Orange County Gifts of Experiences

If you’ve been running around trying to figure out those last minute gifts, let me give you a few ideas! I’ve always have the hardest time getting my kids to tell me the things that they would like for Christmas. The reason is, we just aren’t home very much. We’re constantly on the go doing things together because we prefer experiences over things. That’s what spend most of my money on, although not all the experiences we do together cost money, we do a variety. My hopes is that my children will have the best memories of the experiences we’ve shared together when they grow up.

Here are some ideas of Experience Gifts that you can find right here in Orange County.

Knott’s Season Passes – This is my number one pick. They are not only a fantastic deal, but you can go everyday of the year. There are no blackout dates, and Knott’s has different Seasons of Fun so you can have many different experiences throughout the year.

Defy Extreme Air Sports / Orange County – DEFY Mission Viejo is your extreme indoor recreation experience that’s a mix of parkour, Cirque du Soleil, trampolining, and ninja warrior courses! This holiday they are offering exclusive stocking stuffer includes a gift card in increments of either $25, $50, $75, or $100. This stocking stuffer is the ideal gift to get kids off technology and one that provides a unique, cool experience for everyone in the family.

Hello Kitty Grand Cafe – Offers a super cute menu featuring freshly baked cookies, cakes, donuts, seasonal goodies, and handmade hot and iced drinks, plus Hello Kitty Cafe merchandise! There is a sweet seating area to enjoy the experience. If you make a reservation at the Bow Room, you can enjoy a traditional Afternoon Tea service with a supercute Hello Kitty twist that includes fresh seasonal fruit, savory tea sandwiches, yummy sweets and a pot of tea from a vast selection of fine tea options.

K1 Speed – America’s Premier Indoor Karting Company. Compete for the fastest lap against friends, family and other racers. First time drivers will receive a mandatory briefing session on rules and safety. After each race, you’ll receive a race result sheet that allows you to compare your times and overall rank against other drivers.

Pretend City – Pretend City is an interactive children’s museum that builds better brains through whole body learning experiences, educational programs, and creative exhibits. It’s super cute with kid size restaurants, shops and service building that they can pretend play in.

Escape Room Era – A fun place to experience escape rooms where you will uncover interactive games with clues to find, riddles and puzzles to solve, and a mission to accomplish within one hour. These rooms will test if you are a team player and a creative thinker. Ignite your curiosity. Heighten your sense of FUN. Super fun for tweens, teens and adults.

Great Wolf Lodge – Great Wolf Lodge in southern California provides indoor water park fun and dry-land experiences for your entire family. Enjoy kid-friendly indoor activities, dining, shopping, and more all under one roof. Choose from over 600 suites, each featuring free access to all the water park’s 14 slides, four pools, and more. Near Los Angeles in Garden Grove, the water park is a warm 84 degrees all-year round.

Blue Man Group – BLUE MAN GROUP returns to Orange County for a limited engagement on their new North American tour. It’s everything you know and love about BLUE MAN GROUP—signature drumming, colorful moments of creativity and quirky comedy—the men are still blue but the rest is all new! Featuring pulsing, original music, custom-made instruments, surprise audience interaction and hilarious absurdity. On January 7th and 8th they are hosting Kids Nights on Broadway and kids can go FREE! Use code BLUEKID when purchasing and when you buy one ticket at full-price, you’ll get another ticket FREE.

iFly Indoor Skydiving – An indoor skydiving flight experience that’s equivalent to the free fall of outdoor skydiving from 14,000 feet! For 50 seconds you will be flying in the air and experience what free falling skydiving is really like! However, without the worry about the weather, lengthy delays, travel time or having to actually jump out of a plane! Kids as young as 3 can experience iFly, it’s so much fun!!!! And it’s safe.

Sender One Indoor Rock Climbing – Climb buildings and towers; or race your friend’s to the top in Sender City — an interactive climbing center great for kids and adults. This gym also offers bouldering, and 50ft rope climbing walls, including the iconic “Ice Cream Cone” feature. Round out your training on the fully-kitted MoonBoard & hangboards.

Discovery Cube Annual Membership – A membership to Discovery Cube will give you a year of fun! You can use it to experience all 3 of their Campuses. It’s the best way to experience all the new exhibits all year round. Your Discovery Cube membership comes with numerous perks including members-only programs / Special Pricing, events and exhibition previews.

