Southern California Vacation help

My wife and I are taking our 4 kids to California next month for the first time and we were looking for recommendations on where to go/what to see, etc.

Here’s the info:

We’ll likely be renting a house somewhere between Los Angeles and San Diego (like Oceanside or San Clemente), or splitting our time between the cities. We’re flexible enough on location, so we’re waiting for last-minute booking deals.
We’re there from Apr 20th through the 30th.
Kids are Aged 12 and 10 (girls) and 8 and 6 (boys)
We will have a minivan (that’s probably obvious).
Last year we did Disney in Orlando, so we’re not planning on hitting Disneyland - is it different enough from the Florida park that that would be a mistake?

Currently on the to-do list:
[li]San Diego Zoo (also, perhaps, the Safari Park)[/li][li]Legoland (unsurprisingly, both boys are legomaniacs)[/li][li]Whale Watching cruise in SD[/li][li]La Brea Tar Pits[/li][li]Grauman’s Chinese Theater/Walk of Fame[/li][li]Padres game at Petco Park[/li][li]A few days of beach time[/li][li]See the seals at Children’s Pool beach in La Jolla[/li][li]We’ve heard interesting things about the Anza Borrego Desert state park - worth the trip?[/li][/ul]

So, what say you all?
What are we missing that is not to be missed? We’re trying to focus on family-oriented stuff that we can’t do back home (New Hampshire) without overwhelming the kids too much (we realize that we can’t do everything, but it’s nice to have a list of options).

The missus is concerned that it won’t be beach weather in late April (I’m thinking the ocean temp in SD will be tolerable for the kids, but any first hand accounts from residents would be very much appreciated!)

Is the traffic as much of a nightmare as everyone says? Compared to Boston traffic?

Well I think your kids could stick their feet in the water but it’s too cold to swim in it without a wetsuit. But you can rent those as well. I don’t know some kids don’t care so there is that. Try to take a surf lesson The water is really swimsuit warm in July & Aug. But the beach with the sun out is hot and pleasant. There is also seaworld - the dolphin interaction program is fun to do as a family.

There’s Knott’s Berry Farm amusement part in Buena Park, which is on the LA County/Orange County border. Roller coasters, Peanuts characters, etc. They also have a huge jam/jelly shop that sells about a million different flavors.

If you and your wife have Costco memberships, map out the closest Costco on your way to the San Diego Zoo and stop by to get some cheap(er) tickets for the family. I don’t know the exact discount that they have nowadays, but I remember it used to be a good $5-8 off per adult ticket. They should also have Legoland and Sea World tickets at a reduced price as well. Give the local Costco a call beforehand to make sure they have it in stock since their stock tends to vary.

San Diego also has some of the best Mexican food in the country, but I’m sure somebody much more knowledgeable than me can tell you what’s good there.

As for Los Angeles, since you’ll be staying in Oceanside or San Clemente, make sure that you wake up early on the days that you’re heading to LA, otherwise you’ll end up stuck on the 5 North during rush hour (6:30am-9:30am) and waste half a day in traffic. Google gives a very optimistic 1 hour 20 minutes for San Clemente to the LA Brea Tar Pits, but in reality, depending on traffic, it might be more like 2-3 hours. The drive will probably be most bearable during the weekends.

Near the Tar Pits is Fairfax Ave, but most of the places are geared more towards couples as opposed to large families. Little Ethiopia is nearby though, and also on Fairfax. It consists of a street with several restaurants, most of which are pretty good. About half of them are vegetarian, but the one I used to frequent the most, Messob, was not.

Griffith Observatory is pretty neat and offers a nice view of LA, especially around sunset.

If you don’t mind driving even further north, there’s also the Getty (free admission, pay for parking) if the kids don’t mind looking at art. Near the Getty is the Skirball Cultural Center, which is a Jewish Cultural Center which has an exhibit called Noah’s Ark. It’s basically a lot of interactive animal art made with re-purposed objects. It’s made with kids in mind although I think the younger kids will enjoy it more.

Knotts Berry Farm will be marginally closer to Oceanside/San Clemente and it has faster rides than Disneyland and is geared towards a slightly older audience, although most of them should be tame enough for your boys. If you do go, try their fried chicken dinner and boysenberry jam. The fried chicken came before the amusement park and it was so popular and the lines were so long that the Knotts’ decided to start an amusement park to entertain the poor souls that were waiting for hours to try some of Mrs. Knott’s fried chicken.

If fried chicken doesn’t strike your fancy, there’s also lots of Vietnamese food in the area once you head South to the Garden Grove and Westminster area. Try out some pho or bahn mi with some Thai iced tea.

Of course, if there’s a Nixon fan in the family, you could always check out the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda. :wink:

I live in San Diego, and spent all morning sleeping and reading on the beach. The weather’s great.

Thanks folks! I love getting other folks points of view.

Sounds like it will make more sense for us to do the first 3 days in LA, and then get a weekly beach rental closer to San Diego. I know I don’t want to sit in traffic for 3 hours on my vacation if I can possibly avoid it!

