I love the Santa Monica Mountains. There are so many great places to hike, but if you’re looking for something that is both beautiful and kid-friendly, this is the place. My young children can easily walk the mostly flat 1.2 miles from the parking lot to the impressive 30ft waterfall that awaits you at the end of the trail. But first, they love to explore the ruins of the Robert’s family compound, a once glorious home that was lost to fire many years ago. There’s even an old tub still sitting in the middle of the ruins. On hot days we jump into the creek alongside the trail, but most of the time we’re on the lookout for lizards and snakes, and there is a lot of wildlife and wildflowers to keep your interest.
Hands down our favorite restaurant. This is our go-to spot for special occasions: birthdays, anniversaries, even date night gets us in when we need an excuse to eat this well. And we love Maureen Vincenti as much as we love the food. Her warmth and wicked sense of humor ensure a great night out. The warm octopus salad with fava beans is a must. The braised short ribs are the best I’ve ever tasted and the rack of lamb is my wife’s favorite. You really can’t order wrong here, it’s top-notch Italian cuisine. The place has an easy elegance to it, and we are just as comfortable arriving after a black tie event as we are showing up in jeans and boots. That said, we never bring the kids—it’s mom and dad’s secret spot!
Malibu Surfrider Beach
It remains one of the most famous beaches in all of Southern California for good reason. It’s a great year-round spot, but it’s never better than in the summer months. Malibu has a special place in my heart because it’s where I connected with THERAsurf, a non-profit organization dedicated to getting kids with special needs out into the water and up surfing on waves. Jimmy Gamboa, its founder, is legend in my mind, having the heart and skill to heal kids with the power of the ocean. First time he ever took my daughter out it was head-high and blustering, and he picked her up with the ease and grace of a ballet dance. My girl was smiling ear to ear and screaming her head off! It was a life changing moment for her, and us.
When we’re in the Valley there’s really only one place we like to eat: La Cava. Owner Armando Pucci is a dear friend of ours, and if you knew him as we do, you would know that authentic Italian is the only food he will serve. The classic thin crust pizza Margherita tastes like it’s straight from Florence, Armando’s hometown. There’s an arugula salad with roasted shrimp, cherry tomatoes, and avocado in a lemon dressing that we always get, and for the kids it’s all about the spinach and ricotta ravioli in a light pink sauce. The pastas are simple but impeccably made. There is even gluten free pasta available. It’s an easy night out when we come here, even with the kids.
The Malibu Golf Club
Whenever work slows down and I find the time I love coming here. The real reason to come here is the astounding beauty of the place—stunning views from every vantage, steep hills, wide fairways, two water hazards, and wildlife everywhere. It’s challenging enough for scratch golfers and a killer for higher handicappers like me. They’ve got a newly built outdoor wine bar where you can sit under the shade of an olive tree with a cold one and watch the pink sunset after your round.
Sometimes I just need a good drive to clear my head, and it’s especially helpful if that ride ends at the ocean. One of my favorites is the Muholland Highway, which starts in Calabasas and winds all the way up into the Santa Monica Mountains, going on for miles before abruptly ending at Leo Carillo State Beach. This is not a road to race on. Its narrow two lanes leave little room for error, especially the way it twists and turns back on itself, and there are many stories of cars and motorcycles going over the edge with no good result. On hot summer days I load up the family, roll the windows down and take the long, slow way to the beach. Ending at the beach reminds me of just how lucky we are to live in such natural splendor.
Disneyland and California Adventure
I did not want to like this place. Let’s just say I don’t do well in crowds. But with a 10-year-old and a 7-year-old it is an unavoidable destination. And now having been to Disneyland at least four times in the last two years, I must admit to loving it, especially now that we’ve dialed in just right how to get it done. We hire a guide, map out a plan of attack, hit as many rides as we can in two hours, take a lunch break, hit it for another two, and we’re out! My kids are crazy about the place, and the magic of the day puts such a big smile on their faces that I can’t help but like it, too. Soarin’ Over California is the best ride; you feel like you’re flying over various parts of the state. I never thought I would get over rollercoasters, but that day has come. If I never do a loop de loop again, I’ll be cool with that.
Photographs courtesy (in order): (1) openplac.es, (2) wecancookthat.com, (3) equinoxsurfoards.com, (4) lacavashermanoaks.com, (5) themalibugolfclub.com, (6) i-bmw.com, (7) worldsupertravel.info