California dreaming: SoCal with the kids in tow. Dreaming of endless white sand, crystal clear water and summer temperatures that hover around 85 degrees? Then, Southern California is perfect for you. Family trips in California are flexible because there are so many options depending on ages and interests. It’s so fun to explore each area checking out the cities and theme parks. But for this trip, we wanted to focus on the natural beauty of the California coast from San Diego to Santa Monica, with each scenic day culminating in a luxurious California hotel stay at night.
Our first stop was in Huntington Beach, affectionally named Surf City USA, and with good reason. This town is the mecca of California’s surf culture. Although riding these waves are recommended for experienced surfers, you can book beginner lessons for all ages at any point on the beach. of the best ways we explored the coastline was by renting bikes and going along the 10 miles of paved beach path. We explored the oceanfront by walking all the way to the end of the Huntington Beach Pier, the longest recreational pier on the West Coast. We enjoyed a quintessential California experience by building a beach bonfire for marshmallow roasting and taking in beautiful sunset views. Beach concessionaires make it easier to purchase firewood right at the spot, and most beachfront resorts offer bonfire packages so that you don’t have to stress.
When we needed to slip away from the sand and the waves, we enjoyed our resort’s amenities. Deciding on where to stay was key for us. We wanted a family-sensitive resort that was upscale and sophisticated, the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort & Spa ticked all the boxes. This oceanfront resort gave me the piece of mind that my children would be entertained while giving me the rest I was craving. The resort had everything from dive-in poolside movies, sandcastle building, s’mores roasting, and live music. The highlight for my children was Slyder’s water park where they begged to splash around with newly made friends for hours. On the culinary side, our dine-in experience at the Watertable restaurant was exceptional. Serving only seasonal menus, the food was so delicious that even the kids stopped talking.
The next stop on our coastal trip was Mission Bay, San Diego. San Diego is a city with a distinctive mellow urban feel. With miles and miles of beautiful beaches and loads of attractions, San Diego is one of the top vacation destinations in the state. While Ocean Beach has a funky vibe all its own, with its quirky collection of antique and vintage stores, bars, restaurants, artist studios and eccentric local haunts, Mission Bay is for those looking for relaxation and tranquility. Tucked away on a fourteen-acre peninsula in Mission Bay, we stayed at the Bahia Resort Hotel. With its newly renovated suites, it was the perfect beachside location that allowed us to enjoy its infinite amenities’ as well experience the best of San Diego. The Bahia has every amenity to satisfy even the finickiest of travelers. We explored the bay by alternately renting a sailboat and a power boat, made easy since the boat rentals are located on property. The magical adventurous feeling and the perfect balance between leisure and outdoor sports for every member of my family made our time here memorable. In the evenings, we enjoyed the smooth ride of an evening cruise and movies on the beach.
A high point excursion into the city was the USS Midway San Diego on the Navy Pier, an incredible museum of over 60 carefully restored exhibit areas from the engine room to the flight deck! Walking around to observe the architecture of more than 17 museums in Balboa Park was incredible. The museums focus on everything from dinosaurs to space travel, science to the study of humankind, photographs to old masters, and automobiles to orchids.
Our third stop was at La Jolla, a picturesque suburb of San Diego. With its stunning SoCal coastline, La Jolla has lots of opportunities to go tide pooling, swimming and seal watching. The seals reside on the beach in front of the town center and can be admired just in front of the promenade. It is said that the tree which inspired Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax is planted on the promenade – let your kids decide if it’s the real one. Mine debated over it for hours. Everything inside this small town is walkable, the village streets are lined with plenty of restaurants which is important after a long day at the beach.
If you want to tap into L.A attractions but would prefer to stay on the coast than Santa Monica offers top beaches, a famous boardwalk and amusement park. Santa Monica Pier and surrounding beaches, often used for TV and movie scenes, are a must-see. My kids marveled at muscle beach located on the sand near the pier. Locals show off their skills bouncing on a springy tightrope, rolling across the sand in giant inflatable “hamster balls” and swinging on giant monkey bars. For our “cultural fixes” we took day trips. The Getty Center has something for everyone: art, modern design, unique gardens and incredible L.A views. It has a scavenger hunt for the kids and lots of green space in the gardens for them to get their wiggles out or take a break from all the walking under the shade of a flowered tree. To visit our solar system and galaxy – literally, The Griffith Observatory displays it all in various entertaining and scientific ways. Along with an excellent planetarium (BTW, the Hollywood sign is directly adjacent) we were able to peep at the moon from the huge telescope.
We associate SoCal with beach, sun, Disney and amusements parks and nothing else. For me, it is made up of wonderful landscapes, learning opportunities and great outdoor adventures. Get ready to feed your wanderlust.
Tips for Getting Around in SoCal
Plan around rush hour. In the metro areas the ‘rush hours’ can start before 8 am in the morning and as early as 3 pm or 4 pm in the afternoon so map out your routes accordingly.
Need a break? For nicer toilet facilities-and a higher likelihood of finding changing areas for babies—and wider lunch or snack selections, consider pulling over at a shopping center next to the highway instead of stopping at a fuel station.
Consider the best route. The trip down Highway 1 is the most famous in the state but if you have children who get car sick easily, they might be sensitive to the twists and turns along the coast.
Places to stay in Socal
Luxury resorts + kid-friendly are not two words you often see together but with lengthy research we enjoyed these sophisticated properties:
Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort & Spa (Huntington Beach)
This luxury resort offers its guests unparalleled service, exquisite amenities, and well-appointed spacious accommodations. Picture rich furnishings, marble counters, plush bedding, sweeping views and thoughtful amenities. Perfect for an upscale SoCal experience.
Bahia Resort Hotel (Mission Bay, San Diego)
If you are a family like ours, you are always on the lookout for resorts that have plenty to entertain the kids.
Estancia La Jolla Resort & Spa (La Jolla)
The grounds are absolutely stunning yet it was the impeccable staff who held the door for the children and spoke to them like “little adults” that spoiled my family for life.
Viceroy Santa Monica (Santa Monica)
New edge California elegance at its best… but being near a beach it is also laid back enough for you to feel comfortable toting munchkins along. Take advantage of the free bike rentals so you can cruise on down the boardwalk.