Southern California Family Vacation Without the Crowds

If you live in Southern California, you know that summer brings out the crowds-visitors from around the country and around the world.. That means it’s hard to go anywhere without running into lots of people and traffic-two main ingredients that makes kids (and parents) cranky.

One place that seems to have held on to its laid-back California charm and has lots of kid-friendly fun is Ventura, particularly the three cities known as VenturaCountyWest (Camarillo, Oxnard and Ventura). Located up the 101 Freeway north from Los Angeles, VenturaCountyWest features uncrowded beaches (with free parking), ocean adventures and tons of easy-to-get-to kids’ summer activities. Here are some to check out.

Channel Islands National Park

Take a tour boat to the Channel Islands National Park out of either Ventura or Channel Islands (Oxnard) harbors. The islands are only 11 miles off the Ventura County coast. On the way, you can see dolphins, seals, pelicans and other wildlife. Hikes, overnight stays, kayaking are all available once arriving on shore. Tours are booked through Island Packers, http://www.islandpackers.com/.

Ventura Harbor Village

Ventura Harbor Village contains an arcade featuring an old-fashioned indoor carousel, arcade and a candy shop with more than 20 varieties of fudge (made fresh daily). Families can rent paddle and electric boats to tour the quiet harbor channels. Back on shore, plan on eating at one of the casual harbor side restaurants featuring freshly caught seafood. http://www.venturaharborvillage.com.

Ventura County Fairgrounds’ Raceway

“Midget” cars, motorcycles and all sorts of other racing vehicles take to the track almost every weekend at the Ventura County Fairgrounds in Ventura. It’s all good fun as you cheer on your favorite driver.

Gull Wings Children’s Museum

This children’s museum in Oxnard is very unassuming from the outside, but once inside, the eight and under set will have so much to do and see that they won’t know where to begin. They can dress up as firefighters, doctors or pretend they are astronauts landing on the moon in an Apollo spacecraft. There are snakes to hold, treasure to find in a geological dig and plenty of Legos to build whatever they wish. Kids can try their hand at rock wall climbing or let their imaginations go while in the driver’s seat of an actual car.

Sky High Sports

You won’t find a big sign announcing Sky High Sports Camarillo from the freeway. It’s in an industrial park-it has to be-the place is huge. It’s filled with trampolines with super padded floors and walls. Kids can play trampoline dodge ball and other organized games or… just jump. All under supervision. Sky High also has laser tag. Kids are sure to come out sweaty and tired-a perfect way to spend an afternoon.

In San Diego, Day Tripping is Best Done by Bike

In San Diego, day tripping is an excellent way to see the sights. As the ninth largest city in the United States and California’s second largest, San Diego is home to a host of stunning points of interest. America’s Finest City is a budding cultural haven; many of its historic sites reflect some of the city’s past Spanish influence and the metropolis is speckled with art museums. There are also many parks situated in the city, such as Balboa Park and Sea World, which draw out hundreds of out-of-towners every year.

For those who want a real taste of this Southern Californian metropolis, it would take more than some cookie-cutter tour to pique their interests. Adventurers and outdoor enthusiasts can go around day tripping through bike tours. The city has a large multi-sports tour operator that provides guided biking tours to many of its popular, scenic haunts. One popular biking trail leads participants to the historic Gaslamp District, which boasts of gorgeous views of the city skyline, the bay, Shelter Island, Coronado Island, and the Embarcadero. Further along the trail, tourists can stop by at the quaint Seaport Village, which is a great place to shop for souvenirs.

There are a handful of other guided biking tours in San Diego. Day tripping can be a fun experience, whether one is just visiting alone or with a group. The sights and sounds of America’s Finest City can fascinate anyone. One might not even feel the need to stop to catch one’s breath.

Planning a Staycation in Victoria, BC

There’s a reason Travel + Leisure ranked Victoria the #3 city in Canada (1) – people from all over the world hope to one day reach this beautiful B.C. capital city. But what about those who already live here? When you live in a place that so many people desire to see, it almost seems like a shame to pack your bags for somewhere new. It’s time to play tourist in your own town. Here are some reasons to book a stay-cation in Victoria, B.C. and tips on how to do so in a wallet-friendly manner.

Reasons to Plan a Staycation

1. Home away from Home

How often can you feel at home in a place and have someone else wash your dishes, clean the toilet and make the bed? Be surrounded by your favourite sights and sounds with a touch of luxury. It can be as simple as staying in an Airbnb loft whose rent you could never afford long term, or as luxurious as splurging on a few nights at a resort and spa.

2. Remember how to Enjoy your City

When you’re busy and stressed with work, life and responsibilities, it can be easy to forget the reasons you fell in love with where you live in the first place. Staying in Victoria while on vacation gives you the chance to fall in love all over again. Bask in the glow of the harbour at night without feeling guilty about the paperwork sitting on your office desk. Relax; you’re on vacation.

3. Get to your Victoria Check List

If you’re like most people, you’ll have a list of things to do in Victoria that you’ve never had the time to go see. Unlike visiting another place, living somewhere gives you the chance to assume that you’ll get around to seeing that exhibit, visiting that gallery or trying that restaurant some other time. Planning a staycation gives you the perfect opportunity to go out and put some checkmarks on that neglected list.

