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Santa Barbara must be one of the most beautiful cities in the United States.  We love the Spanish revival architecture, beaches lined with palm trees, amazing cuisine, and of course the laid-back California vibe.  We lived in Santa Barbara in the 1990s and we still have family there, so we get to return regularly.  It’s always exciting to visit and so very hard to leave.

We spent a week there this winter, which is out of the peak tourist season in summer, but the weather was very moderate.  There were no crowds and getting into restaurants was easy.

We stayed at The Fess Parker: A Doubletree by Hilton Resort, which is a wonderful family (and pet) friendly hotel.  Located across the street from the beach and within walking distance from the pier, it’s in a perfect spot.  The resort has some great restaurants and relaxing pools!

Running through the middle of Santa Barbara, State Street is the ‘main drag’ of Santa Barbara and is lined with shops, restaurants, night clubs and movie theaters.  We spent a good part of our trip there, and it’s fun to wander around on State with the crowds.

Sterns Wharf lies at the end of State Street.  It is one of the only wharves on the entire West Coast of the US that you can drive on and park your car.  The boys loved it!

View of #santabarbara from Sterns Wharf. The sky was so beautiful that day! #sternswharfsantabarbara #flashbackfriday

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It has a great aquarium (see our post on Sea Center Fun in Santa Barbara for more info), restaurants, gift shops, ice cream counters, and an adorable candy store.  You can even book a sunset cruise! We took a ride on the “Lil’ Toot”, which is a narrated boat ride around the harbor.  The boys loved the ride and we saw several adorable harbor seals.  One way tickets are $5 per adult and $1 per child.  

 My favorite thing about the wharf is the amazing view of Santa Barbara!

Santa Barbara Arts & Crafts Show

Another of our favorite things to do in Santa Barbara is to stroll along the beach on Sundays between 10 and sunset to see the wonderful creations at the weekly Art and Crafts show.  

Established in 1965, the show features original works of art made by local artists.  You can find the show on E. Cabrillo Blvd, Santa Barbara in front of Skater’s Point.  

Ideas for Kids and Teens 

  • Grab your skateboard and have some fun at Skater’s Point.   Helmets are required.  
  • Leadbetter Beach is the perfect place to learn to surf or paddle board.  They also have volleyball nets, and surfboard rentals are available.
  • Bike along Santa Barbara’s beautiful waterfront.  You can rent bikes at Wheel Fun Bike Rentals at Fess Parker’s Doubletree Resort.  

For the younger ones

Chase Palm Park is a great place to play out some energy.  It’s located across E. Cabrillo Blvd from the beach and art show.   This park features a shipwreck playground and a beautiful antique carousel.  A ride on the carousel costs $2.50.

The Sea Center is great for kids of all ages.  Learn more in our recent post: Sea Center Fun in Santa Barbara.

Santa Barbara has something for everyone.  If we missed one of your favorite spots, share it with us in the comments!

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Family Fun in Santa Barbara


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Imagine a tiny island surrounded by warm, crystal clear blue water, where no cars travel.  The island of Comino is only 3.5 square km (1.4 sq mi) and has only 5 full-time residents.  The Island has a long history: inhabited by farmers during Roman times, it was turned into a prison for errant Knights in the 16th century.  Now, it’s a popular destination for snorkelers and divers.  There is only one resort on the island, but water taxis depart hourly from the Mainland of Malta and the Island of Gozo.

Comino, Malta

We decided to spend our last day in Malta on Comino Island.  The owner of our villa told us that an area of the Island called the Blue Lagoon was a great spot for swimming, so we grabbed a water taxi and set off.

Comino, Malta

The boys were excited to have the boat to ourselves and the driver added to the excitement by driving really fast and catching some bumpy waves.

Comino, Malta

The Island is gorgeous!

