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Family Fun at Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Part 2


In celebration of summer’s wonderful #EverydayMoments and the National Park Service Centennial Year, which begins August 25th, we decided to spend some time this summer in the beautiful Golden National Recreation Area, one of the largest urban parks in the world at more than 80,000 acres, and home to some of the National Park Service’s most beloved spots, such as Muir Woods National Monument, Point Reyes National Seashore (above), and the San Francisco Presidio.

After spending a full day at San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park and Fisherman’s Wharf (see Part 1), we visited the Point Bonita Lighthouse.

Like Maritime Park, the Marin Headlands, home of the lighthouse, is another large parcel within GGNRA. We began our journey at the Visitor Center, where interactive exhibits showed aspects of the Headlands’ natural and human history. In the 1970s, the Headlands were saved from a massive housing development to become public land for all to enjoy. We listened to recorded stories in a Coast Miwok dwelling, explored the bones of animals, sniffed the aromas of various native plants and read early lighthouse keepers’ diaries.



The rangers helped us identify some great hikes. We chose a short trail through a tunnel and out to the lighthouse (check the web site for limited lighthouse hours.) Our walk offered beautiful vistas of the Pacific Ocean and the San Francisco Bay, where we saw seagulls and other birds and heard, but didn’t see, harbor seals and other sea creatures.






We learned a lot about lighthouse history from our knowledgeable ranger, Jim. Built in 1855, Point Bonita Lighthouse was the third lighthouse built on the west coast and the last to be manned, rather than to run on electricity. Each lighthouse and foghorn up and down the coast operates on a different pattern to help sailors navigate San Francisco’s treacherous waters. We learned about various shipwrecks (one of which is the namesake for GGNRA’s Tennessee Valley) and lighthouse operations and equipment. We listened to more great information through a cell phone system that GGNRA uses in many of its parks. Afterward we visited the pre-WWI Battery Mendell, one of the area’s military forts and saw the foundation for the old lighthouse keeper’s house around the bend of the bay (last photo, below).







Family Activities

GGNRA offers lots of great family activities throughout the year at many of its sites. Our interest piqued about the park, we decided to join Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy for a morning of crabbing at Fort Baker Pier. We were greeted by our ranger, Al, who quickly showed us how easy it is to toss a crab basket, frisbee-style and containing a pouch with raw chicken for bait, into the bay.


We learned about the various species of crabs in San Francisco Bay. These include Dungeness crabs–which are popular for eating, but which we weren’t allowed to keep if caught; yellow crabs; rock crabs; red crabs and slender crabs. We learned about the markings on a crab’s belly, which is one good way to distinguish male crabs from female crabs. Below is a male, noted for the triangle shape on the belly.



Unlike fishing, there’s no tug on the line to alert you that you’ve caught a crab. Once you’ve lowered the net into the water, you just have to wait 10 minutes or more before checking to see if anything swam into your basket to take the bait.

After a time, I pulled up my basket. I had caught a crab! This was very exciting. I pulled it up to the pier. On closer inspection, the basket contained a large rock crab and a smaller red crab.


My crab was measured and deemed too large to keep. (There are a lot of other rules about types and sizes of crabs, and even genders, that can be kept. If you go crabbing independently, you’ll want to know the rules and obey posted signs.)


We explored our crabs a bit before tossing them back into the sea.




One of our new friends caught a fish.


Crabbing is a slow activity that provides a lot of delight (and perhaps dinner), as well as a chance to explore and learn a little more about the bay and its inhabitants. A couple of hours is plenty of time for crabbing. GGNRA offers crabbing at multiple locations. As a bonus, Fort Point is adjacent to a small beach that’s perfect for toddlers, and the Bay Area Discovery Museum, where you can continue to learn about crabs and fish (and even establish your own pretend fishery in the San Francisco Bay Room), as well as explore the many natural elements and exhibits that the award-winning hands-on museum has to offer.



Here are some other piers throughout California where you can go crabbing.


