Discovering the Dutch delights of Solvang, California

solvang california

No drive down the PCH is complete without a stop in the quaint town of Solvang. This area of Santa Barbara county was settled by the Dutch in the early 1900′s.


solvang california

Their famous architecture and bakery goods draw over one million visitors each year.


There’s much to do in Solvang, no matter your time frame. If you have a day, go straight to downtown and soak in the architecture, the traditional shops and baked goods. If you have a weekend, stay at a bed and breakfast and bike around the outskirts of town enjoying the Dutch inspired landscape.






On just about every corner there’s a bakery or sweets shop that sell traditional Danish delights like the ableskiver, a fried dough ball with powdered sugar and fruit jam. They were delicious!

solvang pastry


solvang, hans christian anderson

Solvang is also known for it’s Hans Christen Anderson museum. It’s located above the bookstore, and is free to the public. It’s a very small museum, but it’s interesting to see some of the early editions of his famous novels like The Little Mermaid.




Even if you only have a half day to explore, it’s worth a visit to come to Solvang. Take a walk around downtown to soak in the architecture and grab some treats for the road. You’ll be glad you did!








The Color Run= a Day of Fun!

Dubbed the “happiest 5K on the planet” we head to the Color Run in Slat Lake City. Having fun, getting dirty, dancing with the crazy crowd and, oh yeah, exercising too, join them as they party it up with 1000′s of their new friends.


Before the race startedIMG_0901

Once the run is over, the fun isn’t. The party is just getting started. The stage is ready for dancers, more chalk thrown, and good times for at least another hour.



After running, dancing and playing all morning, here’s proof  that it was a fun day!


Elephant Seals of San Simeon California

elephant seals san simeon california

One of my favorite parts about traveling is that you can wake up with an idea of what you want to do that day, but often opportunities come along during the day that will alter your plans and expose you to things you had never considered just hours before. Recently this happened while we were in San Simeon, California visiting Hearst Castle. You can read about the castle visit HERE.

elephant seals san simeon california

Our contact at Hearst Castle encouraged us to make time in our schedule to visit the Elephant Seals as this is their migration period, and their resting spot is only a few miles down the road. Always up for a spontaneous adventure, we decided to stop by once we left the castle tour. I had no idea at the time that this would become the highlight of my already fantastic day.

elephant seal san simeon california

We arrived at the dirt parking lot along the side of the Pacific Coast Highway that marks the Elephant Seal’s sanctuary. We weren’t sure what to expect, or how close we could get to the massive creatures, but luckily for us, there were some docents eager to answer our questions. These sweet retired men volunteer weekly to monitor the public to make sure no one harasses the seals or crosses the fence line, and to answer questions from curious tourists. You can see our video interview with them HERE

elephant seals san simeon california

We were eager to get a glimpse of the seals so we headed down the pathway towards the beach. Quickly we spotted clusters of females, huddled together on the sand. Many had newborn pups at their side, but the majority of them were in their last days of pregnancy, and were patiently awaiting the arrival of their babies any day now.

The beach was littered with a few hundred seals, but the docents assured us that within a few weeks there would be several thousand squished onto this narrow strip of sand. This is the only place in North America where elephant seals migrate down from northern waters to birth their pups, wean them in only a month, and then breed again before returning to the sea. This cycle happens in a very short time, so over the next three months, over 17,000 seals will visit this one small beach.

elephant seals


elephant seals california


elephant seals california


elephant seal



elephant seals california


Our visit to the enchanting Hearst Castle

14 Fascinating Facts about Hearst Castle

Hearst Castle, San Simeon California William Hearst

I have a confession. I was born and raised in California, and I’d never visited the iconic Hearst Castle before I moved away 6 years ago. Since our travels are taking us down the Pacific Coast Highway, I was determined to stop in San Simeon and visit the legendary home of the extravagant media mogul, William Hurst. What I didn’t realize is how fascinating of a story his life, and his home would be.

hearst castle, William hearst, San Simeon California, PCH

The visitor center and tour guides have so much information available, there’s no way to take it all in in just a day. Here are just a few of the facts I found fascinating about Hearst Castle.