4. You Won’t get Lost

A lot of time while traveling (especially for those who are particularly directionally challenged) can be spent simply trying to find your bearings. You’ll wander streets, not have time for activities due to getting lost and sometimes, you can end up in the wrong part of town. If you’re playing tourist in your own city, however, chances are, you already have a good idea of how to get to your destination. Plus, you already know some great, secret spots.

5. Playing Tourist is Kind of Fun

Grabbing the camera and gearing up with a map or guidebook of things to do in Victoria can be a surprising amount of fun. In the summer especially, you’ll blend right in with the thousands of other tourists the flood the streets. Once you get into the tourist mindset, it’s amazing how many things there are to do. Especially things you’d never consider doing as a resident -a scenic floatplane tour, or whale watching for example.

Tips to Planning your Staycation

1. Book Accommodation in the Off-Season

Accommodation in Victoria can be a hot commodity. The fact that it is a top destination on Vancouver Island is reflected in the prices, especially for upscale resorts, or hotels that are along the Inner Harbour. Booking in the off-season, however, can reduce the cost by as much as half.

2. Look for Last-minute Deals

If your schedule is flexible and it doesn’t really matter when you steal those days off, then booking something last minute could be a rewarding option. Oftentimes, tours and accommodation will be looking to fill seats and rooms, especially if they had a late cancellation.

3. Look for Locals’ Deals

Places that see a high influx of tourists, like Victoria, will find businesses hoping to cater to their local crowd as well. Search for places that offer locals rates and discounts. Another option is checking out Groupon or Island Daily Deals.

4. Think of what you’d Suggest to Someone Coming to Victoria

Struggling to think of what you’d do on your staycation? Try to think of what you’d suggest to a friend who is coming visit. Chances are, hundreds of things come to mind, many of which you’ve likely never done. Curiosity is key.

5. Treat it like a Vacation

Sometimes it can be hard not to think of work when you’re surrounded the things that remind you of your daily routine. However, being on vacation means getting away from all that. Try to get into vacation-mode, even though you’re still in your city. Find new places, try new things, push your boundaries and sign up for tours and activities you’re genuinely interested in. Once you’re “back” from vacation, your knowledge and appreciation of Victoria is likely to have grown.

A stay-cation can be as luxurious, or as budget-wise as any other type of travel. Even more so if you choose to stay in your own house and just explore like an avid tourist. You can take the money you save on accommodation and splurge on a meal at a restaurant you’ve always wanted to eat at, or on a spa treatment at a resort. The opportunities are endless. With such a tourist-friendly and beautiful city at your feet, why would you go anywhere else?

Making the Most of Your Staycation

Trying to rein in spending this summer? This year, forgo the pricey vacation and opt for the cheap and cheerful staycation. Staycations can be a surprisingly fun alternative, if you put a little planning and effort into it. Dial down the day-to-day drudgery and schedule in loads of exciting activities – and your holiday will be a resounding success!

Drop the Routine:

  • Treat work the same as you would, when out of the country. Can’t avoid being ‘on call’? Keep it to emergencies. Otherwise it isn’t a proper vacation.
  • Take care of household chores beforehand, or afterwards. A relaxing holiday doesn’t include laundry, cleaning and grocery shopping.
  • Clear the family calendar. Take a break from regularly scheduled obligations, classes and sports. Replace with fun-filled, group activities.
  • Set appropriate expectations within your social circle i.e. you’ll be unreachable for the duration, or responding to urgent issues only.

Switch Off Electronics:

  • Utilize ‘out-of-office’ settings on computers and phones. Others will be less likely to panic when you don’t respond instantly.
  • Turn off the idiot box. PVR your favourite programs and catch up afterwards; Or better yet, prove that you can live without TV for a week or two.
  • Ditch the video games. Leave the virtual world behind and enjoy some real fun for a change.
  • Put the smart phone down! Make a pact to minimize calls (work and personal) and set up a fine system for family members that circumvent the rules. Spend the extra cash on holiday adventures.
  • Avoid surfing the net. If you need to look something up, pop online quickly, then shut down. Email and the internet can be all consuming. Don’t get sucked into the vortex.

Focus on Fun:

  • What activities would you suggest to out-of-towners? Grab a local guidebook and re-discover your city’s top attractions.
  • Add a little drama to your life. Attend a summer blockbuster, a drive-in movie, a live theatre show, or devour a much anticipated book.
  • The sporty type? Take in a major league game, find a pool, water park or recreational area, or map out a personalized hiking or biking tour of the city.
  • Enjoy some cerebral relaxation at local museums, art galleries, historic properties, science centres and zoos. In Toronto, free tickets are available at your library.
  • If you’re near open water, consider a boating excursion. Rent kayaks, take sailing lessons, or book a ferry tour, for a great day on the waves.
  • Gather family and friends for a good old-fashioned picnic or BBQ, at a community park. Bring along refreshments, toys and games to keep everyone occupied and content.
  • Foodies will gobble up the chance to visit new/favourite restaurants and social butterflies are likely to appreciate concerts, pub crawls or clubbing.
  • Schedule a daytrip to explore beyond city limits. Find cheap thrills at the amusement park, savour a regional wine tour, bask at a nearby beach, or nibble your way through your local farmers market.

Staycations aren’t synonymous with deprivation. Break from your regular routine, channel your inner tourist and don’t waste a moment! You’ll return to work refreshed and recharged – and still have money in your pocket. It just might be the best vacation you’ve ever had.

What’s your favourite staycation activity? How you plan to enjoy your hometown, in the summer of 2013?