If you live in a place where winter has been pulling a heinous disappearing/reappearing act, (and even if you don’t live in Alberta) a summer trip (or spring break, or winter break!) where sunshine is virtually guaranteed seems like a solid plan. And if you are looking south of the border, you’re not going to go wrong in California. We did the tough work of slogging through the theme parks, eating days’ worth of calories in single meals, and laying our heads in hotels both fun and luxurious to bring you this
Guide to School Breaks in the O.C. and L.A. County.
Read on for our top picks for what to do, places to eat, and where to stay in Anaheim, Buena Park, Long Beach, and Universal City, CA.
The waterpark at the Hojo Anaheim was a welcome respite after a long hot day at Disneyland.
Do this: Anaheim is almost synonymous with Disneyland Park and California Adventure Park. And with good reason: they are awesome. It’s possible to do both in one day with a “Park Hopper” pass, but honestly, I don’t recommend it. There’s a lot of pressure to do EVERYTHING, and being at the park for 14 hours is exhausting. If you aren’t as crunched for time, two or more days is a good bet. As a bonus, the multi-day passes work out to be less money per day, so you get a bigger bang for your buck. With the Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge open as of the end of May 2019, Disneyland is going to be a bigger draw than ever.
Away from the theme parks, you can check out a baseball game if the Angels are in town, or scope out an all-ages show at the House of Blues. Sightlines are tough for the under 5’ set, so we ended up mainly watching the show on the screens. Although they were two of only a few children in the venue, my kids got a kick out of sipping “drinks” from the bar and crowd-watching at the Boyce Avenue concert.
Eat here: You wouldn’t expect a place so close to the Disneyland gates to offer good value for money, but Mimi’s does. With a bit of French country flair, the hearty breakfasts will keep you going for hours. The fresh-made muffins were especially nice. The Anaheim GardenWalk is also a good place for hungry families to find some grub. A pre-show supper at House of Blues had nice choices for everyone, including vegetarians and picky children–with the bonus of live music. If enormous and decadent are your thing, a trip to Snowopolis should be on your list. The towering milkshakes are a thing of majesty, and definitely sharing sized!
Stay at: My little guy fell asleep on Dad’s shoulder’s during the fireworks at Disneyland after a jam-packed day of thrill rides and crowds—which meant a tearful morning when he woke at the hotel instead of the Happiest Place on Earth. Luckily the Howard Johnson Anaheim Hotel and Water Playground was a pretty great place to wake up. You can spend every spare moment either at the pirate-themed spray park or at the quieter garden pool. The rooms were bright and fun, and the best part was the easy walk to Disneyland (across the street and down a bit) Ask for a room with a view of the park. Watching Disney fireworks from the balcony the first night which was a magical way to start the trip.
The Ghost Rider at Knott’s Berry Farm was just what our littlest adrenaline junkie had in mind for fun.
Do this: Put in the mix with Disneyland Resort and Universal Studios, the relatively small Knott’s Berry Farm can get lost in the theme park shuffle. Skipping it would be a mistake though–Knott’s Berry Farm holds its own with the big boys. The endearingly kitschy Wild West themed Ghost Town gives a fun taste of California during the Gold Rush, or head over to the Boardwalk for some SoCal carnival vibes and roller coaster rides. Outside of the park in Buena Park, you can find fun too! If your kids are fans of arcade games, don’t miss the supersized arcade at John’s Incredible Pizza. Start with an all you can eat buffet full of pizza and kid-friendly favourites, then get ready to spend your tokens in the 55 000 square feet of arcade space. For a different way to mix food and entertainment, Pirates Dinner Adventure is a blast. Cheer your pirate on as he battles for what’s right, complete with sword fights, acrobatics, and music.
Eat here Porto’s Bakery is a beloved Southern California institution, serving baked goods, breakfast, and lunch with a Cuban flair. Order extra potato balls, because no matter how many you have, you are going to want more. Back on the farm, there are ample opportunities to eat as well. The berry of Knott’s Berry Farm fame is the boysenberry, and if you time your trip right, you’ll be there for the Boysenberry Festival. The $35 USD passes give you the chance to sample an assortment of creative dishes all featuring the purple berry. Some of our faves were the Boysenberry glazed salmon and the Boysenberry elote (grilled corn on the cob with cojita cheese and dried berries)
Stay at Staying on property at the Knott’s Berry Farm is all kinds of convenient (like you get to skip the drudge of finding parking at the theme park) but if you ask me, the best part about staying at the Knott’s Berry Farm Hotel was the tuck-in service from Snoopy himself. Of course, the hot buffet breakfast, kids eat free vouchers, and boisterous fun in the pool were great too…but the thrill of a goodnight kiss from Snoopy was one of the highlights of the trip.
