Saturday, March 29, 2008

Spring Break (With Kids)

Ah the heady times of Spring Break. The crazy roadtrips, going to Mexico, waking up face-down in some back alley or a in a place you don't remember going to. Those were the days.

It's kind of like that when you have kids out on Spring Break - only not.

My kids just turned 8 this week - and we wanted to take a couple of days off work and go to the beach with them. We would "normally" go and camp (yes, I did say CAMP) at Carpinteria, CA... but, to tell the truth, I'm sort of "over" camping.

As you can read from previous posts, camping has sort of lost its luster. I mean, I still enjoy it every once-in-awhile, but if I had my choice - I'd "camp" in a nice hotel with running hot water and room service.

So, this year, my wife Brenda, was paging through Sunset Magazine and came across a place called Crystal Cove, located in the upscale Newport Beach area just up the California coast. She read the story of the Crystal Cove Beach Cottages and explained to me that they were right on the beach and it was going to be "like camping" - only with 4 walls and a shower.

At last! "True" camping!

We were in unit 19A - and I checked the website... and well, it was a bit "rustic" for my taste - but I figured it beat the hell out of 4 people in a tent with leaky air mattresses. The only part that really didn't register at the time was the "State Park" portion of located in "Crystal Cove State Park."

So - we did the default - pack too many clothes we would never wear, pack up stuff we wouldn't get around to using - and then add about 40% more crap for good measure - and head out.

Armed with the latest Google/Reserve America directions - we got to the end our journey a short 2 hours later - no where NEAR Crystal Cove. Yep, wrong directions. Luckily, we came prepared with our trusty Thomas Guide, and after a short 5 mile detour, we found the Park.

Then, things got confusing.

It seems that the Park has all this land - but they chose to put the parking in such a way that you have to drive in, park, register, be taken by golf cart to the cottage, unload, golf cart back to the parking lot, then drive about a mile and cross the street to park.

I'm sure it sounded good in the planning meeting.

Anyway - the cottage was "interesting." The description on the website:

"Savor the spectacular views from one of four decks in this beachfront cottage dating to 1931.

Guests in this large unit overlooking the beach will enjoy a spacious living/dining room with high ceilings, a sofa bed, two sleeper ottomans and a door to the front porch, a tiled kitchen with ample storage space, a bedroom with two twin beds, and an ocean view bedroom with a full bed."

Although it's technically correct - was taking a few liberties. I would describe it as "quaint" and "rustic." It did have a tiled kitchen with a full-size refrigerator and a microwave (both new). However, there was no stove and no barbecue (you can bring your own propane one - but that's the ONLY thing we didn't bring). The "tiled kitchen" was done by a drunk, one eyed Greek, but the rooms were a decent size, the bedding was soft, and the view kicked some serious ass.

Think "quaint" and "rustic."

The location, though - WOW. Seriously, you can't get any better than RIGHT on the beach. The front and side porches were literally 3 feet from the sand, and we were up on the upper level with a simply stunning view.

Of course, the kids leaped out into the sand and I decided to go to the store for provisions. I hiked it back to the car, and found that there was a Trader Joe's only 1 mile down the road. Being as we were in Newport beach the Trader Joe's was next to a Williams Sonoma, Cartier Watch place, 4 fabulous restaurants, etc.

Ah, camping!

I packed some bread, cheese, meat, wine, chips into two very, very, very precisely packed bags (for the long haul back to the cottage) - and off I went. When I pulled into the parking lot, I noticed something that I hadn't noticed before - a shuttle! For $1 it would take you all the way back down the hill (or UP the hill!) and drop you off 50 feet from the cottages. YES!

Once I made it back and we pried the kids away from the back and back to the cottage - it was dark. We hosed the kids off, and went to the only restaurant the Beachcomber - that was about 50 feet from our cottage. Bob's recommendation: skip it. Over-priced, crowded, boring food, slow service - PERFECT when you have tired, starving kids.

Let's just say we did pizza the next night. We literally just spent the day on the beach, the kids in the 58 degree water with their Boogie Boards. We took walks to the tidepools, played cards (there is no TV, no clocks), did crafts, read books, and just relaxed.

Of course, no stay in a State Park would be complete without some kind of bureaucratic hijinks. When I got the car on the way out - I also had an $88 parking ticket - even though I had carefully put my parking pass so that it was visible on the dashboard. At checkout I mentioned my dilemma - and was informed that "we don't have anything to do with that - it's the State." Turns out that the check-in person wrote the wrong date on my pass - and that I'll have to fight it out with Sacramento to get the ticket fixed... but that was the only hiccup in the trip.

I'm actually looking forward to "camping" again soon...

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