Harbor seal encounter | Independence Day weekend @ La Valencia Hotel

Over the Fourth of July weekend (yes I know it was practically "last" summer, though it's still Labor Day weekend so I'm getting this in within the same season at least) we planned a staycation for the long weekend/holiday and for the Old Man's birthday, which is July 3rd. On his actual birthday, we planned a snorkel with harbor seals. 

It went better than could be expected. 

Most encounters with seals or sea lions are positive, and some are even downright charming - if fleeting. We know when we see them that they aren't going to stay around long because of their fine-honed survival instincts: investigate and then move on. 

These harbor seals were able to give in to their natural curiosity a bit more than usual, probably because of the few people in the water (only two) and because of the amount of time we spent with them.

They stopped to play and really interact. Language barrier be damned!

They tried to taste the camera. I'm guessing the review by this darling is, "meh."

Also, our fins! Guessing again that they might feel good on the gums, but not exactly tasty. And don't give me a hard time about "feeding them my rubber fins." It's not like I offered them these fins on purpose like some kind of bad host. First of all, this is their home. They should be offering me things! We were just guests.

I will just roll the video so you can see how spectacular a dive with them can be.

This is the video from Hanuman's birthday. He said the encounter was the best present he could have asked for. It was mine, too! And it wasn't even my birthday.

We were so excited about that dive that we brought our children back the next day - July 4th - and it was a madhouse! So many people on the beach (this photo fails to highlight how crowded it was, probably because I was trying to angle my phone away from the masses). We all ventured into the water, but we weren't getting any good seal action because of all the people. So we left the beach and walked around town.

This long weekend was really made possible by our stay at La Valencia Hotel, my favorite staycation destination because of its proximity to our favorite dive spots.

Photo from our anniversary trip in 2012, but it shows the pool area best.

The kids could play in that pool for hours. Not pictured: the prank our middle child played on another innocent kid, when she told him that there was a big secret about her dad (Hanuman): the fact that he has an extra TOE. She then laughed and laughed, and I guffawed right along with her because - what a weird lie to tell for laughs? The only thing I loved more than the initial telling of the joke was retelling it later to the Old Man. All of us could hardly get the story out, to be honest.

They make a nice pina colada, too. That's always the drink I order when I want to really feel like VACATION IS NOW. 

The place used to be crawling with bougainvillea, but they've cut it all back now. Probably because of the drought.


They also have great eats and a nice cosmo-like drink called the Pink Lady. This photo either looks festive, or like I'm some kind of eating-and-drinking lush.

The rooms are small, but charming. Unless you get a villa - then they are big and spectacular. We did not get a villa, because it's way pricier than the room we got. Besides, it's always nice to look around and say, "Ooh, look at THAT room! The views from that one must be crazy." This is my silver-lining type of thinking, anyway.

Each floor has some OTT wallpaper that screams "tropics." They'd probably prefer some other description, but...

One time I was going about my business of relaxing poolside when I was startled upon seeing THIS: a Harris hawk perched on the side of the building, untethered (read: FREEish!)

We investigated and discovered that she is cared for by a talented falconer (if the bird in question is a hawk it is more properly termed an "austringer," but whatever) who uses this bird to deter sea gulls from disturbing the hotel's dining scene.

If you know the sea gulls around here, you know that they are extremely aggressive in adulthood. I mean you could accurately describe their behavior as "bullying."

Her name is Pearl. Isn't that nice? I'm so glad her name didn't turn out to be Harriet (the Harris Hawk). Or even worse, Harris. Even though she's a girl. That strategy really only works with humans and dogs, I think.


She was easily lured back by the irresistable food rewards her handler offered. But her mere presence seemed enough to affect the pushiness of the sea gulls.

Aside from Pearl, the best thing about this hotel is their Whaler drink, served at Cafe la Rue. It is made of Kahlua, Creme de Cacao, Brandy, + ice cream. It will be one of the best things you ever taste.

If you have an aggressively-nosy child who hears that there is ice cream in this, you can give them a sip - it's not terribly strong. Unless that is actually considered Contributing to the Delinquency of a Minor, in which case we all know that I make stuff up for this blog.

Next we headed to our favorite cafe and cookie shop, Girard's. We go there every chance we get with the kids because... where else can you get a sea lion cookie? It's always funny when they take their first bite and we scream on behalf of the sea lion or frog or whatever being eaten. Well I guess it can't possibly be funny anymore, but it always does happen.

They also have a crazy array of tarts, if that's your thing. I know that for some of you, it is.

Fourth-of-July specials! After being a former Cub Scout den leader, I have become so brainwashed about proper flag handling (DON'T LET IT TOUCH THE GROUND!) that I almost had a hard time taking a bite of this cookie.


Speaking of festive specials, we also had breakfast at Richard Walker's Pancake House. Their specialties are obviously pancakes. Unfortunately, what you see below are, according to them, "pancakes." One is the "Dutch Harvest" and the other is simply the "Apple Pancake."

Both are decadent feasts that will make you heady with delight while eating them, but possibly sick if you finish them. I mean sick in a "too full" way. But I hate to presume what your stomach bag can hold.

Maybe we should be giving those of us who work out the inside of their stomachs the same respect we give those with washboard abs! Or at the very least, a nod that says, "Whoa, nice job finishing that monster." Because I felt like a bit of a failure barely making a dent in it.

I brought our kids back to the Children's Pool a few days later after the craziness had died down, and it was awesome - no crowds at all!

I would take one child out with me into the deeper water where one can get better seal interactions, and leave the other two to play together in the relative safety of the sand and shallows.

Here's the video of the kids. :)

And... how cute are these baby bullies? Young sea gulls look so darn adorbsies.

A little video of them:

Hope you had a wonderful 4th of July if you even remember it anymore.
Thanks for looking!


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