The Independent parent: your questions answered

Where in the US can my two sons enjoy the BMX games; and where's best for a short break in rural Scotland?


Q Two of my sons, aged 12 and 14, love riding BMX bikes and would like to visit the US for the summer X Games this year. Can you confirm the venue and dates and suggest cheap travel/accommodation options please (camping considered)?


D Stuart, via e-mail

Q Two of my sons, aged 12 and 14, love riding BMX bikes and would like to visit the US for the summer X Games this year. Can you confirm the venue and dates and suggest cheap travel/accommodation options please (camping considered)?
D Stuart, via e-mail

A For the past eight years, X Games, which bills itself as "the original and definitive multi-day action sports competition", has paraded a succession of pirouetting BMX bikes, airborne skateboarders, muddy motorcycles and inline skaters before legions of cheering fans.

The first games were held in Rhode Island in 1995 and since then the event has been staged in a variety of locations, including San Diego, San Francisco and most recently, Philadelphia. Last year the games attracted more than 200,000 people. The ninth games, X Games IX, will see the games returning to California, with Los Angeles playing host from 14 to 18 August. However, many of the arrangements for the games – including the schedule, times and visitor information and information lines – have not been finalised. Keep an eye on www.expn.com for updates.

Action sports command a huge following among American children, and the organisers say the event is aimed squarely at a family audience. But it's not all stunts and feats of derring-do – there are also real games, with more than 300 competitors vying for prizes in a variety of categories. Entrance to the games is free and capacity crowds are expected, so be prepared to queue to get good seats.

The actual games consist of a mixture of indoor and outdoor events. The main focus of this year's action is the new Staples Center in downtown LA at 1111 South Figueroa Street (001 877 305 111, www.staplescenter.com). This indoor arena, normally home to the LA Lakers basketball team, will be accommodating bike stunts, moto cross, skateboarding, inline skating and speed climb competitions. The nearby outdoor stadium, the Los Angeles Coliseum, 3911 South Figueroa Street (001 213 748 6131, www.lacoliseum.com), will host the Motor X Freestyle event (the date has yet to be confirmed).

At present you can fly to California for peanuts, but by August you must expect to pay peak airfares. The cheapest option will probably be to book your flights through a discount travel agent such as Bridge the World (020-7911 0900, www.bridgetheworld.com). It is currently quoting return fares from Heathrow direct to Los Angeles with British Airways for £610 per adult (both your sons qualify for adult fares), although, when I checked, return dates in the second to last week of August were filling up fast.

Los Angeles has been designed with the car in mind, and getting around will probably mean renting one. Hertz (08705 996 699, www.hertz.co.uk) is offering family-sized cars in California for $443 (£277) per week in August.

Camping would certainly help keep costs down. One possibility is to head for a national park. The Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (001 805 370 2300, www.nps.gov) has several campsites that you could consider. One of these, the Circle X Group camp ground, costs around $2 (£1.25) per person per night to pitch your tent. Located west of Griffith Park in the north-west of downtown LA, these campsites are a short drive from the city sprawl. Alternatively, a company called Reserve America (001 800 444 7275, www.reserveamerica.com) can arrange reservations at most of LA's campsites and will source alternatives if your chosen campsite is full. According to Reserve America, you should expect to pay approximately $12 (£7.50) per night per site (for up to eight people and two vehicles). One option within striking distance of LA is the Doheny State Beach Campground, Dana Point (001 949 496 6171), which is approximately 50 miles south of Downtown LA.

If you would prefer it all arranged for you, Travelbag (0870 890 1459, www.travelbag.co.uk) is offering a seven-night holiday costing £731 for each of you departing on 11 August and based on you all sharing a room. This includes return flights with Air New Zealand from London Heathrow to Los Angeles, accommodation at the Furama Hotel (001 800 225 8126, www.furamalax.com), and car hire for the duration of your stay. The hotel is close to the Santa Monica beaches and it's about a 20-minute drive to the X-Games in downtown LA.

If the thrills and spills of X-Games appeal to your sons, they will probably also enjoy a visit to Universal Studios in Hollywood (001 818 508 9600, www.universalstudios.com). Daily tours run from 10am-6pm and cost $47 (£28) per person (aged 10 upwards). There are various interactive and theme park-like rides, and the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park make an appearance.

For further information about visiting LA contact the Los Angeles Convention and Visitors Bureau on 020-7318 9555 or visit www.visitlanow.com.

Q We haven't travelled much since the birth of our daughter two years ago. However, we are considering a short break in Scotland in the next few months. Our only criteria are a hotel in a picturesque location, good food and some diversions for our daughter if we would like a break for a few hours.
M Watson, Birmingham

A There are many family-run hotels and guesthouses in rural Scotland that welcome young families and cater for children of all ages. A good place to start is The Scottish Tourist board (01463 716996, www.visitscotland.com), which can provide information and recommend hotels to meet your specific needs.

One hotel that might suit is Old Pines (01397 712324, www.oldpines.co.uk), an atmospheric and friendly family-run hotel, nine miles north of Fort William in Spean Bridge. The hotel is perfectly placed for exploring the Highlands and boasts spectacular views of the Great Glen and Glen Spean as well as Aonach Mor and Ben Nevis. The Old Pines prides itself on its home-away-from-home atmosphere, and the owners, the Barbers and their family, are happy to help out with babysitting.

Without doubt a highlight of a stay at the Old Pines will be the food. Its restaurant, which uses locally sourced produce, has earned it many awards and accolades including the "Good Food Guide Award-Restaurant of the Year" for 2000. Children are also encouraged to enjoy a special high tea with the owner's children before being entertained in the playroom with games, puzzles and toys while you enjoy your meal. During the day there are guinea pigs and a Wendy House out in the garden.

Two nights dinner, bed and breakfast will cost £85 per night per adult based on two sharing. Children stay for an extra £33 per night with either a bed or a cot in their parents' room. If you stay for three nights the rate is reduced to £80 per person per night.

Alternatively, towards Inverness is the charming Polmaily House Hotel (01456 450343, www.polmaily.co.uk), surrounded by extensive grounds and with dramatic views of the magnificent slopes of Glen Urquhart and Loch Ness.

The hotel offers lots of daytime activities for both children and adults; there are ponies and pets in the grounds for children to help feed, plus an indoor pool, tennis courts, rowing boats on the pond and numerous organised events.

Informal crèche facilities and children's activities are available throughout the day. In the evening, children can savour the locally grown produce before joining a range of supervised activities (or be tucked up in bed), allowing their parents to relax over dinner.

Two nights' accommodation, which includes a Scottish breakfast, afternoon tea and dinner, will cost £75 per adult per night, based on two sharing. Your daughter can stay for an additional £52 for two nights, or, if you elect to stay for three nights, she can stay free of charge.

Send your family travel questions to SF Robinson, The Independent Parent, Travel Desk, The Independent, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS. Or e-mail crusoe@independent.co.uk

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