Comino, Malta

The Blue Lagoon is a beautiful place to swim and snorkel.  You can rent chairs from deck attendants and relax on the small but beautiful beach.  It is incredibly crowded in the summer, but when we were there in November it was quiet and peaceful.

Comino, Malta

Comino, Malta

Comino, Malta

Comino, Malta

Comino, Malta

Comino, Malta

We caught the last water taxi of the day back to Gozo.  The driver gave us a short tour around the caves near the Blue Lagoon.  He told us they were hiding spots for pirate ships, which the boys found fascinating.

Comino, Malta

Many movies have been filmed on Comino including Troy, The Count Of Monte Cristo and Swept Away.

Comino, Malta

Our day on Comino Island was an amazing end to our glorious vacation in Malta.  Our only regret is that we only had one day to spend there.  Hopefully, we will return one day soon, so we can check out the resort.

To see more of Malta, check out our post Malta – A Photo Essay of Gozo.

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Malta: A Photo Essay on Comino

One of our favorite places in the world is Malta and we discovered it by accident.  We were in Austria in October, and it was freezing!  Our plan had been to go to Italy but all the flights were expensive and the train ride was really long.  To top it off, I was on the 10th day of a horrible cold that would not go away.  Rich was searching every flight he could to find 5 affordable tickets from Salzburg to Rome.

He came across a really cheap flight to Rome through Malta.  We didn’t know anything about Malta but it was cheaper to fly to Malta, stay a a few days and then fly onto Rome, than to buy a one way ticket from Salzburg to Rome.  So we thought, why not?  It ended up being a great decision and we fell so in love with Malta that we ended up staying 3 weeks.

Azure Window, Near Dwejra Bay on the Inland Sea

Azure Window, Malta

The Azure Window can be seen in the background of Daenerys and Khal Drogo’s wedding in Game of Thrones

Boat houses on the Inland Sea, Gozo

Boat Houses on the Inland Sea

Dwejra Tower, Gozo

A watchtower built by the Knights of Malta, who controlled Malta from 1530-1798.  Malta has occupied a strategic location in the Mediterranean for commerce and military operations since the time of the Phoenicians.  It’s been controlled at different times by the Greeks, Romans, Arabs, French and British.

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Mgarr ix-Xini is a picturesque cove for swimming and snorkeling on the south coast of Gozo.

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Running off the end of the dock into the ocean at Mgarr ix-Xini.

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Malta and Gozo (the smaller of the two islands) is almost entirely terraced and farmed, with green fields overlooking the deep blue of the Mediterranean.

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The beach at Ramla Bay, with a reddish volcanic sand.  It is believed that Homer (writer of the Iliad and the Odyssey) spent time on Malta, and there is a cave above this beach that was the inspiration for the Calypso Cave.

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Malta is a kids’ paradise, with plenty of rocks to climb on, beaches to dig in and ice cream trucks to sample.  The Maltese people love families and were warm and accommodating to us.  It was an unexpected surprise to visit Malta, and we can’t wait to return!

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Malta: A Photo Essay on GozoMalta: A Photo Essay on Gozo

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Most families think of Orlando when planning a family vacation to Florida.  But they are missing out on a real gem, only 90 minutes up the Atlantic coast in America’s oldest city: St. Augustine.  It was founded in 1565 by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, a Spanish conquistador, and owned in turn by the Spanish, the British, the Spanish again, and finally the United States in 1819.  The city boasts Spanish colonial architecture, historic sites, a hopping art and nightlife scene and gorgeous beaches.

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We love St. Augustine and had the pleasure of living in the area for a few months.  It’s an amazing city for families. Here is a sample of the fabulous things to see, eat and do when visiting.

Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine

St. Augustine is the oldest city in the US. It's beautiful! This is an evening shot of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine #staugustine #tbin

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Established in 1565 and later re-built in the 18th century, the Cathedral Basilica is the oldest church in Florida.  The architecture is beautiful and it’s worth a peek as you pass by on the main street.