What to do: When the city has “Beach” right in the name, it’s a safe bet you are going to find some water-based fun. Take a visit to the Queen Mary, docked in Long Beach since 1967. Don’t miss the guided tours (with themes including history, ghostly happenings, or the mechanics and operations of the vessel) or the short 4D movie. The Aquarium of the Pacific has lots of interactive opportunities for learning (how many people get to touch a shark?) and play. Make sure you reserve at least half a day to explore it. For something a little different, you can have a gondolier from Gondola Getaway pole you around serene Naples Island, or rent a bike and cruise along the beach path. You can rent cruisers and kids bikes at Wheel Fun rentals, or mix it up with a coupe or chopper style, tandem bike, or take the whole family on a Surrey bike.
Eat here: Sit outside at Parker’s Lighthouse, at the end of the shops in picturesque Shoreline Village to enjoy a view of the Queen Mary while you dine on fresh seafood; enjoy the bustling ambiance on 2nd Street and stop for some mezes or something heartier at George’s Greek Café; for a lunch you all can agree on, the pizzas at Michael’s Downtown Italian Kitchen are creative and fun. What we loved especially was the pizza dough they brought the boys to stretch and form into pizza crust. Don’t worry…no one actually has to eat it!
Stay at: The elegant Renaissance Long Beach Hotel is located walking distance from the shops at Pike Outlets, not far from the Aquarium of the Pacific and Shoreline Village. If you haven’t budgeted enough time for walking, the free Passport bus has a stop directly across the street and will shuttle you down to the shore and across the harbour to the Queen Mary. The kids loved the rooftop pool and the adults loved the nice quiet respite. Splurge on the concierge level amenities to enjoy hot breakfast, hors d’oeuvres in the late afternoon, and dessert in the evening.
What to do: If you have a devoted Harry Potter fan in the house, there is no way you can skip Universal Studios Hollywood and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Slogging your way through the formidable L.A. traffic from Long Beach up to Universal City may make you question the decision, but once you are there, you will be glad. The Studio Tour is billed as World Famous, and it is simply incredible, showcasing sets from lots of familiar movies and immersive 4-D experiences that give you a taste of movie magic. Don’t miss it, or the new Kung Fu Panda attraction. During the spring and winter some weekdays have shortened hours. If you are there on a short day, make sure to get there a bit before opening to make the most of your time. Buying the skip-the-line Universal Express pass might be worth it to you if you are trying to get to all the rides. Outside the gates is the Universal CityWalk with lots of fun shops and restaurants to explore. If a day at Universal Studios Hollywood has you craving some more time with the silver screen, the renovated AMC Universal Cinema gives you a VIP seat for the latest movies.
Eat here: There’s no way to soften this: eating inside Universal Studios is expensive and the restaurants can be very busy. That being said, the fun themes are part of the experience. In Springfield USA, you can dine in a real Krusty Burger and grab a Duff Beer at Moe’s Tavern next door. In the Wizarding World of Harry Potter the Butterbeer is available in hot, cold, and frozen. Sit and sip in the rustic ambiance at Three Brooms, Hogmeade’s most popular eatery. Outside the gates at Universal CityWalk, Voodoo Doughnuts are serving up amazing doughnuts with a side of sass. Well worth the line up!
Stay at: Navigating L.A.’s highways is not something you want to do right before catching a flight. It might make more sense to get your driving out of the way after your time at Universal Studios Hollywood and stay close to the airport at the Sheraton Gateway Los Angeles Hotel. A morning that was a bit chilly for California meant we had the heated pool to ourselves and or choice of cabanas to relax in. We remain disappointed we didn’t have a chance to try out the robot who “works” at the Sheraton, making deliveries for people who have forgotten their toothbrushes and overnight necessities. Next time!