Uncategorized01 Jul 2008 12:00 pm

Located in Manhattan Beach, Adventure Plex is a relatively new indoor playground with activities for kids of all ages, but it is probably most appealing to toddlers and children under the age of 12.

We headed out to the Adventure Plex on a Sunday afternoon and ending up staying for three hours. The focus of the complex is a giant indoor play structure which is colorful and full of different things to explore. Much like the one in the now closed Bright Child in Santa Monica, this play structure is an elaborate web of shutes and ladders, plus a zip line, a ball pit, and some obstacle course-type tunnels. Looking at it, I didn’t think it would be interesting for more than an hour, but once I got inside to experience it for myself (which many other parents did as well) I could see there was a lot more to it than appeared from the outside. The other reason we stayed so long is because my daughter made friends with another girl who was inside the play structure maze and they were making up adventures together. She said she would have gotten bored sooner if she hadn’t met this girl, so bring friends with your children if you want to make the most of the outing (or make new friends there!)

For the toddlers, there is a separate section with their own ball pit (the colorful plastic balls they can throw themselves in), slide, and a variety of squishy items to climb on. If your toddler is an ambitious climber and you are willing to do some climbing then the bigger structure can also be fun. Some days it may be too busy with big kids, but the day we went it was not crowded at all, so we had room to explore at our own pace.

There are tables and chairs set up in front of the play structures for parents to watch and for everyone to eat. Adventure Plex has a small snack bar and does not allow outside food in their facilities, but I asked Paul, the Outdoor Adventure Manager (I think that was his title) and he said it was okay for folks like us who keep kosher to bring our food. In fact, Paul said a Jewish organization rented out the whole place one Chanukah and brought in kosher food for their big party. Which brings me to another aspect of the Adventure Plex: they offer party rooms for rental. Like the Santa Monica Pier, the Adventure Plex can provide a room to make a birthday party and serve your own food. Then your party guests are welcome to use the play structure and basketball court along with the general public.

The basketball court is part of regular admission and can be used for basketball or volleyball. The only thing is, sometimes this room is rented out to a private group (as it was the day we were there) and then it is closed to the public. So, if you would like to use the basketball court, call ahead to make sure it isn’t reserved.
Upstairs in the complex is a small gym with workout equipment and a room for classes like aerobics with your baby, yoga, and dance classes.

Outside is a “rockwall:” a faux rock surface to practice rockclimbing with a harness. Apparently this particular rock wall is the latest in technology with an automatically retracting rope and two tall rockwalls with a variety of climbing paths. There are women instructors if your daughter wants to give it a try (best to wear shorts under the skirt.) Adults can also try the rockwall. It is $5 for unlimited use of the rockwall.

And finally, there is something I haven’t seen anywhere else and that’s the “Ropes Course Adventure.” Traversing a series of tall wooden towers, teams negotiate various rope obstacles, focusing on working together to solve problems. This is touted as a unique team building experience for companies, but my first thought was that it would be a neat outing for the Jewish Boy Scouts.

At 6pm, closing time on Sunday, we drove over to Manhattan Beach Blvd., just down the road, and played in the sand by the Roundhouse Aquarium (see Kosher Road Trip, Nov. 2007) for a little while before supper time.


Wear socks! Bring lunch

Adventure Plex at Marine, 1701 Marine Ave., Manhattan Beach, CA 90266, (310) 546-7708, www.adventureplex.org

Hours: Mon. – Fri., 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Sat., 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Sun., 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Admission: under age 3: $5, 3 and up: $10, no charge for accompanying adults,
rockwall: $5

Arts & Crafts&Botanical Gardens&Museums&Outdoors&science&Uncategorized&zoo01 Jun 2008 12:00 pm

We all have membership to the summer club. This is a wonderful club to belong to and can really be a beautiful opportunity to make great memories, share time with family and learn new things. Or it can be riddled with stressful questions like: “What are we doing with the kids?” “How come all these activities are so expensive?” “Who has time off from work to travel?”

But summer is summer. The days are hot and the nights are cool and homemade orange juice popsicles hit the spot. Also, lots of hiking spots around LA are free. Then again, it can be mighty hot to be outside. So here’s a look at some places to consider buying membership to, particularly for the summer.

Kidspace in Pasadena is a combination children’s science museum and indoor activity center. It is small and expensive. Membership is $160/ year for a family of four, $250 for a family of six. That means that four members of a family would need to go five times in the year to cover the membership cost. Are you likely to drive up to Pasadena, near the Rose Bowl to visit Kidspace, and is it worth it?

