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Kids Getaways

Great places where kids can share in the fun

By CARY ORDWAY

With holiday vacations looming, we're coming up on some of those rare times during the school year when Mom and Dad can pack the kids in the car and take them on a getaway without being followed by the truancy police. Oh, but where to go?

Here are three examples of great getaways for holidays, or for any other time of year that you can take the kids along.

San Francisco

San Francisco has a plethora of attractions for the small-fry ranging from theme parks to museums to aquariums to islands where you can enjoy great hikes and spectacular views of the bay. While many see San Francisco as a romantic city, the truth is you can have just as much fun when you take the kids along.

Start by booking a Kids Suite, like the one we reserved at the Hotel Union Square in the heart of the city. This is not the kind of place where you're going to see kids running up and down the hallways or groups of teens hanging out the lobby. This is a more sophisticated hotel that just happens to offer some of its accommodations in a special format that appeals to families.

While parents will love the fact that this is a boutique hotel - with all the extras that the term implies such as brick walls, mosaic murals, warm colors and stylish furnishings - the kids who share the Kids Suite with Mom and Dad are in for an extra special treat. The suite actually is a spacious high-ceiling corner room that has been subdivided into a parents area and a kids area. A free-standing partition also serves as a storage device where games, toys, dolls and anything your kids could want are ready to use anytime.

There is a bed for the kids, and on the kids desk is a Mac computer ready to fire up and play games on the internet. But the piece de resistance is the 47" flat panel HD TV hanging on the wall with a Wii game system attached - an incredibly fun diversion for kids and adults alike. The Wii system lets you play tennis, baseball or golf or other sports by holding remote controls in your hands and "hitting" the ball with the same physical movements you would use in the real sport. We literally spent hours playing these games with our eight-year-old - one of the most unusual and fun experiences we've ever had with our kids in a hotel room.

When you do venture outside, there are many family activities in the city, especially near Fisherman's Wharf and Pier 39: Aquarium by the Bay, the Venetian Carousel, the Cinemax theater, arcades, street performers and dozens of sea lions napping near the pier. From here, you can take a ferry to Angel Island, a popular island where visitors hike trails and visit more than 100 historical buildings.

Another great attraction in the city is the hands-on science center called the Exploratorium, located near the Presidio at the end of the waterfront near the Golden Gate Bridge. And then there's Golden Gate Park, where there is a children's playground including a restored carousel, Alcatraz Island, where you can take a self-guided tour of the famous prison that was closed in 1963, and the San Francisco Zoo, which offers hours of enjoyment for the whole family.

For more information on Hotel Union Square, phone 1-800-553-1900 or visit www.hotelunionsquare.com.

Resort at Indio

Another "adult" place that can also be fun for the kids is the Greater Palm Springs area. On our most recent trip to the desert we based ourselves a few miles east of Palm Springs in Indio, a comfortable neighborhood, but perhaps less extravagant than some other parts of the valley. Out on the eastern edge of the valley cities, this area is now undergoing a major transformation with several new housing developments that feature modern, spacious homes set alongside man-made lagoons and canals, all five minutes from the freeway. It is in this same area that a major new resort complex - the Resort at Indio - was built just in the last few years.

This group of condo-style buildings includes 453 units altogether, built around what almost looks like a water theme park full of swimming pools, whirlpool spas, giant sprinklers for the kids, ponds, canals and even a man-made river to float down on a resort-provided inner-tube. There are a couple of huge swimming pools - the largest being almost 5,000 square feet. The resort also includes tennis courts, a basketball court, a recreation center with pool, ping-pong and other games, and a modern workout gym.

Given the recreational opportunities, it's not surprising that the Resort at Indio is especially popular with families. During our visit on an unseasonably warm spring weekend, family groups large and small were taking full advantage of the pools and other facilities. With hundreds of deck chairs and plenty of space to accommodate them, families were spending hours poolside. Come mealtime, many would walk the short distance back to their condo units and fire up the barbecues available on their decks and patios.

As you might expect, the accommodations are really vacation rentals, not hotel rooms - each unit comes with a complete kitchen, multiple bedrooms, living and dining room areas. Since the resort is almost brand-new, everything is in top shape with the latest appliances, colors and decor.

This is the kind of place where you can settle in for a few days, let the kids play and meet other kids and just relax. Within easy driving distance, you'll also find fun family excursions such as Patton Museum with its World War II tanks as well as other fighting equipment and memorabilia. There are many hikes in the general area, and the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is another fun family adventure.

For more information on the Resort at Indio, phone 800-867-2095 or visit www.greatpricedcondos.com.

Greenhorn Guest Ranch

To our way of thinking, one of the most ideal family vacations we have taken is when we visited Greenhorn Guest Ranch, about an hour's drive west of Reno in California's Plumas County.

Sometimes you just know when you've come home. Within about 30 minutes of our arrival at Greenhorn, we were chowing down on their Friday night barbecue of scrumptious, fall-off-the-bone ribs with all the fixin's. The owners of the ranch, Trish and Ralph Wilburn, were strumming their guitars and singing western songs by the campfire. Soon, the kids in the group were scurrying to get their marshmallows and chocolate so they could get more smores than anyone else.

Out there, the Big City might as well have been on the moon -- which, incidentally, was just starting to rise to take its place among the sparkling stars visible above the towering dark pine trees' surrounding the ranch.

The Greenhorn Creek Guest Ranch is where you go to get a healthier heart. Not that barbecue ribs and steaks and big breakfasts of bacon and sausage and biscuits are going to unclog your arteries. The heart we're talking about is the one that helps you look at the world and shape your reactions to it. It's the one that sometimes gets a little overwhelmed with the day-to-day and forgets about the big picture.

The big picture is considerably brighter after spending a few days with fellow ranch visitors of all ages, shapes and sizes. Some of the people visiting the Greenhorn know about horses and may even have horses of their own. Others aren't sure which stirrup to step into first. Some are constantly running from one ranch activity to the next. Others are just content to sit on their cabin porches and inhale the Great Outdoors. Most people who visit the ranch spend at least a couple of hours each day on the back of a horse.

Cabins are cozy and the food's good at the Chuckhouse dining room. Coming up Thanksgiving Week, the food will probably be pretty spectacular with a traditional Thanksgiving Dinner as well as many holiday activities such as wreath-making and a horse-drawn wagon ride to cut down your own Christmas tree. Guests don't have to book the entire week; you can come for just a night or two to get a taste of this wonderful family experience.

For more information on the Greenhorn Creek Guest Ranch, please go to www.greenhornranch.com or call 1-800-334-6939.

Photos, from top: The Kids Suite at Hotel Union Square; the Lazy River is a fun diversion for kids visiting Resort at Indio; saddling up at Greenhorn Guest Ranch

Photos by Cary and Sandi Ordway

(Editor's note: CaliforniaWeekend.com is California's leading source of information on getaway travel in the Golden State. Visit the site often to find the latest getaway specials, a comprehensive list of resorts and lodgings and to use the Getaway Machine travel calculator to match up your needs and preferences with exactly the right lodgings and location.)

OTHER DESTINATIONS: If a Southern California beach city is your idea of a great California vacation, be sure to check out other California Weekend articles on Laguna Beach, La Jolla and Coronado.



Click here for more great California vacation ideas!

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