Castillo de San Marcos National Monument

This was our favorite spot in St Augustine: Castillo de San Marcos, the oldest masonry fort in the continental United States.  It’s an amazing historical site and you can read all about it in our recent post.  They have excellent exhibits and a group of historical re-enactors loads and fires cannons from the roof every hour Friday through Sunday.  Adult tickets are $10 and good for 3 consecutive days.  Kids 15 and under are free.

St. Augustine Hop-On Hop-Off Trolleys

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A great way to see the sights of St. Augustine and learn its history is to take one of the two hop-on hop-off trolley tours in town.  There are two companies: the Red Train and Old Town Trolley Tours, and they both offer a tour of the city with live commentary, but you can jump on and off at each stop to see most of the sites in St. Augustine.

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St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum

Our boys loved the St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum.  It’s a wonderful place full of real pirate artifacts, hands-on displays and animatronics!  Young explorers are given a treasure map and search for clues while learning the fascinating history of pirates!  Some of the displays can be a bit scary for younger kids.  Adults $13.99, 5 to 12 $6.99 and kids 4 and under are free.

St. George Street

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Starting at the City Gates and running through the middle of downtown is St. George Street.  Walk through the streets of the old city and soak in the beautiful architecture and rich history.  The streets are lined with quaint little shops, museums, historical buildings and cafes.

Schooner Freedom

St. Augustine is beautiful from the water and there is no better way to see it than by boat.  We had a wonderful time on the Schooner Freedom.  Our 2 hour boat ride included wine and hot chocolate and lots of conversation with the friendly crew.  They even let our boys help hoist the sails.   We took the Day Sail but they also offer a Family Day Sail and a Sunset Sail.  Our tickets cost $40 per adult and and $30 per child (16 and under).

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Maple Street Biscuit Company

Maple Street Biscuit Company is a fun place to grab a quick bite.  They specialize in fried chicken and biscuits and have some fun combinations.  They also serve salads and sides.  We devoured Squawking Goat Fried chicken on a biscuit with goat cheese and pepper jelly.  The fried green tomatoes and sweet potato fries were yummy.  They also have several vegetarian options.

Gas – a Full Service Restaurant

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Want a thick, juicy burger?  This is your place.  It’s just over the Bridge of Lions from downtown towards St. Augustine beach.  Gas serves up fantastic burgers, milkshakes and fries in a fun retro atmosphere.  The menu is full of American favorites from homemade potato chips to meatloaf and apple pie.  The food is locally sourced and they have a large selection of craft beers.  The Reuben Roll appetizer is a favorite and the burgers are fantastic.  They also make a delicious veggie burger and offer GF buns.  We eat at Gas every time we visit St. Augustine.

Whetstone Chocolates

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Try to save some room after your meal because no visit to St. Augustine is complete without a stop at Whetstone Chocolates.  Conveniently located next door to Gas, for your after-dinner enjoyment, they also have a shop back across the bridge in the old town.  Whetstone specializes in fabulous chocolates and amazing fudge, but they have some great gelato.

The dark salted caramel fudge is one of the best things we have ever tasted and the boys go nuts over the chocolate alligators.  They offer daily tasting tours of their factory at 139 King Street.  The tour is $8 per adults, $5.50 per child, but children 5 and under are free and each adult ticket comes with a $2 coupon towards purchase.  Did I mention that you get to taste the chocolate?

Cousteau’s Waffle and Milkshake Bar

Need an afternoon pick me up?  Visit Cousteau’s Waffle and Milkshake Bar for thick creamy milkshakes and delicious homemade waffles topped with decadent treats.  I still dream about the waffle topped with Nutella and strawberries!

Right near the St. Augustine Visitor Center (a blissfully air conditioned place to rest your heels and get some maps!), we found this odd concrete sphere in the garden with a plaque on it.  It is the “Zero Milestone” of the Old Spanish Trail, a series of roads and highways built from 1915-1929 that linked St. Augustine, New Orleans, Houston, San Antonio and San Diego, over 2375 miles.  It was mostly replaced by US Interstates in the 1950s, but pieces of it are still visible, and St. Augustine was the eastern terminus.

