There are so many things to do in our part of the country that sometimes the choices can feel overwhelming.
We’ve picked six perfect day trips with suggestions for family activities and dining in each spot. Venture an hour or so away from home and discover the fun to be had just outside of your regular summer circumference.
It’s the escape factor that makes Catalina Island so appealing: You have to take a boat to get there, and when you arrive, it’s nothing like the “mainland.” The Catalina Island Co., which oversees and operates many of the activities on the island, is adding two attractions this summer at Descanso Canyon, and there are plenty of other favorites to enjoy as well, whether it’s your first or 50th trip “26 miles across the sea.”
What to do:
Glass-Bottom Boat Voyage and Undersea Expedition
Green Pleasure Pier, Avalon 90704
Cost: $16 kids 2-11, $19 adults for the Glass-Bottom Boat Voyage; $29 kids 2-11, $35 adults for the Undersea Expedition
Catalina is known for its crystal-clear ocean waters and abundant kelp forests and sea life. While scuba diving is quite popular in the area, there are other ways to see what lies beneath. The 40-minute Glass-Bottom Boat Voyage goes to Lovers Cove Marine Preserve, near downtown Avalon. Inside the boat, passengers lean inward onto encased windows along the boat’s floor that showcase the ocean scene below. The 45-minute Undersea Expedition is a trip on a semi-submersible vessel that cruises five feet underwater. All passengers have their own seats and portholes to look for garibaldi, urchins, rockfish and bat rays, among other sea life. Both of these are “Finding Nemo” experiences for young ones.
10 Island Plaza, Avalon 90704
Cost: $10 kids 2-11, $12 adults
This isn’t your typical mini-golf but instead a challenging 18-hole course known for its beauty and much beloved for the past 40 years. Its garden setting is just a block from the beach off Sumner Avenue. There’s a relaxing vibe, with lots of trees and shade, but amid all that are complex, at times multilevel holes to play that test golfers’ skills. The course also provides information on the island, with signs at each hole giving details on the area’s history. Golfers should allow about one hour for play.
Catalina Zip Line Eco Tour
1 St. Catherine Way, Avalon 90704
Cost: $129 per person
If you and your family are brave enough, this is an exhilarating experience as you descend on five separate lines that are about 300 feet above the Descanso Canyon floor at speeds of up to 30 mph.
This is a time investment, as the Catalina Zip Line Eco Tour takes about two hours (and 20 extra minutes for check-in and shuttle to the top of the course). Zip-liners get wildlife, history and other tidbits from the guides at the five stops along the way. There are age and other restrictions; this is not for children under age 5. The tour begins and ends at the Zip Line Tour Center behind Descanso Beach Club, about a 15- to 20-minute walk out of town.
Also, two new activities debut at Descanso Canyon this summer: The Catalina Aerial Adventure uses a “smart-belay” system that lets guests climb, balance, swing and slide across a series of tree-based aerial trails that feature suspended bridges, zip lines and other obstacles. The Descanso Drop Tower provides an adrenaline rush as guests harness up for a 60-foot free-fall.
The typical way to get to Catalina Island is by boat; it takes about an hour on the Catalina Express, departing from Dana Point, Long Beach or San Pedro ($29-$37.75 one way). Getting there and back is half the fun, especially if you spot dolphins.
While you can see a lot of Avalon by foot, renting a golf cart is also a popular way to get around ($43-$63 an hour).
Also, look for specials, deals and discounts; for example, the Catalina Express is free on your birthday with valid proof and advance online registration (with the purchase of one full-fare adult ticket), as is a round at Golf Gardens. The Catalina Flyer departs daily from Newport Beach ($26 to $35 one way).
Many families come to Long Beach for the main attractions – the Aquarium of the Pacific or perhaps the Queen Mary. While worth seeing, each requires a day to fully explore, and there is much more in the city to experience beyond those venues, and beyond the downtown/harbor area. A lively arts scene, distinct shopping and entertainment districts and plenty of beachfront activities allow families to tailor their trips to their own interests.
What to do:
Shoreline Village and the Pike Ferris Wheel
401-435 Shoreline Village Drive and 60 Bay St., Long Beach 90802
Cost: Paid lot and street parking
Shoreline Village is a collection of shops, restaurants and activities as well as scenic overlooks. At its Pelican Pier Pavilion, there are a carousel and an arcade. About half a mile away from Shoreline Village is the Pike Ferris Wheel ($4 a ride per person, cash only). It is linked to the carousel, and the area’s past, as reminders of the old Pike amusement zone that long operated there.
AquaBus and AquaLink
Cost: $1 (AquaBus) and $5 (AquaLink) each one-way trip; 2 and under free; exact change required; captain collects fare on board.
