Southern California is a beautiful sight. We spent most of our time beach hopping down the coast. I loved the cooler weather and the mixture of the ocean and mountains. We flew into San Diego and then headed up the coast to Dana Point. We visited San Clemente, Carlsbad, Encinitas, La Jolla, and San Diego.
Day 1 – Dana Point/Laguna Beach
I heard about a little tower built back in the 1800’s that was right on the beach and knew my girls would love it. It resembled Rapunzel’s tower and that was Quinn’s favorite movie. It is located on Victoria Beach and with a little trial and error we figured out how to get to that small portion of the beach. Because the beaches are next to cliffs and mountains, you cannot stroll along a really long stretch of beach. Rocks and cliffs separate the sand parts so you have to go up and around.
This is a then a now photo and you can check out the link to read the history about this cute tower.
We then headed over to dinner in Dana Point called Wind & Sea. We sat on the deck and enjoyed looking out at the boats on the harbor. We were very pleased with the food! The Ahi tuna was sooooo good!
Day 2 – San Clemente/Carlsbad/Encinitas
We stayed the night in San Clemente at Roadway Inn in the middle of town. All the buildings had this old Spanish town feel. We headed down to the San Clemente pier that morning. The weather was cool and the breeze was refreshing. Along the coast ran the train tracks. One of the things on my bucket list is to ride the Amtrack up the California coast. The train hugs the coast for some beautiful views. You can even ride it all the way up to Seattle for breath taking sites! Click here to check it out.
Across from the pier are some cute shops and fun little restaurants. We stopped in one and Victor got some Nitro brew coffee and the girls suckered us into some sweets.
On to Carlsbad, we spent a few hours at the beach and then had lunch downtown. This was Quinn’s favorite beach because of the rocks! WHO KNEW! 😉 While at the beach we got to watch all the military helicopters fly over the ocean.
We ate lunch at a restaurant called Campfire. The food was delicious and the atmosphere was very kid friendly! The girls loved the tepee and we loved the fact that they could run around without bothering others! After that, we walked around the historic downtown and found this cute courtyard where Quinn pretended to be a princess.
We continued down the coast towards Torrey Pines, which allowed our kids to take a nap. Torrey Pines is a state park along the coast where you can hike along the cliffs and see some amazing views. It is 20 dollars to park for the entire day and I recommend parking at the top of the cliffs. We saw some people parking at the entrance and then walking up the road which had to have been a mile…no thanks. If I’m hiking, it’s on a trail not a road.
We headed back to the hotel after this to shower and rest before we explored Encinitas for dinner. Encinitas is a popular little town with one of the best family beaches. Just a couple blocks up from the beach is a stretch of great restaurants and shops. After seeing the ridiculously long line at the famous Taco Shop, we opted for the Fish House. We were very pleased! We ordered five different types of fish tacos: yellow fin, halibut, swordfish, salmon, and mahi mahi. They were all so yummy! Then we headed down to the beach where they had a playground, fire pits, and volleyball courts. It was packed but no overwhelming. The girls loved the park so much we stayed until sundown.
Day 3-San Diego
ZOO DAY! We loved the zoo but we were worn out after that! Our favorite animals were the pandas, koalas, tigers, Galapagos turtles and polar bear.
I kept reading that you can’t see everything in a day, so I was very worried, but if you take advantage of the bus and make smart choices you will see it all! I recommended heading for the pandas 20 minutes before their exhibit opens. We were there 15 minutes early and they actually let us in after 5 minutes because they came out. We didn’t wait in line and they were out and about, well as out and about as pandas get…they are natural loners!
We then walked one side of the park towards the entrance and ran into where you could feed giraffes..for a fee of course. ($15)
Next, we headed to the bus….ride the BUS! You will see so many animals and get a walking break! Then we rode the skyfari aerial tram twice. This was Quinn’s favorite! We were at the park from 8:45-2:30.
After a nap break we headed to the Gaslamp Quarter. This is an area downtown with lots of restaurants and nightlife. The only thing we ended up liking was the Ghirardelli’s. The food is way over priced and as it started to get dark it was not kid friendly. As we were leaving though we walked by where the Padres play and got to see the field all lit up. Victor was excited about that 😉
Day 4 – Coronado Island/ La Jolla/ Mission Beach
We started out our day driving over the bridge to Coronado Island. We stopped for some coffee, juice, and donuts at Clayton’s Coffee Shop. They have a to go window and sit down seating. We opted for the to go window because so many people were waiting! It was convenient and we sat on the benches outside and enjoyed our breakfast. Then we headed to a park by the water where the girls could play. They view was amazing and the girls were entertained so win for us!
We then walked along the water to the ferry and rode it over to the San Diego bay area. They have the USS Midway Museum and a beautiful memorial to the military.
We rode the ferry back to the island and played on the beach for while. Around the ferry area they have cute shops and restaurants as well as a small beach. On the other side of the island is a much bigger beach to enjoy as well.
We went to La Jolla to see the seals and stayed to play on the gorgeous beach as well! The seals were so cute and we even saw one swimming near the beach just a few feet from people.
Mission Beach/ Belmont Park
This was by far the girls favorite part of the trip. We met up with some college friends for ice cream and then we rode rides at the cutest beach side amusement park until we couldn’t keep our eyes open. We bought the girls unlimited ride bands for $20 each and Victor and I took turns riding with them. It was totally worth the cost and we got to ride for free! Of course it was all kiddie rides but it was still fun! They have adult rides and hope one day we can return and ride them.
Day 5- Balboa Park
We had about an hour before we needed to get to the airport so we went to investigate Balboa Park. My only regret from the trip was not spending more time here. We had planned to check it out after the zoo but we were so exhausted that day we didn’t make it. The park is gorgeous and we loved exploring it so early in the morning because not many people were out. This area reminds of DC’s row of Smithsonian Museums. They have 17 museums to check out including an air and space museum. We went to DC not long ago so I didn’t feel like we needed to explore this but I would highly recommend it if you go! The girls loved the squirrels running around so close to us and the cool art they could climb on. The Japanese Tea Garden was beautiful and the outdoor organ theater was phenomenal. Someone was actually playing the organ while were walking by.
Final thoughts and tips
- Parking is terrible at most beaches
- Most tourist areas have extremely overpriced food
- Most hotels we stayed at had a very lame idea of breakfast
- The water was to cold for my taste but my husband and daughter loved it
- We saw tons of very well kept old school cars
- I would spend more time in the small beach towns
- We could have easily spent another day in San Diego in order to see everything
- They have Legoland and Sea World but we just wanted a beach/sightseeing trip
- Let your kids nap in the car allows you to drive around and see more beautiful sights (through the window of your car)
$293.80 Plane tickets (97 each and baby is free)
$0 Baggage fees (we took 3 backpacks/stroller/2 car seats)
$292.00 Hotel (508.77 total but we used our free hotels.com night and credit card points) From my understanding the hotels were a little more pricey that normal because of big events going on that week
$0 Car Rental (189.00 total but again we used credit card points)
$585.80 Total trip cost for a family of 4
I didn’t track our daily spending but that honestly is going to be at your discretion. You can spend as much or little as you want. All of the beaches were free. The zoo is pricey but worth it.