If you’ve been married for longer than a minute or are even dating someone for more than 6 months, you know. Relationships take effort. You have to really work at “Happily Ever After”
or at least we do.
When we got engaged, we would have monthly “meetings” over dinner where we would share what was really important to us as a couple and a family. Yes, these were my idea. I wanted to go into our future with recognized intentions. It sounds more spiritual than it turned out to be. Most of our dinners ended up in tears (mine) when we came at topics from such differing perspectives. He was a single, widowed dad and I was a single, fun-loving girl. He was a Republican and I was a Democrat. How could this ever work?
However over 11 years, we’ve had our battles, our breakdowns and have grown to understand each other in ways I never thought possible coming from the chaos of my Russian Jewish immigrant family. We have started out own traditions which include Secret Dates (when we have the energy) and have grown strong as a couple rooted in our individual passions.
In the spirit of our Secret Dates, we also plan Secret Anniversaries, where we take turns putting together the celebration and don’t tell the other until we set off. Last year, for our 10 year (no pressure there), I bought a trip from our school fundraiser to Barbados. That was pretty epic and I will have to share about it one day.
I had never heard of Lake Nacimiento. Turns out, Lake Nacimiento is an 18 mile long man-made lake created by the completion of the Nacimiento Dam in 1961. It runs along the Nacimiento River and is just north of San Luis Obisbo, and a part of Monterey County. It’s many arms and tributaries have earned it the nickname Dragon Lake.
We both like to camp or rather glamp and we both love the outdoors, so this was perfect.
However, I’d like to share 7 tips to make your trip as fun as possible if you too decide on a romantic getaway to celebrate something.
1. Find a cell phone and wi-fi reception free location.
I’m sure this wasn’t his intention when he booked the trailer where we stayed for four nights but that’s what it ended up being. This will force you to really talk and interact instead of escape every few minutes into virtual reality. It will either help you fall deeper in love or motivate you to find a good couple’s counselor upon your return.
Speaking of trailers, the best are numbers 2 and 3. They are the newer ones and have a view of the lake.
2. Bring music.
Don’t forget you can’t use Pandora or Spotify so load it up on your smart phone. We brought our portable bluetooth speaker. It helped camouflage the noise from our partying neighbors.
3. Rent (or bring) a boat.
Not sure how it is during the rest of the year but we when went in July, it was hot.
The water was about 80 degrees.
People brought jet skis, giant blow-up rafts shaped like swans, pizzas and whales and stand-up paddle boards, like the one we borrowed.
But a boat allows you to really explore the vastness and nooks and crannies of the lake.
I only ran into one sandbar.
4. Get Out of Your Comfort Zone
Let’s face it. We’re adults and really what do we have to prove? We are who we are. However, maybe we’re more than we thought. Don’t limit yourself or your potential. They’re just excuses.
Yep that’s me.
He did it too.
It looks much higher from the top.
5. Find a Secluded Spot.
Make him get off the boat with the cozy cushions and have him sit with you on the shady hill overlooking the water with rocks under your butt. It’s romantic. I swear.
6. Bring Wine for the Campfire.
Every occasion could be improved with a good red.
However, don’t try to improve each other’s parenting techniques after a few glasses.
7. Go Wine Tasting.
Paso Robles is only 20 minutes away. We went to the amazing castle, the setting for Tooth & Nail Winery, where we were spoiled by our host, Troy. We went straight from stand-up paddle boarding in the lake into the city. I may or may not have rinsed off the lake.
Troy went into detail about the origins of the winery which is only a few years old. We only wanted to know because the wine was so good and the labels so jarring.
I believe winemakers who have the confidence to name their wines something outlandish like The Glutton and The Fiend must have a good product. They’re willing to color outside the lines unlike the proper houses that turn out underwhelming wines.
The artwork on the bottles are from historical wooden etchings.
A great band I would have paid money to see, if I had heard of them before that afternoon, Moonshiner Collective, played in the outdoor area overlooking the moat.
I really liked them. They all got hugs before we left.
And where did we go, you may ask. Well. I didn’t think it was a very good idea to come to Paso Robles for the first time and not explore at least one more winery. So I gave the Uber guy an address. I blame it on Yelp.
The review said amazing Pinot Noirs. I should have noticed it was written in 2007. The little store-front was nothing compared to the castle we had just left. We did however discover a great restaurant and by that time, we needed more than just cheese and crackers.