Whale Watching Cruise at Newport Landing or Whale Watching Cruise at Dana Wharf – Select from several whale watching cruise times daily and year round. Whale watching & dolphin cruises view giant blue whales, finback whales, gray whales, humpback whales, minke whales, several species of dolphin and much more. 

Why Experiences Make Great Gifts

Sharing experiences together is one of the things that makes us human. It’s part of our nature. It is a fact that we can start to degrade as a person when we aren’t sharing life and its experiences with others. Studies by researchers reveal that people self-report that happiness from material purchases fades in time, while experiences become an ingrained part of our identity and actually become more valuable to us as time passes.

I can totally agree with this. The past few years, our family has focused on experiences and we’ve never been happier. And don’t think it all has to be expensive and money based. You can simply make some coupons to go to the beach, or hiking, or to the park. It’s the exploring and time together that creates the amazing memories. Happy Holidays!

Why You Need a Knott’s 2020 Season Pass! PLUS GIVEAWAY


If you have been a reader of Sandy Toes and Popsicles over the past twelve years, then you know how much our family LOVES Knott’s Berry Farm. We go ALL. THE. TIME. We love the convenience of easy Knott’s parking and easy access to the parks, the variety of seasonal experiences Knott’s has to offer, and that there are NO BLACKOUT DATES!!

Have you been on the fence about getting a Knott’s Berry Farm 2020 Season Pass? Then this article is for you. I’m here to tell you why you need a Knott’s Season Pass, because there are so many reason why! And if there was ever a time to get a Knott’s Season Pass, THIS IS THE YEAR! It’s Knott’s Berry Farm’s 100th Anniversary, so you can bet there will be tons of surprises and fun celebrations. (Make sure to read to the end for an AWESOME GIVEAWAY!!!)

What’s Included with a Knott’s Season Pass

The main reason our family is able to spend so much time at Knott’s is because we have Knott’s Berry Farm Season Passes. First of all, Knott’s Berry Farm Season Passes are such a value. They pay for themselves in less than two visits, but I guarantee you will be going much more than just twice.

With our Knott’s Berry Farm Season Passes, we can go to ALL the Season of Fun events that happen at Knott’s year round. And they not only provide admission to Knott’s Berry Farm all year long, but ALSO include some cool perks? It’s true….there are perks to having a Season Pass beyond its great value (and no blackout dates)!!!! Here are some of the reasons you need a Knott’s Season Pass.

At Knott’s Berry Farm they call it Seasons of Fun because the offerings always change based on the season.

The Knott’s Berry Farm PEANUTS Celebration starts off the year. It’s a month long celebration of our favorite PEANUTS pals and the lovable Snoopy himself. There are PEANUTS inspired treats, fun photo opts, games and fun shows throughout the park.

In the Spring, you can head to the Knott’s Boysenberry Festival, the best time for food at Knott’s! It’s ALL THINGS BOYSENBERRY – a salute to the birthplace of the Boysenberry. A month-long food festival featuring boysenberry-inspired dishes that are both sweet and savory, plus lots of fun family-friendly entertainment.

Fun Things to Do at Knott’s During Summer

Summer time means a whole lot more fun at Knott’s!

First of all, the town of Calico comes to life with Knott’s Ghost Town Alive! and if you haven’t experienced it, you need to. You can make friends with the citizens, taking part in cowboy shenanigans, solve mysteries, capture the bad guys, play games and attend the Hoe Down at sun down. my kids love it so much we went over and over.

New to Knott’s Berry Farm, and a huge hit…is Knott’s Summer Nights which happens every evening during summer at Knott’s. When the sun begins to set, the bands come out, and everyone gets to enjoy the ambiance of a cool summer backyard party. There is food, entertainment, lawn games, fire pits you roast marshmallows at, and picnics tables to relax at. It was definitely a highlight of my summer going to Knott’s Summer Nights.

PLUS, don’t forget about Knott’s Soak City. If you like waterslides, then you will want to buy a Knott’s Berry Farm Gold 2020 Season Pass because there is more fun in the sun for Gold Season Passholders at Knott’s. You can use it to go to Knott’s Soak City all summer long. There’s dozens of waterslides, a lazy river, a wave pool and lots of good places to eat….all a big hit. Plus, did you know that Knott’s Soak City is the only waterpark of this size in Orange County and is a blast!!!! 