No trip to Florida is complete without spending time on its beautiful beaches.  The coast of St. Augustine is gorgeous!

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A Day Trip to St. Augustine A Day Trip to St. Augustine

After visiting with Jen’s parents in Cayucos, it was time for our annual family trip with Rich’s family.  This year the choice was the stunning Catalina Island, a jewel of an island only 22 miles off the coast of Los Angeles.  Catalina is one of the eight Channel Islands, and the only inhabited one, known for its “Old California” vibe and well-maintained Art Deco architecture.  The island became popular in the 1920s as a playground for Hollywood, and the Wrigley family famously built mansions and the “Casino”.

Getting There

Unless you have a private plane or boat, the best way to get there is by taking The Catalina Express, which runs from Long Beach, San Pedro and Dana Point to the port of Avalon.  The boats are comfortable with air conditioning, bathrooms, and a snack bar.  The ride can be choppy so be ready if you are prone to motion sickness.  We have found that sitting outside on the roof deck made for an easier ride.  Adult fares are currently $72 per person round trip, children 2-11 are $56.50 and infants are $5.

Getting Around

Catalina is not that large, so it’s easy to get around.  Most of the hotels, condos and vacation homes are located right in Avalon, so it’s really easy to just walk from the boat.  Many hotels have shuttles and there are taxis by the ferry terminal.  A trolley runs daily from June through August (check for off season schedule) and goes from the dock to Descanso Beach and up to Wrigley Gardens.

Many people on Catalina use golf carts to get around.  It’s a fun way to get around but you may be shocked by the price tag–about $40 per hour for a cart that seats 4.  It is a fun thing to do for a short tour of the island.

Avalon Beach

Catalina has a small public beach in the center of town.  You can relax on the sand, swim or paddleboard right from the beach.  On the adjacent pier, you can rent Kayaks and snorkeling equipment.  It tends to get crowded quickly in the summer, so arrive early to grab a spot.

Descanso Beach Club

We were hoping for a little more space, so we decided to splurge on a private cabana at Descanso Beach Club.  The club is located on a beautiful private beach.  Getting there is easy with a shuttle from downtown.  They have 17 Cabanas available for rent and prices vary depending on the season.  Our cabana was around $400 for our party of 11 and included smoothies, water, towels, Lounge Chairs.   The cabana was large and comfortable.  The rental hours are 10 to 4.

It was an expensive afternoon but the kids loved the beach and the food.  They went snorkeling and rented paddle boards.  We were hoping to spend the day relaxing but the beach club draws a pretty lively twenty something crowd.  It was really fun but not relaxing.

Catalina Island Casino Ballroom

Catalina Island Casino Ballroom (or as locals call it, “The Casino”) was built in 1929.  It’s actually a theater and not a gambling hall: the name Casino is Italian for “gathering place”.  They offer a fun behind-the-scenes tour where you can walk on the same stage that has hosted hundreds of celebrities from Hollywood’s golden age, including Errol Flynn and Cary Grant. The tour visits the green room, editing room, theater, ballroom, and concert hall. The building is beautifully architected, with a rich history.
The 70 minute tour costs $27 for adults and $25 for seniors and children.  Tours are offered twice daily at 12:45PM & 3:15PM
There are also first-run movies shown every night during the summer in the main theater.  It’s a beautiful Art Deco theater and definitely worth catching a movie there, even if you don’t take the tour.

Joe’s Rent-a-Boat

Catalina is gorgeous from the water, and you really need to get out onto the ocean to appreciate it.  It’s a great place to snorkel and we were lucky enough to be visited by a frolicking sea-lion.


