I recently travelled to Southern California where it was warmer weather and the sun was out in full bloom, unlike this long and hard winter we are having here in the midwest! Having lived in Orange County, CA for a bit, I knew my way around fairly well. My husband had a work conference in San Diego, so our 4-year-old daughter and I flew out a few days later to meet up with him. I am listing our four-day travel guide to exploring southern California.
A Four Day Travel Guide
When we fly anywhere, we typically fly Southwest, mainly because it’s the least expensive, but they’re the most friendly and accommodating airlines, not to mention you can check 2 bags for free. I discovered a new rental car company(to me anyways) which was Sixt Rental Car, conveniently located with all of the other rental cars at the San Diego Airport. It was a short shuttle ride there. I had priced all rental car companies and found them to be the least expensive of all!
Since it was evening, we met up with my husband at the Wyndham Bayside Hotel, which is extremely close to the airport, and right on the water in the bay. We were craving fresh seafood and heard great reviews of The Fish Market, which happened to not even be a mile away from our hotel. We ordered a couple rolls of sushi as an appetizer, which were delicious. I ordered their cilantro lime pacific Mahi Mahi and it was probably the best I had ever had, I cannot recommend it enough!
San Diego Zoo
The next morning my husband went to his conference and we took a trip to the San Diego Zoo, which was a short 15 minute drive from the hotel. Tip: Ask your concierge if they have a coupon for the Zoo, or I ended up finding one online, just by searching “San Diego Zoo Promo Code” It’s best to get there first thing in the morning I had heard, so that you #1)beat the crowds, and #2) the morning time is the coolest and also feeding time, so you have a greater chance of catching the animals up and moving around. We got to see almost all of them up and moving around, even the Tiger gave us a nice ROARRRR!!! We could have drove about an hour north to the Safari portion of the zoo, but since I was travelling with our 4 year old, I decided less driving might be best. San Diego also has Legoland, which I’ve heard great things about, however Kansas City has something similar, so we also opted out of that. Another feature near San Diego is the Knotts Berry Farm. Again, since we had only a few hours, the zoo was our best option. We spent about 2-3 hours at the zoo and when you’re in California, one MUST take a trip(or two) to In-N-Out Burger for a burger, fries and a shake…….tip: dip your fries in your shake(just trust me on this).
What we did next was probably one of the coolest experiences I have ever done. It was mating and birthing for whales, so they were coming down the coasts from Alaska. I discovered a Groupon for a great price on a Whale Watching Tour for the 3 of us! I picked up my husband and we headed to the marina near Seaforth Landing(which was about a 10 minute drive from the hotel). I took my Dramamine before boarding, because I tend to get sea sickness fairly easy. Out we went into the ocean to hopefully see some whales! The marine biologist who spoke on the tour, filled us in on all kinds of knowledge about whales, their birthing and mating patterns. I had no idea there were so many whale species! The thrill came when we saw our first whale! You could see the water from the blow-hole, then it’s back round up to the top of the water and if you’re lucky, you get to see its tail(which is very impressive). At one point there were 2 whales travelling together and would surface every 3 minutes, so the boat, at a safe distance, followed them for a while. They had a professional drone flyer on board who would fly it out directly over the whales, being able to capture beautiful pictures of the whales(see pics below). We got to see about 8-9 whales during our 3 hour tour, and saw tons of dolphins who love to ride along in the boat’s wake. An absolute MUST DO if you are going to be along the coast anywhere from mid Dec-April!
After a few hours out on the ocean, we got cleaned up and headed out to meet a friend of mine at Old Town Mexican Cafe, which took about 15 minutes to get there. Our food was delicious, as were the chips and salsa!!! If you are looking for authentic mexican food and the same for the atmosphere, this is the place for you!
The next day we headed north to Los Angeles where we had rented this VRBO. It was in the heart of L.A. and near The Grove Shopping area, which we found ourselves visiting 2 consecutive nights for dinner because it was so convenient, lots of shopping & such a fun vibe! Our VRBO was a 2 level home shared on one side by the owner. It was a gated home, that always had parking available right in front of it, plenty of space for the 3 of us. It had a full kitchen, spacious bath, 2 bedrooms and spacious living room as well. I would definitely stay there again in the future, it was just a great location and was clean, as well!
