city, with blue skies and a warm sun. Although San Francisco is famed for being warmer in the fall than in summer, usually by November the chill is setting back in. Not today.

landscape photo of the children's playground on a sunny day, blue skies, lots of children playing, and a few people picnicing on the grass.
What to do with kids in SF? Bring them to this gorgeous children's playground at Gold Gate Park, with sandpit, climbing wave wall, bridges, swings and climbing frames, surrounded by tall, tall trees and a beautiful blue sky. That's our blue picnic rug in the front on the left, with my best friend sitting on it.

We spent most of our time sitting in the sun at the childrens playground, which is a fairly large space with everything from a climbing web to a long slide, and a sandpit for the littlies.

It also has four bucket style baby swings, three big kid swings (the flexible kind that even my hips can fit in), and a full chair style swing with back. Since the swings are always such a hit with my girls, both if whom could swing for hours, it’s always good to find the rare place when there are enough of them.

A large blue and green mosaic lizard edging a large sandpit
The sandpit was pretty big, and had this awesome lizard (or dragon?) guarding us, inevitably reminding us of Barcelona and Gaudi's lizard.

I actually spent most of the time we were there sitting on our picnic blanket on the grass chatting to my friend, keeping half an eye on the kids, while chris was good enough to follow Elli around. But, we placed ourselves near the sandpit where she was happy to spend a lot of time.

a large map of golden gate park, mounted on a sign
Click to enlarge

When we’d eaten our picnic and judged that the kids had had enough time playing not to stage a mutiny (a bit over 2 hours) we packed up and went exploring. The Japanese Tea Gardens were our goal, but we didn’t tell the kids that at first, just in case we didn’t make it – there are maps around the park, including one right next to the children’s quarter, but we weren’t quite sure of our bearings, nor of how far it was.

In the end it took us about an hour and a half to get down there, though only about 20-30 minutes to get back (we’d driven, and parked up at the children’s playground), and without meandering five year olds I reckon it could be about a ten to fifteen minute walk.

We walked via the flower conservatory, which we didn’t go into since you had to buy tickets, but we stopped outside and bought hot chocolates and coffees all round. They weren’t terribly good, but they were warm and the guy was kind enough to give me an extra cup half filled with whipped cream for Eliane, which made her very happy.

The kids also had fun climbing trees, running around like fairies, and generally exploring as we went, so I was happy to take the time.

In the end we got to the tea gardens with only an hour to go before they closed, which was okay, though we could easily have spent more time there. The kids enjoyed exploring the paths, crossing the streams on bridges and stepping stones, and admiring the fish in the large pond and the water falls. We enjoyed all that and the serenity of the atmosphere besides.

large pond with trees and autumn foilage reflected in it, and stone bridge or path to one side with a small boy in it
Tea Garden Serenity

There is a Japanese tea house in the gardens which sells four kinds if Japanese tea, various small Japanese dishes including a very good miso soup, and some small cookies and soft drinks if you need something ‘regular’ for the kids.

We had a pot of tea which Liam and I shared (they brought two cups automatically, though the other three teas were all sold by the cup for the same price), and a plate of 9 little Japanese cookies which the children shared, and Chris had the miso soup. By the time we finished there they’d locked up the front gate of the Gardens, and we had to go out a side gate.

Japanese style gate house structure
This was the front gate - the side gate was a little less imposing.

It cost $7/adult to enter the Tea Gardens, and $2/child of five and over. That seemed reasonable, but still added up to $20 for us (we had an extra five year old with us). They do have three periods of free entry during the week however, though all at morning times on week days.

In Barcelona: The Sagrada Familia with Kids

Crowds wait at the back of the church
Crowds wait at the back of the Sagrada Familia, at the groups entrance.
older Sagrada familia set against lighter modern construction
The Sagrada Familia has been under construction for well over one hundred years, and it's easy to see how construction practices have changed in that time. Here you can see the older, concrete construction set against newer and ongoing work. The museum underneath the church is free with entrance and can give a fascinating perspective on the construction.

Traveling with kids is definitely different to traveling without them. Of course that’s not news. And I’ve traveled with kids before, so this shouldn’t come as a surprise, but I supposed I haven’t traveled to places where I want to behave like a tourist before – sightseeing.