Road Trip Tips

If you’re traveling to visit a national park, there are ways to make your travel smoother and more delightful and memorable. Sometimes half the fun of family travel is “getting there”. Road trips have provided some of our family’s most treasured #EverydayMoments.

  • Involve kids in the planning or have them follow the trip’s progress on a map. If you’re an AAA member, maps are free. Some kids may want to keep a trip journal and add photos when they get home.
  • Have food and drinks on hand, if possible, and take frequent breaks to eat, use restrooms, or just stretch your bodies.
  • Remind children who are on screens to take breaks, to play a game or look around.
  • Pack along a few portable games for outdoor breaks and quiet times, such as cards, Mad Libs, a jump rope or jacks.
  • Play some of these tried-and-true road trip games that don’t require any equipment. They help make family memories when you’re driving, flying, or waiting in line.

Tried-and-True Road Trip Games

What I See From A to Z

Players try to find letters in license plates, billboards, road signs, or objects and must call out “I see an A,” or “I see something that starts with B,” when they spot a letter.

The first person to complete the alphabet wins. A variation for younger children is to pick one letter and have everyone look for that.

Semi Search

If you’re traveling on the interstate, you will probably have a lot of trucks for company, and this fun game makes use of that.

Each player chooses a different color. That color will be the color of truck trailer that the player is then searching for. Players announce when they see a semi on the road in their color, and they get one point for each.

A scorekeeper can be appointed to keep count, or everyone can keep their own score. The game is played until one person reaches 25 points, or another agreed-upon number.

Travel Scavenger Hunt (also known as Travel Olympics)

You’ll need: Pencil and paper for each player

Players all contribute to one list of 10-20 things they can see from or do in the car. For example, a list might include passing a cow pasture, seeing a gas station that has the color red in its logo, holding one’s breath through a tunnel, spotting two yellow license plates, or passing an RV.

The first person to accomplish everything on the list wins.

License Plate Scramble

The first player calls out all the letters, in order, that appear on a passing license plate.

All players try to create a word using those letters, in the same order. The first person to do so gets a point. For example, a player might call out ARN, and he, she, or any other player might come up with “arachnid” or “yarn”.

Decide if you want to play to a certain number of points, like 25. The first player to reach that total wins.


Players search passing cars for “out of state” license plates (out of the state they are currently traveling in.)

When such a plate is spotted, the player yells, “O.S.L.P.!” If they are the first to see a particular plate, they score a point.

Decide if you want to play to a certain number of points, like 10. The first player to reach that total wins.

What Animal Am I?

One player thinks of an animal. Other players ask “yes” or “no” questions to determine what animal the first player is. Players might ask, “Do you live in the ocean?” or “Do you have four legs?”

There is no limit to the number of questions. Players can simply give up when stumped and choose who gets to be the animal next. Otherwise, the player who guessed the animal gets to be the next up.


This is part of a larger American Express initiative that will help encourage volunteering in America’s National Parks.

On July 30th, Amex EveryDay kicked off a contest that encourages people to share a photo and caption of their own #EveryDayMoments, taken at any park, for a chance to win one of three trips to some spectacular National Parks: National Mall and Memorial Parks (Washington, DC), Yosemite National Park (California) and Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona)

Click Here to Enter between July 30th and August 31st: http://bit.ly/1elJ6qC; terms apply.


Be sure to see Family Fun at Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Part 1.

I am an Amex EveryDay CardMember and Ambassador for this program. However, all opinions about the Card are my own.

Road trip activities are adapted from Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, which contains more travel games in addition to 300+ fun family activities.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman and Wood for the Trees





Bubble Day at the Bay Area Discovery Museum

The San Francisco Bay Area’s Bay Area Discovery Museum recently held a Bubble Day, the first of many special hands-on events at the museum this summer. As a longtime fan of the magic of bubbles, it was great fun for me to see a new generation of children discovering simple bubble wonder and fun.

You can make your own bubble mix at home with simple ingredients. (Recipe below.) A bucket of mix will last a couple weeks. Leave it out in a yard or on a porch for spontaneous summer play!