  1. He was an avid art collector, and his passion was inspired when his mother took him to Europe for 18 months when he was a boy. His collection is worth millions today, one piece is worth $10 million just by itself.
  2. Much of his collection was acquired after WWI when European towns were selling off parts of buildings that were damaged in the war. He was the largest single collector outside of museums.hearst castle, william hearst, san simeon california
  3. He picked the spot on the hill to build the house because his dad used to bring him up there as a child on horseback, and it’s his favorite piece of the 250,000 acres he inherited.
  4. He hired Julia Morgan, one of the 1st women architects of her time, to design  the house with him. They worked together for 28 years. hearst castle, william hearst, san simeon California
  5. The house was never completed. One part or another was always under construction. The house still remains unfinished today.
  6. He preferred the quiet life of the ranch over “ high society”, but he had his newspapers flown in everyday from L.A. He had an airstrip built, and it remains still today. hearst castle, william hearst, san simeon. california
  7. The house cost around 10 million to build, which is surprisingly lower than it looks with all the details and original structures he had shipped over from other parts of the world, and how many times he had things torn down and redone.
  8. The Neptune pool was ripped out and redone 3 times. It now holds almost 350,000 gallons of water, and has real Grecian ruins surrounding the perimeter.hearst castle, william hearst, san simeon california
  9. There are 3 large guest houses on the property. He lived in one during the construction of the main house.
  10.  He had 10 large homes all over the world, this wasn’t the biggest.
  11.  The temperature can change up to 50’ from the coastline up to the top of the mountain. In the summer the coastal fog creates cool temperatures at the visitors center, but once you take the ride above the clouds to the main house on the hill, it’s hot and averages 20-30’ degrees warmer. hearst castle
  12.  The surrounding grounds are still a working ranch that the Hearst family owns. Although a big portion was donated to the state of California, it still remains one of the largest ranches today.
  13.  The house was donated to the California State Park system in 1952. Hearst had moved out about 4 years prior due to ill health, and it remained empty for a number of years. Instead of selling off the estate in pieces, the family preserved it by working with the state of California park system.
  14.  There was a zoo on the property. In fact, in it’s prime, it was the largest privately owned collection of animals in the country. The animals were sold off long ago, but the zebra were released on the land, and some of their descendants can still be seen mingling among the cattle on the ranch today.

hearst castle, william hearst,

We only got to spend one day at the castle, and we could’ve easily spent a few more and still not get the full impact of Hearst’s legacy. However, I was very pleased at how much we learned in our short visit there. The visitor center has a very educational, entertaining IMAX movie about his  life, which gave us a lot of context before we actually toured the house. The tour guide packed a lot of information into our 45 minute tour as well. As we toured the grounds, there are docents posted around the property, ready and willing to answer your questions and give you more detail into the history and legacy of the home and the man.

hearst castle, william hearst, san simeon california


1. Reserve your tickets in advance. Each tour is limited in the number of people that can go up the hill on the bus, and in peak seasons tickets might be sold out.

2. Go early in the day before the crowds swell and the weather gets hot.

3. The temperature can change dramatically, like I mentioned earlier, so dress in layers. Wear sunscreen and bring sunglasses or a hat as most of our time will be spent walking the grounds outside.

4. Bring your own food or snacks if possible. You can’t eat at the castle, but you can at the visitors center. They have some good food options there, but it’s pricey, like most tourist destinations.


hearst castle, william hearst, san simeon california

If you’d like to know more history on the Hearst Castle, you can check out the Facts & Stats page.

A tour of the castle is a great blend of education and entertainment, making it a perfect family destination.

So the next time you are in central California, make sure to put Hearst Castle on your list of places to visit.

william hearst, hearst castle




10 Reasons to Travel NOW with your Kids

We often get asked why we are uprooting our lives and traveling the country for a year. There are too many reasons that I can’t put them all in one short answer, so I usually pick only one, and it’s based on who is asking the question. I want people to relate to why we are choosing travel to strengthen our family so I’ve  decided to give you 10 reasons to travel with your kids in the hopes it will encourage you to choose to travel more with your kids, because with 10 reasons, how can you say no?

1. Family Bonding

The average household spends 3 hours or less together each day as a family. We are an over- scheduled, stressed out society that tend to live parallel lives under the same roof, not a close knit family unit. We want more than that. Spending most of our days and nights together will be a struggle sometimes, but overall I know it will bring us closer together. Our lives will become intertwined in a way that can’t be unraveled.

2. Expanding Horizons

I took a gap year in college and lived in Italy doing service work. That experience expanded my horizons and shaped much of who I am today. When kids get the chance to see other places and cultures, it opens up opportunities for ideas they’d never thought of before. It can shape their career choices, lifestyle and where they chose to live.

3. Truth & Tolerance

Despite how progressive we think we are in 2012, we as a collective society, still struggle with stereotypes. Travel exposes us to the truth about cultures, regions and ethnicities, wherever we go. The quickest way to teach our kids tolerance is to expose them to others’ traditions and focus on our commonalities, not our differences.