Today we went to the Sagrada Familia, which was amazing. This is a church designed by Gaudi, which has been under construction since 1882, with completion expected around 2020. Some people come back to Barcelona every few years to see how it’s progressing. I think we took about 100 photos.

Even at 10 in the morning the line to buy tickets to enter the church was around the block, but there were far fewer tour groups waiting than when we visited two days ago and decided not to go in, an hour or two later in the day. But, the line moved quickly, and once inside it didn’t feel particularly crowded, if also not particularly reverential.

Tickets cost us €12 each and the kids were free, all being under 10. Unfortunately, we couldn’t go up in the lift into the spires, because a) under 6 year olds can’t go up, so someone would have had to stay down with Mikaela and Eliane, and b) the next time we could go was 1&1/2 hours away – tickets were sold out until then.

A spiral staircase
If you go up to the top of the spires in the lift, you have the choice of coming back down the lift or walking down the spiral staircase.

An hour and a half seemed too long to wait, and we were not wrong in our assessment – the two younger kids were over it long before that, especially Eliane, who woke up tired and grumpy today, after a short nap yesterday and an unsettled night. There really wasn’t a lot in the church for them to do – when you’re 1 or even 5, it’s pretty much a case of seen one amazing glass window, seen ’em all.

Liam had his own camera and so enjoyed taking photos himself, while Chris and I took turns with child supervision and church appreciation. That was okay, but we simply weren’t at leisure to read the various plaques or spend any time in the museum (underneath) and so on. We walked through the museum, but only to find the toilets!

While the Sagrada Familia was well worth the visit, for Liam as well as us grown ups, I would love to go back without the kids (or without young kids at the very least) to be able to really appreciate the church in all it’s glory. After the money and energy that has been poured into this church, which was Gaudi’s last and some say greatest work, I imagine it will always be a tourist attraction. But I would like to think that there will be facility for it to be used as it was, I’m sure, intended, not only to hold services, but for the devout (or even not so devout) to sit in mediation or prayer in what should be an amazing atmosphere – if ever there is a time when it is not crawling with sightseers and their cameras.

Speaking for which, here are just a few of the photos we took:

Angels around stained glass window on the outside of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona
Detail on the outside of the church


Looking up in the Centre of the Church


Stained glass windows in brilliant colour
Just some of the many brilliant stained glass windows in the Sagrada Familia


Barcelona City from Montjuic with the Sagrada Familia in the middle
View of the Sagrada Familia with several cranes just visible, situated in the middle of the city of Barcelona, from about half way up the popular tourist spot, Montjuic.



What Are The Top 10 Things To Do In Barcelona, Spain?

View of Barcelona from the top of Tibidabo
There is a church called Temple de Sagrat Cor at the top of Tibidabo, which overlooks Barcelona. Photo Credit: Borkur Sigurbjörnsson

Barcelona is the second largest city in Spain and the capital of Catalonia. Tourism is a huge industry in this city, which is the 16th most visited worldwide and the fourth most visited in Europe. Each year, several million people visit beautiful Barcelona. It has something for everyone, making it the perfect destination for an overseas family vacation. To make planning more efficient, we have compiled the top 10 things to do in Barcelona Spain. Be sure to include several of these in the travel itinerary so the kids will enjoy the trip as much as the adults.

Barcelona makes a perfect destination any time of year because the summers are warm and dry and winters are mild and humid. Many hotels are family friendly, offering rooms that accommodate four or more guests. Family rooms at the Holiday Inn Express Barcelona sleep two children and two adults, while rooms at the Mur Mar Apart Hotel sleep six people. The Triunfo Hotel features triple rooms ideal for a small family and overlooks the Parc de la Ciutadella, a kid-friendly recreation spot.

Upon arrival, tourists can get an overview of the city by taking an open top, hop on, hop off tour bus. Even residents comment on the usefulness of this transportation because it provides a thorough overview of the layout of Barcelona. Travelers can use it to get around Barcelona, hopping on and off wherever they choose, or they may remain on the bus for the entire tour, passing by the most popular tourist spots. Daily tickets cost 23 euros for adults and 12 euros for children and two-day tickets are available at a discounted rate.

