SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA: The Lure Of The Golden State

By Jackie McCarthy

In just a few short years my children will be heading off to college.  My children? To be honest, it’s more like my babies.  Though they are teenagers now and love to show their independence, I will always see them as my babies. And in that light, the role you have as a parent – to help your children spread their wings and fly away – I feel is highly overrated. Why must they be butterflies? When butterflies migrate they fly thousands of miles away. That seems excessive. How about we help our children to come out of their shells, like turtles, and crawl an independent distance away, but close enough to come home to visit on the weekends?

Way back in the Dark Ages, when my husband was applying to colleges he received a near full-ride to Stanford University in California but his father nixed it. All that his father had to say in those days was that, “No, his son was not going all the way across the country to college.” Boom. Mic drop. End of story.  (He ended up going to Harvard, so no need for tears.) But these days, a parent is supposed to allow their children to make their own decisions. So, if we want to let our kids choose for themselves how far away from home they want to go to college, we have to start years in advance to gently, help lead them to the correct decision that closer is better.

As a mother, knowing how to use reverse psychology is one of the best tools we have in dealing with our children. So, when it came time to plan our summer vacation this year, I thought, why not take them all the way across the country to the Golden State of California, so they could see what a great place it was – a great place to vacation, that is, not a great place to choose to go to college.  In fact, any place that requires you to travel there by stowing your luggage in the seatback in front of you, I’m hoping won’t be my babies’ first choices in which to further their education.

So, first step, in the reverse psychology plan – get them excited to go, followed by the agonizing six-hour plane ride squished together in coach with only a bag of peanuts, as my picky-eaters would never eat the actual “meals” they whip up in the 2’ by 2’ kitchen galley located right next to the bathroom.  We get to the airport and what does American Airlines have the audacity to do? They upgrade all of us – I’m talking all five of us, to First Class.  Really? You’re not helping, American – with your First Class wide seats, leg room for miles, warm hand towels, and instead of a bag of peanuts…Ice Cream Sundaes. And let’s not just stop at Hot Fudge, please, give them a choice to add Caramel, Blueberries, Nuts and Whipped Cream. While you’re at it, why not just fill out their application to UCLA for them?

We arrive in San Diego. Now, in my mind, I know we are arriving during a heat wave. I am aware that it  “seems it never rains in southern California”, but maybe if we throw in some excessive heat, that might dim that no-rain luster a bit for my kids. Well, apparently California can’t even do a proper heat wave. Coming from the North East, a few days here in the 90s without humidity, actually feels more like a crisp Spring day for us.  I’m even starting to wonder who wouldn’t want to live here.

The next afternoon, we took a walk to the pier for some lunch. I thought if we walked through downtown San Diego, they would see it doesn’t look that much different than let’s say the college-town of Boston, which is just a short three-hour drive from our home.  But instead of the “rent-a-bike” that you see on the street corners of East Coast cities, what do they have? “Rent-Electric-Skateboard-Scooter-Things” – and it seemed like everyone was on one. Sure. Let’s make the whole city seem like one giant, fun college campus. This is not helping my master plan at all.

