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Building sandcastles in December

Local families take holiday festivities outdoors to create special memories

Although snowy white winters are not typical in the Bay Area, local families have taken advantage of the Peninsula's sunny holiday season by heading outdoors to create their own winter traditions — spanning from train rides in the redwoods of the Santa Cruz mountains to exploring the beaches of Half Moon Bay.

This past summer, Mountain View resident Shayla Danenberg created a to-do list of state beaches and parks to visit with her husband and their four children, ranging in age from 3 years to 5 months old.

The initial plan, she said, was to start a weekly family tradition as a way to get her children to reflect upon each weekend with more enthusiasm. After documenting each trip by creating videos using Google Pictures, Danenberg's son seemed more receptive to having conversations about what he did each day. This observation led to plans to continue the tradition into the holiday season.

"We said, 'Why don't we just get (the kids) some warmer coats and go through the list of beaches and state beaches?' Within our area there are so many different beautiful places to see. We've been doing this for about three months. We're pretty serious about it!" she said, laughing. "It started out as a summer thing, and it's been a little bit colder, but we still want to keep it up.

"I really want my kids to see these memories. There are so many ways for them to see their memories now with YouTube, photo books and stuff like that. I'm inspired to show them what they do," she said. "I think my husband's inspiration is (that) he wants to show them the outdoors. It makes family life more fun."

In November, the family took a trip to Half Moon Bay to experience the crisp fall weather, sandy beaches and autumn colors. After spending the afternoon building sand castles and searching for sand crabs, they packed up for a trip home along Highway 17. Along the route they purchased a Christmas tree at Santa's Village in Scotts Valley. For the Danenberg family, it's not just about the destination it's about the experience on the way there.

After nearly two seasons of taking weekend road trips around the Bay Area with her family, Danenberg has become adept at preparing for messy scenarios. Before each trip she packs extra clothes, shoes and towels for everyone. Moist towelettes and wipes have also become a crucial part of her road-trip packing. Hiking shoes have taken up permanent real estate in their car for impromptu hikes.

Danenberg mentioned that her favorite outdoor memory took place at Roaring Camp Railroads in Felton. On this particular afternoon, she witnessed her husband taking in the sights of the redwood trees on an open-air steam-train ride bound to the summit of Bear Mountain as he embraced their youngest child.

"It was kinda sweet to see my husband bonding with our baby. I thought it was pretty cute," she said.

Although she has enjoyed the experience of getting out of town each weekend, Danenberg stated that having the chance to see the changing seasons through her children's eyes has brought her the most joy.

"We don't like to rush the kids," she said. "We go at their pace. Look around; have them tell you what they're looking at. Get your essential stuff, grab your family and go have fun somewhere."

Visiting the coast

Mountain View resident Miguel Luna and his family have been visiting the coast each Christmas for the past four years. Luna enjoys the traditional aspects of the holiday season, such as holiday light displays and Christmas music, but said that his family's annual Christmas tradition of visiting the coast has become a more pivotal part of his holiday season.

"It was Christmas Day ... and my dad was like, 'Hey, you guys wanna go to the beach?' And my brothers and I were kinda looking at each other like, 'Uh, you're kinda crazy, Dad! It's kinda cold to go to the beach.'"

After a bit of debate, the Luna family embarked on its first Christmas Day trip to see the ocean. Upon arrival in Half Moon Bay, Luna and his family noticed that other thrill-seeking families had already arrived at the beach, with bonfires ablaze.

"We all kinda shared the same idea; we all wanted to get away from all the crazy stuff going on with the holidays, like shopping and traffic."

After the birth of his daughter Audrey Elena, who will turn 2 years old in January, Luna was determined to return to the coast with his daughter. With a diaper bag, warm drinks and extra blankets in tow — the Luna family introduced their youngest family member to the coast for her first Christmas.

"She's still really young, but it was nice to be at the beach with her. We went out there, and it was a little on the windy side so we took some blankets, grabbed some coffee and we walked around a little bit and collected a few rocks," Luna said.

"It was really nice being out there and being able to hold my daughter and telling her, 'This is the ocean!' She was kinda cold; cuddling up to me, and I thought, 'Wow, look at this; this is amazing.' I can't wait to do it again this year."

The Luna family has accumulated an ample collection of sand-blown rocks found along the shore after each coastal holiday. Each rock is marked with the date it was found, along with a few words or quotes to describe the day. No two rocks within the collection are alike; Luna jokingly noted that he now owns what he calls a "pet rock," which resembles the characteristic features of a human face.

If a winter day indoors seems to be taking a turn towards monotony, Luna suggests that families rekindle their sense of adventure by visiting Shoreline Lake in Mountain View. Families can take in a panoramic view of the San Francisco Bay, fly a kite, ride their bikes along the coastal trails or check out the ducks and geese inhabiting the area. Further up the Peninsula, Luna said that the atmosphere of Stulsaft Park in Redwood City feels like a forest getaway in the middle of the city.

"I'm no longer stressed when we visit the parks. If you can, put the phones down and put them away. ... It's family time," Luna said.

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Read more holiday stories in the Holiday Guide to Everything.

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Chrissi Angeles is an editorial intern at the Palo Alto Weekly.

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