Santa Monica Pier Aquarium

The Santa Monica Pier Aquarium is a great place to exploring the pier, where you can spend a whole day.


While your kids are still little and amazed by the world, while your underwater explorer still loves the mystery of the deep dark blue and its inhabitants, while your Earth-lover still wants to preserve our environment and learn about local plant and animal species, take them to the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium for a fun family day out. I visited recently as a guest of Mommy Poppins for their Best of LA awards event. (I didn’t win, but it was an honor just to be nominated. For real!)

santa monica pier aquarium snacks

Want some wolf eel with your coffee?

Yes, there is a bigger aquarium in greater Los Angeles, but this one is so close! And with the California Incline now open again, traffic isn’t as bad it has been the last year and a half. Take the 101 East to Las Virgenes, then turn right and head out to PCH. Take PCH to Ocean Ave, turn right and head down to Pico. Turn right there, and right on Appian Way. Park on the street or in the lot – either way you’ll pay about $12 for the whole day.


From there you’ll walk along the boardwalk, past the lemonade stand, and to Santa Monica Pier Aquarium, which is under the pier. It’s a small space and won’t take you long to walk through and explore, but if you have pre-schoolers they will likely spend plenty of time watching the sharks in the waist-high tank. No touching them!

Luckily, right across the room is a touch tank where curious kids can handle anemones, starfish, and more. There are displays of sea life everywhere—there are 100 species of plants and animals right there in the facility!


There’s a different focus or special event each day of the week. Children can help feed the sea stars Tuesdays and Fridays and 2:30PM, and watch staff feed the sharks on Sundays at 3:30. Older children can volunteer at the aquarium starting at age 15.



While you’re at the pier, head up the stairs or ramp to check out Pacific Park with its games and amusement park rides. Stop to watch trapeze artists in training at trapeze school. Enjoy local musicians performing right there on the pier. Grab a meal or a snack at the food court or one of the restaurants at either end.


And of course, remember to pack your beach stuff. A blanket, an umbrella, some sunscreen, and extra clothes for the kids who will run into the water no matter how many times they whine “But I hate the beach!” (Just my kids?)

santa monica pier aquarium pinterest

Santa Monica Pier Aquarium
1600 Ocean Front Walk (under the pier)
Santa Monica, CA 90401
Tue-Fri 2pm – 5pm
Sat-Sun 12:30 – 5pm
Admission is free for kids 12 and under
Adults and kids 13 and up $5

Staycation at Residence Inn LAX – Part 1 of 3

IMG_1202After a 1.5 hour slog through Sunday traffic, we finally arrived at Residence Inn LAX.

Over the summer I was invited by Residence Inn to stay at their LAX property. I finally accepted when it was clear that I need some quality time with my 10-year-old. The summer had been so busy that we didn’t get much time together, just me and him. Plus, he loves staying in hotels, and as I found out, he loves other key components of travel, so this turned out to be a perfect little excursion for us.

Normally I wouldn’t choose the airport area as a destination, but there are a few reasons that our night at Residence Inn LAX turned out to be wonderful: a comfortable, clean room to relax and snuggle in after spending time at a great restaurant and a picturesque local attraction that would otherwise take us over an hour to get to by car.

IMG_1205Part I: The Hotel

The Residence Inn LAX just opened this summer with a simple, elegant contemporary decor. The lobby is spacious and bright and there are some cool digital conveniences for guests, including an interactive map of local attractions (but curiously not local restaurants — there is nothing notable in walking distance of the hotel, if you ask the front desk they will send you to places that require a drive), and a live departures screen for flights leaving from LAX, as well as a luggage scale.







The pool area is small but has plenty of room, with comfortable seating and shade and even a cool fire pit for nighttime socializing. There is a special needs chair lift for the pool, and plenty of towels.



Our room was gloriously spic and span. I mean, you’d expect that from any hotel of Residence Inn’s fame, but I especially appreciated it because my own house has been such a sandy, dusty disaster due to neglect and beach visits. It was just so nice to get away from household duties for a night! And the goodies left for us were a lovely touch.





IMG_2253(FYI – no bathtub, just a sleek and clean shower)



Guests are given BOGO vouchers for use at the on-site fast casual restaurants, Z Pizza or Jersey Mike’s. We opted to go off-property for dinner, but we did use the free beverage at the also on-site Starbucks to get hot coffee and chocolate in the morning.

IMG_1269Residence Inn’s usually awesome continental breakfast hit a hiccup on the Monday morning when we were there, because an expected delivery hadn’t come in. Otherwise we would have eaten there. Instead we took our Starbucks drinks back up to our room and watched the rest of a movie we had started the night before. Cool thing: the rooms have Netflix on the TV’s, and you can log in with your own account. That was perfect for this mom and 10-year-old. We selected “Are We Done Yet?” which incidentally I recommend for helping you go to sleep. Watching the end of it in the morning wasn’t so bad.


IMG_1277 I enjoyed the view while I took notes

In separate posts I will talk more about how we passed the time. Once we arrived at the hotel Sunday evening, we spent about 20 minutes at the pool before it got too windy, and then considered what’s close by and set out from there. Parking for guests ($24 per night) is in a garage behind the building and coming and going is easy. Wifi is free in the room and works just fine. There is also an airport shuttle, so this is a great lower-cost place to stay the night before if you have a super early morning flight.

