By Matt Villano, on June 29, 2015

Family activities in two California cities

Where the heck are you, Lisa Vanderpump?

I’ve been by your restaurants (Villa Blanca, Sur, and Pump), listened to a poor girl blather on about you and your doggies, and essentially have stalked you across Los Angeles, West Hollywood, and Beverly Hills, BUT YOU ARE NOWHERE TO BE FOUND. When I signed up through Expedia for a TMZ bus tour of Hollywood, I figured a glimpse of your Botox beauty was just about guaranteed—sort of like how whale-watch companies off Maui guarantee whale sightings in winter. Tonight, however, you’re letting me down. Big-time.

I know you probably don’t care about my perspective, LVP. You probably don’t even care about me. That’s not going to stop me from telling you who I am and why I find myself on this bus tour tonight.

You see, I’m a travel writer from Northern California, one of four family travel writers on the Expedia Viewfinder team. I came to Los Angeles as part of a one-week, two-city road trip with my wife and kids from San Francisco, near our house, down to L.A. I came to catch a glimpse of you (and a bunch of other stuff, but still).

All four of us were supposed to take the tour. But then my younger daughter got sick (more on that later). So now it’s just me. And my trail mix. And this contra-band bottle of Jack and Coke.

Viewfinder Tip: Book activities early in the morning to avoid crowds (and free up the rest of your day).

I have to admit, LVP, in your absence, I’m enjoying the tour. According to our guide, here, at The Laugh Factory, is where Michael Richards ruined his career with that racist rant. There, at Fairfax High School, is where Slash finished puberty. And there, at The Four Seasons Beverly Hills, that’s where Paris Hilton and Rick Solomon made their sex tape.

Interspersed with all of these tidbits, the guide plays for us video clips from the actual TMZ television show about these incidents when they happened. The experience is salacious and mind-numbing, a sensory overload I’m actually glad my kids missed.

Because of all the brainlessness, I wanted to hate it. But I admit I read Life & Style, and I loved the gossip overload. Kind of a lot.

The TMZ tour wasn’t the only surprise (guilty pleasure?) of our recent road trip; all over San Francisco and L.A., we experienced great activities, amazing hotels, under-the-radar restaurants, and a host of adventures for all. We booked most of the important stuff through Expedia, which made logistics a cinch. When you’re traveling with two little ones, those little things can go a long way.

Paging Lisa Vanderpump

San Francisco

Our road-trip began about 75 miles from our front door, in San Francisco. We checked in to our executive suite at The Clift hotel in the heart of downtown, and were delighted by the size of the front room—we could have held a reception for 40 of our closest friends in there, and the girls made use of every square inch of it by running around like maniacs.

It’s always strange to be a tourist in your own city, but we had places to go and people to see. No. 1 on the list: A peek at the new “Whales” exhibit at the California Academy of Sciences.

I’m a whale-lover (hence the name of my blog, Wandering Pod), and I found some of the skeletal materials in the exhibit fascinating. My kids? They preferred the life-size replica of the blue whale heart, into which they could climb.

Also on our agenda: the Exploratorium, where the girls were attracted (pun intended) to the magnet exhibits that enabled them to play with metal washers for the better part of an hour.

I was solo for two of the most exciting activities on our San Francisco sojourn, due largely to weight, height, and age restrictions. The first morning, this meant three hours solo behind the wheel of a GoCar, a taxicab-yellow two-seat motorcycle/moped that rides like a dirt bike but feels like a tiny car. City tours in these things are GPS-enabled, which means that I was able to take a joyride around the city AND learn about the place, too. Despite all of the new knowledge I gleaned, my favorite part of the experience still was watching (other) tourists snap pictures of me and my chariot at stop signs around time.

The author, getting ready to ride his GoCar


The second day, I focused specifically on touring Golden Gate Park—by Segway.

I’d ridden these Paul Blart devices before, a few times for assignments in Wine Country and elsewhere around the Bay Area. Still, nothing prepared me for riding them on the streets and pathways of one of the busiest parks in the United States. (In other words, there almost were a number of wipeouts.)

The tour was with an outfitter named San Francisco Segway tours. Following a 30-minute safety demonstration, our guide, Kelly, shared fantastic knowledge about where in the park Janis Joplin used to play (answer: Hippie Hill), what the park looked like before it became a park (answer: sand dunes), and what differentiates lawn bowling from bocce (answer: lots of things).

Over the course of three hours, we covered about eight miles on the east side of the park, including a run along the banks of Stow Lake. The experience piqued my interest to go back on foot with the kids.

Los Angeles

The next morning, we set out for the second part of our epic family road-trip: Los Angeles. The drive down—about seven hours of total travel time (including two stops)—was uneventful; the drive through California’s Central Valley is efficient but monotonous. The highpoint: A rollicking game of Spot the Aqueduct, which requires participants to yell, “Aqueduct!” every time they see the manmade water system out the window.

We arrived at our hotel, The Chamberlain, just before dinner. My younger daughter, who had been feeling a little woozy all week, fell ill about an hour after that. What ensued were three days of managing one well child and one very sick one. I do not recommend traveling with a sick kid. Ever.

Sizing up the Santa Monica pier over hot dog lunch


Still, we persevered. One day the four of us went for afternoon tea at the Huntington Library and Gardens out in Pasadena—a lovely spot and one of the largest botanical gardens in the country. Another day, when the little one was feeling particularly ill, I took my Big Girl to the Santa Monica Pier for ice cream, carnival games, and a stroll on the beach.

The four of us were scheduled to take a cupcake tour of Hollywood; an activity that would have enabled us to try four cupcakes from four different cupcake bakeries over the course of two hours. Because the little one was sick, however, we had to cancel.

Later in the visit, I left the kids with my wife at the hotel and ventured out for the Vanderpump stalk—I mean, TMZ tour.

We spent our last day in Los Angeles in the emergency room while the littlest Villano got treated for dehydration. For those of you scoring at home, that definitely was *not* the best way to end a family road trip. I like to think she ended up there because we partied too hard.  It was our very own celebrity story. Wherever she is right now, LVP would be proud.

What are your favorite ways to explore new cities with the kids?