Thursday, October 16, 2008

"Sun, Run Away"

Three Days in Huntington Beach

Last weekend, my 18-month-old saw his first sunset. We were munching muffins by an outdoor fire at the Huntington Beach Hyatt. Pointing at the red orb melting into the horizon, I said, "The sun is going down. It will come back up tomorrow." My son commented, "Sun, run away!" The three-day weekend was also my son's first toddle on a southern California beach. He'd already dug his little shovel into beaches in Oregon and northern California. But I'd shied away from hauling him across LA--on the 10 Freeway--to a beach here. I'd no sooner get there, I thought, than I'd have to race back for nap- or bedtime. So I planned three (off-season) days on the OC coast.

You might enjoy the itinerary below for a local mini-vacation. Rooms at the Hyatt are reasonably priced for a posh, beachfront resort ($215 a night). But be forewarned, Hyatt reaches deep into your pocket for everything else: $25-a-night parking, $9.95-an-hour internet, etc.

Day One
AM: Bike the beach. We pedaled to the pier for a good look at the surfers below. On a small lawn at the pier plaza, my son, Mateo, ran around with other kids. He was also interested in the volleyball players, dogs, rollerbladers, etc. 

There are a couple of places to rent bikes just south of the Huntington Beach Pier. You can also get them the Hyatt. All of these shops have bikes with kid seats.

PM: Cruise around Newport Bay. Another first for the baby: We boarded a Fun Zone Boat Co craft ($14, $7, under 5 free), and putted around the harbor, peering at luxurious homes and lolling sea lions.  Back on shore, Mateo rode the merry-go-round in the Fun Zone amusement area. After selecting a few shells, we dinned on balcony at a dockside restaurant.

In Newport, you can also hop on a whale-watching boat (June-October) or rent a Duffy (electric) boat and tool around yourself. Whale- watching trips last three hours, so I don't recommend them for the wee-ones or the weak-stomached.

Day 2 (Planned)
Fun with floaty toys in the big swimming pool. Then hang at the beach.

Day 2 (Actual)
Strong winds blew a hole in our plans, so...

AM: Swimming in the Jacuzzi! At 18-months it's all swimming to our son. And kids aren't barred from the ones at the HB Hyatt. (Be careful not to let a small child stay in a hot tub too long, especially if it's truly hot.) This resort also offers many pretty pathways and nooks that are fun to explore, as well as exuberant fountains, fireplaces, and small lawns.

PM: After a near-record, 3-hour nap for the boys (and some "book in a nook" for mom), we lit out for the Discovery Science Center in Santa Ana. Mateo was mesmerized by small balls swirling in a gravity well, but the real fun here is for older kids.

We returned to HB for dinner--and another runaway sun--at Duke's on the beach.

Day 2.5
At last, sandcastles and wave running. I was pleased to see there were probably more birds than people on the beach (on a weekday morning). I focused my binos on a flock of terns resting at the water's edge. The sea was a brilliant, endless blue.

After checking out, we drove a few miles north on Pacific Coast Highway to the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve. I'd covered the restoration of this marsh as a reporter, and wanted to see how it looked two years after tidal flow had returned to the area. A variety of marsh- and shorebirds were sheltering near the foot bridge. Brown pelicans plunged out of the sky, scooping up fish. It was close enough--and the birds big enough--for a baby to get a good look. Our son has been talking about "birds fish" ever since.

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