Residence Inn LAX
5933 West Century Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90045 USA
Rooms and Rates

It’s Time For Dodgers Baseball. Budget Wisely, and You’ll Have a Great Time!

Summertime is baseball time, and LA-area residents can get the ultimate baseball fan experience at Dodger Stadium this year.


From personal experience over two recent Dodgers games, I can tell you that you will need to budget your time and/or money just right for everyone involved to have a good time. For the first game we went as regular people, paying out of pocket and standing in line and almost getting killed in the parking lot. The second time, we were guests of the Dodgers to check out their promo plans and new food choices – for this we got really good tickets and parking, which obvs is the way to go and if I take my son back I will definitely be working an extra job to spring for the $$ tickets and parking or taking the shuttle to the stadium.

Here are some considerations to keep in mind as you plan your attendance at a Dodgers game this summer.

Choice of Game

The Dodgers organization is pulling out all the stops to get people to come to the stadium. Many fans are riveted to the game itself, but if you are bringing little kids or people who aren’t into baseball, there are features for them to look forward to also. On Friday nights this summer there will be fireworks after the game. On select Saturdays, there will be movie screenings after games. And on July 4 there will be a big Independence Day celebration after the game, just for ticket holders.

dodgers bobblehead(Image from Dodgers Twitter feed)

There are also “promotional” games, when they give out a gift like a bobblehead doll or a branded collapsible laundry basket or spray bottle fan, among other things. While these may seem like cool things to get with the cost of your ticket, be warned: these tend to be the most crowded games. Our first visit was on Adrian Gonzalez bobblehead night. Big mistake. Tickets were expensive, the stadium was sold out, and even though we pre-paid for parking, it was a disaster. (See below.) We didn’t even get the bobbleheads, because they were out of them by the time we got to the gate. Our companions who arrived on time didn’t get them either. The promo items are only guaranteed to the first 40,000 ticket holders, and we saw people holding two and three bobbleheads. Not that we need another tchotchke in our house, but our kids were pretty disappointed.

To avoid the crowds, cost, and long lines (30 minutes or more!) at the concession stands, choose a weeknight game that is not offering a promotional item or special event. Easier to focus on the actual baseball that way anyway!

Get There Early

Leave early. If you think you’re leaving really early, leave earlier. Especially coming from Agoura Hills, this is a big one. Traffic can make your trip take over an hour, and once you get to the stadium, if you are arriving close to game time (or it’s a sold out game and you arrive an hour ahead of time) you will be stuck in parking lines, even though they sell “preferred” parking and advertise that this is meant to move lines along faster. I really hope they improve this plan, because it did not work on our first visit.

Even with pre-paid parking and arriving over an hour before game time, this is where I had to park, in a satellite lot up at the top of a mountain:


After the game I walked back up with my son and my father and we were nearly run over by a drunk driver – even staff with reflective vests on acknowledged that she was drunk, but didn’t seem moved to do anything about it – and there were no lights on the road. Don’t risk your life for the Dodgers. If you’re coming to a sold out game, you should park at Union Station and take the Dodger Express bus from there to the stadium – it’s free if you’ve purchased your game ticket in advance. Our friends chose that option and had a much easier time.

On our second trip we arrived 2 hours early. At that time most of the parking was empty, so that might be a good move if you’re just a regular person parking in general parking. As guests of the Dodgers we had preferred parking which was closer to the stadium and also allowed our exit to be quick and smooth right after the game was over.


This made our journey much easier and gave us lots of time to kill checking out the concessions and cool things in the stadium. Also if you get there early they let you watch batting practice.


Buy the Good Seats

For the promotional/special event games, tickets will be more expensive. So if you want good seats, depending on what that means to you, you’ll spend less if you go to less crowded games.

We sat in the Reserved level behind home plate during the first visit, and that was okay, but it was kind of annoying when people got up to use the bathroom or go to concessions because you’re packed in so tightly. Most of the fans around us were respectful and nice, but a few were smoking (which, um, is illegal in the stadium, WTF) or spilled beer or were just generally unfriendly. Not fun especially if you’ve got your kids with you.

During the blogger event we were on the club level and I don’t know how much those tickets cost (I’m betting a lot) but that is the way to go, man. Seat-side service, much less crowded, great view of the field. And it has its own concession stand, too.

Budget For Food

The food is different at stands all around the stadium, and this season the Dodgers are introducing lots of new items, which my son and I sampled at the blogger event.


Our favorite was the Pop Fly Extreme Dodger Dog, which you can get on the Field level (aisle 48). There are loaded nachos served in helmets, special ice cream sandwiches, a spicy michelada, pizza topped with giant pepperoni, and more. The new items are scattered all over the stadium so here’s a handy guide.

Enjoy the Game

The whole point is the baseball, though, right? My younger son is riveted by the action itself, so he doesn’t need a lot of snacks and he didn’t even want to leave his seat to go to the restroom. It’s worth the entire effort just to see his face as Yael Puig or Joc Pederson fires the ball over the fence.


One thing he is excited to check out is that after Sunday games played during the day, kids 14 and under are allowed to run the bases! Families can line up in center field after the game is over and get the experience of running on the Dodger infield.

The bottom line is that for us to attend a Dodger game without worrying about traffic safety, we need to budget a lot of time. To enjoy  the snacks and good seats, we need to budget a lot of money. It’s no easy matter – it’s almost like going to Disneyland now – but it’s fun to do if you can devote the money and the time to doing it right.