I’ll have to look into the dolphin interaction program at Sea World as well - it seems like something the kids would love.

Sounds like we might want to try to land at a resort with a heated pool - we all love to swim, and if the ocean temperature will be too cold to enjoy we could hit the beach for sand castles and boogie boarding with wet suits, and then hit the pool to relax. Although, keep in mind we’ve been fine in the water at Ogunquit, Maine in late June which is usually high 50s/low 60s :). Or maybe we should focus on the bay side of Mission Beach? I assume the water is warmer there (but no waves, right?).

I’ve heard that Knott’s Berry farm is kind of skippable unless you love roller coasters. I have 2 adventurous kids who would go for the coasters, and 2 kids (and a wife) who would never go on them. I like them well enough, but I’m not a fanatic.

The Skirball Cultural Center sounds really interesting, too - I’ll have to check it out.

No Costco membership here, but we can get the AAA discount, and we are looking at the GoSanDiego cards as well, which ends up being a good deal if you can plan it well.

The tidal pools in Laguna Beach or La Jolla might be more interesting than the usual wide sandy beach.

You do realize that Hollywood Boulevard isn’t the way it appears in movies, don’t you? The place is Wierdo Central, and your kids will see things you might not want them to see. Unless transvestite hookers and drugged-up street performers are your goal.

Knott’s is a better choice for entertainment of the theme park variety. There is more there than just the coasters. You can also head further north and check out Universal City.

Sit on the third base side at Petco. The food is better and you are out of the sun.

I travel to Southern Cal once a year or so to visit relatives, and I’m not sure I can add much to what’s been said. So I’ll second the Getty museum, and my family and I love Laguna Beach and Dana Point.

We pretty much avoid a lot of the touristy stuff, although we’ve been to Disneyland and Universal. Stuff like that is worth going to once. But as often as I visit there, I just enjoy the scenery, and if I’m sightseeing, a drive through Hollywood, Beverly Hills and Bel Air isn’t bad.

Although as has been mentioned, H’wood isn’t known as Hollyweird for nothing. But to me, it’s fun to see sights like the Capitol Records building, and the Walk of Fame, even if a lot of people are skankier there than say, Rodeo Drive.

Driving on Mulholland Drive and seeing the Valley is pretty nice, and there’s lots to see and do in San Diego, like visiting the Hotel Del Coronado. But me? I just enjoy driving along the PCH because I live so far inland, I don’t get to see the ocean nearly as often as I’d like. As I said, I usually stay away from touristy things and enjoy seeing the ocean.

Oh, and we did take a whale watching cruise from Newport Beach a couple of years ago. I don’t think that’s been mentioned.

The Pits are great, but plan on them only taking an hour or two of your day. They are right next to the LA County Museum of Art and the Petersen Auto Museum, which are worth a look if you are in a museum mood.

Griffith Observatory is one of the handful of do not miss attractions in Los Angeles. Go there, it’s great. It’s far from the Tar Pit’s though, so do that on a different day.

The Getty is also a great stop, but only you know how into art museums your kids will be. It also has some amazing views of LA, and is near to UCLA if you are into checking out college campuses.

Personally I would drive up to Malibu and see the Getty Villa on the way to Zuma Beach or Point Dume (my favorite beach in the area. Where I got married)

I see you want to go the the walk of fame and the Chinese Theater and all that. I am not going to tell you not to, but I will say don’t waste a lot of time on it. It’s fine, but it’s very much a tourist trap and sort of out of the way from other good touristy areas.

Instead, go to this website for the LA conservancy and book a walking tour, and see if your trip coincides with one of the Last Remaining Seats screenings. Those are movies that get shown in old time movie palaces. It will give you the *real *experience that you are looking for of connecting to old Hollywood. I can not recommend this more highly.

Let me find some of the old threads with other suggestions I have given in the past and I will post more.

It’s a great desert park, but if you’re not into deserts, you could probably skip it. There’s a lot of nothin’ out there, but that’s why some people love it . You’d need a full day to make the trip out and spend any time out there. The visitor center at Borrego Springs is pretty cool, and there are some neat metal scupltures scattered around the Galleta Meadows area. At the south end of the park you can hop in the small pool or the giant hot tub at Agua Caliente County Park. If you take I-8, you can stop in at the Desert View Tower on the crest of the Laguna Mountains. On a clear day you can see the Salton Sea shimmering in the distance.

Links to other good threads on Los Angeles and Southern California, and a couple of posts that I wrote up in the past. Some of these threads are oldish, so not everything suggested is still possible (like the Silent Movie Theater which is, sadly, mostly out of business.)

If you are like me you can never have too many options. There are also suggestions on great places to eat while you are in LA.

I’ve been trying to talk the wife into a visit to the Griffith Observatory (or Palomar) - these posts might help, so thanks!!

Looks like we should maybe re-think the Walk of Fame and Chinese theater - they just seemed really iconic, like one of the things you really have to do if you go to LA. Also, we’d be visiting in the middle of the day, not later a night (I would think the freak-to-average person ratio would fall during the day, but I could easily be wrong). We were thinking of doing one of the guided walking tours actually - maybe it’s better in a large group, or maybe that’s just a waste of money…

I was curious about Anza Borrego because when we went to Vegas a couple of years ago, the kids LOVED both hiking in Red Rock and visiting the Springs Preserve and it seemed like a similar sort of excursion.

