Want to find a family activity that satisfies kids of all ages? Climb every mountain.
It’s not just Mother Superior’s advice to Fräulein Maria in the “Sound of Music.” It’s what I discovered would make every member of my all-male household happy.
Hiking is what we’ve been doing the past two summers. It’s the perfect way to see the sights, plus a chance to grow closer as a family. We actually have meaningful conversations during these treks.
Beginning almost 20 years ago, we began our family of six. Now, my princes are 19, 14, 11, and almost 8. I don’t deal with annoying bedtime rituals, or cries in the middle of the night anymore, thankfully.
No, our family challenges center around finding activities that will hold the interest of each kid — two teens and two elementary schoolers. But with one of my more genius moments in motherhood, I’ve solved that problem.
For the past two years, we’ve headed to California for a big old-fashioned road trip. The Golden State offers a home away from home with the grandparents, plus miles and miles of beautiful vista — literally spacious skies, mountaintops and beautiful beaches, and in true California style, spectacular weather.
Lodging is key, and my husband puts tender loving care into his search for the right house. We’ve stayed in beach houses with hot tubs; log cabins with Wiis and pool tables; urban locations within walking distance to the beach; vineyards with llamas on the premises; and chic Santa Monica pads on fancy streets with neighbors from old Hollywood.
We avoid restaurants, instead cooking dinner every night with my four sous chefs, who are happy to help in the kitchen. For a family of six, staying in homes are more affordable than staying in hotels.
But you can’t keep four boys in a house all day. You have to get out and explore — a big challenge. The boys are typically happy to continue their romance with the electronics each house seems to have. Getting them into the great outdoors requires a bit of arm twisting.
But with arms twisted, California itself gave the answer to what a college student enjoys as much as a second grader. Aside from the beach — a no-brainer — the state offers some of the most beautiful hiking in the world. In Big Sur, we did some less adventurous hikes, but Los Angeles’ Topanga Canyon and Gaviota Wind Caves near Lompoc, California, provided us with long and adventurous treks as well as spectacular views. At Eagle Rock in Topanga Canyon, we could picture baby Simba of “The Lion King” fame being presented to the animal kingdom.
We go well prepared with sunscreen, water, and lunch. Since it’s six of us, everyone has a partner and the pair goes at its own pace. Mom, Dad, and kids all get a break from the electronics that consume our lives. Fresh air and physical activity encourage meaningful conversations.
Not only has 11-year-old Michael told me things about dinosaurs I never knew before, all four boys really thrive on full-length discussions about the next presidential election. Even 7-year-old Jonathan can tell you a thing or two about Donald Trump.
The most wonderful thing about the hiking discovery is that we’ve brought it home with us, back to the East Coast, another mecca for spectacular scenery. What began as a vacation activity has now become a weekly ritual that allows us to take a nice break from our harried lives, and just be together.
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