So I highly suggest upgrading your Knott’s Berry Farm 2020 Season Pass to GOLD status!

Other happenings during summer is the 4th of July celebration fireworks on the Fourth of July, and Snoopy Show at the Charles Shultz Theater….and who knows what else Knott’s has planned!

Fall is the season of Knott’s Spooky Farm, the park-wide, family friendly Halloween celebration that is not-so-scary.  kids can wear costumes, and the entire family can enjoy the Halloween happenings around the park – 
PLUS, Knott’s Scary Farm….which is not part of the Knott’s Season Pass, but can be purchased is fun for anyone who loves the scariest of the scary and screaming all night long!

Read More…

Visiting HGTV’S Santa HQ at the Los Cerritos Center

This is a sponsored post.

It’s that time of year when our family gets all the Santa photos. We love visiting different Santa’s throughout SoCal. This weekend we headed over to the Los Cerritos Center to HGTV’s Santa HQ to check out their great Santa set-up. Last year we went to HGTV’s Santa HQ at the Lakewood Mall (you can read about it here) and loved it so much. It’s such fun Santa Experience…much more than just sitting on Santa’s lap.

HGTV’s Santa HQ adds a whole new dimension to the traditional family Santa Claus visit by guiding visitors through an immersive, interactive holiday extravaganza that uses of state-of- the-art digital technology. something that kids today love! There are 15 Santa’s HQ in the United States. I already mentioned the two in Southern California, the Los Cerritos Mall and the Lakewood Center Mall. They are basically the same, and equally great, but the Lakewood locations set-up is a bit bigger and has an extra room.

We started off our visit by skipping the line with your pre-scheduled reservation and headed over to the Naughty or Nice Meter. We had to see if the kids made the nice list this year. And of course they did!….and even saw their names on Santa’s interactive Christmas list. Are you on Santa’s nice list? Two of the kids only made it to the yellow zone…I wonder what that means?

Next we visited got the Elf Academy. It’s a fun photo opp where you can elf yourself. You can also create an elf I.D. card digitally and send it to yourself. Guests stand in front of the Magic Mirror video screen and, through augmented reality, transform into Santa’s Elf. The Magic Mirror allows guests to select one of four elf styles (Hazel, Ruby, Jack, and Strawberry) from which to choose outfits.

Next we headed into Santa’s Observatory which is really fun. The kids can check out the control panel. what kid doesn’t love buttons and gadgets to play with.

We got to have Elf-Ray Vision!  Either by downloading the Elf-Ray Vison app on your phone, or using the iPads located on the wall of the observatory, kids can explore Santa’s Observatory by using the app as special goggles. they got to see secret elf happenings on the walls like presents being shipped and the working gears of the observatory.

There was also this fun photo opportunity before we met Santa, which could also be chosen as part of our Santa photo package. They even have photo props available for you to use.

Make Reservations to See Santa and Skip the Lines

Did I mention that we got to skip the line to go into HGTV’s Santa HQ because we made a reservation? I tell you this again because it really saved us a ton of time and we definitely avoided toddler meltdowns in long lines. Pretty cool huh! Guests can make reservations online at Santa HQ from HGTV. You can even pre-pay for your photo package, days or even weeks in advance, and also opt-in text functionality to send reminders about your Santa photo session reservation.

Finally, we met the big guy himself….SANTA!!!! we had so much fun getting our photos with Santa. He spent one-on-one time with each of the kids, and made sure to get a good variety of photos to choose from. At the end of our visit, Santa gave each to the kids a coloring book to take home with them.

Here’s how our Santa photo turned out. Dani didn’t cry this year, but she was a bit grumpy from just waking up from napping in the car. I would say this picture was a success though.


visitors to Santa HQ will also be able to enjoy the holiday spirit of giving through HGTV’s Help Through Holiday Giving Drive. you can donate an unwrapped toys for local children in need by dropping it in one of the bins at Santa HQ. the toys benefit local organizations like Forgotten Angel Tree, Salvation Army Angel Tree, Toys for Tots, and Spark of Love Stuff a Bus.