While there are activities for children ages 1 to 10, I think the most appealing features of Kidspace are the ones for toddlers. The Early Childhood Learning Center is a dream for little sweeties. A certain 19 month old was able to climb a rope ladder and slide down a decent sized slide all by himself over and over, and he was quite overjoyed about it.

There is also squirting water in the courtyard that little kids enjoy standing over until they are soaked (so bring flip-flops and a change of clothes.) For older children there are small educational exhibits like a water table to experiment with erosion, displays of live bugs, and some fun climbing opportunities. Outside is a small race track for tricycle riding, as well as a garden to explore. Just keep in mind that it’s blazes hot in the summer. They do offer special workshops and programs throughout the year so please call or check their online calendar for more information. By the way, I timed it, and it took me 15 minutes to get from Kidspace to downtown LA.

The thing I tend to look for with a summer outing is air conditioning. Huntington Library, also up the 110 in the Pasadena area (San Marino), has lots of air conditioning for the buildings that house their amazing art collections, but then there is a little known outdoor attraction that’s nice for the summer as well. Behind a really neat conservatory and teaching greenhouse is the Children’s Garden, especially designed with kids in mind. That means water squirts and shpritzes and fills areas with thick fog—-all for children to play in. But Huntington Library is quite expensive (two adults and two children over age 5 on a Sunday = $52.) So membership ($100.), again, may be something to consider if this is a place you are likely to visit more than a few times a year. There is a lot to explore between the gardens and the art. On the other hand, The Huntington is free the first Thursday of every month with advanced reservations, so it doesn’t have to cost anything to check it out.

Of course, we have our free museums around LA—the LACMA (after 5pm or through their NextGen program), the Science Center, the Getty– but I do maintain a membership to the Natural History museum, which continues to be a great bargain at $70 a year for the family. Just to be able to pop into the butterfly pavilion on any summer day and sit amongst the butterflies is worth it.

Plus there’s the Los Angeles Zoo ($75), and while I do like to visit the zoo during the cooler months, I find it too hot most summer days. However, membership includes a 50% discount on tickets to many zoos around California and the country. Of particular interest is the very cute Santa Barbara Zoo which is situated near the ocean and would be lovely during the summer. So please get out there and embrace the summer and enjoy the long days and the soft evening breeze and remember that orange juice popsicles hit the spot—and maybe a few hotdogs on the grill, too.


Kidspace Children’s Museum, 480 N. Arroyo Blvd., Pasadena, CA 91103, www.kidspacemuseum.org, Open daily, 9:30am – 5pm, admission: $8/person over age 1.

The Huntington, 1151 Oxford Road, San Marino, CA 91108, (626) 405-2100, www.huntington.org, open 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily (excluding Tuesdays), admission: Adults $15 – $20 (weekends) $20, (age 12-18, or with full-time student I.D.) $10, (age 5-11) $6 Children (under 5) free Free first Thursday of every month.

The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, 900 Exposition Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90007 (213) 763-DINO open 9:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday – Friday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Sunday and Holidays, admission: $9 adults, age 13 – 17 – $6.50 age 5 – 12 – $2 Children under 5 – FREE (recommend membership $70), Free first Tuesday of every month.

Los Angeles Zoo, 5333 Zoo Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90027, www.lazoo.org, 323/644-4200, open 10 –5 every day, admission: age 13 and up $12, age 2 – 12 $7. (recommend membership: ($75)

Museums&Nature Walks&Outdoors&Uncategorized01 Jun 2006 12:00 pm

Summer is coming. Summer means different things to different people. For some it means a few weeks in another country, or visiting relatives in another state, or exploring a national park far away. But not everybody can leave work for a week or more during the summer to travel. So should that mean the only difference between summer and winter is the weather? No way. There are adventures to be had during the weekday, after work, and on Sundays. Just look around.

The LA County Museum has free art projects for children on Sundays from 12:30pm-3:15pm. This is part of what the museum calls the “NexGen” program, which entitles children who have signed up to visit the museum any time for free (with free entry for one adult as well.) For the Sunday art program, a few different tables are set up with an assortment of craft ideas that share a common theme. When the masterpieces are completed, enjoy a picnic in the grassy park between the LACMA and the Tar Pit Museum.

A little known fact about the LACMA is that it is FREE for everyone after 5pm on weekdays. “Let’s meet at the LACMA after work,” is practically all the planning it takes to stroll into this enormous museum and explore as much or as little of it as you want. My particular favorites are the American art collection and the ancient glass. Even my daughter was in awe when we studied a whisper thin goblet of completely chip free glass and contemplated the fact that nobody had dropped it for over a thousands years. Amazing.

