If you’re like a lot of L.A. parents, the idea of a vacation with the family sounds amazing. The idea of going into debt to do it? Not so much. Maybe those dreams of a two-week stay in Hawaii have to be dashed, but don’t hit the snooze alarm. How about waking up to the idea of an inexpensive beach getaway? Here are five options, all within two hours of Los Angeles, that will bring you waves of memories for years to come.
Pulling Into Port
If you’re looking for lodging that is a step above a small motel chain, but not quite as fancy as a resort hotel, look no farther than Casa Via Mar Inn and Tennis Club (www.casaviamar.com). Located just 90 minutes from the San Fernando Valley in Port Hueneme, this hotel is easy on the eye and the budget. Some of the décor is dated, but the rooms are clean and fresh.
Port Hueneme is a great beach destination for parents who want the beauty of Oxnard and Ventura without the crowds. There are plenty of restaurants and shopping, but it’s possible to spend very little money and still have an amazing time with the kids. Port Hueneme Beach Park, only a quarter mile from the hotel, offers volleyball courts, picnic areas and a long pier. From the park, you can walk the Beach Lighthouse Promenade trail and end up at the Port Hueneme Lighthouse. Or head south on Pacific Coast Highway to Point Mugu Missile Park (at Wood Road), a hidden gem featuring vintage military planes and missiles that are well maintained and stunning to look at. The free park is open daily from sunrise to sunset. Parents should note that there are no bathrooms or other amenities.
Back at the hotel, families can enjoy the pool and the six tennis courts, where rackets are free to use and kids can play with an adult present. End your day with a soak in the outdoor spa and enjoy a complimentary breakfast in the morning featuring cereal, coffee, eggs and juice. Kitchenettes are available for a nominal extra fee.
On to Oxnard
An antidote to the rush, rush, rush of parenting, the Vagabond Inn of Oxnard (www.vagabondinn.com) gives parents permission to just be, be, be. It isn’t fancy, but if your goal is to be present with your kids, the Vagabond Inn can be a gift to your wallet and your mindset.
Your “present” over “perfect” attitude can begin as you pull out of your driveway. There’s magic in giving young kids a few dollars for gas station treats along the way. Surprise them with some Dollar Store car activities, play audiobooks or old-fashioned car games. The true value of a trip to the Vagabond Inn is in showing your kids that being with them is more important than spending money on them.
Oxnard also offers some decidedly budget-friendly amenities. Little ones love the pirate-themed park on Oxnard Beach. Set back on a grassy knoll, it features sculptures of green turtles, seats that spin, baby and kid swings, rock climbing and standing spinners. (Can’t arrrrrgue with that.) For a dose of culture, check out the Carnegie Art Museum – just $4 for adults, $1 for children, free for ages 5 and younger. Multi-taskers can take advantage of back-to-school shopping at Camarillo Premium Outlets. For food, consider Hook Burger (a nice change from traditional chains), or IHOP and Starbucks less than a mile away.
At the inn, tables and an outdoor pool provide plenty of time for the simple pleasures of a boxed lunch and fun in the water, showing your kids the value of experience over luxury.
By the Bay
One of just two hotels directly on the sand, the Embassy Suites Mandalay Bay and Beach Resort in Oxnard rises above the surf for value, amenities, service and beach access. The rooms are double the cost of the other hotels mentioned here, but you’ll get double the value. Every room features a kitchenette, sofa bed and 625 square feet of space so there’s plenty of room for wiggly kids and tired parents to cohabitate peacefully. The complimentary breakfast is the tsunami of hotel breakfasts, featuring made-to-order omelets, bacon, fresh fruit, coffee, breakfast potatoes, oatmeal and pastries – all in a beautiful dining room setting.
Rent bikes, boogie boards, paddle boats and beach gear (kites are just $5 per hour) at Wheel Fun Rentals. Book the Island Packers and boat out to the Channel Islands to see whales, or rent a kayak through Channel Islands Harbor Rentals. Enjoy fine dining right within the hotel or bring your own supplies and cook in your room!
The resort features movie night every Saturday, a free fitness center, an expansive outdoor pool, two whirlpool baths, a beautiful sun terrace plus basketball, volleyball and tennis courts (bring your own equipment). Need a break from your kids at the end of the day? Take advantage of the hotel’s fee-based babysitting services or indulge in their nightly complimentary beverage (beer, wine, soda) and appetizer bar.
Vacationing in Ventura
For those of you not vacationing because you don’t want to leave your favorite furry friend at home, La Quinta Inn in Ventura (www.laquintaventura.com) comes to your rescue. This pet-friendly Southwest-style hotel is a step above a Vagabond in price and comfort, but not as expensive as a high-end hotel chain. Kids will love the clean outdoor pool, and you can sit nearby in the hot tub.
What makes La Quinta Inn such a great choice for families is that you can focus all your attention on activities outside the hotel and know that you have a comfortable bed and showers waiting for you at the end of the day.
Ventura has some of the most beautiful beaches in California, but if you want to keep things simple, plan on taking advantage of the San Buenaventura State Beach just three miles from the hotel. The waters are relatively calm, so parents can feel safe letting their wee ones boogie board or wade. For a little more razzle dazzle, consider taking the kids to Ventura Harbor Village. Kids love the Village Carousel and arcade games, and Coastal Cone offers a delightful ice cream shop experience for all. Bike riders can enjoy the paved Ventura-to-Ojai bike path featuring beautiful scenery and respectful riders. Mission San Buena Ventura is six minutes away, or check out the Rubicon Theater Company on Main Street with its variety of live shows.
Back at the inn, all rooms have fridges and microwaves – a luxury for heating up bottles or bringing your own food. Upgrade to a kitchenette for just a little more. Complimentary continental breakfast includes waffles, pastries, bagels, hot and cold cereal, coffee, milk, juice and, occasionally, hard-boiled eggs.
Sunrise in San Pedro
Once a port town, San Pedro is by far one of the most under-utilized beach getaways in Los Angeles. Stay at the Sunrise Hotel (www.sunrisesanpedro.com) and the kids can enjoy seeing the cruise ships just outside Los Angeles. Without traffic, you’ll arrive in a bit over an hour. The hotel is a definite upgrade from a chain motel and the only lodging in San Pedro situated right on the harbor. It’s seven minutes away from Cabrillo Beach and the staff couldn’t be more accommodating.
In addition to Cabrillo Beach, kids will enjoy the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium just six minutes from the hotel. Dining options include everything from the cheerful Rex’s Café (great breakfast and brunch food) to Bunz Gourmet Burgers – a local favorite.
Wherever you go, keep in mind that it’s experiences, not money, that make all the difference to kids. So set aside your platinum card (and your guilt) and keep the spending to a minimum. Book your trip Monday-Thursday for lower room rates. Pack a cooler with lunches and snacks for the drive to your destination. Plan activities in advance and put a cap on kids’ spending money. You’ll have more cash in your pocket – and great memories, too.
Andrea Frazer is a San Fernando-based writer and mom of two. Visit her at www.happilytickedoff.com.