If you’ve never thought of Southern California as a perfect family getaway, think again! You and yours will be able to enjoy a slew of family-friendly activities you really can’t see anywhere else.
Must See Southern California Attractions for families.
San Diego Zoo
San Diego Zoo Safari Park
Sea World San Diego
La Jolla Shores
Legoland California in Carlsbad
Disneyland California Adventure
If you’re committed to having a great time and are staying for at least 7 days buy your family’s tickets for all these things with CityPASS.
Seriously, it’s an amazing deal when you consider how much Disneyland is alone!
Day 1: San Diego Zoo & Balboa Park
Fly into San Diego Airport and start your day at Balboa Park and the San Diego Zoo. The Zoo is about 15 minutes from the airport and if you arrive after 10am but before 2pm you’ll miss traffic. If you’re an early bird prepare for the 7am-9am gridlock traffic on weekdays.
Balboa Park alone has enough to fill a week or two vacation. With 13 museums and gardens you can definitely add one or two into your first day after the zoo. The park itself is open 24 hours, but hours vary by attraction so plan ahead if you want to stop somewhere in the park before leaving this area for the day. Check out the San Diego Air and Space Museum, theNAT( Natural History Museum), or the Museum of Art.
Day 2: Sea World San Diego
Get an early start for your Sea World Adventure day to find a good parking spot in the vast Sea World lot. They do serve Starbucks in the park at Seaside Coffee and Bakery so you can literally roll out of bed and just show up. Check out the park map for attractions, shops and food. In order to cover the park in a day with out too much back and forth we suggest you turn right at the entrance ( after grabbing your coffee of course). A leisurely morning through Island Traders will be sure to get you going just in time to see the Arctic. This path will bring you to the coasters and food around lunchtime, and you can top your day off with shows and dining with Shamu. Kids will eat free and you’ll help support local farmers with this farm-to-table experience. Advance reservations are recommended.
You can book a hotel in San Diego or head out this evening to La Jolla so you be there early to see the sunrise on the beach. Check our Travelodge LaJolla if you choose the second option. It’s a short walk to the beach with a cute breakfast shop, Cafe Vahik, next door.
Day 2: La Jolla Shores
La Jolla can offer you shopping, the Sugar and Scribe Bakery and sea lions. You can find the sea lions at the cove on Coast Blvd. and Jenner. A one mile stretch of beach, this area is also home to some exclusive shopping on Girard and Prospect Avenue. Connected by La Jolla Blvd, be prepared to find somewhere to park on the street. As always it’s best to arrive early to get a spot. The National Geographic gallery is a great place to be inspired and you can check out kayaking in the sea caves or just find some gelato and take a stroll.
Stay in La Jolla this evening and enjoy an amazing dinner at Whisknladle or Herringbone or if you’re up for something more low-key for the kiddies try the Burger Lounge, all on Herschel Ave.
Day 3: Escondido & Safari Park
Today you head to Escondido, home to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park for rides in the open-air tram through huge naturalized enclosures. Here you’ll see roaming giraffes, zebras, rhinos, and other animals found on the African Savannah.
Escondido and Carlsbad are neighbors so you can check in at a nearby hotel and stay central to both Safari Park today and Legoland tomorrow.
Day 4: Carlsbad & Legoland California
Stopping in Carlsbad before heading to Legoland is ideal for some early morning strolls and checking out this small beach town. Just park your car and walk.
At Legoland you’ll get to see a lot of things made with legos, experience rides and the new Ninjago land. They even have an aquarium. Legoland is a bonafied theme park and will take the whole day. Park closes at 8pm during the summer months, but closes closer to 5 or 6 pm the rest of the year.
Today you can leave Carlsbad after dinner ( being careful to avoid rush hour which lasts up to 7:30pm in some places) for an hour drive north to get an early start on your next destination. Head over to Anaheim to book a stay in one of three Disneyland Resort Hotels. Disney Grand Californian is of course the favorite, but Disneyland Hotel is a close runner up. Staying on-site lets you enter the parks one hour early with Magic Morning hours and is the best way to maximize your last few days in California. Note: If taking advantage of CityPass you’ll be paying for only the hotel at Disneyland. Of course you can also stay off-site if you’re on a budget. There are quite a few great hotels only a 15 minute walk away from the park entrance and you get the perk of magic mornings with your CityPass just like you would if you stayed at the resort.
Day 5: Disneyland Park
Today is Disneyland Park. Grab an early breakfast at your hotel or a later breakfast inside the park, but reserve those early hours for rides. Start in Fantasyland. With the extra magic hour you can ride the busier rides like Peter Pan’s Flight, Alice in Wonderland and the Storybook Land Canal Boats- so beautiful in the morning!
Tomorrowland should be your second stop. FastPass Hyperspace Mountain and get in a few Star Wars character meet n greets.
For a treat, head over to Jolly Holiday Bakery on Main Street. By now the crowds will be pouring in and its a good idea to frequent those less crowded rides in Fantasyland. Then it’s off to New Orleans Square for Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion and some lunch.
If you were lucky enough to snag afternoon FastPasses for Indiana Jones, Star Tours or Space Mountain, you can use them while the lines are long. Its also a great time to check out the Mark Twain River Boat and the Sleeping Beauty Castle walk-through since the main attractions get crowded late afternoon. Check out the Plaza Inn for dinner before heading to the night ride attractions.You can snag some last minute fun on Splash Mountain, Jungle Cruise and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad before heading over to Paint the Night, Fantasmic and Fireworks.
This is a full day and you will be exhausted yet grateful you have close hotel. If you have a park hopper ticket either through the resort or CityPass you can catch what you missed on Day 7.
Day 6: Disneyland California Adventure
Today is another early Magic Hours day. Take advantage of it by heading first to the Radiator Springs Racers.These are such a hot commodity, our fave Disney blogger Tom Bricker suggests grabbing a FastPass for these right after you take this initial morning ride- because you will want to go again. Paradise Pier is your next step where you’ll get to experience Soarin’, Toy Story Midway Mania, and California Screamin’.
Fastpasses today should be for Grizzly River Run, World of Color’s late showing and Soarin’.
Before lunch check out Ariel’s Underwater Sea Adventure and Monsters Inc. While still on Paradise Pier you can grab healthy food at Paradise Garden Grill or stop by Boardwalk Pizza and Pasta if you need the carbs.
Note: This is not a dry park! Some, if not many, grownups may be working off a buzz. Heimlich’s Chew Chew Train, Silly Symphony Swings and Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree are good afternoon bets that are o.k. with out a FastPass.
Snacks are plentiful in this park, so get in as many as you can before heading back to Cars Land for your second go around on Racers and dinner. Carthay Circle Restaurant is the restaurant of choice here and highly recommended! You’ll find things like tangerine-ginger chicken, blue crab lettuce cups and dark chocolate cherry upside-down cake.
Head out of the park down Buena Vista Street for beautiful night lighting, shops and last minute snacks before heading back to your hotel.
Day 7: Last Day at Disney
Get all packed up and head over to Downtown Disney, or with the Park Hopper you can re-visit either (or both) parks. The Downtown Disney District has free parking, shops and lots of dining- so choose what’s best for you and the family this last day. You can also hail the Disneyland Resort Express back to the airport if you had made previous plans for your rental car. This last day is dependent entirely on when your flight leaves.
Fly out of the Santa Ana/ John Wayne Airport near Anaheim. If you are trying to dodge the “drop your rental car off at another location” bullet, you can also always drive back to San Diego and fly out of there. It’s a little over a two hour drive.
That’s your 7-day Itinerary! Hope you find it helpful in planning your next vacation.