Another Sunday special is the merry-go-round in Griffith Park. It’s one of those little gems tucked away from the main road that many people miss on the way to the zoo. Built in 1926, the merry-go-round lives in another time and seems to attract people who love the sweetness of a simpler day. Organ pipes beckon with tunes from “The Sound of Music” and other well-known melodies. The horses are elaborately decorated and bob past detailed murals on the inner walls. It’s definitely worth a stop for a ride on your way to one of the many other places in Griffith Park.

Speaking of nostalgia for another time, the Fun Zone on the Balboa Peninsula in Newport Beach makes for a nice day trip. The best way to get to the peninsula is via a small ferry that shuttles back and forth between Balboa Island and the peninsula all day long. (You can drive directly onto the peninsula but the ferry is more fun.) If you don’t need to take your car on the ferry, then stay off of Marine Road, park on a side street, and walk to the ferry. Right along the water’s edge, on Balboa Peninsula is an old amusement park with old fashioned arcade games as well as some small rides like a Ferris wheel, bumper cars, and of course a merry-go-round. Sure, there are lots of shops along the streets, but it’s the old arcade games that drew us. By “old” I mean really old; games like skeeball, aiming a ball to knock over pins, or attempting to roll balls into different slots (I don’t know the names of these games, but I like them.) Originally used in “Penny Arcades” these games of skill, with hardly any electronics at all, send out streams of tickets to winners, so the other fun part is collecting up tickets and then heading to the prize counter to select from an array of prizes you could buy in packs of three at the 99Cent Store. If you are seven years old, making these prize selections can take up to half an hour. But that is part of the fun of the whole experience. There are actually two arcades; in one the games take quarters, in the other, tokens. So either way, bring your dollars—and a budget. Boat rentals are available near the ferry, and on the other side of the peninsula (across the street), a long peer reaches out across the water for a beautiful view of the sailboats and the blue sea.

A little further south, in Laguna Beach, is Crystal Cove State Park. This really is a nature reserve for land and sea animals. From the parking lot to the right of the entrance gate, the meadows along the ocean are filled with an amazing variety of birds, and the pathways through the grassy areas are fully paved, so it might be fun to explore on wheels with a pair of binoculars and some crayons or markers to sketch the colorful birds. The main feature of Crystal Cove is the tide pools. Tide pools are pockets of water between rocks along the shore that contain lots of different sea animals. It is easy to find anemones, snails, hermit crabs and shore crabs as well as other tiny creatures. According to the park website, it is possible at times to find starfish (sea stars) and even octopuses in the tide pools. A fun game would be to write up a list of animals to locate for a scavenger hunt and point them out to everyone as they are discovered.

Enjoy your summer with family and friends. I’d write out directions to all the places mentioned, but there just isn’t space, so please call or check the websites.


LACMA: 5905 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90036
323-857-6000 (general information)
323-857-0098 (TDD)
http://www.lacma.org (see NextGen calendar for programming)
Open every day except Wednesday.

Griffith Park Merry-Go-Round in Park Center, open weekends throughout the year and weekdays in the summer, 11am-5pm, 323-665-3051.

Balboa Fun Zone
Located on the Balboa Peninsula
in Newport Beach
600 E. Bay Ave. Balboa, CA 92661
(949) 673-0408
Ferry ride: 60cents for adults, 30cents for children.

Crystal Cove State Park, located off Pacific Coast Highway between Corona del Mar and Laguna Beach, CA with easy access from I-5, 405 and 73.
http://www.crystalcovestatepark.com, bring $10 cash for parking.

Cooking&Restaurants&Uncategorized01 Feb 2006 12:00 pm

Some time in the midst of Pesach cleaning, when you’re crawling around the perimeter of the living room with a vacuum cleaner, the idea of going to a Pesach resort starts to sound like it’s worth the money. The rest of the year, the prospect of paying at least a year’s school tuition to stay at a hotel for ten days sounds ridiculous. Or does it?

Maybe you’ve been thinking about checking out the coast of Maine, or getting in some golf during Chol Hamoed in Florida. Besides the many Pesach resorts in the United States and Israel, there are hotels, which are kosher for Pesach in France, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Mexico, and Puerto Rico. Clearly, taking a vacation in a place somewhere in the world that you’d like to see plays a role in choosing a Pesach resort. Having read the descriptions of several programs around the country and the world, the emphasis on the Torah aspect of these holiday getaways varies greatly.