Though I had never heard of Lake Nacimiento before my husband told me we were going there, it seemed like everyone else had. Seeing all the kids and families, I felt a little guilty not having brought our boys but oh well. A good reason to come back.
So, save me the work for next year when it’s my turn to plan again. What was your favorite, romantic vacation?
What could possibly go wrong? Four boys jostling in a small space, no husbands to pawn them off on for a few seconds of peace?
Well. This. This could go wrong.
And it did. Over and over again. But that’s not the whole story.
The idea was born after my husband told me he was going away on a surf trip with our oldest son, Kyle.
He chose to go the one week of summer when there would be no camp. So, while they got to go do this:
I would get to do this
No. I refused to let it happen. So, I asked the boys: what should we do?
We had to do something. I didn’t think I’d survive the week without having to becoming a zoo keeper and finding a way to re-invent the hokey pokey. Plus, I wanted to have some fun too.
I’d been thinking a lot lately about San Diego. It’s where I went to college and a place I’ve always loved for it’s beauty and people’s friendliness..
There’s a beach campground in the northern part of the county called San Onofre State Beach. I used to tent camp there with my girlfriends, pre-marriage, and then our family started RV camping there postpartum. It’d been years and I wanted to go back.
I booked our campsite on a website called Reserve America. Most campsites nationwide can be booked there. Because there is such a high demand for space in some campgrounds, you’d normally have to make a reservation 6 months in advance (the earliest you can reserve a campsite in California) and it still wasn’t easy. You’d have to get on your computer, your smartphone and your friend’s computer at 7 in the morning and keep hitting refresh until you found a site you could call your own. It’s like winning a crazy radio station contest. For some reason though, there were still plenty of spots available when I looked at dates two weeks out, so hurray!
Tip #1: Stay at San Mateo Campgrounds
Since we wanted to be around the San Onofre State Beach area, there are a few campground options but if you want to be as close as possible to San Onofre State Beach, then you have to stay at the campground there. However, there are two different areas to choose from, the ones at San Onofre State Beach and the ones at San Mateo Bluffs. Its tempting to choose the San Onofre State Beach ones because those sites are closer to the ocean. I made this mistake the first time I went. They’re also closer to the 5 freeway and the railroad tracks. When you finally lie down after a long day at the beach, it feels like the cars are inches, instead of feet, away from rolling over your head. Instead of falling asleep to the serenade of ocean waves, you’re awake all night praying not to get hit and popping awake every 5 seconds after drifting off between passing trucks. When the train rolls by, you get the extra added pleasure of having the ground bounce beneath you. Earplugs might help but not by much. The San Mateo Bluffs, on the other hand, are a 5 minute drive away, still very convenient….and quiet. Just do a search for San Onofre SB and under “Narrow Results” click on the drop down menu called “Loop” – then select a San Mateo Bluffs site from there.
Tip #2: Have an RV delivered to your site
We are bargain travelers and always trying to get the best deal. Normally, when we camp, my husband goes onto Craig’s List and finds a private party from whom we rent an RV for a fraction of the cost of renting from a dealer. We drive it ourselves. We stuff our SUV with everything we’ll need for the week or so that we’ll be using the RV and transfer everything when we arrive to the place it’s parked. It’s not hard when you have someone helping but I didn’t have the time or energy to do all that on my own with two crazy kids.
I had heard of companies that do drop off rentals of trailers. It turns out, every campsite has their own companies they’re contracted to allow RV drop offs. I called to see which companies were authorized to drop off at the campsite we chose and I was told Luv 2 Camp was my ticket. I was a little annoyed that there wasn’t a few to choose from (some campgrounds have this option) but renting from them ended up being about the same price as renting a nearby RV , driving it to the campground and then paying extra to have them stock it with all the essentials Luv 2 Camp would already have included. Remember, we’re going for easy here. Besides, they were cool when I spoke with them and told them what we were doing and gave me a free night for an honest review.
So with the foundation of our 3 night trip in place, all I needed was to recruit a trail blazing friend with kids to be my partner in crime.
I found my kindred spirit in my friend, Lori, whose husband is NOT into camping and wished her well as she packed weekend gear for two boys and a mommy.