Long Beach Transit operates a two-option water-taxi service to points of interest along the shores of the city. It’s a fun, cheap way for families to get out on the water, see the coast from offshore and get from the downtown area to Belmont Shore and Alamitos Bay. Both services operate daily in the summer, the AquaBus about every half-hour and the AquaLink about every hour. You can catch the AquaBus boat at two docks along Rainbow Harbor or Shoreline Village and the colorful catamaran AquaLink at Dock 4 (Aquarium) at Rainbow Harbor, among other spots.
5839 E. Appian Way, Long Beach 90802
Cost: Paid parking in lot
Mother’s Beach, at Marine Park in the Naples neighborhood has what many parents seek in a beach: clean sand and calm, shallow water with no waves or current in a roped-off swim area. Another draw for the kids is the playground area, with lots of equipment, a climbing rock and a sand play area. There are a grass area, picnic tables, a concession stand, bathrooms and showers.
Long Beach is large and has distinct neighborhoods (including 4th Street’s Retro Row – but also worth a look!), and it can take 15 to 20 minutes to drive from the downtown area to Belmont Shore and Naples.
Long Beach’s free Passport bus connects the downtown destinations such as the Aquarium of the Pacific, Queen Mary and Pine Avenue with the Pike at Rainbow Harbor and Shoreline Village.
DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES
It wasn’t that long ago that downtown L.A. was not really a place to bring kids. That is no longer the case, as the revival that began about 15 years ago is still going strong, with new residential buildings, restaurants, arts venues and other businesses getting in on all the action. Grand Park, which opened in 2012 and connects the Music Center to City Hall, provides a green-space anchor and major large-event venue.
What to do:
OUE Skyspace LA
524 S. Flower St., Los Angeles 90071 (Pershing Square or Seventh Street/Metro Center stations)
Cost: $19 kids 3-12, $25 adult daily admission, $27 kids 3-12, $33 adult admission and Skyslide combo.
OUE Skyspace LA, situated atop the iconic US Bank Tower, not only gives visitors a sky-high view of Los Angeles, but it also features the world’s first Skyslide, a great experience for families to share (if they dare). The 45-foot enclosed slide takes visitors along the exterior of the tower from the 70th floor to the east observation terrace. From the outside terraces, visitors can see for miles, from the ocean to the mountains. There’s also an Interactive Level on the way to the top.
200 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, 90012 (Civic Center/Grand Park Station)
This open space, perhaps more than any other, reflects the renaissance of downtown L.A. It rambles down several blocks, connecting the Music Center to City Hall. There are an interactive splash pad, relaxing terrace areas, street performers, lunchtime concerts and food truck events. The Arthur J. Will Memorial Fountain puts on a light show after dark. The park serves as the city’s key gathering place, so be sure to check the website before a trip to avoid facing a big crowd.
845 N. Alameda St., Los Angeles 90012 (Union Station)
Olvera Street, the well-known tourist and field-trip destination, is a vibrant Mexican marketplace along a narrow block that is heavily shaded by trees. It is also part of a larger historic monument that includes restaurants, a plaza area and the Avila Adobe, the oldest such house in L.A. Handcrafted items for sale in the market include pottery, jewelry, toys, purses and wallets, leather goods, textiles and Mexican folk art. It’s a lively area, especially on weekends and holidays, with music, folkloric dancers and other special events.
With unpredictable freeway traffic and confusing, expensive parking in downtown L.A., your best bet is to take Metrolink to Union Station and the various Metro lines to destinations. We have included the names of the nearest Metro stations to each place mentioned. And, yes, contrary to the song, people do walk in L.A., so by all means do so.
LAGUNA BEACH BY TROLLEY
The trick to getting around Laguna Beach in the busy summer months is parking on the outskirts and using public transportation. When the Laguna Art-A-Fair, Sawdust Art Festival, Festival of Arts and its Pageant of the Masters, as well as the summer beach scene, are in full swing, it’s best to relax and take the trolley and leave the driving to someone else. The trolley extends south to the Montage and Ritz-Carlton resort areas and north to Crystal Cove State Park.
What to do:
Sawdust Art Festival
935 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach 92651 (canyon trolley line)
Cost: $4 kids 6-12, $9 adults, ages 5 and under free
This year’s festival, from June 30 to Sept. 3, features work from more than 200 Laguna Beach artists in media such as painting, surf art, glass-blowing, jewelry, ceramics, clothing and textiles, photography, and more. It’s a rustic, artsy vibe amid the eucalyptus trees, with many of the vendors returning year after year. There are art demonstrations and classes, as well as outdoor cafes and entertainment. Crafts for kids are offered daily at the Children’s Art Spot, Ceramic Center and Studio One.