Is Pesach at a resort about Pesach or about the resort? Anyone who attends a Pesach resort with proper kosher supervision is interested in observing the commandment to eat no chometz, which in itself is a unifying element for guests from various backgrounds. Beyond that, some resorts appear to offer little in the way of spiritual development and Torah learning.

One factor that some people who have attended Pesach resorts have mentioned is the challenge of conducting a warm family seder in a huge hotel dining room. While guests often have a choice of being at a table with a rabbi who will lead the seders or being at a table with their family and perhaps other families to lead their own seders, the noise level may make it difficult. Also, other guests at the table may want to move things along quickly and get to the meal as soon as possible, rushing those who like to take their time and ask lots of questions. There is the option of having private and semi private dining rooms, but that can be a major added expense, depending upon the program. One comment I heard from a few different people about the resorts they had attended was: “once you get past the seders, it’s great.” That seems a shame, when the seder is a central mitzvah of Pesach. On the other hand, one of those same people said that with maid service and all the food taken care of, “you can come to the table and sit like a mensch with your whole family.”

The trend at Pesach resort programs is toward a variety of meal options to meet the needs of all the guests. A regular guest at the “VIP Passover” program at the Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix says that not only is there a choice of a dairy or fresh fish entrée for lunch, but guests can select vegetables they would like to have prepared on the “Mongolian grill.” For dinner there is a choice of fleishig or parve, with meals that meet the expectations of guests at this luxury hotel.

Jeanne Litvin, who, along with Mel Teitlebaum, coordinates the “Passover Resorts” programs, says that their Passover programs offer a blend of gourmet and traditional food as well as a host of healthy foods at all meals. There is always “kid friendly” food available as well as options for people with dietary restrictions. A guest of the Passover Resorts program at the Coronado Island Marriott in San Diego says she enjoys the creative food choices and the opportunity to take a stroll along the boardwalk with her family after a meal.

Not having to cook, especially during Chol Hamoed, means that guests have plenty of time to spend doing activities, going to shiurim, and seeing the sights. Typically, resorts have “camps” or kids’ groups every day with programs at the resort as well as field trips just for the kids. Mothers I have spoken to say their children really enjoy the opportunity to meet other kids and do fun activities together. But some families attend Pesach resorts specifically to spend time together with family, whether it is the immediate family, or relatives from around the country. For families who are coming from different parts of the world, going to a resort means everyone can stay in the same place and eat together for the whole chag.

What activities are offered really depends upon the particular program, as well as the location. The emphasis at some resorts is on the golfing, spa treatments, snorkeling, and entertainment aspects of the Pesach experience. Even those programs may have some dynamic and well-known rabbis on the schedule of shiurim. It would certainly be advisable to investigate what shiurim, if any, are offered. A few resort guests have said they found themselves attending a lot more shiurim than they would have had they stayed home for Pesach.

At the Gateways Passover Program at the Westin Hotel in Stamford, Connecticut, the focus for both children and adults is on spiritual enrichment. Director of Operations, Rabbi Avrumy Jordan says, “Over 120 classes are given over Pesach and people come to Gateways because they get their soul nourished as well as their body.”

Again, the question remains: is the Pesach resort about Pesach or about the resort? Rabbi Yitzchok Summers of Anshe Emes suggests that parents ask themselves, “Is this Pesach going to be an effective vehicle in my job as the primary educator of my kids?”

Ultimately, it is important to find out exactly what a particular Pesach resort program involves, what hashgacha it has, and then to discuss it with one’s rabbi. Remember that children who grow up attending resorts for Pesach may not learn through experience how to clean for Pesach, let alone how to cook traditional family recipes past down from generation to generation. There are definite pluses and minuses.

The basic cost for one adult for the full Pesach program with Gateways is $2200. The basic cost for Passover Resorts’ programs range from $2299 at the Palm Springs location to $3500 in Lake Las Vegas. It may cost about the same to fly to Israel and attend a program there for Pesach, so that is something to consider as well.

Thank you to Rabbi Avrumy Jordan (tel: 800-722-3191, www.gatewayspassover.com) and Jeanne Litvin (tel: 1-800-PASSOVER, www.passoverresorts.com) for answering my questions about their respective programs. Thanks also to Rabbi Yitzchok Summers of Anshe Emes Synagogue (tel: 310-275-5640, www.anshe.org) for comments, as well as a story about Mrs. Summers’ Pesach bagels.