Recipe for Great Bubbles

There’s no need to spend money on commercial bubble mixes. The best mixes come from ingredients that are inexpensive and easily available. A large batch can be left in a bucket or tub for days without losing its ability to form bubbles. Bubble mixes are best made at least ½ hour before you need them, so they can settle.

You’ll need:

6 cups (or parts) water
2 cups (or parts) Dawn dishwashing detergent
3/4 cup Karo or other light corn syrup
Measuring container
Large tub, bucket or pan (large enough for the wands to fit inside)

Use Dawn brand dishwashing detergent, if you can find it, for large, firm bubbles. Joy is second-best.

If you’re using the same container to measure both the water and the detergent, measure the water first to prevent detergent foaming in the container.

If your water is very hard, you may want to use distilled water.

Stir the solution gently. It should be smooth, not sudsy or foamy.

Learn lots more fun bubble experiments and activities.

Enjoy making your own bubbles!

This activity is adapted from Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, which contains 300+ fun family activities.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Happy Summer! Easy Summer Solstice Cupcakes

Updated for 2014Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year and the beginning of the summer season, is upon us June 21 this year, at 05:04 10:51 Universal Time, or 1:04 3:51 am on the U.S.’ east coast, 10:04 pm, June 20, 6:51 am on the west. Throughout the Northern Hemisphere, it can be marked by Midsummer festivals, especially in Scandinavia, where people celebrate with maypoles that honor nature’s bounty and bonfires that recall the heat and warmth of the sun. Still other cultures have solstice rituals that honor the sun, the feminine and the masculine.

Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, my family often attends a summer solstice celebration at Muir Beach, hosted by the Muir Woods National Monument park rangers. We enjoy a bonfire, nature storytelling and campfire songs, and a ritual walk around the fire, holding stalks of sweet flowers and herbs, and then throwing them into the fire, to greet the new season and also let go of anything that no longer serves us.

View more photos of summer solstice at Muir Beach.

An easy way to celebrate Summer Solstice, whether your gathering is a large one or a cozy one, is to make Summer Solstice Cupcakes. This recipe comes from the terrific book, Circle Round:

Just as Winter Solstice gives birth to the light, Summer Solstice, with its day that never seems to end, holds the seeds of darkness. We discover darkness in the bits of chocolate concealed inside this sunny cupcake.

1/2 C butter (one stick) softened in the summer sun
1 C sugar
2 eggs
1 t. vanilla extract
2 C flour, sifted first and then measured
pinch of salt
2 t. baking powder
1 C milk
1 C chocolate chips

Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Add vanilla. Mix together the flour, salt, and baking powder. Add half of the dry ingredients to the wet mixture and stir in. Follow with 1/2 cup milk, then the other half of the flour mixture and the rest of the milk. Stir in the chocolate chips.

Use paper liners, or grease and flour cupcake tins. Bake for 25 minutes in a preheated 375′ oven.

Makes 20 to 24 cupcakes.

Because of the sweetness of the cake and chips, these don’t need frosting, but you can certainly add it, in a solid color or a cheery sun or flower design.

This is a great explanation of how Summer Solstice works. Happy Winter Solstice to those in the Southern Hemisphere, who are marking the lengthening days. Perhaps chocolate cupcakes with white chocolate chips are in order?

Happy Solstice to all!

Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman

Heed the Call of the Pumpkin at these Great Bay Area Pumpkin Farms


Few people can resist the delights offered by a pumpkin farm. They’re wonderful places for urban and suburban families to slow down just enough to feel the turning of the year and maybe try some harvest or other activities from times past. And, of course, there are the pumpkins themselves — jolly orbs that lay in profusion among pastures until you, the visitor, pick the most perfect among them to take home.

With Halloween almost upon us, most pumpkin farms have gone into high gear, with lots of activities over longer hours, and a host of pumpkins still available for the picking. Included in this listing are working farms and special pumpkin patches in the North, East and South Bays.

Note: The 41st Annual Half Moon Bay Art and Pumpkin Festival takes place October 15-16 this year. Enjoy a parade, entertainment, contests, crafts, food, and displays of the world’s largest pumpkins, before or after visiting a charming South Bay pumpkin farm.


