Southern California

Traveling with a large group of family members can be oodles of fun but the potential for short fuses is high. Our recent multi-generational trip to Southern California was a great experience for everyone and here’s why!

VRBO in Anaheim

Photo credit: VRBO Listing #465451

A Big House!

We rented a house roomy enough to accommodate us all through VRBO (Vacation Rental By Owner). While hotels are lovely, extended holidays with a large group can be exhausting. I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to have a full kitchen, bedrooms which provided everyone necessary alone time, a pool to occupy the kids, and a large eating area for everyone to congregate. The house we rented was perfectly situated for our planned holiday. It was a 15 minute walk to Downtown Disney. It was equal distance between LAX and the 2 day-trips we made to San Diego. Word of advice, if you are visiting Disneyland, fly into John Wayne Airport (also known as Santa Ana) which is infinitely closer than LAX. The VRBO website has properties around the world at almost every price point. We will definitely be booking more VRBO stays in the future.

Your Own Wheels

Another ticket to our success: renting a car. Having the freedom to dash off to the grocery store, drive down to San Diego, and get ourselves to & from the airport was stress-relieving. And while the LA freeways have a reputation, we just avoided the rush hour times and the driving wasn’t bad at all.

Family Attractions in Southern California

Try Something Different!

Rather than stay at Disneyland for the duration of our 7-day holiday, we checked out a number of attractions around Southern California. We did take advantage of the 3-day Disneyland pass discount available to Canadians but opted out of the Park Hopper pass in order to save money. Going back & forth between the Magic Kingdom & California Adventure isn’t necessary and you can save yourself $50 – $100 bucks by sticking to one park per day. The other Southern California attractions we visited were: Knott’s Berry Farm, LEGOLAND, and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

Get to Bed on time!

We didn’t keep crazy late hours since our kids are 6 & 8 and they like to sleep. Rather than push them hard every day, we called it quits most days around 7pm. While the grown ups could have gone longer, no adult was particularly interested in dealing with exhausted children. We are early risers and the parks are always quieter in the mornings. Our strategy of arriving for the park opening, focusing on our favourite rides, and then heading home right after dinner worked really well for our group.

Tips for a Successful Multi-Generational Family Adventure in Southern California:

  • bring empty water bottles. There are water fountains everywhere and bottled water is expensive.
  • bring your own snacks. Staying at the VRBO meant making sandwiches & packing healthy snacks was easy. No matter the age of your family members, no one does well with hungry tummies.
  • bring more than one pair of walking shoes. Your feet will get exhausted. If everyone can alternate shoes from day to day, there will be less complaining about aching tootsies.
  • the best time for Canadians to visit San Diego is October. Admission is numerous San Diego attractions – including LEGOLAND & the San Diego Zoo Safari Park – are FREE for Canadian kids in October. While parents & grandparents will cost the same, the overall price of your holiday will plummet thanks to the freebies for the kids.
  • book your restaurants ahead of time, especially if you are a large group. When in San Diego we dined at two fantastic restaurants that were incredibly popular. If we didn’t have reservations (and we were only a group of 6) I hate to imagine the wait time. I could dine at Casa De Bandini every night…if only it wasn’t so far from home! The delicious Mexican food was a stand-out in our vacation. Our waiter recommended the carnitas and I’m salivating just thinking about them. The Corvette Diner is a 50s diner with so much personality it is amazing the roof hasn’t popped right off the building. Singing & dancing wait-staff, straws made into outlandish hair styles (for those celebrating special occasions), themed-dining-rooms, and a full video game arcade made for an evening of great family fun!

San Diego Zoo Safari Park in Southern California

  • book any special experiences ahead of time. When we visited the San Diego Zoo Safari Park our family took part in the Kids’ Safari. The 2-hour interactive caravan truck tour was a highlight of our trip. All of us fed giraffes, pet an echidna, saw White & Black Rhinos, and enjoyed a personalized tour of the largest safari park in North America. There are a limited number of Kids’ Safari Tours, so if you want this unforgettable experience be sure to book ahead of your arrival.
  • if you are looking to get into the Christmas spirit, travel to Southern California mid-November. As of the Remembrance Day weekend the majority of amusement parks are decked out in holiday splendour.
  • booking accommodation at a VRBO means you can do laundry. I know, no one wants to do chore while on vacation BUT the ability to do laundry with little kids is rather wonderful. You don’t need to pack as much, and should spills happen (as they inevitably will) you can get clothes cleaned and ready to be re-worn on a subsequent day.
  • plan ahead of time. An agreed upon schedule works best for our family. Everyone was well briefed on the itinerary of our 8-day holiday. Everyone knew where we were going on which days & how much time we had at each attraction.

If you are thinking about a family-trip to Southern California, here’s the successful itinerary from our multi-generational family holiday:

Day 1: arrival in Anaheim, settle into VRBO, grocery shop
Day 2: Disneyland’s Magic Kingdom
Day 3: Disneyland’s California Adventure
Day 4: LEGOLAND (dinner at Casa de Bandini)
Day 5: Disneyland’s Magic Kingdom
Day 6: San Diego Zoo Safari Park (dinner at the Corvette Diner)
Day 7: Knott’s Berry Farm & fly home

Yes all of us – kids, parents & grandparents – came home exhausted but we maximized our holiday & everyone brought home gallons of memories. The planning ahead, the room to spread out in our rented VRBO house, the variety of activities & attractions, and the many new experiences we enjoyed together made for a successful multi-generational trip all of us will remember fondly.

Southern California