Tip #3: Use a list to remember what to bring
I’m pretty sure I have permanent mommy brain, which is a form of temporary amnesia that affects the hormonally-charged and sleep-deprived moms in early parenthood. Only mine never seemed to have gone away so lists are a must. There are several that are helpful for camping but I used the one at GoRVing.com to help me remember all those little items that non-regular campers might forget. Like firewood (they sell this at the campground for $6 a bundle if you do forget) or a first -aid kit. (We use colloidal silver first -aid gel and band-aids to heal mostly everything.)
You must bring a first-aid kit because someone always gets hurt.
Not sure why with my mellow kids.
Luckily, Lori’s boys were mellow so they sort of balanced my jumping jellybeans out.
Even with a list, we didn’t make it to the campsite until about 7pm -after all the last minute shopping…
…and fighting that went on throughout the day (everything takes MUCH longer when you must stop every 2 minutes to break it up)…
…everyone was super excited to see the RV trailer all set up and waiting for us!
We unloaded our stuff fast because the inmates were getting restless and hungry. I had brought salmon to grill on the campfire pit and Lori tossed together a salad and pasta inside the trailer. That’s the really nice thing about having an RV. You get a smidgen of comfort next to the rugged wild.
How to build a campfire:
All you need to build a killer campfire is dry wood stacked in a tepee formation, newspapers beneath it and lighter fluid sprayed over the whole set up. Perfect every time.
One thing I didn’t love is the rental company provided dishes and cups that were all plastic. In real life, we try and stay away from plastic, especially with hot liquids, because of all the carcinogenic and hormonally disruptive chemicals that it leeches. So we just put paper plates and cups on our shopping list for the next day (there’s a Ralph’s about a mile away). We would temporarily forego our commitment to the environment so we wouldn’t have to do dishes or poison ourselves with plastic. I think Mother Nature would understand.
The next day found us up early and excited for the beach after a delicious breakfast of eggs, hash browns and turkey bacon. Score another point for the stovetop inside the warm RV.
We packed our beach gear and set out.
One great thing about camping at this campsite is that your parking pass for the campground is also good for the beach parking lot. Try to get to the beach on the early side, as the lot fills up fast and you have to wait in a line of cars until the current occupants call it a day.
Tip #4: Bring a surfboard or boogie board
One reason we love San Onofre State Beach is because it has the best and longest wave in Southern California. It’s the perfect place to learn to surf or just ride the ocean for what seems like forever. We specifically like a section of the beach called Old Man’s.
Costco has reasonably priced foam boards which are perfect for beginners and you’ll find this beach sprinkled with them.
The waves were perfect the first day, small and long. All the boys went in and loved splashing around.
Tip #5 Bring a wetsuit and booties
If you’re going to surf or boogie board, then you should probably bring a wetsuit and a pair of booties to protect your feet from the small rocks in the shallow parts of the beach.
We forgot ours.
The boys brought their spring suits, which are wetsuits with short sleeves and pants legs, but we all forgot booties. It kinda sucked. The boys handled it ok but mommy has sensitive feet (or she’s become a wussy) and didn’t love having to navigate through those slippery, pointy little rocks. You can rent a wetsuit for $15 a day through a surf shop like Rip Curl and even a surfboard which is what Lori did.
We spent the day headquartered at the beach.
Went into the water when we felt like it.
Even mommy got into it!
But it was Kaleb who really impressed.
This is the boy who 2 years ago wouldn’t even get in the water.
And now he rushes it!
We had an epic day at the beach…..
…but all good things must end. We weren’t sad though because we still had our campsite to look forward to!
I have said before that camping people are notoriously nice. The boys made friends with a man who was camping with his family at the site next-door. At first I wasn’t so sure this was a good idea so I stayed around to watch. Then, I made sure they all knew they couldn’t go into anyone’s RV alone and after a while I realized that despite all the media portrayal to the otherwise, there are still nice people in this world with no hidden agenda (I still kept an eye out though;)
Tip #6 Bring Bikes
It’s not just for boys. Kids love to explore and there isn’t a safer place to do it than around a campground. It really is like a little village where everyone looks out for each other.
Plus the mommies finally got a break when they could relax…
…and make some dinner. This night’s menu was organic hotdogs, veggie burgers, salad and s’mores!
After all that fun, I was super happy to climb into my warm bed.
