Up close and personal at the San Diego Zoo.

If you’re the father of a daughter then you know the side-eye.

While this disapproving sidelong glance has been perfected by Frank Underwood, if you’re the father of a daughter (I have two, as well as a young son with his own collection of dirty looks) then you’re accustomed to getting side-eye when you’re snapping photos of your beloved little girls, especially while on vacation. And the more I need the photo – and if you’re a family travel writer, you always need a photo of your kid doing something – the more disdainful the side-eye.

But here’s the thing. With every helping of side-eye my daughters have ever served up, there’s often a fond memory that goes along with it. The challenge, as always, is to recall those moments in detail and with the degree of fondness they deserve.

As it happens, several of those moments have happened while on vacation with my daughters in California.

San Diego: Waffles with a side of side-eye

Whenever talk in my house turns to Belgian waffles, which it does often because I make them every other weekend, I can’t help recalling the story of the first time I traveled solo with my younger daughter.

The then 8-year-old, cementing what would become her love affair with breakfast buffets, chef-attended omelette and waffle stations, and full-service hotels and restaurants, had just returned to the table with her freshly-made waffle when our waiter presented her with her own tiny heated metal carafe of real maple syrup.

With a deliberateness that she nowadays reserves for trying to annoy me (and this is the part of the story I recount every other week in my attempt to annoy her) she filled every last hole of her waffle with syrup before digging into it.

Depending on the mood I’m in when I’m telling the story, it took her 8-year-old self anywhere from five to 10 minutes to completely fill those waffle holes. And when I look at the photo below I see and recall the unbridled syrupy delight that accompanied her side-eye.

In case you were wondering when this article might if ever turn into a travel story, she and I spent a glorious day at the San Diego Zoo, relishing a private tour that is to date the most quintessentially interactive zoo experience I’ve ever had. And you can have this Exclusive VIP Experience, too.

And given that my wife and I had taken my eldest daughter to San Diego’s New Children’s Museum a few years before, it felt appropriate to check it out with my 8-year-old, who in addition to solidifying her love for the full American breakfast, showed signs then of developing into the serious art student she has become.

At the very interactive New Children’s Museum in San Diego


I Wasn’t Invited, But Still: Santa Monica

While I didn’t get to tag along when my wife brought my eldest to Los Angeles, I heard tell of their wonderful afternoon in Santa Monica, where street performers, the opportunity to fly on a trapeze, plentiful souvenir shopping, and other worthy pursuits await.


San Francisco: What Kid Cries About Leaving A Museum?

As a dad I often learn things the hard way, and as a traveling dad there have been times when I’ve been especially relieved that no other adults have been around to see me learning said things the hard way, as was the case when my eldest daughter and I joined my wife on a business trip to San Francisco.

It was my first time visiting the city and I was looking forward to exploring it with my little girl, at the time 3-years-old, in tow. Though the “in tow” part came into question when I made the decision to push her around in her stroller. On the streets of San Francisco. Which are, you know, hilly.

Of course even as a first timer I knew many of the city’s streets were steep, but I didn’t really get it until I was pushing that stroller. At one point, and I’m not exaggerating, I was certain I was shouldering that stroller up a hill that was clawing skyward at a 70-degree angle.

“How does anyone walk up these hills with a stroller,” I said aloud hoarsely (there was no one else around) and of course the masochist in me had sought out Lombard Street, as I had heard about its steepness and hairpin turns.

I couldn’t see my daughter’s face as I was pushing her up those hills, but I’m certain I was getting plenty of side-eye, just as, in response to my winded complaints about how tired I was, I was getting a three-year-old’s version of what would come to be known as shade: “Dad, there’s a cable car. Can we do it now?”

I have no recollection of going downhill that day (we did eventually ride a cable car) but I will never forget that climb with my daughter… nor will I ever forget the following day she and I spent at the Exploratorium, notable still for its highly interactive science exhibits.

My daughter was so caught up in the exhibits and lingering at every corner of the Exploratorium that when I suggested to her that we break for lunch, her eyes welled up with tears. I attempted to explain that we didn’t actually have to leave the museum premises, that we were just going over there – imagine me pointing to a café area in the distance – and that we were going right back to playing, I promise. It was the earliest time I recall something not sinking in with her (she’s a pretty quick study, which of course is something only a dad would say) but after 10 minutes of crying and gulping and shaking her head she calmed down and began to understand.

What kid cries about having to leave a museum, I thought. But then the Exploratorium is not like most museums, nor is my daughter – who believe it or not still has an enduring love of science that will perhaps sustain her in college – is not like most kids. But that, again, is exactly something only a dad would say.

Also worth your time: A side-trip to Sausalito, where my wife and I enjoyed some wonderfully serene moments with our daughter during the aforementioned San Francisco trip; the Alcatraz Night Tour, which I did on a subsequent trip while traveling solo but am looking forward to doing with my kids one day now that they’re older; and snacking your way through San Francisco Chinatown, whose dim sum easily surpasses what you can find in New York, and as a New Yorker that’s difficult to admit.

One More Thing… Visit California

While my recollections herein are largely personal I have no doubt you can make plenty of memories of your own if you visit California. While planning your trip, check out the additional posts about the Golden State at Traveling Dad, advice about San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco at Traveling Mom as well as Welcome to Kidifornia, a resource by the non-profit Visit California.