Coastal Games of “I Spy” Yield Treasures in Southern California

Genie Davis March 11, 2014 No Comments



Looking for some gigantic fun? Well my kids and I were, one fine fall day in Orange County, in the coastal area where white sand beaches lead up the hills to elegant resorts and stately homes. We found some Elephantine fun.



Surely you and your little ones have played “I spy with my little eye…?”  The idea of the Elephant Parade, massive sculptures of elephants colorfully scattered around the Dana Point area of the O.C. is exactly that. A hard to miss game of hide and seek with artwork elephants soon to be auctioned off for charity. It was a really fun afternoon to drive and stroll and spot as many of the massively colorful creatures as we could find.

Beach stop to spy out some views…

I’m not sure that we found all eighty of these celebrity and artist painted three-dimensional elephants, but we spotted a lot of them on resort grounds and in parks. They’re each approximately six feet tall, although there were also a number of  replicas of elephant art that was already sold elsewhere that were exhibited at half size.

Of course, along with the elephant spotting, the kids also got to run around the large and green grounds at resorts like the St.Regis and the Ritz Carlton- and such running was sanctioned, too. We just said we were there for the elephants and that was good enough for the price of admission and to let the kids hurtle around the grounds. We also got glimpses of the  Laguna Cliffs Marriott, and spend a long time enjoying Lantern Bay Park.

So what are these elephants exactly? They’re created to look like psychedelic and rainbow hued versions of actual elephants. The artists who shaped them range from well-known artists to local kids, to celebs trying their hands – some more successfully than others – at art.

The elephants were auctioned at the Laguna Cliffs Marriott to raise funds for the Asian Elephant Foundation, dedicated to the preservation of the real life beautiful creatures. The idea for the elephants and the charity came from brothers Marc and Mike Spits, who designed the so-called Elephant Parade. They started the program when they learned about Mosha, an Asian elephant who encountered a landmine and lost a leg. She was fitted with a prosthetic leg – and learned to use it. The art work is sold to benefit the The Asian Elephant Foundation in terms of funding and in terms of spreading the word about elephants, their conservation, and their plight in many areas.

My kids loved the elephants, and I understand the exhibit will reappear in SoCal next fall, so keep your i-spy-eye open for it.

In the meantime, you can take your kids down to the calm shores of Doheny State Beach for some shell gathering and surfer watching, or stop in Dana Point for some yummy fish and chips at Harpoon Henry’s.



We also like to drive slowly up the coast from Doheny, with stops in Laguna to take a run on the towns perfect crescent beach, to browse the shops and galleries, and of course to get an ice cream cone or two. In January, February, and March artists in the area open their studios for a tour, and kids will enjoy everything from seeing paintings to photography displayed in residences and studios.



If you go a little further north, take a tour of the International Surfing Museum in Huntington Beach, where you’ll find iconic surf boards, historical photos, and even a camera used to film the classic surf film The Endless Summer, which older kids will enjoy seeing – check your Netflix list.

Right on the sand with a Hawaiian feel and a Mexican flair to the menu, you’ll find the reasonably priced Sandy’s Beach Grill.

Continue on up Pacific Coast Highway for a stop at the bird sanctuary and marshes between Seal Beach and Huntington beach just across from the ocean. You’ll be likely to continue playing “I Spy” by spotting birds from snowy egrets to plovers migrating along the coast. Different birds, different seasons, but no matter when you’ve arrived, you’ll find a very pleasant and easy paved path from which to do your spying.



Kids still not tired? Head on up to Long Beach, where you can take a tour of the voluptuously large Queen Mary itself, and if it’s the winter season, we enjoy seeing the annual snow fest at the base of the ship, Chill. Chill is a massive collection of carved ice figures, a giant “snow globe” you and your family can climb inside, and the sensation of being inside an igloo – even as palm trees ring the harbor outside the exhibition.

Any time of year you’re just a hop, skip and walk away from the Long Beach Aquarium, whose world class exhibits include not a single elephant, but many other beautiful creatures from fish to sharks to penguins to sea otters. Always fun to see them cavort. There’s an outdoor aviary too, where buying a few dollars worth of bird seed will allow colorful parrots to land on your children’s hands.

So from elephant sculptures to living winged creatures, you can have a pretty full day. We didn’t do this all in one visit, but we’ve traversed the coast and enjoyed many of these stops over the course of a few weeks. All you have to do is “spy” the fun you’ll find along the Southern California coast.


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Genie Davis is a multi-published fiction author, screen and TV writer, and travel writer. If it was possible, she'd like to spend every day traveling.

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