South Bay

Half Moon Bay bills itself as the “Pumpkin Capitol of the World” for good reason. Many people know about the yearly Art and Pumpkin Festival. Less well-known is the bounty of area farms, many of which have been in families for generations, along Highways 1 and 92.

Farmer John’s Pumpkin Farm, Half Moon Bay

This delightful pumpkin patch offers an extremely large variety of pumpkins, all grown on-site. This working farm also features a hay pyramid, scarecrows, play areas, a Native American tipi, cornrows, U-pick sunflowers, and an antique John Deere tractor. The farm is wheelchair-accessible.

See Farmer John’s Pumpkin Farm for directions and more information.

Arata’s Pumpkin Farm, Half Moon Bay

Open since 1932, Arata’s is one of the oldest working pumpkin farms in the Bay Area. In addition to pumpkins, enjoy pony rides, animals, a hay ride, and a huge hay maze — clearly a labor of love — constructed out of 10,000 bales of hay.

See Arata’s Pumpkin Farm for directions and more information.

Little Creek Ranch Pumpkin Farm, Half Moon Bay

Just up the road from Arata’s, Little Creek is a delightful family farm and pumpkin patch suitable for very young children. Pumpkins lay far apart on flat ground, so there are no vines to trip over. The entire pumpkin area is surrounded by low hay bales. There is a play structure and pony rides, along with other animals.

Call Little Creek Ranch at  (650) 726-2765 for directions and more information.

Pastorino Farms, Half Moon Bay

Pastorino Farms dates from the 30s and is known today for its huge assortment of pumpkins, along with its big orange-and-black decorated barn. Pastorino offers train rides around a small track, a jump house, pony rides, and a petting zoo. Hand-made signs that identify the many different types of pumpkins, some of them quite unusual. Also nice is the farm’s large selection of Halloween decorations and kitchen wares.

See Pastorino Farms for directions and more information.

Lemos Farm, Half Moon Bay

A working farm since 1942, this popular, charming spot offers lots of activities for all ages, especially young children. In addition to a good selection of pumpkins, Lemos Farm features pony rides, hay rides, a hay maze, a train for small children, a toddler-oriented play zone, haunted houses for older and younger children, and animals you can feed and pet. Lemos Farm retains a great deal of charm from the South Bay’s rural past.

See Lemos Farm for directions and more information.


East Bay

Smith Family Farm, Brentwood

Smith Family Farm has been in the same family for three generations and offers lots of great old-time activities on its large farm. There’s a leisurely tractor-pulled hay ride out to the pumpkin field, a corn maze, a hay maze, displays of antique farm equipment, live entertainment in a barn, a host of animals, and lots of fresh U-pick produce. The farm offers lots of places to picnic and play in a large, varied ranch setting.

See Smith Valley Farm for directions and more information.

Clayton Valley Pumpkin Farm, Clayton

Clayton Valley Pumpkin Farm, at the base of Mount Diablo, features a large variety of pumpkins and squash in all shapes and even colors. This working farm offers lots of fun activities for all ages, including a trackless train, a playland featuring old-fashioned games, and plenty of farm animals. The farm represents a part of the area’s rural past that is largely disappearing.

See Clayton Valley Farm for directions and more information.

Joan’s Farm, Livermore

This large, pretty working farm offers a taste of the Old West: There’s an Old West town, gold panning, antique farm equipment, a museum, and more. There’s also a large corn maze, hay rides, farm animals, and a farmstand with fresh produce for sale.

See Joan’s Farm for directions and more information.


North Bay

Peterson’s Farm, Petaluma

This working farm opens to the public for Halloween. Families may visit on weekends or after 2 on weekdays. In addition to two large, natural pumpkin fields, Peterson’s has lots of animals to feed and pet, including chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, cows, ponies, rabbits, pigs, calves, and a very big but gentle bull known as Wooly Monster. There are also fresh vegetables, flowers, free-range eggs, and an observational bee hive, all in a very intimate farm setting.

