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    The California kid

    When you have a toddler in tow, the Golden State is not just about Hollywood or trying out the latest health fad.

    Here’s what else you can do.

    Part-time tourist, baby-sitter and grandfather—that’s the role I donned on my first trip abroad. Last year, I bought a ticket to California because my daughter Sandhya (there on work) could not juggle both her job requirements and her young daughter. I flew out to pick up 20-month-old Hoshika and bring her back to Chennai. But not before the three of us enjoyed some family time and, of course, ‘touristy’ things.
    The weekdays went by quickly, with baby and I bonding over food and playtime. But the weekends were reserved for sun, sand and fun. From Redondo Beach, Universal Studios and Catalina Island to Seaworld, Hollywood and the San Diego Zoo, we did it all. For those who plan to visit these parts with a toddler for company, here are the best spots to go to.

    Travel diaries

    Santa Catalina Island: Catch a ferry to the island (if it’s your birthday, the ride is free). You can even take a 15-minute scenic helicopter ride ($125 one way, and free for children below two). Once there, grab some homemade ice cream at Big Olaf’s, try some mini golf with your tot, or find Nemo at Undersea Adventure. A semi-submersible ($29 onwards) will take you on a 45- minute ride where kids can have fun matching pictures on their pad to what they see outside their porthole. For those five and above, the Dolphin Sea Quest Tour ($48 onwards) is a great idea. Cap it all off with some great food on the pier. Details: visitcatalinaisland.com

    Universal Studios Hollywood: Encapsulating a true-blue Hollywood adventure, it can seem as if most of the rides are too fast or dangerous for young children. But may I suggest heading to Super Silly Fun Land with over 80 water play features. At the park, catch characters like Dora the Explorer and Spongebob Squarepants, or head to the Animal Actors Stage for a show (Shrek 4D leaves everyone in splits). As for rides, The Studio Tour and Despicable Me Minion Mayhem are great options, and if you are there in April, the new ride, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, will be open for business. Day passes from $80.95 onwards. Details: universalstudioshollywood.com
    Redondo Beach: Just 20 miles from downtown LA, it’s a favourite resort location. However, this March will be great fun for children, too, as the beach city’s annual Festival of the Kite kicks off. Besides watching (and learning to fly kites), tots can try their hand at drawing at the Chalk Art Festival or get up close and personal with sea creatures at Sea Lab’s Touch Tank Tour ($2 per person). And while the adults catch the rays on the beach, children can splash around in Seaside Lagoon—an enclosed saltwater play space with a snack bar and playground. Details: visitredondo.com

    San Diego Zoo: Need I say why this will be a thrilling experience for the entire family? The 100-acre zoo is home to over 3,700 animals, from tigers to polar bears. Besides safaris and shows, try some fun activities like Make it for Animals, where you can make treats for the zoo’s inhabitants, or head to the boardwalk and join Bamboo Panda, Monty Meerkat and their friends at the Costume Characters show. In October, children 11 and below can enter free of cost. Day passes at $50. Details: zoo.sandiegozoo.org

    Seaworld: This was Hoshika’s favourite day out. From watching the shows—One Ocean (with killer whales, $40), Dolphin Days, etc—to feeding sea lions at Pacific Park or climbing rope structures at the Sesame Street Bay of Play, there’s never a dull moment. Don’t forget to catch the fireworks display in the evening. And yes, October gets your little ones free entry, and even a chance to dine with Shamu the Orca (otherwise, $26 per person). Details: sandiego.org

    Heading back

    Of course, all good things come to an end, and after a month, I headed back with Hoshika. I was dreading the flight to Chennai (my first with a child who’d undoubtedly ask for her mother), but a most unlikely thing came to my rescue. I had recorded all the dolphin and whale shows we had watched, and every time she teared up, the videos helped me keep her occupied for hours.

    — N Elumalai

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