The next morning, we were up bright and early, ready to head back to our favorite beach!
The boys put on their beach uniforms.
And we headed out for another day of adventure. Today the tide was super low and after battling the rocks enough times (and gathering some toe injuries along the way), the boys decided to explore the tide pools created by the receding water.
After another long and fun day at the beach, we went back to our campsite and loaded up on more s’mores, wine and chocolate (oh yeah, there was a dinner in there too but this time we just got Mexican because there was a drive-through restaurant next door to the surf shop where we had to return our wetsuits and surfboard – the mommies had earned a break!)
The night flew by…..
Sadly, the next morning we had to load up our gear to head back home.
As we were getting ready to leave, the boys rode back to us, bike tires blazing, to tell us they had discovered a blind cat in a sewer and could they have some food to feed it?
Success! The “blind” cat succumbed to their entreaties to eat and he gobbled up the remainder of my lox and salmon jerky. I think this cat had a good day.
We were determined, despite how tired we were, to squeeze out every possible moment from the beach which had also become our friend’s favorite. Even though our camping passes expired on this third day, they were still good for beach parking thus saving us $15.
We discovered the waves were a bit bigger on our final day.
The boys went in but soon gave up.
So they did other things to get their energy out before riding in the car for two hours.
Tip #7: Bring a camera
It was time to go home and although the overall beauty we all experienced during the three days of camping lies more in our hearts than in these words or pictures – it will be through these pictures that we will be able to relive our experiences.
Before children, camping was an adventure. We got dirty. We drank during the day. We slept on the dirt with only a thin layer of stuffed polyester protecting our bodies from the rocks. We cooked on grills powered by fires we painstakingly built from twigs and newspapers. We powered through the day and talked around the campfire late into the night. S’mores.
After my first son, Kaleb was born, I couldn’t muster up the enthusiasm to do it while practicing Attachment Parenting which involves: nursing on demand (=no sleep) and still enjoy the sun and the waves that had become the staple of our annual surf camping trips. It just wasn’t going to happen. And then it did. We rented a luxury RV, something I said I’d never do, ridiculing it as glamping (glamour camping) instead of actual ‘set-up your own tent, shower under cold water in under 3 minutes and bring a huge cooler full of food that you hoped wouldn’t spoil in the 3-5 days it would be under the blaring sun’ kind of camping.
It was actually pretty great. I got to sleep with my baby in an air-conditioned, quiet bed while the rest of the crew did whatever they wanted in the outside world. Kitchen, refrigerator, private bathroom with a hot shower. Plus all the regular camping stuff we loved. So it was settled, that’s how it would be and that’s how it’s been the times we’ve gone camping since.
Last week, though, we got invited to go camping at the Kampgournds of America KOA Ventura Ranch campsite. The promised accommodations listed a Deluxe Cabin. This would be a curious departure from our newly redefined rough and tumble camping days aboard a mobile palace. Plus, we usually glamped camped at the beach and this site was about half an hour inland.
OK, so let’s talk about the location. First of all, who knew there was a secluded paradise nestled between a couple ghost towns only an hour’s drive from Los Angeles? Well, maybe not ghost towns but we definitely felt like we were crossing into another world (picture the movie Deliverance),
as we all craned our necks to look out the side window when we drove by a deep ravine that housed what appeared to be the remnants of a mobile home and bulldozer. My kids asked if anyone lived there. I said I didn’t know. I couldn’t see how they’d come and go if they did.
When we arrived at the site, we picked up our keys and got a glimpse of what awaited us for the weekend.
They directed us to a cabin that looked like it had very little to do with camping except for the magnificent surroundings in which it was set.
Camping essentials awaited.
The boys couldn’t wait to explore and luckily we brought their bikes.
The thing about camping is camping people are really friendly. It’s not like the real world. In this world, it’s easy to meet new people and connect in warm and fuzzy ways.
Something unique to this camping site, though, was the preponderance of peacocks strutting around.
They really were everywhere.
Kaleb decided he would try to make friends with them too.
They may have been turned off by his assertive nature.
We later learned that the peacocks have been there for generations. The land used to be owned by the Chumash Indians and the Chief visited the Australian Head of State back when they still lived on the campground land and it was a custom back then – by the Australians – to gift peacocks to all new relations established between countries. So that’s how they got there and I thought it was pretty cool that they’re still there!
