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This kid-centric small-scale amusement park sits right on Santa Monica Pier, stretching out into the Pacific Ocean at the western edge of LA. Most of the rides won't thrill adults or even teens, but taking a ride on the solar-powered Ferris wheel around sunset or after dark is one of my favorite things to do in this beach town.
A fantastic new find on the Central Coast, just south of Pismo Beach, Ember is the creation of a local chef who once worked at Alice Water's Chez Panisse in Berkely. Seasonal, local and often organic ingredients infuse the whole menu, which is just one page long but changes monthly. The centerpiece of the restaurant is the huge brick wood-burning oven, out of which flatbreads and tasty meats just keep coming. Don't skip the simple, but elegant desserts or the list of regional wines. Getting a table is difficult (no reservations, expect a 90-minute wait unless you come around 7:30pm or later), but the bar tables and seating are first-come, first-served and turn over more quickly. You can bring kids and the atmosphere is boisterous, which is unusual considering how haute the food is. Overall, this is my one of my favorite spots in SLO County, and a place I always bring foodie friends from out of town. The location is the only drawback - on a dull street without anything to see or do within walking distance.
Themed like the cable TV network, this family-fun hotel has not one, but two miniature water parks outside, along with cartoon character breakfasts, a 4-D theater and even chances to get slimed with the green goo. While the rooms are well-worn, like at most hotels in the Orlando/Disney area, the added perks make it worth the price tag usually.
If you want to avoid paying Disneyworld hotel prices, and skip the chains right outside the park, try this vacation resort with spacious, apartment-style rooms and suites. There are day camp activities for kids (if you need them) and a lazy river ride in one of the ginormous pools. The atmosphere is more relaxed, which is a welcome treat after a day spent running around Disneyworld.
Down in Santa Barbara's Funk Zone, this wine bar has an enormous chalk map of the local wine-growing valleys on the wall behind the bar - you may not be able to stop yourself from staring at it. Walk on up to the long bar for a flight of the region's best wines, maybe Chardonnay or Pinot Noir. Once you've found a few labels you like, you could spend the next day driving up to the wineries, about an hour outside the city.
Based up in Buellton, in Santa Barbara's wine country, Fig Mountain makes just about the best beer in the county. The Danish Red is a personal fave, and so is the Hoppy Poppy IPA. They've usually got live music on the weekends, and the outdoor sidewalk patio is always full of folks laughing, drinking and having a good ol' time. If beer is not your thing, there are plenty of wine-tasting rooms a short walk away.
If you can't get into Santa Barbara's hottest new restaurant (at least for the moment), Lark, walk next door to this gourmet wood oven-fired pizzeria. The exterior walls are covered with copper pennies, and inside you can even get pizza for a breakfast. There are a few tables with chairs outside on the patio, if it's a sunny day.
When I decided to book my Inca Trail trekking trip, I looked around at a lot of different tour companies based in Cusco. I chose this one, based on their smaller size, excellent pre-trip planning information and other online reviews from travelers. I wasn't disappointed with my trip. The guides were hard-working, sincere and had more expertise and local knowledge than I had even hoped. The porters and cooks were awesome, and there were some women hired to do this work (which is not typical in Peru, and I also loved that aspect of this company).
In Golden Gate Park, this eco-conscious museum with a living roof is not just for kids - even adults will be transfixed by the natural history displays, including a walk-in butterfly house and a planetarium that does shows throughout the day.
Near the gigantic Ala Moana Mall, this Japanese izakaya is part of a chain, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Prices are more reasonable and lines are shorter than at many of Honolulu's more haute izakaya. The boisterous atmosphere is great for groups and the joint is usually open fairly late. A huge picture menu makes ordering easy if you're new to Japanese food.
Although Ono Hawaiian Foods might have more star power, this family-owned casual restaurant wins the prize for best authentic Hawaiian food near Waikiki. Get yo'self a mini luau plate with lomilomi salmon, poi, shoyu poke, purple sweet poatoes and haupia pudding for dessert. Dat's ono kine grindz.
It doesn't matter whether you're a foodie looking to try some of Santa Fe's freshest New Mexican cuisine, or just a beer geek wanting to try some locally made craft beers with some good grub: this easy-going cafe and brewery downtown has something to satisfy you. It's family-style cooking done right.
A reliable stand-out in Chicago's Chinatown, this Szechuan restaurants makes their dishes authentically spicy. It's one of the best places to go if you can't speak or read Chinese, as they're used to out-of-towners and foodies from other 'hoods.
Although smaller than neighboring Pismo State Beach, this Avila State Beach often has more sunshine, plus concessionaires for beach gear. It's the most family-friendly beach in SLO County.