– Edited by Harrison Gaushell

For a good time on the water, Joe’s Rent-a-Boat offers 6 person motor boats for rent by the hour.  They’re reasonably priced and well-maintained, and the staff is easy to work with.  They’re located on the main pier.  You can take their boats 6 miles up the coast and 4.5 miles down the coast from the harbor, and they include fuel and lifejackets.  You can rent snorkels from them too.

Great Places to Eat

For a great quick breakfast, we recommend Original Jack’s Avalon Bake Shop at 122 Catalina Avenue.  They have all the basics of a great bakery, plus they make delicious breakfast burritos and they have excellent coffee.  It’s a walk-up counter that serves everything to-go.  Even if there’s a line, it goes pretty quickly.

For lunch with a view, our favorite was Bluewater Avalon Seafood Restaurant, right near the main pier in Avalon.  We enjoyed sitting on the deck and watching the boats drift by while eating delicious California seafood.  The salmon was fantastic and they had an expansive wine list.  It was kid friendly with a kids’ menu and special drinks like the Shark Attack (blueberry soda with gummy sharks).

For dinner or drinks, we really liked Avalon Grille at 423 Crescent Avenue.  It’s a stylish indoor/outdoor restaurant and bar, with a sophisticated drink list and excellent food.  You can people watch while enjoying some brussel sprouts with pork belly or ahi tartare.

Looking for more fun things to do in Southern California?  Check out A Local’s Guide to Orange County California

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Chillin' in Catalina

“The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.”
Jacques Cousteau

“Our memories of the ocean will linger on, long after our footprints in the sand are gone.”
Unknown Author

“The three great elemental sounds in nature are the sound of rain, the sound of wind in a primeval wood, and the sound of outer ocean on a beach.”
Henry Beston

“The ocean stirs the heart, inspires the imagination and brings eternal joy to the soul.”
Robert Wyland

“We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch – we are going back from whence we came.”
John F. Kennedy

“Visual surprise is natural in the Caribbean; it comes with the landscape, and faced with its beauty, the sigh of History dissolves. ”
Derek Walcott

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”

Henry Miller

We hope you enjoyed our photo essay on St. John.  It is a magical island and one of our favorites in the Caribbean.

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St. John, USVI St. John, USVI

After returning from Costa Rica we decided to spend some time in California visiting our family.  Our first stop was Cayucos for a little time with Grandma.  Cayucos is an adorable beach town on the central coast of California.  It’s a wonderful place for families, with beautiful beaches and a relaxed California vibe.
We started the day off with an early lunch at Duckie’s Chowder House.  Duckie’s is a small casual restaurant by the Cayucos pier, serving up yummy chowder, fish and chips, fish tacos, bowls and burgers.  They have a to-go window, so you can grab lunch to eat on the beach.  We chose to sit down in the restaurant and enjoy a long lunch and a beer. The food was great!  We loved the clam chowder and the garlic fries.
After lunch, the kids ran to a playground on the sand at Cayucos State Beach.  The beach is beautiful and it’s a great place to relax and watch the surfers.
After the boys played in the waves we took a stroll to the end of the newly restored Cayucos Pier.  The original pier was built in 1872 by the town’s founder, Captain James Cass.   It’s an old style pier with no tourist shops or rides, so it’s really quiet.  You can walk to the end and enjoy the view or bring a fishing pole and cast your line over the side.
No visit to Cayucos is complete without sampling the cookies at Brown Butter Cookie Company.  It’s a short stroll down Ocean Ave from the pier.  The cookies are fantastic!  Our favorites are their classic Brown Butter Cookies and the Bourbon cookies.
Ocean Ave is a great street for window shopping.  There are a bunch of cute shops, art galleries, bars, and cafes.
For dinner, we chose Schooners Wharf, a wonderful restaurant on Ocean Ave.  We chose a patio table with an amazing view of the sun setting over the water.  The service was great and we loved the food.  The Pecan Crusted Halibut was a hit.  They also offered a good kids menu for the boys.  It was a perfect end to a relaxing coastal California day!