Under Construction: La Sagrada Família has been under construction since 1832. Photo credit: Wolfgang Staudt

One of the first places adults will want to visit is the Gothic Quarter, which is the center of the old city of Barcelona. Many buildings in this area data back to medieval times, some constructed during the Roman settlement period. Particularly remarkable is the Sagrada Familia Church, under construction since 1882 with completion not planned until 2026. Kids will not last long on this sightseeing tour, so take them to the Barcelona Aquarium at Port Vell to get their fill of aquatic life. Special programs are designed for children of all ages.

Those who are staying at the Triunfo Hotel have the Barcelona Zoo across the street in the Parc de la Ciutadella. A wide array of animals is on display and the zoo features a picnic area, restaurant, ponies, a mini-train, and electric cars. By purchasing a Barcelona card, travelers receive free unlimited transportation on the Barcelona transport network and discounted admission to attractions like the zoo. Tourists prepay for attraction tickets and use this card to gain admission so they do not need to carry cash.

Most kids love amusement parks and Barcelona has several nearby. Tibidabo is one of the three oldest European amusement parks and it is located atop Tibidabo Mountain, providing breathtaking views of the city. Water parks are another kid favorite so the three swimming pools and more than 20 water slides at Illa Fantasia should not disappoint. This is one of the largest water parks in Europe and is just 30 minutes from city center via train. Families can dine at one of several park restaurants or bring their own food and sit at one of the 800 picnic tables in the park. They can even pick up their lunch at the supermarket next door and barbecue at this facility.

Four beautiful beaches are located within ten minutes of Barcelona, with Barcelonata being the closest. This beach can get very crowded, so get there early. For a bit more space, head to Icaria or travel 30 minutes via train to Sitges Beach. When on an adult-only vacation, explore the wild side by heading to Mar Bella, the unofficial nudist beach near the city. If the kids are too rambunctious to sit on the beach, how about a sailing adventure? Adults and children can take a sailing course together that will have them navigating the high seas in no time. Lesson costs start at 31 euros for guests ages 15 and older and 17 euros for children ages seven to 14.

It is not every day that the family visits a wax museum, so do it when in Barcelona. Museu de Cera is a magical place that pays tribute to some of the most important figures in world history.  Emperors, queens, kings, inventors, sculptors, dancers, and musicians…all are captured in lifelike form using wax. Admission ticket prices are 9 euros for children ages five to 11 and 15 euros for visitors over 11 years old.

Architecture by the famed Antoni Gaudi can be found all around Barcelona. This talented architect even designed the Parc Guell, a beautiful park that features beautiful stone structures and amazing tiling. Kids will love the colorful dragon fountain that guards the entrance. They will also have fun climbing to the terrace at the top and looking out on the city. Adults will appreciate the interesting furniture in the on-site museum and the fact that admission to this large park is free.

detail of tiling at Parc Guell
Detail of tiling at Parc Guell, Photo Credit: Steve R.

When evening rolls around, the family can head to the Magic Fountain of Monjuic for a music and water extravaganza. This fountain has been a performance center since 1929, offering free shows to millions of tourists each year. Check the Magic Fountain Web site for show times because these change with the seasons. Before the show, the family can head to one of the chocolate restaurants for some churros and hot chocolate, a special treat that is particularly comforting during cold weather.

Ok, so we provided you with a bit more than 10 things to do in Barcelona Spain, but they are all well worth considering. Between the food, attractions, architecture, and other things to do and see, the family will be on overload. In between all the excitement, it is important to spend some quality time with each other. Barcelona offers plenty of shopping and dining establishments perfect for family bonding.

The Best Things To Do In San Francisco With Kids That Will Not Break The Bank

San Francisco is considered a financial, transportation, and cultural center in the US. After New York City, it is the most densely populated larger city in the nation. This, coupled with its long and rich history, results in many attractions, natural sights, and entertainment options for those traveling from near or far. No matter what time of year a visit is planned, we have unearthed the best things to do in San Francisco with kids and on a budget.

While adult travelers appreciate the beauty of San Francisco, kids just want to get out of the hotel and do something. Whether they drive, walk, or take public transportation, getting around town is not difficult for a family of any size. Though this is a large city, there always seem to be parking spots available. San Francisco is such a kid-friendly town that adults may find themselves wishing they could nap in the car while the kids explore.

Beach with water covering it and golden gate bridge in the background
"Where Land Meets Water"; Beach at Sea Cliff with the Golden Gate Bridge in the Background. Photo by Arex.

