The blog for inspired travel with children

Friday, October 11, 2013

Road Trip: West Texas

We drove out to west Texas this summer, and while it was hot hot hot, we still had lots of fun. Now that temperatures are dropping (well, a little), a road trip out to west Texas sounds perfect. The scenery is spectacular, with an endless sky, beautiful mountains, and incredible light.

We explored the area from our base in Alpine, which is about 20 minutes from the more-famous Marfa. Despite the region's remoteness, there is plenty to do. Marfa is home to the Chinati Foundation, which houses Donald Judd's sculptures and other exhibitions. Some of the work is outdoors, and there's plenty of room to roam, so it's perfect for antsy kids.

Marfa is a very small town and thus very walkable. Traffic is minimal, although beware of the train that blasts through town every so often. There are few chic shops and a number of art galleries all within a few blocks. Marfa Book Company is unexpectedly wonderful. After browsing for awhile, we had a great lunch at the Food Shark food truck parked next door. The line was long but the food is worth the wait. There were lots of modernist picnic tables (meant for sharing), and plenty of room for restless kids to run around during the wait. If you're lucky, the train will chug by while you're waiting!

Marfa is also home to The Get Go, a small but fantastic grocery store. It's packed to the rafters with (almost) everything you could hope for. I bought a cute tote bag as a souvenir.

Downtown Marfa

The Food Shark in Marfa

Hotel Paisano, where we sipped coffee in the courtyard

The Chinati Foundation

We visited the McDonald Observatory, which hosts "Star Parties" most evenings. The night viewing was too late for us, so we opted for a daytime Solar Viewing session, and were rewarded with the sighting of a solar flare. The Observatory was originally dedicated in 1939 with one telescope; the facility now includes five principal research telescopes. 

We also visited the pool at Balmoreah State Park. It's a huge spring-fed pool. Parts of it are paved like a conventional pool, but other parts are natural; in one area the bottom is hard to see it's so deep. We saw a few fish and turtles.

An image from Balmoreah State Park website - look at that water!

Yes, the region a bit of a drive from Austin (or from anywhere!) - but so worth it! It took us about seven hours to get to Alpine, and another 20 minutes or so to everywhere else. The remoteness seems to underline the relaxed mood - there just isn't much to stress you out, and it's pretty easy to go with the flow. We can't wait to go back.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Travel Gifts: Haptic Lab Map Quilts

Looking for a gift for a new parent who loves to travel?  Or who loves a particular city? It would be hard to do better than one of these sweet cotton quilts from Haptic Lab.


These sweet yet geographically precise printed quilts measure 36" x 42" and are hand knotted. They come in three color ways and can even be personalized.

Haptic Lab also makes large all-white city quilts with hand-stitched (rather than printed) maps - featured cities include London, New York, Paris, and more.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Metropolis II at LACMA: Video!

I mentioned Artist Chris Burden's Metropolis II, still on view at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, in a previous post. It's a fascinating piece, and would keep many a kid enthralled for a good long while - even those past the train-obsessed age.

However, I just came across this video of the work, and thought it was worth sharing - it really gives you a sense of the piece - and it looks like so much fun!

LACMA is also hosting free story-times for the kids every Monday and Friday at 2 pm in the Korean Art Galleries. The Metropolis II exhibit is ongoing, so if you are headed to Los Angeles, be sure to stop by LACMA!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

San Francisco: The New Exploratorium!

I confess I was a little disturbed when I first learned that the Exploratorium in San Francisco was moving. Its historic home at the Palace of Fine Arts is so singular, so perfect, that it just seemed heretical to consider moving. On the inside, "Palace" is bit of a misnomer; the interior is raw, industrial, and vast. The setting is beautiful, of course, and the buildings are a romantic dream - who can forget those mysterious grecian ladies, forever peering into the depths atop their columns (the ladies are even visible on Google Maps!). Then there is the lovely lagoon, complete with swans (I'm not sure if the swans are still there, but I remember them from childhood visits). There is something very Californian about the happy contrast between the industrial, the natural, and the classically beautiful - between science and romance. The place was designed by Berkeley architect Bernard Maybeck for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition, and was never intended to last...  But it did, for a good long time (it was renovated in 1965).  

(photo from the San Francisco Parks and Recreation website)

The Exploratorium in 1977
Exploratorium Founder Dr. Frank Oppenheimer

One thing that was truly fantastic about the Exploratorium (and I hope it carries over into the new space) was its transparency. New exhibits were always being created on-site, in nearly full-view of visitors. It was fascinating to be able to peer into the workshops of the incredibly creative and clever elves who made the Exploratorium the magical place it was.

The new museum is at Pier 15, and promises to be spectacular, so I won't sulk for too long. The museum is keeping hundreds of its old exhibits and adding 150 more. The space will be divided into six  areas of focus: Human Phenomena, Tinkering, Seeing and Listening, Living Systems, Landscape Observation, and an Outdoor Gallery. Have a look at their website - it looks like a fantastic place.

The Monochromatic Room

Studying Plankton Populations

The new site will also be far more accessible, particularly by mass transit - and that is something to celebrate. It's fairly close to the Embarcadero Bart station, and is on the streetcar route (these vintage beauties are also fun for kids). It's also only steps from another of my favorite places, the Ferry Building Marketplace (which I wrote about here).

Luckily, the old building isn't going anywhere, although it's not yet clear who or what will take over the space.

All photos from the Exploratorium website, except where noted.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Favorite Places x2: The Adventure Playground and Fourth Street in Berkeley, California

These two favorite places go together beautifully, with something for everybody!  If you are visiting the San Francisco Bay Area and don't know about the Adventure Playground over in Berkeley, you should - there aren't too many of these parks and this is a great one.  It was created in 1979 and still has that old 70s feeling, where kids run (relatively) wild and build their own world.  

By helping with a bit of cleanup, kids may earn hammers or paintbrushes, which they may use to make their own mark on the place.  They may also simply play - there's lots to climb on, in and through.  There's a zipline (for ages six and up), which my son's favorite part.  He also loves rolling down the small hill tucked inside a plastic barrel.  To each his own!

One of the excellent things about this park is it's location. It's right down by the water, with wonderful views in all directions, a little beach right next to the entrance, and plenty of places for walking and exploring.  It's a beautiful spot.  It also happens to be a few minutes drive from one of the best shopping districts around: Fourth Street in Berkeley. While Fourth Street is home to some chain stores, you will also find a large number of small and beautiful independent stores - The Gardener,  The Builders Booksource, Rabat (shoes), Castle in the Air, Miki's Paper... There are also several wonderful places to eat - I love Tacubaya, Bettie's To Go (I love eating a slice of their pizza out on the sidewalk), and O'Chame.

Back to the Adventure Playground: as a city park, admission to the Adventure Playground is free. However, for a small fee (a $10 flat fee as of this writing), kids aged seven and older maybe left here for up to three hours. Can you see where I am going with this?

Here's what you do: After registering at the office (a few steps from the Playground), drop the kids (remember, they must be at least seven) at the Adventure Playground. Then head up to Fourth Street for  lunch a bit of shopping.  When you're ready, pick up the kids... but don't leave yet.  Take a walk together down to the pier, or around Cesar Chavez Park.  It's a wonderful way to experience the bay - the views are fabulous, the air is bracing, and there's just so much to see.  

P.S. On April 18, the merchants of Fourth Street are hosting a sidewalk sale, with deals ranging from 40-60% off. Wish I could be there!