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Cayucos California

[Note: This is an unsolicited review and we did not receive payment, free food or accommodations from Dreams.]

Our boys have stayed in a lot of hotels, but their favorite is Dreams Puerto Aventuras Resort.  We spent a fantastic week there that left our boys dying to return.   The resort sits on a beautiful stretch of coast between Playa del Carmen and Tulum.  The sand is white and the water is warm and clear.   DREPA_PANORAMIC-VIEW_1_3_SM (1) This was our first all-inclusive hotel experience and we really enjoyed it. Included in the price:

  • Limitless à-la-carte dining, including 24 hour room service
  • All drinks, including alcoholic beverages
  • Mini bar in room
  • Many activities at the pool and beach, including snorkeling, kayaking, sailing and introductory scuba-diving lessons in the pool
  • Shows and parties
  • Kids club
  • Kids activities, including climbing wall, water trampoline, and mini golf
  • Wi-fi all over the resort

The hotel is really beautiful and leaves a wonderful first impression.  The staff was warm and welcoming.  The check in process was easy.  There are no wristbands at this property and everything is done by name and room number.

Tip: Many resorts in Mexico hope to sell you a timeshare or membership in their VIP program and Dreams is no exception.  After check in they will pass you to an employee who will give you a quick tour of the property.  This is a sales pitch and you are welcome to decline the tour.  Just make sure they give you a map so you know where to go.  I forgot to ask, so I returned to the front desk to get one and was subjected to a second sales pitch.

We arrived at the resort early, so our room wasn’t ready, but we were able to enjoy the resort immediately. Naturally, we made our way to the family pool.  It’s a nice pool with an in-pool bar and a large hot tub.  There are plenty of chairs and a no saving rule so it is easy to find a spot.  Large baskets around the pool contain beach towels, so you can grab a few without waiting in a towel line.  There is a lovely adults-only pool that we didn’t spend time at.  We did see a fun concert over this pool one night with some wonderful acrobats.  But in the daytime, I was told that it is a tropical oasis away from the sounds of laughing children and the occasional dance contest.

Tip: using the resort while waiting for a room.  There is no armband at Dreams, so when you go to a restaurant you just give them your room number.  If you don’t have a room yet just show them your receipt from check in.  You will only need to do this at the restaurant.  You can enjoy all the resort has to offer until your room is ready.

The beach is beautiful with a large cove that’s perfect for swimming and snorkeling (included in your stay).  Tons of beach chairs and palapas are available and it was easy to find a quiet spot.  The resort has a water climbing wall and water trampoline in the cove for kids only.  Our boys spent hours climbing and jumping.  Our only misgiving about the resort is the lifeguards.  They have lifeguards that whistle when too many kids are on the water features or when adults try to climb on.  But they don’t police rough play.  I noticed older kids playing king of the hill and throwing other people’s kids over the edge.  Takes away some of the relaxation when you are constantly worried about other people’s kids.

The food at Dreams was very good.  I loved that you can eat anywhere and that reservations were not necessary, with the exception of Portofino,  the fine dining Italian restaurant.

Restaurants

El Patio Mexican Cuisine – This was my favorite restaurant.  The Chile Relleno was fantastic and so was the service. Oceana Seafood Grill – Adults only.  They do have one family night per week. Portofino Italian Cuisine – This is the most upscale restaurant at the resort and has a dress code. Seaside Grill – My oldest loved this restaurant.  It’s by the pool and ping-pong table so the kids could play until lunch or dinner were served. World Cafe International Buffet – Breakfast is served here daily and they are open for lunch and dinner.  The breakfast was really good but I found the dinner to be disappointing.  To be fair, I am not a buffet person. Barefoot Grill – A child’s dream!  Pizza, burgers, and hot dogs served by the pool all day long.  They have some picnic tables but you can grab whatever you like and take it to the beach or pool. Coco Cafe Coffee and Deli snacks – sometimes you just need a coffee Gohan Sushi Lounge – pretty place to relax and have a light meal

Tip:  All the restaurants will serve the kids something from the kids menu at the Grill if you ask them.  One of my sons was in a chicken nugget phase so this was very helpful!