We considered spending some time in Santa Monica and Venice Beach, but it was rainy that day, so we didn’t go. If you have a chance, however, there are some incredible restaurants and shopping in the Santa Monica Promenade area! Venice Beach is just a short drive down from Santa Monica. If you’re looking for the ultimate relaxed/beachy vibe, this is your place! There are so many cool shops right along the beach.
The next day we met a friend for lunch at Fred Segal on Sunset Blvd. Fred Segal is a popular lunch destination, which offers free parking for their customers and you can do some amazing shopping afterwards. Sunset Blvd is home of tons of designer shopping and innovative retail spaces!
After lunch, we decided to visit the Griffith Observatory, since it was a clear/sunny day! The Griffith Observatory is a beautiful area to visit and is a staple of L.A. You can visit Griffith Park and get some exercise in, or you can go to the top, where the observatory is. You get a clear view, looking down over L.A. area, and also the ever so famous Hollywood sign! The observatory has telescopes you can look through, explore exhibits and learn all about the cosmos! There’s even pieces of meteorites you can see in one exhibit. A must if you are visiting L.A.!!!!
For dinner that night we ate at the Cheesecake Factory at The Grove Shopping area. It was a convenient place to eat with a 4-year-old, and I’ll just pretend it wasn’t really for a slice of their AMAZING CHEESECAKE options! The Grove Shopping area is packed with amazing shops, restaurants and has a large water fountain display that our 4-year-old was mesmerized by. Don’t forget to bring your parking ticket with you to get it validated when you leave your restaurant, I can’t remember exactly how much it took off of our actual parking charge, but it was a pretty good chunk, and since you almost always have to pay to park somewhere out there, every little bit helps!
The third day, we ate breakfast at a very memorable cafe called The Griddle Cafe along Sunset Blvd, which was a short drive from our VRBO. I found it by searching breakfast reviews in the area, and it did not disappoint! They’re known for their selection of enormous pancakes. I didn’t really grasp what that meant until I saw a delivered plate next to us. They were 3 stacked high on a full size dinner plate, drizzled with whatever goodness and topping they chose. Well, I pretty much knew I had to order their pancakes since that made up half of their menu! I ended up ordering their Golden Ticket pancakes which were topped with banana, caramel, walnuts & streusel(is your mouth-watering yet)? The picture below doesn’t even do them justice! Wow they were so good!!! My husband ordered their breakfast tacos which were equally as mouth-watering, along with their french press coffee that you do, yourself. Their wait staff was also incredibly friendly and on top of it all, despite being so busy.
We decided to act like tourist and snagged a spot on the Ultimate Hollywood Tours to check out some celebrity homes. The tour was a fast 2 1/2 hour busy ride, mostly, through The Hollywood Hills, where The Voice and Ellen are filmed and the famous Beverly Hills and its insanely expensive designer stores! It was neat to see the home of Michael Jackson, Gwen Stefani, Mark Wahlberg, and Simon Cowell, just to name a few! Our driver was so informative and so funny. He was able to make a couple of quick stops to take pictures overlooking the city. Had we of not had our daughter with us, it would have been great to go to The Laugh Factory, for a show, where so many famous comedians started their careers at. We drove by it on our Hollywood Tour, and saw that Dane Cook was there that night! He is so hilarious!!!
Our third and final day, we decided to head down to Newport Beach since it was my birthday. We stopped in this adorable little diner and had breakfast right in the harbor, called The Galley Cafe. It was your quintessential breakfast diner, with all of your basic breakfast items. The staff was so sweet and their fresh made orange juice was a perfect way to start our day off. A convenient place to grab breakfast in the heart of Newport Beach. After that we took the “car ferry” over to Balboa Island where we walked along the beach and frolicked in the sand. There’s no other place I’d rather be than the ocean! It even sprinkled a little that day, but afterwards a rainbow came out as we were heading back off of the ferry. It was such an amazing way to spend my birthday! I had also, really wanted to stop by one of my favorite boutiques; Vici Collection and do some shopping. These girls know how to make a shopper feel special, and offered me a glass of Rose’ while I looked around! They have the cutest, up to date/hippest clothing pieces, any girl would swoon over!
We reluctantly had to fly out the next day back to the cold midwest winter and face reality again, but we packed our trip with so much exciting adventures and sights! I hope you enjoyed reading my tips and places to visit for your next southern california trip!!!