Later that day, we drive up the coast to Huntington Beach where we check into the resort where we will be spending the rest of our trip. It’s a 5 star Hyatt Beach Hotel, where we stayed eight nights, in an upgraded Family suite, for free.  Sure, we’ve used Hotel Points before for a free night here and there but a whole vacation, let alone eight nights, never.  I owe that to the sage advice and information I get from The Points Mom.  We had enough points collected from my Hyatt Visa Credit Card, for a couple of free nights, but then The Points Mom had me thinking about other ways we could collect more points. One of my sisters has a job where she travels a lot but most vacations she takes are with my family when we rent a house somewhere so she can stay with us. So, I asked her if she had any Hyatt points that she didn’t think she would use and she had enough for 3 more nights at the hotel we were staying at. We looked on the Hyatt website to see if she would be able to transfer those points to us. Not only do they have a super easy form to use to transfer points, it also only took two days to complete the transfer. It’s called the “Point Combining Request Form”. You don’t have to be related. You just have to be two World of Hyatt members to be eligible to combine points to redeem an award. So, after that transfer, we just needed 40,000 more points to have our complete 8 nights covered. That’s when I read one of The Points Mom’s Facebook posts about Chase Ultimate Rewards Points. So, I asked my husband to see if any of our Chase Points could be converted to Hyatt points. Sure enough, his Chase Sapphire Preferred Card Points could be transferred into Hyatt Points with a 1:1 exchange. Since the Hyatt Points were in my name, the only thing he needed to do was to add my name to his Credit Card and then go in and transfer the points – it was virtually automatic. And to top things off, my Hyatt Visa was running an exclusive card member promotion where they gave me 10% of my redeemed Hyatt points back – so I’m already saving up for our next vacation. All in, eight free nights at a hotel with the average cost per Premier Family Room at $500/night saved us $4000.

From the Hyatt Huntington Beach Resort, we were able to take day trips all over Southern California. Our first excursion was to Hollywood/Burbank. First, we did the Warner Brothers Studio Tour (which I highly recommend), where we got to see where Ellen tapes her talk show, sit on the couch from Friends, and see the real-life Batmobile.  We then went in search of the Hollywood sign. That one was tricky. I can’t explain the optical illusion of it all, but we must have driven up and down this one road three times trying to catch a glimpse of it. We would see part of it, assume if you drove further down the road you would see more of it, but then it would disappear. Finally looking out the back window of our rent-a-car we were able to see “LLYWOOD” and frankly by that time, we just called it a win and drove on.

We then went to Disneyland for two days. Now, for a family who has spent almost every Spring Vacation going to Disney World since my oldest was five, we knew to set our expectations lower than Florida’s version of the Happiest Place on Earth. However, Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, is not just the step-sister of Cinderella’s Castle, it’s a distant cousin at best. It’s like a doll-house version. I know size isn’t supposed to matter, but I’m just saying, it’s small – can you see it way in the center back of this picture? The rest of Disneyland and the California Adventure Park were worth doing if you’ve never been there before because there are enough differences in the rides to make it interesting (especially the Indiana Jones Ride at Disneyland and Cars Land at California Adventure), but two days was enough. So, if my kids ever felt the need to go to college near a Disney property, at least I can safely say they would stay on the East Coast for that.

The rest of our vacation was spent either on the beach across from our hotel or on day-trips to Malibu, Santa Monica, Orange County, and Laguna Beach. If I was expecting time at the Southern California beaches to discourage my children from wanting to spend their school semesters within driving distance to one of them, I was sadly mistaken. There were none of the East Coast beach-biting-flies, in fact, there were very few insects at all. You couldn’t work up a sweat if you tried, with breezes strong enough to upset an umbrella every now and then but without blowing sand in your face.  The sand was a pleasure to walk on without broken shells or rocks or garbage washing in from the water. And again, there was that no-rain thing so every day was a beach day. Because of the lack of rain, there were nearby wildfires that were reflected in smoke flumes in the sky, so I did try to point that out to them. However, it is awfully hard to argue with an entire coastline that takes their beach time so seriously. From San Diego all the way up to Malibu, every beach we passed or visited had full parking lots from sun-up until sundown.

So, though my reverse-psychology trick may not have worked, we did have an incredibly fun vacation with gorgeous weather. My next plan is just to use the next few years to talk up how great our seasonal changes are here – and if that doesn’t work, take the advice of this sign we saw along the Pacific Coastal Walking Trail, then hope my butterflies at least migrate back home for summers.

Jackie McCarthy is author of the book Raise Creative Thinkers: A Guide to Developing Children’s Creative Intelligence, which is sold on Amazon along with other RaiseCreativeKidz products, and she blogs at and