The Bars

The resort has 5 bars serving beer, wine, and spirits.  Kids are welcome at the pool bar and beach bar.  The bartenders make amazing non-alcoholic drinks for kids.  My boys recommend the Pink Panther or the Superman.  We started to worry when one of our youngest spent an entire day sitting at the pool bar at a water stool ordering Pink Panthers.  

Dress code

When we went to Dreams we were traveling around Central America for 9 months and had very few bags.  Our wardrobe consisted mostly of shorts, T-shirts, swimsuits and flip-flops.  It never occurred to us that there would be a dress code!  Most of the resort restaurants require shoes, shorts and shirts with a sleeve for men and a cover up for women.  Portofino Italian Cuisine has a dress code which  is strictly enforced, including the kids. For men: long pants, collared shirts and dress shoes. For women: blouses, skirts, slacks or dresses, with dress shoes.

Kids

The Explorer’s kids club is found behind the family pool to the left of the Ocean Grill.  It’s open from 9am until 10pm for ages 3 to 12. The staff is American Red Cross Certified and supervise all activities including cooking classes, beach movies, arts and crafts and fun contests.  They have nighttime activities so you can enjoy an adult dinner and show too.

Tip: The kids club fills up really fast, so sign up as soon as you arrive at the kids club.  The climbing wall, beach soccer and bungee jump are technically part of the kids club so fill out a form for your older kids even if they are not attending the club.  My boys missed the bungee because it filled up before I could sign the waiver.

The Rooms

We stayed in a Deluxe Dolphin View room with 2 double beds.  The beds were very comfortable and the view of the lagoon was nice.  The room had a nice furnished balcony, flat screen TV, robes, a safe and stocked mini bar.  The bathroom was roomy and very clean.  The staff kept the rooms in great condition and were there if we ever needed a thing.  The resort also offers family rooms that sleep, 2 adults, and 4 children.  Cribs and roll away beds are available. So why did our boys love Dreams Puerto Aventuras Resort & Spa so much? First and foremost, they loved the food and drinks.  It’s not often that a kid can order a fun drink or grab a pizza without parental involvement or money.  They also loved that there was always so much to do and that the staff was so warm and friendly.  Our boys’ new goal in life is now to try every Dreams property!

Thinking of visiting Dreams Puerto Aventuras? We’d love it if you would use this affiliate link to check availability at Booking.com.

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Dreams Puerto Aventuras Resort
Dreams Puerto Aventuras Resort

We have discovered the exclusive world of the private French beach, and we will never be the same again.  Comfy lounge chairs and umbrellas, white sparkling sand, blue Mediterranean water and a smooth French waiter who follows every sentence with “it’s no bother.”

Tall cold drinks decorated with fruit, plates of cheese, tuna tartare, salad niçoise, and some warm baguettes all served in wicker baskets.  Gentle lapping waves with yachts bigger than my house in the background.

Ah, heaven!

Here are a few of the family-friendly beaches on the Côte d’Azur:

Cannes

Cannes has one of the most famous (and expensive) beaches, but it lives up to the hype for beauty.  You have to park in a city parking lot a few blocks off the beach and then walk to the water and choose which restaurant/beach you want.  If you eat at a restaurant, you get to use their beach for the day.

Vegaluna
This private beach is centrally located in Cannes.  It has a wonderful restaurant that serves food to the tables or right to your chair at the edge of the surf.  They have large lounge chairs and umbrellas, a small children’s play area (for under 5), and a beautiful sandy beach.  Service was excellent here.
http://www.vegaluna.com/EN/

Between the private beaches you’ll find the auditorium from the Film Festival (Palais des Festivals), and the red carpet is out all year long for your Instagram snapping fun.