Families who love the outdoors will appreciate the several national parks and beaches within the city or a short driving distance. Several of the parks and nearly of the beaches in San Francisco are part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which has more than 13 million visitors annually. Ocean Beach runs along the shoreline of the Pacific Ocean and is great for kids who enjoy surfing. Baker Beach is situated in a cove near the Golden Gate Bridge and is part of a former military base called the Presidio.

The San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department maintains over 200 parks. Golden Gate Park is the largest and most well-known park in the city. It spans from the center of San Francisco to the Pacific Ocean. Inside its boards are the San Francisco Botanical Garden, Japanese Tea Garden, and Conservatory of Flowers. Muir Woods, located 12 miles north of the city, allows families to take a nature walk amidst 554 acres of towering Coast Redwoods at no fee for children age 15 and younger. On certain days of the year, the $5 entrance fee is waived for visitors age 16 and older.

Once the children have had their fill of the flora, they can check out the fauna at the San Francisco Zoo, which is home to over 250 species of animals, many designated as endangered. Included are a children’s zoo, carousel, and miniature train for the youngest guests. General admission is free for children three and younger, $9 for kids ages four to 14, and $15 for ages 14 to 64. For an additional charge, families can even stay overnight at the zoo on designated dates, camping outdoors and enjoying guided tours and a hot breakfast.

Americans are known for their love of baseball, and foreign visitors should check out what all the fuss is about when visiting San Francisco. The Giants are the Major League Baseball team in this city and home games are held in the conveniently located AT&T Park. Individual game tickets are reasonably priced and can be purchased online in advance, downloaded to a mobile phone, or bought at the stadium. If the adults do not drive to the stadium, they can take Caltrain, the San Francisco Municipal Railroad, or the Larkspur Ferry from Marin County.

The Morrison Planetarium and Steinhart Aquarium are located in the California Academy of Sciences natural history museum. Morrison is the largest entirely digital planetarium in the world. Kids will love the “Tour of the Universe” show that takes them from the solar system all the way to the edge of the observable cosmos and has them back on Earth within just 20 minutes. Steinhart Aquarium features 38,000 live animals from all over the world including penguins, sharks, and stingrays.

The Philippine Coral Reef is the centrepiece of the Steinhart Aquarium, and showcases "one of the most diverse reef systems in the world". Photo by Shubert Ciencia.

A “Rainforests of the World” exhibit is currently housed at the California Academy of Sciences. Adults and children explore the living four-story rainforest that includes bat caves and a journey under swimming catfish and arapaima. General admission to the Academy is free for children ages three and younger, $19.95 for children ages four to 11, and $24.95 for older children, students, and seniors. Adults pay $29.95 for a general admission ticket. By showing the Pocket Penguins app on their phone at the ticket window, visitors can get $5 off general admission.

Alcatraz Island is home to the famous prison of the same name. Visitors are shuttled to and from the island on a ferry across San Francisco Bay, the same way the prisoners who once resided there made their journey. After a ten minute ferry ride, visitors are met by a park ranger, who provides a tour of the guard barracks, guard house, and cell house. An audio tour of the cell house is included with the ticket price for the ferry ride, which is $16 for children ages five to 11, $26.00 for children 12 to 17 years old and adults, and free for children up to four years old. There is no entrance fee to the Island or the prison.

No trip to San Francisco would be complete without a ride in a cable car. A one-day pass for the city’s MUNI system enables visitors to ride these notable cars, the MUNI buses, and the electric trains throughout the city. Kids will love zooming down Hyde Street, which features some of the steepest hills in the city. Take the car from Powell Station to Ghirardelli Square to enjoy a great meal and of course, chocolate. Cost for a single ticket for all MUNI transport except cable cars (valid for 90 minutes) is only 75 cents for children over age four and $2 for adults, while children ages four and younger ride free. Cable cars are pay per trip, and one day, three day and seven day “passports” are also available which cover all MUNI transport including cable cars.

These are just a few of the best things to do in San Francisco with kids and they are very reasonably priced. Of course, this city does not lack when it comes to dining experiences. Families can find everything from fast food, to delicious sandwiches at Fisherman’s Wharf, to the finest restaurants within a short distance of each other. A family trip to San Francisco is something everyone should plan to do, whether traveling domestically or from outside the US.