The kids and i had such a nice evening at Santa HQ from HGTV. i wasn’t expecting our Santa visit to be so special, but with all these special holiday touches and the elves treating my children with love and care, my kids had night to remember. we will be adding HGTV’s Santa HQ to our holiday traditions each year!

In case you wanted to know just a little more about Santa HQ from HGTV…check out this fun video!

Tips for Watching the Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade

If you are looking for a great place to view some of the best Christmas Lights in Orange County and also enjoy the glimmer of twinkling lights upon the Newport Bay, then the Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade is an awesome choice! We have a tradition of going to the Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade every year.

Make sure to read till the end for an AWESOME GIVEAWAY!

Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade begins at 6:30 p.m. each night from December 18th – 22nd. It starts and ends point at Tip of Lido Isle so you can find lots of different places in Newport Harbour to view it. We always go to the Balboa Fun Zone. There is always plenty of parking over at the beach which is just a short walk to the Balboa Fun Zone. We usually find some treats and cocoa to enjoy, and then take the Ferry over to Balboa Island and walk along the island to look at the Balboa Peninsula house Christmas lights. On the nights of the Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade, you get to see the boats AND houses decorated with lights!

The Best Holiday Boat Cruises in Newport Beach.

One of the best ways to enjoy to Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade and all the decorated Balboa Peninsula homes is by taking a Holiday Cruise from Newport Landing. You can take a Holiday Lights Cruise for only $20 which is totally worth the price to get the best view there is. You also don’t have to worry about all the crowds. The cruises take place throughout the month of December with three cruises nightly. And each holiday cruise is around 75 minutes long. 

The Newport Harbor dressed up in holiday décor will not disappoint. Holiday cruises offer 85% of what the parade offers without the huge numbers of people and parking challenges. A cruise can make a nice relaxing evening under the stars, and having all your friends come along would be such a fun evening. Weekends are more popular for holiday cruise times and reservations are mandatory.

Balboa Fun Zone During the Holidays

When you are at the Balboa Fun Zone during the holidays, there are lighted trees and often live entertainment or music playing. You can take a ride on the ferris wheel, go on a few rides or hang out in the arcade. There are plenty of place to grab a bite to eat on the go, or you can even bring a picnic dinner with you. There are tables and chairs on the boardwalk.

If you choose to walk around the homes on the Balboa Peninsula, you can take the Balboa Ferry from the Balboa Fun Zone over. It costs

Watch the Newport Beach Boat Parade at Marina Park.

If you don’t want to walk around Balboa Island, or take a cruise, then I recommend going over to the 10.5-acre Marina Park. This park offers 177 parking spaces, nautical-themed playground, picnic area and sailing center, and is also the largest public viewing area along the parade route, creating an optimal location to gather and enjoy the festivities.

Finally, dress warmly and bring friends and family. Enjoying all the Christmas lights and the Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade is especially fun when you are with the ones you love. It’s a tradition everyone will remember for years to come.

Newport Holiday Cruise Giveaway

Want to win a Holiday Light Cruise for you and three people? Then I have a FUN giveaway for you! Two lucky readers win a 4-pack of Holiday Light Cruise tickets from Newport Landing. Just enter via Rafflecopter below! Just do the entries that you want…the more you do the more chances you have to win!

Giveaway ends December 15, 2019. Open to U.S. residents only. Good luck!!! 

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Want to see the Best Christmas Lights in Orange County?!!!

Check it out here:

PLUS…..have you seen this list of 150 Christmas Events in Orange County???

Family-Friendly Christmas Events at the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel

Last weekend, our family headed down to the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel to attend their annual Holiday Open House and Tree Lighting. I was reminded of how beautiful the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel is with its’ ocean views and beautiful interiors. I was also reminded that they host lots of family-friendly activities during the holiday season that are open to the entire community. You don’t even have to be a guest of the hotel. Activities including holiday storytelling, gingerbread house and cookie decorating with our pastry team, and more.

Every year, the Ritz-Carlton hosts a Holiday Open House and Tree Lighting that is so much fun. There’s holiday music performed by a live band and also carolers. here is complimentary holiday cookies and hot chocolate plus guests can bring a new, unwrapped toy for donation to Miracles for Kids or canned goods and non-perishable food items to benefit the Orange County Rescue Mission.