Juan Les Pins/Antibes

This area has sandy beaches and many options to choose from.  Parking is public and there is free parking available, but it’s a bit of a walk from the lot to the beaches.

Plage de la Gravette
This is a public white sand beach walking distance from the old town area.  Toilets and parking are available.  Lifeguards and shower from July- August.

Ponteil beach
This beach is in a calm bay that is safe for kids.  There are lifeguards from mid-June to mid-September, and parking along the street.

Gazagnaire
In the summer, this beach has a jellyfish net, showers, street parking and a sandwich stall on the beach.

Royal Beach
The Royal Beach Hotel has a private beach that is open from April through September.  They offer sun loungers for 20 per day.  Lunch and dinner starting at 20.  Kids menu
http://www.hotelroyal-antibes.com/en/royal-beach/

More information on Juan les Pins and Antibes beaches can be found here:
http://antibesjuanlespins.com/en/plages/

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Beaches Cote d'Azur

The trip to Nice was easy but finding our villa was the challenge.  We landed in Nice at 9 pm and began our long journey to our villa.  The first challenge was to pick up the rental car.  Not an easy task in Nice.  First you have to find the rental car agencies.  Rich can read French but the signs were less than helpful.  The information desk was empty, not an airport employee in site.  We finally figured out that we need to change terminals, which is done via bus.  So we waited for an eternity and boarded our bus.  Next stop: Terminal One, but no rental cars.  After a few minutes, Rich was able to find a sign leading us on a path through two parking garages, over a bridge, down a dark path to the car rental building.  We grabbed our car, remembered how to drive on the other side of the road and took off through the streets of Nice.

Rich had printed out the directions to our Villa, where the caretaker would meet us with the keys.  So we headed into the hills, on dark winding roads looking for our new home, as the boys became increasingly tired.  The road went on and on, and after a while the directions stopped matching the roads.  There were no streetlights and few signs.  To top off our situation, our Ireland SIM card was not working at all here, and nothing was open to buy a new one.

We tried retracing our steps and starting over, twice, with no luck.  Tired, and with the boys panicking and losing faith in their infallible parents, we stopped at a hotel/restaurant.  Rich went in with Harrison and using his rusty French, asked the staff if they could direct him to the address for the villa.  The owners came out and after some conversation with Rich, they pulled out a map and found where we were looking for.  One of the owners announced that he would drive his car over to the house, and we could follow him.  Hurray!

So we followed the owner to the house, which was miles away, and quickly determined that the owners’ directions were incorrect: it’s the FIRST roundabout, not the SECOND…

And… there was no one at the villa.  At this point it was almost midnight and the housekeeper had given up and gone home.  We went through our notes and found her phone number, but of course, our SIM card didn’t work.

So we headed back down, with the boys now asking out loud if we shouldn’t just go back to the airport or sleep in our car…  We found what appeared to be a restaurant, but it ended up being a loud drunken party being held in a restaurant, and there was no pay phone to be found.  We drove back the way we came, looking for a pay phone, or something open, but this is a village far from the city, on a Saturday night, and Zut Alors, no one is around.

We finally came across a Thai restaurant in St. Jeannet that was still open, and the owners were putting away tables and chairs (thank you for your late night eating habits, my dear France!).  Rich and Harrison headed out again to talk to the owners.  They did not speak English, but Rich managed to explain that his phone was not working and he needed to call the caretaker of a nearby villa to meet them.  They took pity on us and called the caretaker, who they talked to in rapid-fire French.  And we were saved!  She drove out to find us, and we followed her back to the villa.

Quelle Journée!!!

After we settled in, we got to hit the beaches in Cannes, Juan les Pins and Antibes.  Check out our post on them in: Family Friendly Beaches on the Côte d’Azur.