4. Life Skills

There are tasks that my kids would probably never learn if it weren’t for this trip. From maintaining an RV, to interviewing people and editing video, my kids are learning valuable skills that they wouldn’t have had the opportunity to without full-time travel.

5. Money Matters 

Traveling has become a great teacher about money. My kids are learning about family finances on the road, and how to budget their allowance. They are learning to live on less, and distinguish between “wants” and “needs”.

6. Increased Health

We are using travel as an opportunity to taste other cuisines and eat healthier. Our busy lives at home were an easy excuse to not exercise, and eat out often. Now we are cooking at home and walking everywhere we can.

7. Real Education

Learning history in school is just theoretical knowledge of dates and facts. Being able to experience and walk around historical landmarks will bring history alive and make it relevant to my children’s lives.

8. Independence and Free Thinking

I want my kids to think for themselves, and not follow “the norm” because it’s what everyone else is doing. Travel has definitely taken me out of my comfort zone, and makes me face my fears. It challenges the “status quo” in my life and makes me think at higher levels than I’ve had to in the past. I want it to do the same for them as well.

9. Charity & Goodwill

Service work can be done in your hometown. You can give to charity simply by writing out a check; you don’t need travel to be effective. What I want is for my kids to see the goodwill and humanity of strangers who will go out of their way to help others. A fellow traveler shared via Facebook that they were explaining their adventure to someone while they were filling up their RV with gas. The stranger was so touched by their story that he bought them 10 gallons of gas and wished them luck on their journey. That’s the human spirit at its best.

10. Spirit of America

I desperately want to travel to far off countries, but I feel impressed to start with our own country first. Travel in your homeland builds nationalism, and gives children a sense of where they came from. The U.S. has had some tough years, and I want to recapture the Spirit of America and what makes it great. That spirit will be found in the people we meet and the experiences we have as we travel through this great land.

As you can see, I’m passionate about how travel can enhance your family’s life and give you valuable experiences. I know extended or full-time travel isn’t for everyone. I’m simply encouraging you to do more of it. Hold off on buying that new big screen, or upgrading your car, and plan a family trip instead. Get lost in some small or grand adventure. Only then will you feel truly found.

Do you enjoy traveling with your children? Have you found ways to incorporate teachable moments into that travel? We’d love to hear your comments below!~

The Sutro Bath Ruins of San Francisco

Exploring Nature in the Big City of San Francisco

If you’re like me, you like to explore out of the way places, along with some of the popular tourist attractions. This helps give us a more rounded approach to any place we visit.   While in San Francisco we contacted a photographer friend who lives just outside the city. Before driving us through downtown San Francisco, he took us to one of his favorite spots along the coast, the Lands End Trails. I hadn’t heard about it during my research of the city, but I’m glad we were introduced to it.

Snuggled inside the Golden Gate National Recreation area are the Sutro Baths and Cliff House. As we pulled into the parking lot I was immediately enthralled with the gorgeous Cypress trees that sit on the bluffs.  The fog encircled the branches and created a magical feeling.  The grove begged to be photographed, and I’m sure it lures many photographers to capture the ever -changing weather and light amongst the trees.


Beneath the trees were walking trails that wound through the groves and along the cliffs. People were visiting this area for many reasons that day; running, biking, photography, and exploring the ruins. There’s a 3-mile trail that loops back, but we didn’t have enough time to explore the whole thing. I definitely recommend allowing a few hours to explore the coastline and all the scenic views this area has to offer. Next time we come to San Francisco, we plan on allotting sufficient time to explore more in depth.

Once we we parked and adequately dressed for the cold, we headed down to the Sutro Bath ruins. There’s a steep staircase that took us from the bluffs down to sea level.

Note: It’s not a walk for the easily fatigued, or those with physical restrictions.


The concrete foundations and walls are accessible to walk on. Pets were allowed so it was great to take Lassie with us down to the waters edge.

san francisco sutro bath lands end

The waves were crashing on the rocks nearby, creating a picture perfect setting, in spite of the chill in the air.

Looking out at the mountains and trees beside us, the water and rocks in front of us, it felt peaceful.we could really sense the history of an era gone by- a time when this place entertained many more guests than the few of us that were there that day.

I can definitely see why in the 1920′s it was selected as a spot to put a bathing house. In it’s heyday it was a glass enclosure with 6 sea and fresh water pools indoors.

Off to one side of the cliffs is a cave, which the kids were thrilled to explore. I found out later that it’s where they housed a turbine to pump sea water into the 6 salt bath enclosures.


