California Catch-up, Part 2

Alright, down to business. My apologies in advance for any typos. I’m on a mission to get this done ASAP.

Here are the highlights of the outings in California I haven’t blogged about yet:


We love the San Diego Zoo. It’s worth all the hype it gets. We rode the gondola across first thing. The Muse was very excited that she didn’t find it terrifying.

Some favorite animal shots:
The high point of the day was meeting up with Javad’s cousin’s friend, Katie, who happens to be a keeper. She works primarily at the new koala exhibit. 
She answered all of our koala questions, and then took us on a little backstage tour of the giraffes.

Baby giraffe!

We felt very fortunate to get to have this experience. Katie gave us these red biscuits to feed them. The giraffes were very gentle, and their prehensile tongues were fascinating. They literally wrapped around the biscuit and pulled it out of your hand.

Katie said their tongues are black so they don’t get sunburned all the way up there in the tops of the trees in Africa. I wouldn’t have guessed that.

Giraffes are huge. When you’re right up next to them, it’s quite shocking how truly enormous they are. It would be disconcerting if they weren’t so sweet and unassuming. Their faces are kind of gorgeous from the side, with their pretty markings and big, long-lashed, gentle eyes.

But then you look at them from a different angle, and their gorgeousness turns to outright goofiness.

Sorry, but that’s about the dorkiest looking creature I’ve ever seen. Poor giraffes. One moment they appear breathtakingly graceful and regal, and the next, they’re awkward, knobby-kneed pre-teens with headgear. 
Have you ever watched a giraffe sit down? One of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. It takes about two minutes, and is reminiscent of a full-term pregnant woman trying to sit down in a low chair. It’s like they can’t quite figure out how to get their balance or distribute their height and weight correctly, so it’s two full minutes of precarious swaying, knee-bending, readjusting, and almost-toppling-over before they finally get all four legs bent underneath them. No wonder they stand most of the time.

Havarti and I came to this park when I was pregnant with The Muse. It was called the Wild Animal Park then, I believe. It was also 900 degrees out, and I was seven months pregnant. It was horrible. All we did was go from water sprayer to water sprayer and beg the vendors to fill our water bottle for us. Horrible. 
We enjoyed it a lot more this time. Especially since we got to go here with Havarti’s cousins as well. The kids loved having their second cousin (or whatever – Havarti’s cousin’s kids) to hang out with.

Somehow the Safari Park highlights ended up being mostly about birds. Look at this next picture very carefully.

Giant pelican baby! These birds are ENORMOUS. Like, I’d be scared to see one fly by me. Huge. Huge and smelly. Cute baby, though.

We also went to an amazing bird show.

They have these birds trained to fly just where they want them, and we got to learn about beautiful birds from around the world.

This is some kind of African crane. The Muse remembers what it’s called, but she’s asleep, so you just have to wonder.

They warned us at the beginning of the show to duck if we felt the need. Good call, because some of those birds flew RIGHT over our heads.

I ducked and took a picture at the same time. Multitalented. πŸ™‚

This bird was really neat to see, especially since we had just been learning about the California condor.

This isn’t a California condor, it’s an Andean condor. Still ugly and ginormous. Scientists studied the Andean condor to try to figure out how to replenish the California condor population. Nifty.

We tried feeding the lorikeets like we had at the Aquarium of the Pacific, but they weren’t hungry. So that was kind of a bust. Dolittle was crushed.

She was also crushed that we went to see the bald eagle and couldn’t find it. We also waited all day to go to the tiger exhibit, and when we finally got there it was sleeping way up in the top of its habitat where we couldn’t see it.

But the African safari tram was fun. We got to see a baby rhino with its mommy.

And some more goofy giraffes.

Much better than the first time around. πŸ™‚


Southern California was filled with animal encounters. Totally didn’t plan it that way, but pretty cool how it turned out.
Right there in Dana Point was the Ocean Institute, where you could go and learn all about some of the ocean life in the Pacific.

The volunteers were really informative. This was an interactive exhibit where the kids matched cards to specimens (such as a photo of a sea otter with the skull of a sea otter). Fun and educational. My favorite combo. πŸ™‚

We got to observe a squid being dissected. The kids actually could have participated and dissected their own squid, but none of them wanted to do it. I probably wouldn’t have at their age, either. Now I totally would, but I was taking pictures. I’m not quite that multitalented.

The best part of the Ocean Institute was the rays and skates tank. It was the first time I’ve ever seen what one of them looks like on its underside. It’s kind of cute, in a creepy sort of way.

When feeding time came around, they came right up to the surface, and even out of the surface more than I would have expected them to. Dolittle took the opportunity to pet them.