See Peterson’s Farm for directions and more information.

Peter Pumpkin Patch, Petaluma

This large, beautifully situated pumpkin farm in the Chileno Valley is also the home of Spring Hill Jersey Cheese. Visitors can milk a cow or dig for potatoes in a potato field, in addition to buying some of the best homemade ice cream around (pumpkin and vanilla) and specialty farmstead cheeses.

See Peter Pumpkin Patch for directions and more information.

Adobe Pumpkin and Flower Farm

This 30-acre farm has thousands of pumpkins and gourds for the picking, along with U-cut zinnias, cosmos, sunflowers, and more. Adobe also has a great corn maze, a hay ride, a haunted barn, a jump house, animals, crafts, and food and live entertainment on weekends.

See Adobe Farms for directions and more information.

Nicasio Valley Farms, Nicasio

Along with a large, picturesque organic pumpkin patch, Nicasio Valley Farms offers U-pick strawberries, lots of gourds, and a farmstand featuring a complete array of fresh organic vegetables, as well as eggs, breads and cheeses. There is a hay maze, a jump house, musical entertainment and food for sale.

Call Nicasio Valley Farms at (415) 662-9100 for directions and more information.

Still want more? See Pumpkin Patches, Corn Mazes, Hayrides and More in the San Francisco-Sacramento Area.

Have fun this pumpkin season!





Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Photo Friday: County Fair Pig Race

My family has attended the Sonoma-Marin Fair for as long as we’ve been in this area, nearly 20 years. We’ve visited many other county fairs and even the wonderful California State Fair, but this local, medium-sized one remains our favorite. We love visiting the animals, and the food and craft exhibits, riding our favorite rides. We slowed down a little on the games, not because they’re not fun, but because we already have a ton of stuffed animals. Our new favorite event is a relatively new addition — the Pig Race. The Hambone Express, an outfit out of Arkansas, races little pigs in groups of four around a small track, announcing their names, which are all puns on famous people — Christina Hogulera, Lindsay Loham. Good country fun, this fair never fails to signal the start of our summer.

I hope you’re enjoying your summer fun!

Have you seen and photographed something unusual, whimsical, beautiful, or otherwise interesting in your travels? Has anything surprised you or caused you to pause? Or have you simply experienced a small, lovely moment that you wanted to capture? If so, I hope you’ll share with us by leaving a comment with a link to your photo. I look forward to seeing it!

Photo by Susan Sachs Lipman

You might also enjoy:

This Moment: County Fair Funnel Cake Eating Contest

I have photographed our lovely fair a lot. Last year I did a 3-part series:

Sonoma-Marin Fair: The Animals
Sonoma-Marin Fair: The Food
Sonoma-Marin Fair: The Rides and Games


Photo Friday: Serene Spring

My family recently took a Sunday bike ride down a wonderful country road not too far from our home. We saw far fewer cars (and more cows) than bikes, as we wound around the two-lane, experiencing wonderful old ranches, trees beginning to flower, rolling green hills, and the most perfect endless blue sky. All agreed that the day and the outing were superb. Of course, I occasionally held the group up, whipping out the camera to preserve the memory. I’m glad I did. Just looking at this photo puts me at peace.

I hope you’re enjoying a serene season, wherever you are.

Have you seen and photographed something unusual, whimsical, beautiful, or otherwise interesting in your travels? Has anything surprised you or caused you to pause? Or have you simply experienced a small, lovely moment that you wanted to capture? If so, I hope you’ll share with us by leaving a comment with a link to your photo. I look forward to seeing it!

Photo by Susan Sachs Lipman

You might also like:

Photo Friday: World’s Favorite Tulip
Photo Friday: Signs of Spring
First of Spring: Larkspur, CA

Photo Friday: Tamalpais Motel at Dusk

I’m not sure quite why I can’t resist lingering over a neon roadside sign at dusk. Nor why I find some to be just a bit forlorn. Perhaps it’s the gulf between the sign’s bright promise — in this case evoking our local mountain, given the Native American Miwok name meaning “coastal mountain” — and the reality of a motel, or a bar, or an eatery that’s seen better times. Or maybe it’s just the time of day, the light, the glory and wonder of neon, and the beckoning of the open road, none of which ever grow old.

