California, you have my heart.
On our drive home from our recent family vacation, I listened as my husband whistled to the tune of California Girls by The Beach Boys. Smiling, I realized there was only one thing wrong with the song; “girls” needed to be substituted with “vacations”.
I wish they all could be California vacations.
This is usually the part where I gush about my amazing getaway. However, if you follow me on Instagram or Twitter, you already know that we had an incredible time – especially the boys, who took the lead in helping us decide where to go and what to do. In fact, including them in the planning process for a trip to Southern California – an authentically kid-friendly destination – made it a vacation we won’t soon forget. And today, I’m here to show you how you can duplicate our efforts with a play-by-play of our entire itinerary.
Welcome to Kidifornia.
First, let’s go over the logistics of the trip: time of year to travel, flight options and length of stay. The great news is that there’s no bad time to visit California, but there are better times to plan your trip depending on your vacation “must haves”. If hitting the beach is high on your priority list, you’ll want to visit from May to October when the waters are more favourable for swimming. If your kids are set on visiting amusement parks like Disneyland, Legoland and/or Universal Studios Hollywood, September to November and January to May (aside from holiday weekends and spring break) are your best bets as crowds will thin with children in school. And for those who love to pound the pavement and spend the day sightseeing, January through March is an ideal time to indulge in a little shopping and take in a film festival or two; the weather is pleasant and it’s a great way to escape our Canadian winter.
This is just a guideline, of course – the weather in Southern California is pretty close to perfect year round (only about 35 days of rainfall annually!) so you’ll always be able to look forward to warm temps and sunny skies for the majority of your trip.
On to flights. For our recent trip, we flew into San Diego and flew out of Los Angeles, and I found return airfare for $384 per person from Toronto. Seriously! That’s less expensive than round trips to most Canadian destinations! There are several direct flights throughout the day (travel time ~5 hours), making Southern California both an affordable and convenient option for your next family vacation. Just keep in mind the following –
With a 3-hour time change for vacationers from the east coast, sneaking some activities into the first day can be appealing – especially when your 8 AM flight lands at 10 AM local time. However, when jetlag kicks in, particularly for the kiddos, it can be hard. We began our day at the airport at 4:30 AM EST, so by 6:00 PM PST, the boys could hardly keep their eyes open. On your first day of vacation, plan to be back at your hotel by 5:00 PM for an early dinner and the opportunity to ease into slumber. If the kids can make it to 7 PM, perfect! If not, don’t fight it – let them sleep. They’ll be up at 6 AM the next day and ready to face another day of fun!
Finally, how much time should you spend in California? I think my title says it all – one week is an ideal length of stay. You’ll be able to conquer a myriad of attractions and still feel like you had some down time. So, without further ado, here’s your sample itinerary:
DAY 1: Morning direct flight into San Diego (SAN). Take it easy on travel days; don’t feel pressured to schedule an activity. Instead, pick up your car rental, check into a gorgeous resort on the beach, and spend the afternoon exploring Balboa Park or pop into the Gaslamp Quarter for some early evening entertainment.
DAY 2: Visit the San Diego Zoo.
DAY 3: Drive north to Carlsbad and spend the morning at Legoland California. After your day at the park, continue north to Huntington Beach, where you can enjoy a family bike ride on the beach and a bonfire after sunset.
DAY 4: Down time! Spend a day at the beach, explore Huntington Harbour with a duffy boat rental or make a splash at Slyder’s Water Playground. Finish your perfect day with dinner and drinks at Ola Mexican Kitchen.
DAY 5: A most magical day at Disneyland! Prepare to be at the park from open to close to make the most of your day, and consider a park hopper so you can experience both Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure. Drive into Santa Monica in the evening; splurge on luxury accommodations.
DAY 6: Explore Santa Monica. Visit the Santa Monica Pier and stretch out on the beach for some down time. Take a tour of Malibu celebrity homes aboard an infamous Starline double-decker bus. Play tourist in Beverly Hills (but hide your credit card). Enjoy a Mediterranean meal at a local hot spot.
DAY 7: Go behind the scenes at Universal Studios Hollywood. Thrill seekers and movie buffs unite! A fun-filled day that everyone in the family will enjoy.
DAY 8: All good things must come to an end. Return car rental (allowing at least 45 minutes to get from car rental center to LAX terminal) and fly home. Huddle together with your children and plan your next vacation to kidifornia.
Stay tuned, friends. Coming up, I’ll share a day-by-day play-by-play for each destination, with highlights of what the kids loved and what we can’t wait to experience again. In the meantime, if you’re ready to start planning your vacation, Visit California offers inspiration, insights and itineraries capturing the richness and abundance of the Golden State. (Sign up for their newsletter for exclusive offers, content, and more!)
This post is sponsored by Visit California. The opinions on this blog, as always, are my own.