They say there are over a thousand weekends of trips to take when you live in San Francisco. That number quickly dwindles down to about five or six, if you have small children like me – Children who hate the car, don’t sit down to eat, go to bed at 7:00 PM, and never ever sleep through the night no matter how great the hotel’s view or how high the bed sheet’s thread count. Travel with children is a gamble.
Plus, hotel rooms are about as affordable as northern California real estate. It’s not even that they are ‘expensive,’ it seems they have a price tag set by someone who has completely lost their mind. Alas, I love to travel and I love my kids, so I make it my mission to figure out what might possibly work for all of us, dig up the lowest price I can find, and we pack a bag and go. Here are three fabulous hits amidst the many misses.
Location: Pt. Reyes
Hotel: Nick’s Cove
Pt. Reyes is one of the most majestic places I’ve ever seen, with otherworldly beaches (like Drakes) and so many hikes (Pt Reyes National Seashore) that it, hands down, has registered as some of the best memories of my life. Nick’s Cove is authentic and handmade. It looks like an old roadside motel you could easily drive right past but behind the doors is a beautifully designed visual wonderland suitable for both toddlers and adults (one room is an actual boat).
Every room is a detached space and each one is different. We’ve stayed in three of them, and they offer endless attention to detail: rain showers and/or claw foot tubs, complimentary (nonalcoholic) stocked fridge, ample glassware and plates (when we spend for overnights, we like to eat in). They offer complimentary oysters or a cheese plate, plus a complimentary continental breakfast that will not blow your mind but includes French press coffee, juice and a few pastries delivered to your door. We supplement all of this with world class treats from the salt (and sugar) of the earth bakery, Tomales Bakery.
Bathrooms are large with heated floors and fans that serve as built in sound machines, and it transforms perfectly into a toasty master suite for our little one in his travel crib. Most all the rooms have outdoor spaces, some right on Tomales Bay, which gives us a space to hang out after the littles ones are in bed.
Single, large one-bedrooms, all with a pullout couch and separate living area, are around $350 a night, and there is the most perfect two bedroom two bathroom suite for $650, if you want to share the weekend with friends you like who have kids you like. Real bedrooms with real wood doors whisper, “Good night, babies. I am right out here in the real living room, where I will stay up, talk, drink wine and feel miles away from life as I know it.” Then, I will rest up on an overcrowded king size bed (after the kids crawl in with us, but that’s my fault, not theirs) to explore the best coastline in the United States for another day. Yes, I like this place.
Location: Russian River Valley
It amazes me how many parents don’t know about this place. Every room is a beautiful brand new airstream that made my kids heads explode. They’re fully stocked with everything to live inside (Casper bed, walk-in rain shower, pull out futon-ish couch) and cook outside (personal deck and campfire, fridge, microwave, cutting board, knife, glassware, plates, silverware, iron skillet). There are also shared campfires including one in the warm and stylish lobby filled with games (where my daughter learned to play chess) and complimentary morning juice (squeeze it yourself) and coffee.
The airstream itself is small but meticulous. There is the sacred door between the bedroom and the living space that all parents with young children appreciate, and the welcomed hum of the generator lulls my kids into their first interval of sleep. There are only showers, and we bring our own S’mores, skipping the overpriced ones at the front desk. We went with friends who stayed in the neighboring airstream and had our patio in between our airstreams. After a full day of exploring, we made popcorn and our kids all watched a movie together, while we had a full steak dinner under the stars.
Airstreams are $200 per night, which would not even cover the cost of dinner, if we ordered it at a restaurant. The “premium” airstreams are $35 more and refer to their location on the lot, which really makes little difference, since the interiors are identical and all of these silver jewel boxes are parked right in the Russian River Valley. Vineyards with heart and simplicity still thrive (like Porter Creek), old-school river beaches are around the corner (Johnson Beach) and downtown Guerneville serves up local kid and wallet-friendly food (Garden Grill) and delicious ice cream (Bank Club).
Location: Lake Tahoe
Basecamp does not rank as high for sharing a room with tiny bunkmates – no door to the bedroom, and the bathroom is too small to repurpose. The room itself is small and basic but very tasteful and CHEAP (fluctuates slightly, but I paid $129/night). Some of the rooms have patios with two adirondack chairs, so you can escape outside while the kids go to bed early (just be sure to ask for one of these).
After an imperfect night’s sleep due to my challenging child-travelers, outside my door is the perfect summer day. Lake Tahoe is a wonder of the world. The exquisite lake, with a backdrop of snow capped mountains and sandy beach, is blocks away. We spend our days at the beach, usually rent a kayak or stand-up paddleboard and then head back.
From 3:00 to 7:00 PM everyday, Basecamp has a very kid friendly happy hour. Outside in the lovely courtyard, with impressive live music they offer $3 great beer and wine, $5 delicious german sausages and plenty of room to run around. The last time we went, my husband had two beers, I had three glasses of wine (I’m a mom; I deserve it), and we each had a sausage dinner for $35. Take a second to ponder that price tag and try to remember the last time that happened: Thirty.five.dollars. Oh, and there are S’mores kits for TWO dollars to roast over the many campfires. Plenty of pizza nearby (Vinny’s) to pick up and bring back for the kids (or non-sausage lovers). And there is free breakfast – not amazing, but satisfies my daughters’ prison food-like diet. Plus, they have packets of peanut butter and jelly and bread… voila, you’ve got lunch for the beach.
Pack a bag. Have fun, and use the comments to share your hidden gems.