California is a big state. It’s best broken up into bite size pieces. And if you’re planning to take a Cali vacation soon, check out our Travel Planning Tips first.
We recently made the many-day excursion Traveling the Pacific Coast Highway, dipped our toes in the waters of Southern California and then headed back north for some family hiking in Yosemite. In retrospect, this should have been three separate trips.
Luckily there was loads of Cute Coffee Shops Along the PCH.
For family vacations, nothing tops Southern California and we definitely would have spent more time there had we known how awesome it was.
Must See Southern California Attractions for families.
San Diego Zoo
Sea World San Diego
La Jolla Shores
Legoland California in Carlsbad
With so much to do, its easy to fill a two week vacation in Southern California. Unfortunately many of us don’t have that kind of time.
Here’s a 3-Day California Plan for you. If you know you’ll need more time check out 7 Days in Southern California and feel free to mix and match your travel plans to your hearts content.
Day 1: San Diego Zoo & Balboa Park
Fly into San Diego Airport and start your day at Balboa Park and the San Diego Zoo. The Zoo is about 15 minutes from the airport and if you arrive after 10am but before 2pm you’ll miss traffic. If you’re an early bird prepare the 7am-9am gridlock traffic on weekdays.
Balboa Park alone has enough to fill a week or two vacation. With 13 museums and gardens you can definitely add one or two into your first day after the zoo. The park itself is open 24 hours, but hours vary by attraction so plan ahead if you want to stop somewhere in the park before leaving this area for the day. The Spanish Art area is a favorite!
You can book a hotel in San Diego to stay close by for Sea World OR head out this evening to La Jolla so you be there early to see the sunrise on the beach. Check our Travelodge LaJolla if you choose the second option. It’s a short walk to the beach with a cute breakfast shop, Cafe Vahik, next door.
Day 2: La Jolla Shores/Carlsbad OR Sea World San Diego
If you stay in San Diego to take advantage of a whole day at Sea World. With rides and shows you won’t be disappointed! Start your morning in the park at the Seaside Coffee and Bakery and grab a snack at Pineapple Pete’s Island Eats. If you know you’re taking the whole day to enjoy this park make sure to book your Dinner with Shamu in advance. This dining experience is farm-to-table and supports local farmers. Another perk? Kids eat free.
If you’re more excited about the beach and Legoland then this is the plan for your second day.
La Jolla can offer you shopping, the Sugar and Scribe Bakery and sea lions. You can find the sea lions at the cove on Coast Blvd. and Jenner. A one mile stretch of beach, this area is also home to some exclusive shopping on Girard and Prospect Avenue. Connected by La Jolla Blvd, be prepared to find somewhere to park on the street. As always it’s best to arrive early to get a spot.
After grabbing some lunch it’s time to head north to Carlsbad, a cute small beach town housing Legoland, and Carlsbad Village. The ideal small beach town, you can just park your car and walk it.
Leave Carlsbad around 7 for an hour drive north and get an early start at your next destination by heading over to Anaheim to book a stay in one of three Disneyland Resort Hotels. You’ll get to enter the parks one hour early with Magic Morning hours and maximize your last day of vacation.
Day 3: Disney Day
Today is Disneyland Park or Disney’s California Adventure. You can only fit one in your last day in Cali- so choose wisely. For a more family friendly excursion choose Disneyland. Disney’s California Adventure will get you cooler rides and a boardwalk with drinks. Check out One Girl One World for a good comparison.
Fly out of the Santa Ana/ John Wayne Airport near Anaheim. If you are trying to dodge the “drop your rental car off at another location” bullet, you can also always drive back to San Diego and fly out of there. It’s a little over a two hour drive.
Keep in mind that So Cal is hard to shove into a three day vacay… but not impossible!