House-swapping second time around’s a charm. This year, it’s really only a half a house swap.  We were invited to use the same house as last year’s house swap even though the family would be traveling to another location for their vacation.  Luckily, they are still enamoured by NYC and the East coast in general; that trip just didn’t fit in with their plans this year.

This visit was a more relaxed, family focused (vs. visitor) vacation.  We did not bring our new au pair and we did not call every single person we knew in LA to let them know we were visiting.  We spent a lot of time at the beach, just the five of us and those who wanted to see us met us there. Not having our au pair was not a big deal b/c we knew there were pre-screened babysitters in the neighborhood. 

We knew the house and the area and were welcomed at the weekly neighborhood pizza party and got to meet several neighbors.  And, they got to check out the Swappers.  Everyone was very curious about our set-up and what we were like.

On this trip, we did make it to one of the town-sponsored outdoor concerts (Billy and the Beaters), which was packed but not crowded since there was plenty of beach to park a chair on.

If you feel the need to taste authentic California culture, check out the list of surf camps near Hermosa Beach.  My 8 year old daughter, Sophia, and I enrolled in the Chevron surf camp and we both loved it.  The instructor was kind enough to let me take my daughter’s class, which made it more fun.  Plus, very soon, she will be growing out of the age where having me around is cool.

Sophia had a great first day – got right up.  After that, she got hammered by a few waves and wanted to quit. To get her back, the instructors had her practice balancing on her board on the sand.  She loved that and eventually made it back in to the water.

The only down side to learning with a gaggle of 9-12 year olds is that you might feel the age pinch.  Where the kids were begging to get in the cold ocean water already, I was content to stretch a bit more and go in a little later.  Where the kids motto for waves was ‘the bigger the better’, I got clobbered by so many I preferred smaller, more manageable waves.  Luckily the instructors really knew what they were doing – they had years and years of experience among them and, unusual for LA, they had all worked at Chevron Surf Camp for many years.  The lead instructor, Vince Ray, had been there for 17 years and Glenn, 10.  Four out of the six instructors are school teachers and 3 are lifeguards.  

In addition to teaching us how to “pop up,” on our boards, “turtle” when a humongous wave was headed for us, they also taught beach safety and etiquette.  Number one beach rule:  don’t litter!  “Who owns this beach?” Yelled the instructor.  “I do!!” the kids yelled back.  Then he went on to talk about keeping the beach clean and we all picked up trash for 5 minutes.  Their motto is to be positive and encouraging to all campers.  Two kids who forgot that rule had their boards taken away for a while.  After many tries, I was kindly lead to a wave that I caught…for 3 seconds but that was enough to make me want to do it one more time.

My 10 year old son, Dario, and I biked The Path (a paved trail that runs from Torrance up to Will Rogers State Park –  about 45 miles round trip.  There was one area in Marina Del Rey that got a little dicey because the trail detours onto a busy road for a little under a mile.  Once we reached Will Rogers State Park my son wanted to call someone for a ride home.  I would have acquiesced but he somehow got a second wind and we pedaled back.  He was really proud of himself and we both told everyone how far we biked.  The guy at Hermosa Cyclery was most impressed, having done it himself a few times.

A few places we will return to every trip:

  • Hermosa Beach – boogie boarding is a must do for adults and kids.  We always park our gear near a lifeguard station.

  • Manhattan Beach Volleyball Tournament – Halloween volleyball – all players have a costumed theme and there are thousands of players.   Most are 25 and under but it’s great fun to watch.

  • The Bike Path – any distance.  If you feel inspired, there are bike rentals at just about every beach entrance.  I especially like Hermosa Cyclery because they are experienced in fitting bikes, they’re reasonably priced and above all, they are friendly.

  • Hollywood and Highland Center (on Hollywood and Highland!).  This area was such a dump 15 years ago.  I still can’t get over the change.  It is completely renovated with great shops, people watching and restaurants.  Live music on Fridays @ lunchtime, tours of the Kodak Theatre and a fantastic view of the Hollywood sign. (www.hollywoodandhighland.com)

  • Good Stuff Restaurant in Hermosa Beach.  I love the always available chicken lime soup and the kids love the buckwheat pancakes.  It is right on The Strand, with great healthy food choices and people watching.  Kid and sand-friendly. You can even check out a picture of yourself from their webcam at www.eatgoodstuff.com.

  • Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf – a welcome change from Starbucks and just as plentiful.  The kids love it, I love it.

Next trip:  hiking at Paramount Malibu Ranch.