She was thrilled, as you can see. Lucky little animal-lover. πŸ™‚

One of the hallmark features of California, and most of the West Coast, really, is that very few things are super duper old. Well, there’s the Redwoods, but the vast majority of manmade places are decidedly twentieth century.
So it was really cool to go the mission in San Juan Capistrano, which was founded in 1776.  

This used to be the Great Stone Cathedral, but a major earthquake took it down in 1812.

The Muse isn’t on a cell phone – that’s the audio tour thingy they give out. They have one for adults and one for kids. Pretty nifty.

I knew the history part of it was going to be neat, but I didn’t know the place would be so beautiful.

The gardens in the courtyard were just gorgeous. Combined with the old stone and Spanish architecture, it’s really a lovely place to visit purely for aesthetic reasons.

But, of course, this was technically a homeschool field trip, so we did pay close attention to the historical information. We also added our own bits about how the Native Americans were usually forced to give up their language and culture as part of the conversion process and what effect that had on our shared history.

Lots of interesting historical artifacts. For Catholics, it would be a particularly interesting place to visit, as they had a lot of original relics from the priests and church. (I mean, it was interesting for us, too, but would perhaps be more meaningful for Catholics.)

This room was cool. There were 21 California missions, each with their own brand. San Juan Capistrano was the 7th (San Diego was the first, in case you were wondering). So here they had all of the brands as rubbing plates, so the kids picked the ones that appealed to them and took home a crayon rubbing of a mission brand.

The San Juan Capistrano Mission is also famous for its swallows (you know, the birds). Apparently there have been several references in music, movies, and TV shows to the swallows returning to Capistrano. It’s something that happens in March, from my recollection. For some reason the swallows nest there.

At the gift shop, BoyWonder got himself one of these barn swallow stuffies to replace his beloved stuffed bird that we accidentally left in the hotel room in Utah. (Incidentally, if your kids are into birds at all, these Audubon Society stuffed birds are really cool. Each one chirps with the real bird call if you squeeze it. Dolittle has a baby bald eagle one, and now BoyWonder has the swallow and a woodpecker. Kind of a cool collectible for bird-lovers.)


My parents took me to the La Brea Tar Pits when I was a kid. Almost too young to remember. I vaguely remember the gross tar smell, which will perhaps our kids’ main takeaway as well. Ah, the circle of life.

For those who are unfamiliar, the La Brea Tar Pits are a naturally occurring phenomenon where tar bubbles up from beneath the earth and forms pools (or pits – I think tar pools sounds cooler, but no one asked me). It’s a pretty funky deal. Over the millennia, wild animals would get trapped in the tar, die probably a horrible slow death, and then the tar would perfectly preserve their bones. Some guy in the early part of the 20th century had a ranch on the land and started digging up bones. Eventually, they realized this was a fossil gold mine, and it morphed into the excavation site and tourist attraction it is today. Right smack dab in the middle of Los Angeles.

This exhibit shows how difficult it would be to get out of the tar pits if you got stuck. It’s like quicksand, only thick and sticky. And smelly. 

It really was quite cool to see all of the ice age animals they’ve found. This is the giant ground sloth. Or, for the Princess Bride fans, an R.O.U.S. (They really do exist!)

 Big old American mastadon.

One of the main animals they’ve found in the pits is the dire wolf (like a modern wolf, kinda, but bigger and nastier looking). These are all dire wolf skulls.

Check out the saber-tooth skull! This was just a replica, but still very cool. They don’t let people touch the real ones. We learned that they used those big saber teeth as a knife. They were able to open their jaws WAY far, and they’d slit the throat of their prey. Then, after it died a horrible, slow death, the saber tooth would eat it. Lots of slow, horrible deaths at the tar pools pits.

Come on! That’s just cool. Look how big its mouth opens! This display actually moved so you could see how the saber tooth would attack.

This is a modern excavation site. This would be a very smelly job. It literally just smells like tar they use to make roads.

I have a video of some of the tar actually bubbling up out of the ground, but it won’t load. So I found this one that looks pretty much just like mine:


We did the La Brea Tar Pits and the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles on the same day. The Natural History Museum was really cool. They have a big T-rex skeleton right in the center of the lobby, just like in Night at the Museum, which made the girls happy. They love that movie.

The first thing we saw was this:

That would be a giant African millipede.

They can get up to 12 inches in length. Not poisonous, unless you ate him. 
We couldn’t hold it, but we did get to touch it. Not something you get to see or do every day. πŸ™‚

Next we moved onto something much prettier. The butterfly habitat.

Seriously. How amazing is that coloring? I just love butterflies.

 So indulge me with the photos for a sec.

We were there just in time for all of the monarch caterpillars. You didn’t notice them at first, but once you started looking for them, they were all over practically every plant.

Then we headed inside, and spent most of our time in the gem and mineral room. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I usually gloss over the mineral rooms in museums. Just a bunch of rocks, right? They might be sort of interesting for a minute, but nothing worth going out of your way for. Definitely not something worth photographing and posting on a blog. 