Our weekend schedule was packed but the first item on the agenda was creating s’mores by the campfire and we didn’t want to miss that so we had to tear ourselves from our explorations and get some grub on.
Daddy took the lead.
Then it was time to meet the other members of our group over an old fashioned s’mores cookout.
After all that sugar, it was time to go to bed because we had a full day planned for tomorrow.
Once we were able to wrangle the jumping jellybeans into bed, they settled nicely into their loft beds.
While Mommy and Daddy sat on the porch with a glass of wine….
The next day everyone was excited to hit the rock walls after breakfast. For $10, visitors are able to scale the walls and gently return to Earth only to go again.
The boys must have gone up and down 20 times each.
Mommy made it to the top – once. Almost.
There’s also a track around which you can ride peddle carts.
Next it was time to take our (my) tired arms and create a memorable souvenir: a tie-dyed KOA t-shirt.
This was a fantastic project we got to take home and proudly wear our creation around town. After lunch, it was time for a little excitement: zip lining.
There are two platforms from which riders can plummet zip down. The first is 800 feet long and the second is 650. Riders speed along at 25 mph. It costs $15 for the first line and $25 for both.
After strapping on their gear, the boys were ready to go. Riders must be 70lbs. to ride alone but they can go tandem if they don’t meet that requirement.
There are 485 KOA campsites around the country. Some of them are franchises that are privately owned. Ventura Ranch KOA owner, Scott Cory, loves his work and spent the weekend helping guests in a variety of activities. This Saturday afternoon, he spent hours on the hot platform strapping people safely onto the zipline.
Cory has a wonderful imagination and wants to turn the whole campsite into a nature wonderland for kids and families. He took this once dilapidated, mostly abandoned, county campsite five years ago and has already made it an escape for city families. He’s got even greater plans to expand his vision. He wants to extend the length of the zip line ride. He’s building more teepees and deluxe cabins and tents by next season since they’re always so busy. He’s also in the works of adding two new water slides to the pool area by 2018.
Mommy got to go too!
Next in our turnstile of activity, we got to go mining for gems in the KOA kampsite quarry…..or rather mining station.
Mining is free but you have to buy a bag of goodies buried in sacred sand to participate. Those vary between$7-$25.
First you dump the contents of the bag into the sifter.
Then you submerge the pans into the water to let the water uncover your treasures.
After cashing in on our treasures, we decided to commence our new life of leisure by exploring the various nature paths surrounding our campsite (er, cabin). We heard about the lovely Big Foot Trail and found a clue on how to get there.
We knew we’d be going on the Big Foot hike later with the group but we decided to see if we could find him on our own first. The trail led down to the river bank, which of course, led to the discovery of rocks, which of course led to the activity of throwing them.
Along the way we passed by some of the other cool accommodations available to guests.
There is a row of super deluxe cabins which were first featured on the TV show, American Dream Builders.
It was a contest to see who could design the cutest little space.
Corry bought the cabins after the shows aired and now rents the spaces out for weddings and to high-end glampers.
But back to our hike. We had had a really rough week as a family before we arrived on our retreat. Getting away from it all couldn’t have come at a better time. There really is something about Mother Nature that soothes and brings out the best in everyone.
We saw a cute little playground after our hike and the boys found what appeared to be a stranded spaceship. So we had to check it out.
They went on a short space mission.
That night, after dinner, we went with a bigger group on an actual search for the legendary beast, Big Foot.
We did actually find him but for some reason, as luck would have it, my camera wouldn’t take snap his picture, so you’ll just have to take our word for it.
Finally, the kids couldn’t stay awake another minute and mommy was yawning after our full day but we couldn’t leave without using the firewood they had provided.
There is a store onsite in case you forget some glamping essentials but no butter for your corn. So if you forget that, you’re out of luck.
This was a great trip and such a short drive from our house, it was nice that the kids weren’t trying to kill each other or whine through the last hours of the usual drive because it only took us about 45 minutes to get there on a Friday night! Bonus points!
We had to say goodbye to all our new friends after breakfast and before Knox was even done swallowing his food, he was already asking when we could come back.
So do you camp? A survey released this year called the 2016 North American Camper Report says more of us are. More than half of us are millennials, 18% are African-American and 11% are Hispanic. What’s your favorite part or memory you treasure? Let’s go camping!