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Exploring California via Highway 1

After being immersed in Disney’s delights, Brooke Lumsden and family hit Highway 1 to explore California’s golden coastline.

Iblame Genie. Sure, Pocahontas’ rendition of ‘Just Around the River Bend’ sets my goosebumps to full tingle, but it’s Aladdin’s blue buddy that forms the lump in my throat. Once Simba appears trying to wake Mufasa, I’ve given up. My son squeezes my hand, a look of understanding in his eyes. Within seconds my cheeks are tear-soaked and I’m in standing-ovation mode. Before the World of Color spectacle began, I doubted a light show with some water spouts would really be worth staying for after a jam-packed day exploring Disneyland. Once the nostalgia-fuelled montage started playing against the mid-air mist, though, I knew I was wrong.

My son, Xander, had been learning how to use The Force at Jedi training during the day, while my eldest son, Harrison, had fulfilled his artistic dreams at an animation workshop. We didn’t think anything could improve on what was, by definition, the perfect day, but World of Color proves to be the cherry on top.

Disney Delights

Whether it’s facing the giant boulder on the Indiana Jones ride, or attending a live production of Frozen, it’s the depth of each experience that truly makes the Disney parks magical. Lunch at Ariel’s Grotto gives the boys an opportunity to have one-on-one time with their favourite princesses, who, like every character we encounter, gives us a warm welcome and undivided attention. This includes Chewbacca as my husband collapses into his arms and snuggles into his hairy Wookie chest like a long-lost friend.

Our accommodation at the Disneyland Hotel is no different as we dine at Goofy’s Kitchen and Xander becomes besties with Chip ‘n’ Dale. We’ve spent five days living inside a Disney bubble, enjoying direct park access and early entry every morning. We look out at the sparkling pool and water slides that we didn’t spend nearly enough time enjoying, and talk about the park parades and shopping we didn’t get to. We make a decision: we need to come back, and next time for longer.

Hot tip

Visit Disneyland around the holiday season to see the park and characters transform into a Halloween festival or a Christmas wonderland.

World of Colour © Disney

La La Land

The next morning, as we weave our way through Hollywood Boulevard to find our favourite celebrities’ stars and handprints, we encounter an array of colourful characters, including a Wolverine so convincing he has me wondering if Hugh Jackman really is nice enough to hang around Hollywood taking photos. Our hunt for glitz leads us to explore the Dolby and Microsoft Theaters (home of the Oscars and Emmys respectively), and the Grammy Museum, where the kids play instruments, record demos and watch music history videos while we relive our glory days exploring the Ramones exhibit.

Swept up in our Tinseltown high, we take a tour the following morning with Ultimate Hollywood Tours. Our guide ensures we have the biggest seat and asks the kids who their favourite celebs are. They take us past the homes of Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber, Beyoncé and other faves, and show us the famous hangouts around town, explaining that, in a few hours, locals will start rolling out of bed and these cafes will be buzzing with celebrities and wannabes.

Universal Studios is a must before we leave the bright lights of LA. As avid Harry Potter fans, the kids’ excitement is palpable as they weave their way through Hogsmeade and use their new interactive wands to make magic. I have to admit to feeling the same excitement as we wander through Springfield and stop for lunch at Krusty Burger.

Hot tip

Allow three or four overnight stops along Highway 1 to get the most enjoyment out of the sights and to avoid long days cooped up in the car.

On the road again

The next few days are filled with a road trip along California’s famous Highway 1. A stop at San Simeon gets us up-close and personal with some of the local wildlife, while a visit to the Getty Villa in Malibu and the Santa Cruz Natural History Museum allows the kids to combine hands-on fun with culture and education. Checking out the sand sculptures and beach games at Santa Barbara, and a play at Santa Monica’s Tongva Park and Monterey’s Dennis the Menace Park are perfect opportunities for the kids to stretch their legs.

After a day taking in the grand sights along the rugged coastline of Big Sur, we pick up some fantastic books and puzzles at Thinker Toys at Carmel-By-The-Sea to get us through the last leg of our journey. We stop for a wander among the giants of Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, walking inside one that the ranger tells us fits 86 children.

"We've spent five days living inside a Disney bubble, enjoying direct park access and early entry"

Through the golden gates

As we approach San Francisco, the hillsides seem to explode with colour, and it only becomes more lively as we arrive downtown. Fisherman’s Wharf is a tourist family’s playground full of captivating buskers and lively attractions. We race from Ripley’s Believe It or Not to a year-round Christmas shop and a chocolate marketplace. Xander is mesmerised by the two-storey carousel and Harrison watches a sword-swallowing performer in awe.

Our journey is completed with a fascinating tour of Alcatraz, leaving us with heavy hearts and sore feet as we board the ferry just in time to see the glorious sunset over the Golden Gate Bridge.

This article appeared in volume 52 of Holidays with Kids magazine. To subscribe to the latest issue, click here.

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