 Except our jaws just kept dropping. 1) The colors of some of these stones were unbelievable.

And 2) Rocks. That look like cotton balls. That’s freaking cool.

Rocks. That look like hair. Pardon the pun, but that rocks.

This occurred in nature. This. I just don’t even . . .

 And this right here, too. That’s CRAZY.

The diversity in the mineral room was about as wide as the animal exhibits. Seriously, it’s crazy the things the earth squeezes out when given the right elements and enough time.

This looks like candy.

This looks like a human organ. Gross, but cool.

I included this one because it’s cool, and also because the word “Schist” always makes me laugh. I’m just that mature.

 This looks like frozen candy. Come. On. Nature is so freaking cool.

This is one of the largest single pieces of quarts in the world, polished into a lovely crystal ball.

Never in a million years would I have thought I’d post that many pictures of rocks on my blog. Life is full of surprises.

We did see some other things in the museum, like a whole lot of dinosaur bones. Our kids have seen the ones at the Field Museum in Chicago several times, so it was fun to see some different ones.

But Dolittle’s favorite part was this stuffed tiger. She sat there and stared at it for a good 15 minutes. Horses are still cool, but a little last year for her. Tigers are her thing now. Tigers and bald eagles.

 That day in Los Angeles, we also happened to drive by the main See’s Candy factory and the Los Angeles Baha’i Center. Just two blocks away from each other, on the same street. We had no idea, just tripped across them. We were seriously smiled upon in southern California. πŸ™‚


When I told people we were going to Bakersfield, the most common response was “Why?” Bakersfield is sort of the armpit of California. It’s hot and, well, armpitty.

It’s not without its merits, though. It has this candy and ice cream shop called Dewar’s, that’s been there for more than 100 years.

They make these AMAZING chews. Does anyone remember Abba Zabbas? The peanut butter chews are exactly like an Abba Zabba bar, vanilla chewy on the outside, peanut butter on the inside. Yum.

 Are those not the coolest ceiling fans you’ve ever seen?

It’s got this cute little 1950’s soda shoppe thing going for it. And then, because it’s Bakersfield, there are big animal heads hanging on the wall. Ah, Bakersfield.

But the main thing Bakersfield has going for it is my mom’s family. Practically my mom’s entire extended family has lived in Bakersfield.

Here’s what I can’t figure out about that. My grandmother has lived in Bakersfield since she was ten. This place gets a LOT of sun. Like, it’s a half-step down from Phoenix as far as weather goes. So how does an 88-year-old woman who’s spent 78 years living in a place like that end up with skin like this:

Seriously, it’s like peaches ‘n’ cream. No fair. Beautiful inside and out. Sweet G-ma. πŸ™‚ 
We got lots of iterations of family photos. Here’s one of the oldest girls:
And one of the kids with my uncle David in his cool mask and Havarti with David’s cool sword. 
I kinda think it’s sorta sexy when Havarti makes his “Arrr, I’m a viking!” face. πŸ™‚
And a rare one of the five of us together:

BoyWonder’s in that phase where he tries too hard to smile for the camera, and it comes out like Chandler in that one Friends episode. It was approximately 1000 degrees outside when we took these photos, so it’s actually a miracle that any of us are smiling. You can’t tell, but I’m totally pitting out and almost ready to bite someone’s head off. But it’s nice to have an actual family photo. πŸ™‚


The perfect weather of the Bay Area was a welcome relief after two days of sweating in Bakersfield. Havarti’s brother lives in Orinda, just east of Berkeley, and an easy drive to San Francisco.

The first thing we did was track down some redwoods. While we didn’t get to see the uber-tall ones, we did enjoy some hiking through Redwoods Regional Park in Oakland.

The park had this cute little nature trail that invited you to create something out of the natural materials on the path. People are so creative.

 We found a peacock and a little bird’s nest, complete with little bird.

Dolittle really got into this little endeavor.
Look how tiny she looks among the tall trees.
We spent one day exploring San Francisco a bit. I have to admit, I wasn’t blown away. It had some of the same elements that I love about Seattle (the waterfront, the laid back vibe), but without the rest of what I love about Seattle (the green, mostly). Some of the homes were cool, but most of the neighborhoods were so barren of any trees it made me sad. I couldn’t really imagine living there.

(Don’t get your panties in a wad if you love San Francisco. I did get a better impression the second day we went into the city.)

It wouldn’t be San Francisco without a rainbow flag. πŸ™‚

We drove down Lombard Street, which is a super duper windy, steep road. It actually had a lot of greenery. And people. And cars. Hard to get a good photo. But fun.

Went down to Fisherman’s Wharf, and saw Alcatraz from afar. (That island up above the kids’ cousin’s head).