A dirt and asphalt path took us up the side of the cliff so we could get a panoramic view of the bay. If the weather had been clearer, I’ve been told you can see the Golden Gate Bridge from here.



It’s always great when I can find a place that everyone in the family enjoys, and hiking around Lands End was definitely one of them.

There were many photogenic spots, and Hannah & Avery had a great time practicing  their photography skills.

san francisco sutro bath lands end


Hayden loved hiking the boulders and throwing rocks out into the ocean. He climbed up the mountainsides and had a great time exploring.

I was pleased to see that it was a pet- friendly place as well. Our dog, Lassie, was happy to run around the ruins and enjoy the scenery.

We saw many great sites in San Francisco while we were there, but one of my favorite was definitely the Sutro Baths and Lands End.

I can’t wait to come back in warmer weather, with a picnic lunch and a camera, and spend the afternoon soaking in the scenery.

I recommend you check it out the next time you are in San Francisco. And if you’re looking for a great photographer or local “tour guide”, be sure to call my friend, Spencer Harris, and tell him Watts in the World sent you!

How we do Christmas on the Road as a Traveling Family

Christmas as a Traveling Family~

Full time travel family christmas in RV

One of the common questions we get asked about living in an RV during the holidays is, “How will you manage Christmas in such a small space?”

“It’s easy,” I reply, “we continue using our 3 rules for gift- giving that we started when the kids were born”.

Once we had children it was tempting to splurge to the point of excess. This would’ve not only broken our budget, and been a bad example to our kids; it would’ve diminished the true spirit of the holiday. That year we created a system that still works for us today.

Our 3 simple rules to resisting the gift-giving binge:

  1. Follow the Wise men. The Wise men brought the baby Jesus 3 gifts, so we do the same. Each child gets 3 gifts from us parents, usually one bigger gift and two smaller items. Having this guideline helps us from splurging or impulse buys. In addition to our presents, our children will get gifts from each sibling, grandparent, and so on – which ends up providing plenty of holiday cheer on Christmas morning.
  2. Clear out the old to bring in the new. In preparation for the influx of new toys and clothes that come during Christmas, we’ve taught our kids to take inventory of what we currently have, and to get rid of what’s not necessary, or not being used. We carefully pack it up and take it to a women’s shelter or other charitable organization. The kids look forward to this activity almost as much as the new presents they receive.
  3. Focus on the legacy. In a day and age where consumerism is at an all time high, it’s much more convenient to buy a gift card, or a present based on what’s on sale during Black Friday. It takes time and effort to come up with something that holds sentimental value or is homemade. However, these are the gifts that create a lasting impression. I still remember the hand-sewn doll clothes my mom made for me and the locket my dad had engraved with my initials on it. Your kids will remember the heart-felt over the store-bought every time.

These three steps have kept our Christmases meaningful and manageable.

As the holidays are quickly approaching, I hope these ideas will help you create your own traditions and systems around the gift-giving season. Whether you are travelers, or a stationary family, I hope these tips will help you to make the holidays a happy occasion for your family.

What traditions do you use to make the holidays special?

3-2-1 LAUNCH!

After 10 months of planning, thousands of dollars spent, several delays and many prayers answered- Launch Day finally arrived!

We pulled out of Grandma’s house and went back to our neighborhood to pack away some final items and say goodbye to our neighbors. Since school gets out early on Fridays, we went by their school to formally withdraw the kids and say goodbye to their friends.

We should’ve been out by early afternoon, but we had some lat minute items to buy at Costco and Ikea, and then we were on our way.

We made it as far as Elko, Nevada on our first night. 4 hours seemed like enough ground to cover on our first adventure out, and got us past the snow storm that was headed to Salt Lake.  Besides, in the morning we were hoping to go visit some friends who own a cattle ranch in Ruby Valley.  I think the kids will enjoy the animals and seeing how other kids live in different parts of the country.

I still have to pinch myself to make sure this is real… we are really doing this?!

How do you raise a humanitarian?

Last week my kids were invited to help make blankets, hats and scarves for a local womens shelter in our hometown. My kids were excited at the opportunity, especially since their friends would be involved this time. Often, our volunteer efforts are done just as a family, so I took a mental note at how this one adjustment increased their enthusiasm. It got me thinking about what other components make up a successful service project, and how do I use them to create a lifestyle of service, not just a seasonal contribution.

As the holidays approach, it’s a natural time for people to seek out volunteer opportunities and service projects, and give to charities. It’s a great chance to work together and bond as a family. It’s also a great way to instill character and pass on your values to your children during their formative years.