NAF1138 - didn’t see your reply before I posted this - now I have some lunchtime reading! :slight_smile:

A few thoughts:

(1) No Seaworld?

(2) I would probably hit the zoo over the wild animal park (now zoo safari park). That said, the zoo safari park is a good time. The same day you do the zoo, there are tons of things to see in Balboa Park as well (natural history museum, air and space museum, etc). Just to clarify: the zoo is inside Balboa Park. If you go down on a Sunday (mid-day) you could watch some of a free concert at Spreckels Organ. I doubt the kids would be interested long, but it is neat to see one of the world’s largest outdoor pipe organs in action.

(3) After or before seeing the seals at Children’s Pool, I would recommend going over to La Jolla Shores. It’s a really nice beach. And you could look into renting kayaks (I think they have a double that one of you could go with the 6-year-old). You can kayak over to a series of caves and you typically see seals then. Just an idea. Here’s a sample link.

(4) Another idea? Tour the Midway.

(5) Finally, just a word of caution: IME, Oceanside can be a little spotty. Some neighborhoods are nice. Some neighborhoods are not so nice. I would just be careful about taking the cheapest rental that you find (if you decide to rent there).

And since I do have LA experience: go to the Griffith Observatory. And the Getty is amazing (again depending on if the kids like art). You could take the wife for some window shopping on Rodeo Drive. I would go to Hollyweird personally. Let the kids see it and make up their minds about it. At least then they can watch shows set in Hollywood and say “it’s not like that at all! It’s kind of gross!” :slight_smile:

Finally, if you are going to drive north to Malibu (which would be cool), I would keep driving north to the County Line. For one, the drive is amazing. For two, “County Line” is a great surf spot, and if the surf is good, you will see some fun stuff. For three, you can eat at Neptune’s Net. And I agree with the earlier poster that Zuma is a great beach. I would also stop and let the kids take a look at Surfrider (don’t do surf lessons there though - waaaaaay too many people).

I wouldn’t worry too much about Hollywood. They have cleaned it up a lot in the last few years, and you might feel like you missed out on something if you skip the walk of fame and all that. It’s just probably going to be a bit disappointing. The area is heavy with tourists during the day, and like I said, it’s sort of out of the way from a lot of the other good stuff and right in the middle of a terrible traffic area.

If you do want to go there, I can tell you that the Wax Museum is cheesey but fun, and that the Ripley’s believe it or not museum and the Guiness Book of World Records museum are total rip offs. See if you can schedule a tour of the El Capitan or Egyptian movie theatres which are also near by. Skooby’s Hot Dogs is just down the street and is great. The Hollywood and Highland mall is just a mall, nothing special and a bit on the overpriced side, but is probably a good place to do some shopping if that is your thing.

The Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach is cool and is a likely winner for kids.

Warner Bros. studio offers tours, where you see TV and movie sets, and maybe a little actual filming. These are purely tours, though, without rides like Universal Studio. At 8 and 6, your youngest may be a little too young to find it interesting.

On the food end, if you want some good Japanese food and don’t want to trek over to Little Tokyo (which is owned mostly by Korean-Americans now) or Torrance, visit Sawtelle Blvd in West LA. There’s a Japanese market, some pop art galleries and lots of restaurants. There’s a FuRaiBo there, which is a good Izakaya (or Japanese Pub) with amazing hot wings. Plus, there’s often food carts there at night for more variety.

In-N-Out! I think they have them all along the 5 freeway. Get them animal style with well-done fries if you don’t like soggy fries.

The Santa Monica farmer’s market is also worth checking out. Their Wednesday market is the biggest, but the Saturday and Sunday market are also fun. The weekend markets have more prepared food, but the Wednesday market is bigger and frequented by more chefs. Lots of people watching and close to the pier.

Oh yes. Must hit In-N-Out for the California experience. Here’s a recent article about their secret menu. (In which I learned about the Root Beer Float. Which I changed to a Coke Float and ordered last week. Just awesome.)

Good move. My Dad lives in Oceanside, in a nice little community near the golf course, but the place is deadening, and not close to anything interesting.

Sea World should be a definite stop. They have a nice penguin exhibit also.

We have friends who love not far from the Getty Museum, and we went there this past June, and we loved it. But I’m not sure about a six-year old.
The only major thing Disneyland has over Disneyworld is California Adventure, which hasn’t done a lot for me. I think there is a Universal Studios park in LA; I’ve only been to the one in Orlando, but rather liked it.

The San Diego Zoo is a great zoo, but it is a zoo. We went to the Wild Animal Park last year, and it has a lot to offer, since you see the animals in something resembling their natural habitat. It is quite a drive, though, but I think worth it. In Balboa Park I especially like the Air and Space Museum, but there are a lot of others. You might be interested in going to Old Town San Diego, with a lot of Mexican food.