We ate lunch with Havarti’s brother and my gorgeous nieces. Our lunch came from . . . wait for it . . . Chipotle. Sick and wrong, I know, but the only place we could find nearby that had gluten-free options was closed. We knew we could do Chipotle and everyone would be safe and happy. 
Speaking of happy, we also ate near this gentleman.

This interesting character walked in and announced, “HAPPY TUESDAY, EVERYBODY!” and then sat down to eat. He had some kind of rainbow wig on, and those purple and green things in front of him? Pom poms. Which, as the younger kids started chasing pigeons, he would hold up and shake, joyfully singing “I Believe I Can Fly” and laughing as if it were the funniest joke he’d ever heard. He was full of zest and life and God knows what else. I just adored him.

Streetcars! I just kept thinking, “Rice-a-Roni, the San Francisco treat!” Stupid 80’s jingles.

Ghirardelli Square. Next best thing to the See’s Candy factory. πŸ™‚ Especially since they make butterscotch hot fudge sundaes at the ice cream shop.

 So worth every calorie.

Dolittle had been waiting to see her cousin here for months. Every time we talked about our trip, she’d ask when she was going to see him. Apparently it was the same for him. They adore one another. He used to torture her something fierce when they were younger, and she would whine and cry and complain, but then they’d be devastated when it was time to part. The torture has been subsided, thankfully. And they had a blast together, joining servers on Minecraft (which is apparently the equivalent of going to Disneyland every day) and generally being silly and goofy 8-year-olds. 
We drove through Golden Gate Park the first day, but were there too late to go to any of the attractions in the park, like the Botanical Garden or the Japanese Tea Garden. We did find this cool windmill, though.

Then we drove around to see the Golden Gate Bridge from afar. It had to be done.

Another day, we did go to the Japanese Tea Garden. That day San Francisco was more attractive for some reason. Maybe my expectations were lower, or maybe we drove around some areas with more trees and prettier architecture. Anyway, it was cool.

One thing I knew would tickle the girls was seeing the refurbished firehouse that served as Mia Thermopolis’ house in The Princess Diaries. A fun little detour.

Then we went to the Japanese Garden. It was lovely. I’ve always appreciated how the Japanese give such attention to detail and precision. It would drive me crazy to be a Japanese mother, what with the cultural pressure to create a beautiful presentation in my kids’ lunch boxes, but I still appreciate it. πŸ™‚

The kids’ favorite part was this bridge. They climbed straight up the side like a ladder.
And then back down. Big fun. They did it like three times.

My favorite part of living in Japan (I taught English there for a year after college) was seeing the old pagodas and temples. So iconic, and different from any architecture we see in the western world.
Naturally, the kids were starving while we were there (my kids seem to be starving 86% of the time), so we grabbed a little Japanese snack. (That’s one of my gorgeous nieces up there with the kids. She went with us while Havarti and his brother went on a too-long-for-kids hike.)

We got this package of mochi, which was, surprisingly, a whole lot nastier than any mochi I’ve ever had. A bit of a disappointment.

The edamame was good, though.

As was the miso soup. 

All in all, it was just a very lovely . . .

Very “Zen” place to hang out for a while.

We did do a few other fun things in the Bay Area, like visiting the Berkeley campus and going to my nephew’s baseball games, but I think we’ve covered enough. If you’re still reading, thanks for hanging in there. πŸ™‚

Despite all the cool things we did in CA, we are bummed that we missed some major things, like
Yosemite, the Sequoias, Death Valley, Lake Tahoe, and Big Sur, to name a few. But California is larger than most European nations, so to think we could do it all in five weeks and still live life would be completely unrealistic.

Now we’re in Oregon, savoring as much of the Oregon Coast’s unique flavor as we can in the next two weeks. And, hallelujah! I can write about Oregon now that California’s trip has been properly documented.

Soon, I promise. I’ve already got a crud-load of photos backing up. πŸ™‚

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Annie writes about life, motherhood, world issues, beautiful places, and anything else that tickles her brain. On good days, she enjoys juggling life with her husband and homeschooling her children. On bad days, she binges on chocolate chips and dreams of traveling the world alone.

Comments 1

  1. Wow, Annie, you are awesome. I loved the goofy giraffe pictures, the gems, the tea gardens, the beautiful pictures of your family everywhere! I hope you guys don’t get too stressed out with all the sight-seeing. Oregon is a nice place to wind down a little, if you get a chance – there’s also a crazy amount of stuff to do there, too. Thanks for this post – I hung in there, but it was just amazing to the end. I am travelling back to Laguna Beach for a wedding in August, and you convinced me to go see San Juan Capistrano and possibly make the journey down to San Diego Wild Animal Park. Can’t wait. Thanks for blogging – this one was a ton of work. Hugs!

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