Unfortunately, once the holidays pass and the New Year gets underway, it’s easy to let that humanitarian spirit go dormant until the next holiday season. So the golden question is,

“How do you raise a service-oriented child?”

It’s a question I’ve been pondering since my children were little. I’ve experimented with many types of projects, and multiple approaches. Many have been successful, some have been flops. I’ve learned a lot over the past decade, and I’m excited to share my insights with you in hopes it’ll shorten your learning curve and inspire you to consider volunteering on a regular basis.

I have compiled  a short, informative article giving you 8 tips on How to raise a service-oriented child.

I hope these tips will serve your family this season, and well into 2013.

If you have some advice to add in addition to my 8 tips, I’d love to hear your comments below. I don’t claim to know it all, and I’d love to learn from your wisdom as well.

Happy Holidays,


Disneyland Holiday Time saving Tips: Part 2

As I mentioned in PART 1 of my two-part series on getting the most out of Disneyland at the holidays, it’s my favorite time of year to go. It will also be busy with other guests seeking some holiday cheer Disney-style.

As a former local resident who grew up near Disneyland, and married a former dancer in the parades, here’s my second list of suggestions on how to get the most out of your holiday visit to the park, and avoid the crowds as much as possible.

Tips #1-5  in my Part 1 can be viewed HERE

7 more tips for beating the crowds at Disneyland:

1.    Visit in the middle of the week-

Weekends can be twice as busy as weekdays, and up to three times as busy if it’s a long weekend holiday. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursdays are the least crowded.

2.    Plan and prepare your kids for shopping-

Most attractions have a gift shop at the end of each ride. If you spend just 10 minutes in each shop, over the course of the day you’ve wasted at least an hour or more. Plus, there’s the whining and potential meltdowns your kids will have when they see something they want and can’t buy right then. When our kids were little we had discussions before coming to Disneyland about how we weren’t going to look or shop until the end of the day. We avoided the tantrums and stress, which helped us to make smooth transitions from ride to ride. Then later, if you wish, reserve the last 30 minutes of your evening for souvenir shopping as you head out of the park.

3.   Go on rides during parades-

This might sound sacrilegious to Disney die hard fans, but if your kids have already seen it, or aren’t interested, then skip it. Or go the just the evening parade later when your kids are tuckered out from the rides anyways. We’ve found that the lines to the popular rides are a little shorter when people line the streets to watch the parade. Take advantage of this reprieve if you can.

 4.   Buy fast passes-

If you don’t want to miss the parade, you have limited time at the park, or you just hate waiting in lines, I suggest you buy the fast pass. While it costs more, your sanity and enjoyment of the park might just well be worth the price.

 5.   Pack water & snacks-

Most people forget to calculate the cost of buying drinks and snacks throughout the day, and I’ve seen friends easily spend $100 just trying to keep their families hydrated and stave off cranky kids. Besides the exhorbent cost of snacks, there’s the time wasted waiting in long lines just to get a $4 churro. My suggestion? Bring a small backpack to carry your family’s favorite snacks in. I usually get a locker and put 3-4 frozen water bottles in it, and then put 2 in my pack along with the snacks. The kids take turns carrying it, and we go back to the locker to change out the water bottles later in the afternoon. You might not need as many in the winter, but it’s nice to know you have them and it didn’t cost you much to store them.

6.   Purchase a multiple day pass-

If you have the ability to come for more than a day, buy a multi-day pass. If it’s your first time, or if it’s the first time you brought kids, you will want more than a day to see everything. This allows you to slow down and enjoy yourself and the extended time. No need to show up right when it opens, skip the parade, or feel hurried.

7.   Stay at Disney hotels-

As a bargain shopper, I used to avoid staying on the property, and chose to drive in each morning from a less expensive hotel in the vicinity. However, the time and cost of parking, versus the easy tram ride from a Disney hotel, ate into my “savings” quite a bit. My  greatest reason to stay as close as possible to the park is that I could bring the kids back to the hotel for a few hours to nap, rest, play in the pool, etc. and then easily shuttle ourselves back after dinner. If you can swing it, do it. It’s worth having your options open.

I hope these 12 tips will help you enjoy Disneyland during the holidays. If you have any other time-saving tips, I’d love to hear them!

(Check out Part 1 for 5 more of our helpful ideas.)


It’s been a few years since we’ve been, and we will be going to Disneyland in a few weeks ourselves to enjoy the Christmas season. We’ll post pictures and more tips from our trip, so check back to see them!