Have you seen and photographed something unusual, whimsical, beautiful, or otherwise interesting in your travels? Has anything surprised you or caused you to pause? Or have you simply experienced a small, lovely moment that you wanted to capture? If so, I hope you’ll share with us by leaving a comment with a link to your photo. I look forward to seeing it!

Photo by Susan Sachs Lipman

You might also like:

Photo Friday: Ghost Sign
Photo Friday: San Francisco Storefront

First of Spring 2011, Larkspur, CA

Woman in electric blue Mary Janes reading a paperback while walking

Bunches of boys on bikes

Cucumber seedlings set out at the market

Small girl with flower-ringed bun being walked to ballet

100 year old pocket park

Metal chairs on front porches

Cupolas, a flag in the breeze

Dinner special on restaurant chalkboard

Old couple walking with canes

Smell of wild onions

Crack of baseball bat on ball

Dappled sunlight


Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Sonoma Marin Fair: The Animals

County and state fairs are wonderful, traditional summer events. They offer down-home fun for people of all ages — rides, carnival games, contests, shows, and farming and animal exhibits. If you’re in California, which has a whopping 58 counties, chances are there’s a county fair near you right now. Even the California State Fair is happening now.

For me, the animal exhibits and contests are at the top of the list of things that make a great fair what it is. As a non-farmer, I can get educated about farm animals and the work and culture of breeding, caring for and showing them. Farmers, breeders and interested youth can also showcase their skills and work. In very rural areas, fairs offer rare opportunities for busy farmers to interact, to show and to see what others are doing.

Animal exhibits have been a part of American county and state fairs ever since 1807, when farmer and mill owner Elkanah Watson showcased his sheep in the public square in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. According to StateFairRecipes.com, he clanged an old ship’s bell to attract attention. His goal was to encourage local farmers to raise Merino sheep, so that his mill would receive superior quality wool. By the late 1800s, county and state fairs were occurring all over the U.S.

Each fair bears the unique imprint of its geographic area. My favorite local county fair is the Sonoma-Marin Fair, which occurs in Petaluma, CA, in late June. I recently posted a pictorial of the fair rides and games. Now it’s time to highlight the animal exhibits.

Of course, the cows are a favorite. We appreciate our weekly delivery of local Straus Creamery milk.

The chicken coop was moved to a bigger, breezier area. It’s always fun to see (and hear) the regal roosters, hens and chickens.

Hog races were a new addition this year. The caller and operation came all the way from Arkansas.

We spent a long time in the sheep and goat barn.

And we took in a Sheep Showmanship competition of 4H and Future Farmers of America youth. We were impressed with the participants’ diligence and sheep handling, as well as with the seriousness of the competition, the obvious work and skill involved, and the sheep themselves. This site explains sheep show judging.

See photos of last year’s fair’s pig showmanship competition and more.

Watch for the final installment about the Sonoma Marin Fair: The Food.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Sonoma Marin Fair: The Rides and Games

I love summer’s county and state fairs, none more than our local Sonoma-Marin Fair, in Petaluma, which has come and gone this year. The Marin fair is closer, and the Sonoma fair bigger, but frankly, this one that we latched onto many years ago (before Anna was even born) is the keeper. It’s a wonderful combination of farm animals and agricultural events; classic rides, games and food; a wide midway for strolling; country performers; and down-home exhibits and contests that recall simpler times when people came to fairs to show their baking and animal-handling prowess and to be exposed to new things.

Here are some photos from last year’s fair. This year, I took so many, that I divided them into sections. Come along and ride the thrilling and classic fair rides and soak up the atmosphere and draw of the traditional fair games on a summer day and dusk in June.

I love this Falling Star sign so much, I took movies of it!

Coming up: Fair farm events and food.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

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