By Dawn Van Osdell
Emerging from the last wave she rode at the end of a three-month long writing and surfing retreat in Costa Rica in 2011, MeiMei Fox caught a “gorgeous guy” checking her out. “We started talking and never stopped,” she says about her future husband, Kiran Ramchandran, a filmmaker and novelist, who was starting day one of his own retreat. Their creative escapes barely overlapped; they had less than twenty-four hours to get to know each other before Fox had to catch a flight back home to San Francisco.
As it turned out, it was plenty of time. And three years later, Fox uprooted her life in northern California and moved to Los Angeles’s Venice Beach to be with the man she met that day in Costa Rica. Today, they are married and parents to five-month-old twin boys, Taj and Zidan. They’ve found a wonderful place to raise their family and foster their love of active, outdoor living in Topanga, a small community with a creative, bohemian vibe at the heart of the Santa Monica Mountains.
Together and independently, the couple writes, directs, and produces films, television series, and commercials; and have published numerous books. At the moment, Ramchandran is in the midst of writing his next novel, toiling at his laptop from a perch at the local library, and Fox splits her time between writing a column for The Huffington Post, working as a life coach, and taking care of her babies. They set aside their creative endeavors for a few hours in order to share their favorite hikes and activities in Topanga and nearby Malibu, proving that life with kids—even infant twins—doesn’t have to mean the end of an adventurous existence.
What makes Topanga so ideal for a young family?
MeiMei Fox: We lived together in Venice [Beach], which is super hipster and convenient—in minutes we could be out the door and on Abbott Kinney Boulevard, which has everything—but it was very urban. We wanted a calm, peaceful writing retreat—someplace where we could visit civilization rather than the other way around. Topanga is that place. It’s full of bike and hiking trails, and there’s a surf break at the bottom of the hill. There are neighborhood parties where everyone knows each other’s names; and Topanga Days, a big festival with necklace making and tattoos for kids, and a parade with kids in their karate class uniforms, and homemade floats. It’s really safe here.
Kiran Ramchandran: There’s a wonderful rustic-ness to Topanga. It has a fantastic proximity to the woods and to the beach, and a close proximity—yet escape from— the city. It reminds me of where I grew up on Long Island, in New York.
How have you adjusted to life with kids?
MeiMei: My best advice to other new parents, especially older parents like us, is to hire a night nurse. We hired one who helped us sleep train the twins, which made all the difference in the world. Twins are intense! We eventually hired a nanny so I could get back to writing and coaching, and all the other things I need and want to do in addition to being a mom.
Kiran: Being a parent takes up every moment of my time other than working. It has shifted all of my priorities. It has made me more insular—all about the family—at least for this time period. I am just focused on our nuclear existence. It's fun, though. It's cool.
You both wear so many hats, how do you find time to enjoy the outdoor activities you love?MeiMei: We take the babies with us whenever we can—on our own, together, or with the nanny; either with our twin stroller that has really rugged wheels or in Ergo carriers. My go-to line with anyone who wants to visit is “Bring your hiking shoes and I’ll put a baby on you!” I’d say that 90 percent of our guests have come hiking with us. I love hiking and the babies do, too. It has such a calming effect on them, which is especially helpful now that they are teething.
What is it about hiking that appeals to you?
MeiMei: I love getting out and communing with nature. For me, hiking is a walking meditation. I don't talk on the phone. I don't listen to music or podcasts. I just take in the smells of the trees and flowers, the sounds of the birds and the neighborhood dogs barking, the peace and quiet. The boys have the same reaction—it instantly soothes them.
What are your favorite family hiking spots?
MeiMei: We’re lucky that we can get to many trails and a state park without getting in our car. Our favorite nearby hikes are Trippet Ranch and Dead Horse Trail in Topanga State Park. Both are really good with baby carriers. Red Rock Canyon has good fire roads, which are convenient with a stroller. What’s known as “The Labyrinth,” an incredible stone maze right at the top ridge of Topanga in Tuna Canyon Park on the Malibu side, has amazing, 360-degree views of LA. You can see the shape of the LA Bay, and all the way to downtown. We do it with Ergos, but a stroller is possible, too. We also love Summit to Summit Trail. We see a lot of horses on the trails. Horseback riding is really big with kids, once they’re older.
What else do you guys enjoy doing?
MeiMei: We’re all about being outside. Topanga Beach is at the bottom of the hill, just a 10-minute drive. It’s not so great for swimming, but we surf there and it’s a great beach for kids—lots of tide pools to explore, low crowds, restrooms, and a picnic area. We also love going to Santa Monica Beach, an endless stretch of beach for walking or just sitting to listen to the waves. The babies love it as much as we do.
When we’re indoors, we’re living with the doors and windows open! We have dance parties—soon with costumes—and we sing along while Kiran plays the guitar. We also love to read and watch great movies and TV. Oh yeah, I’m also a yogaholic! I used to be a yoga instructor in San Francisco, though I’ve only practiced a few times since the babies were born. I’m trying to get back into it!
Kiran: Topanga is one of the best breaks [for surfing] in all of LA. It’s definitely one of the best point breaks. I've also been getting back into trail running. I can run for an hour and not see another person.
All that fresh air and exercise must make you hungry! Where are your favorite spots to eat in town?
Kiran: Fresh has the best falafel in town. Seriously. Cholada Thai at the foot of the hill on the PCH [Pacific Coast Highway] in Malibu is fresh and delicious, and has an amazing setting right on the beach. And we are totally, insanely in love with the Carmela ice cream sandwiches at the Canyon Gourmet—they are handmade in Pasadena.
When you can squeeze in a date night, where are your favorite spots to enjoy without your boys in tow?
MeiMei: When we get out, we love Shibuya sushi in the Valley. It’s in Calabasas. Our favorite local spot is the Inn of the Seventh Ray, a really romantic place with tiny lights strung outside and organic, locally sourced food. But, honestly, we haven’t had many nights out since the babies arrived. At this stage, nothing trumps sleep!
Photographs by Kyle Monk