Six months into my maternity leave I caught the travel bug and realized that the timing was ideal to set off on a family adventure. Between my husband and I we have a handful of cousins to visit on the West Coast, which made choosing a destination the easy part. With so many things to do in California, planning the perfect itinerary would prove to be a bit more challenging though.
How do you fit so many beautiful beaches, delicious restaurants and kid-approved attractions into 10 short days? While our trip was over a year ago we’ve spent the last 365 days dreaming of going back. So I’ll live vicariously through you and hope this California round up may inspire you to head west for a truly amazing, family-friendly experience.
Where to stay: Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel
We were lucky enough to have a family member working at this beachside hotel who got us an incredible rate on two gorgeous adjoining rooms (thanks Julie!)
Where to eat:
We travelled beyond the limits of Santa Monica to take in some of LA’s best eats. The Butcher’s Daughter in Venice is a vegetarian mecca with avo toasts, elixir shots and kale caesars galore. While I got to check that one off my bucket list, we took the kids to Au Fudge, Jessica Alba’s eatery. Video games, a play room complete with babysitters and the most kid-friendly of menus, make this restaurant enjoyable for the entire family. My kids were a bit old for the experience though. I’d recommend it for the 3-5 year old set. Other notable mentions include In-N-Out Burger and Jeni’s ice cream.
Where to play:
When we walked outside our hotel we didn’t have to look very far for things to do. In front of us was a gorgeous sandy beach with swings and a spectacular view. To our right, the Santa Monica Pier and picturesque ferris wheel and to our left, the path to Venice Beach. We played the part of tourists and rented a bike with two lazy kids in tow to drive over to muscle beach. Across the gates from the pier we discovered Tongva Park. While I wanted to visit for its highly instagrammable status the kids ended up loving the playground, even in the rain.
Where to stay: The Legoland Hotel, of course!
Since our stay, the hotel has been completely renovated with the addition of Ninjago themed rooms and a castle. When we visited we stayed on the Lego Friends floor. Upon entering the room, complete with big kid bunk bed nook, the kids had a mystery to solve to unlock the safe in our room. An adventure around the hotel searching for clues helped them discover the disco elevator, whoopee cushion made to be jumped on and the giant pit of lego in the lobby. The hotel features activities at night so the kids can remain entertained while mom and dad have dinner or just hang out in the room. Best part of all is that hotel guests get early entry to the park, 1 hour before general admission.
Where to eat:
We weren’t packing lunches on this trip so we hit the park’s restaurants for lunch and snacks. Nothing too fancy or exciting here but..apple cinnamon fries!
Where to play:
There are rides for all ages at Legoland. While just 6 months old, Leo stayed in the stroller most of the day but had just as good a time as the rest of the gang, especially in Miniland USA where various American cities like Las Vegas and New York are recreated in lego. The kids probably had the most fun in Fun Town where they got to ride their own lego cars.
With a bazillion Disney reviews and tips on the internet I’m not going to write up my own. Bottom line, it’s a magical place. What I probably liked best about Disneyland is that it’s completely manageable in one day. There may not be any fast passes to avoid the lines but you ride the teacups and Dumbo is literally right behind you. The walking is probably halfed when compared to Orlando. And the characters are everywhere just waiting to say hi.
Other than that, the churros and rose-raspberry mickey shaped macarons are worth the trip alone…
If we didn’t have family in La Jolla we probably would have skipped this town and stopped 15 minutes further south in San Diego. But I’m so happy we didn’t.
Where to stay: La Jolla Cove and Suites
I can’t think of anything better on vacation than waking up in the morning and being able to see the ocean from your room. At this non-descript hotel, not only did we have the balcony view but we woke up in the mornings to the sound of sea lions laying on the rocks across the street. Our huge room had a bedroom for mom, dad and baby while the big kids slept on a bed in the living room. A full kitchen was super practical and breakfast on the rooftop couldn’t have been any more spectacular.
Where to eat:
The food in La Jolla and San Diego is sooo good! Stop at Bird Rock Coffee Roasters for a latté and plan to stay a while as they have live music and a nook where kids can play. The Taco Stand was so authentic and the line up out the door was a testament to its deliciousness. In San Diego, Café Gratitude was another vegetarian haven and the kids even ate the buckwheat/flax pancakes.
Where to play:
Take in the sights and sounds of La Jolla. From the sea lions basking at the Children’s Pool to the highly instagrammable murals to the caves and the photo-worthy, nearby Scripps pier, this is a place where kids and adults alike can be completely entertained by nature. We skipped the San Diego Zoo (three parks in one trip didn’t seem too fun for mom and dad) and opted instead for an afternoon at The Del Hotel on Coronado Island. We played football on the beach, ate ice cream, watched a giant sand castle being built and spent time with some of our California cousins. It was the perfect ending to an even more perfect trip.
Best mom tip I was ever given. Don’t shlep diapers, snacks and sunscreen along for the trip. Order them online and have them shipped to your hotel so they are waiting for you upon arrival. Just double check with your hotel first that they don’t charge a fee per package received.
I’ve always said travelling with kids isn’t a vacation, it’s a trip. Be prepared to not always see the things you want to see, or be able to look in that boutique without something tugging at your sleeve. But at the end of the day, the memories you make as a family will far outweigh the tantrums, toilet breaks and terrible take-offs.