The Tree Lighting was fun and festive and ended with the gorgeous tree being lit up with lights, Santa arriving in an old fashioned Woody car, and falling snow. The kids had a blast running around in the falling snow and enjoyed all the beautiful lights..

Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel Amazing Gingerbread Display

One of the highlights of the evening was viewing the Ritz-Carlton’s Gingerbread Extravaganza! Each year, the resort’s talented pastry team creates a spectacular 24 ft. by 9 ft. housemade gingerbread extravaganza. Developed by Executive Pastry Chef Sylvain Haage, this year’s gingerbread extravaganza highlights the town and characters of Whoville as a tribute to Dr. Seuss’ classic, How The Grinch Stole Christmas.

Chef Haage and his team will spend more than 500 hours creating an incredible confectionary display fashioned out of an array of homemade gingerbread, colorful candy, sweet treats, baked goods, and other delectable confections. This Gingerbread Extravaganza is on public display in the lobby from until January 2, 2020!

Family Friendly Holiday Events at the Ritz-Carlton this season?

Want to Build Your Own Gingerbread House at the Ritz-Carlton? The Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel is having a special Gingerbread House and Holiday Cookie Decorating event on Sunday, December 15, 2019 from 2 to 4 p.m. Guests can gather with family and friends to decorate their very own large-scale gingerbread house and holiday cookies. Chef Haage and the pastry team will be on hand to provide tips and tricks for creating a gingerbread showpiece of the season.

Families and kids are invited to celebrate with tales of the holidays and stories of the season with Holiday Storytelling at the Ritz-Carlton. Storytelling is held in the Eco-Adventure Center on Friday and Saturday, December 6, 7, 13, and 14 from 5 to 6 p.m. and complimentary to attend. Guests are encouraged to bring a new children’s book for donation to Miracles for Kids. 

Guests can enjoy the timeless tradition of Afternoon Tea at RAYA. The Holiday Tea will feature an array of tea, savory canapés, and sweet bites in an elegant ocean view setting. It’s available Monday through Thursday, December 2 – December 19, 2019, with seating from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. Reserve in advance by calling Resort Services at 949-240-2000. 

Bring your favorite pooch to the Ritz-Carlton’s Yappy Howl-iday Celebration held Sunday, December 15, 2019. This festive gathering of canines and their companions provide furry friends the opportunity to be photographed with the “big dog” himself – Santa Paws. Guests are encouraged to bring unopened canned or dry dog food, treats, or dog toys to support animals in need. The event is complimentary, with cocktails, wine, beer, and a selection of barbecue available for purchase. Proceeds benefit Canine Companions for Independence. 

Christmas Dinner at the Ritz-Carlton

Families and friends can enjoy Christmas dining at RAYA and the resort’s bountiful buffets. The Christmas Day Holiday buffet will be hosted between the hours of 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and Celebrate with a four-course Christmas dinner at RAYA from 4 to 9 p.m. 

Take a Holiday Staycation at the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel

For those seeking luxurious accommodations and unique experiences this holiday season, the resort is offering two overnight packages.

Perfect for a holiday getaway or for hosting out-of-town guests, the oceanfront resort’s Inspirations of the Season Package will have guests relaxing by the Pacific in celebration of the holiday. The package includes overnight accommodations, daily breakfast credit, a surf-inspired ornament, resort fee, and overnight valet parking. Available now through January 31, 2020 with rates starting at $659 per night. 

For the avid shopper, the resort has collaborated with South Coast Plaza to present an exclusive Luxury Shopping Experience. The Luxury Shopping Experience includes overnight accommodations; complimentary transportation to South Coast Plaza, admittance to ACCESS, South Coast Plaza’s VIP Hospitality Suite, a South Coast Plaza VIP Passport featuring exclusive offers from more than 100 stores and restaurants, a $100 South Coast Plaza Gift Card Voucher plus a special gift from South Coast Plaza with a $500 purchase. Available now through January 31, 2020 with rates starting at $729 per night. 

When you arrive at the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel, you feel like you’ve arrive home in luxury and it reminds you of how special the OC is. If you can make it down this holiday season, even if just to get a glimpse of the ocean views and smell the fantastical Gingerbread display, I highly recommend it. Happy Holidays from the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel.