Advice about Visiting Southern California

Parent Reviews

I think with young kids on a week-long trip it's nice to be near a body of water, but in Northern California it's cold in April!  Santa Barbara is nice, San Diego has LOTS to do, and of course LA has endless entertainment options such Disneyland.  Driving to Southern California is not so bad, depending where you're headed. You could even turn it into a 2-day drive and stay overnight someplace on the Central Coast. The kids might enjoy staying in a cave room at the Madonna Inn near San Luis Obispo!  Monterey Aquarium is really great for little ones too (but only for a day), and there are a ton of elephant seals to look at near San Simeon,though unless you're touring Hearst Castle, not great for little kids, there is not much there. 

For a getaway a bit closer, I like Sea Ranch, which is 2-3 hours drive north in Sonoma County on Highway 1.  You can rent a nice house with a view of the ocean, or not, if you're on a budget! There is a variety of sizes and costs, and all the houses are very nice, many with hot tubs and fireplaces, and they are spaced far apart with trees around them so you don't feel like you're in suburbs-by-the-sea. There is a large playground for the kiddies, lots of easy flat walking trails through the cedar trees and along the coast where you can see seals, a couple of walk-on beaches with hardly any other people on them, and some swimming pools you can use.  It's very relaxing,  and we go up there at least once a year. Food-wise, you are better off cooking most meals at your house.  There is a restaurant in the Sea Ranch lodge for lunch and dinner, but it's a little pricey and more adult-oriented. Up the road about 10 minutes in Gualala there are various restaurants, take-out pizza and Mexican, and my favorite, Surf Market, which has a great deli as well as produce and meat and seafood that make you want to cook. 

Archived Q&A and Reviews



So. Cal beach town near Disneyland

March 2014

We love Carlsbad and enjoyed boogey boarding, surfing etc..there.We are going to Disneyland this summer and would like to find a sleepy, beach town in the LA area where we can replicate the Carlsbad experience for a few days. Would love some recommendations. beach

Seal beach is a lovely little sleepy beach town Also Dana point and San Clemente Beach goer

Try Newport Beach. The beach goes on forever. Plus you can do small-town things like the Balboa Island carnival-type atmosphere (skeeball, for example). It's 20 min from DL. I took my daughter there once to wind down in the peace and quiet of the sand and waves, after the noise and over-stimulation of DL. Very nice.

Vacation options on California coast

Feb 2009

We are looking for a good location to rent a large house that can accomodate our extended family (i.e. grandparents, parents & grandchildren) for about a week in the fall. Family will be coming out from Chicago and they are interested in somewhere warm on the California coast, where everyone can swim, and there are enough activities for all (kids are ages 2 - 6). We have considered either Santa Barbara or Santa Monica. Looking for any input about these options, or other ideas?

If they really want sun, farther south might be better, though S Barb is usually pretty good. It's a little quieter than Santa Monica, though more driving for the out of towners. You might also think about Newport Beach. Quintessential beach, miles of it,plenty of restaurants, some condos available, warm, etc.

Kid-friendly beaches in So Cal

June 2007

We'll be driving between Escondido and LA and were thinking of stopping by one of the beaches in between to let our 6-yr-old daughter play. But we're not sure quite where along the way to make the stop?? There are a lot of beaches in the stretch between Capistrano and Santa Monica/Malibu, but we don't know how to research or compare them . . . Anyone have any recommendations for clean, kid-friendly beaches, maybe somewhat protected so the waves aren't too fierce, and (this may be difficult in peak summer months, I know) ideally not really crowded? Looking for the ideal family beach . . .

We stopped at Solana Beach (south of LA) last year and it was pretty nice. I don't know about swimming there (there were a lot of surfers, but no one just frolicking in the waves per se, though it was April so still pretty cold), but it was fun for running around on the wet sand and splashing in the foam, and they have a nice outdoor shower for cleaning up after. JP

I grew up on the beach at Corona Del Mar. It has (or had - it's been years!) 2 was semi protected with mild waves. The other is really protected and is good for tide pooling. It's just South of Newport Beach and North of Laguna Beach. Have fun! Carolyn

I grew up in So Cal and if memory serves, the area you are describing is family friendly beach heaven. Particularly, I like Laguna Beach - parking can be tricky, but not if you are used to here. The water is great, friendly people, it is one of the more eclectic areas of Orange County. Great restaurants too. - Check out Javier's right on PCH - great Mexican food! Newport Beach/Balboa is pretty mellow and easy to get to. Good parking lots close by. You can walk out on the Balboa pier and eat at Ruby's. There is also the Balboa fun zone to walk around, get an ice cream, ride the ferris wheel. Then there is Marina Del Rey and Santa Monica further north. All of these areas have bike paths you can ride on for miles. The Santa Monica pier is kind of cheezy, but pretty at night - great sunsets in Santa Monica - the promenade is close by - a bit trendy, but safe and easy to walk around at night. Then there's Malibu. Beautiful, Parking is harder, but not impossible, you may have to ! cross PCH. You really can't go wrong. Just check the surf advisory, but the summer is typically pretty mellow. Stay away from Ocean Beach in San Diego - rough water, strong rip tides. Seal Beach - lots of oil and pollution. Don't know much about Huntington. Have a great trip! Missing the So Cal Summer Beaches

Hello, Check out Crystal Cove State Park. It is just north of Laguna and South of Newport Beach. You'll park up on top and walk down to the sand. It is well protected from waves and very beautiful. That'll be almost half way to your LA destination. Have fun~ Former So Cal Girl

Laguna Beach


Any recommendations on what we can do with 2 kids under 3 in Orange County around Laguna Beach. We will be there in early June for one week. We have alreayd been to the S.D. Zoo and dont want to go to Disneyland. Any hints? Thanks much.

When you are in the Laguna Beach area, a great place for a visit is Balboa Island in Newport Beach (about twenty minutes away.) It really is a little island with great walking streets. The main street is called Marine St. and has shops and cafes. At the other end of the island, there is a ferry service to the ocean side, complete with a small fun-zone including rides and arcades. The ferry costs about $2 and is a 5-minute ride. Don't forget to try a chocolate covered frozen banana! Also, at the end of the the pier on the ocean side is the 50ish diner called Ruby's. We have been taking our kids there since they were infants. We all love the area. Melissa

Newport Beach

We have rented a condo on the Newport Beach peninsula for the last 4 years. We've stayed in a couple of different condo's. We always stayed just north of the Newport Pier (~24th -29th Sts.) because the waves are very small and the kids can go in the water more safely. We don't stay beach front as the board walk there is busy. Walking from the condo's on the side streets(which are very narrow, not busy) to the beach is easy and safe because there are no streets to crossto get to the beach. Contact Burr/White, Cannery, or Newport Beach Realities. My sister always makes the arrangements so I don't have a number to give you.We always have a great time. jhelwig


In response to the person looking for housing in So. Cal. I would recommend looking in Carlsbad, Leucadia, Encinitas, Solana Beach or Del Mar. (Having grown up in Del Mar, I am partial). The weather in June can be iffy- very often foggy until mid afternoon on the beach. All you have to do is go inland about a mile and it warms up a lot so you might want to stay inland and take trips to the beach to stay warmer....Good Luck Janette