Main Beach and Heisler Park
Coast Highway and Ocean Avenue, 375 Cliff Drive, Laguna Beach 92651 (coastal trolley line)
Yes, Main Beach is seemingly always crowded. Yes, there are nicer stretches of sand in Laguna, but none are as accessible as Main Beach. It includes a play structure for the kids, basketball and volleyball courts and an old-school wooden boardwalk. There’s a nice small tide pool area on the north end to explore. If you are so inclined for a long walk to get a view of the coastline from above, the ones from nearby Heisler Park are postcard-perfect. (You can hop back on the trolley to get there too.)
Cress Street between Temple Terrance and Bluebird Canyon Drive, Laguna Beach 92651 (residential trolley line)
This place is often mentioned at or near the top of “best parks in Orange County” lists, and deservedly so. It’s enclosed, a key feature for parents of little ones, and has separate play areas for smaller and bigger kids.
The equipment goes beyond the typical playground fare, with a rocket ship to climb up and concrete slides down the hillside included in the mix of climbing walls, swings and such. It’s a beautiful setting amid the canyon, with lots of open space, shaded areas for picnics and play and paved walkways for bikers and skaters.
Traffic is notoriously bad in Laguna Beach in the summer, but you can park on the outskirts (such as the lots up Laguna Canyon Road) and take the free Laguna Beach trolley to all of these destinations. The open-air trolley runs daily in the summer, coming by about every 20 minutes on three routes: the canyon route to the festivals, the coastal route along Coast Highway and the residential route.
The Visit Laguna Beach app with GPS tracker lets you see how close the next trolley is.
Life appears to move at a slower pace in the “Spanish Village by the Sea,” which works out well because you’ll want to spend plenty of time enjoying the views, whether it’s from the pier, the bluffs or the beach. Surfing is inherent in its culture, and shopping is becoming so as well, with its boutique shops that line Avenida del Mar or the still-expanding Outlets at San Clemente.
What to do:
415 Avenida Granada, San Clemente 92672
Cost: $5 admission
The Casa Romantica Cultural Center and Gardens is a historic landmark that provides programs in art, music, history, horticulture and literature, as well as free children’s arts- education programs year-round. It is celebrating 90 years as a landmark and 15 years as a cultural center this year. Perched on a bluff, this piece of history was the home of Ole Hanson, the founder of San Clemente. Families can take self-guided tours of art and historical exhibits as well as numerous gardens, including the Spanky Chang Children’s Garden.
San Clemente Pier
611 Avenida Victoria, San Clemente 92672
Cost: Metered and paid lot parking
Surrounded by miles of beach and pounding surf, the pier with its famous clock tower is a “must-see” in San Clemente, great for people strolling, fishing, relaxing and watching the surfers and the sunset. About 1,300 feet long, the pier was rebuilt out of wood in 1985 after heavy storms in 1983 damaged the original one. Downtown San Clemente’s Avenida del Mar, with its trendy boutiques, art galleries and restaurants, is a short walk away.
Outlets at San Clemente
101 W. Avenida Vista Hermosa, San Clemente 92672
Cost: Free parking
You can see and smell the ocean from the open-air, hacienda-style Outlets at San Clemente, which opened its first phase in November 2015. It now features more than 50 retailers and several restaurants and fast-food places.
The public areas include plenty of benches for tired shopping companions and several “larger-than-life” games in Center Court for the kids – Cornhole, Checkers, Chess, Connect 4, Dominoes and Jenga.
Take the Metrolink/Amtrak, and the San Clemente station is right next to the pier. Be aware that not all trains stop at San Clemente, so check the schedule.
This summer, the city is offering a free trolley that goes from the outlets to the pier and downtown areas and back. This allows you to take advantage of the ample parking (and shopping) at the outlets and avoid crowded beach parking.
Temecula may not be a typical choice, but memories are made by going off the beaten path and doing things the whole family can enjoy. So, yes, this is wine country, and there’s a big casino resort, so the adults get to check some things off their list instead of planning an exclusively kid-centric day. Old Town Temecula brings everyone together with its historic buildings full of shops, restaurants and Pennypickle’s Workshop for kids.
What to do:
Pechanga Resort Casino
45000 Pechanga Parkway, Temecula, 92592
Casinos don’t usually make the list of “family fun” things to do, but there is the resort part of the Pechanga equation that appeals to kids. If you have an aspiring golfer, the Journey Golf Academy at the resort’s award-winning course is one of the few places that offers lessons to children as young as 3. The lessons focus on skills, fun and the fundamentals of golf. Also, if you choose to make the day trip an overnighter, you gain access to Pechanga’s pool area.
Longshadow Ranch Winery
39847 Calle Contento, Temecula 92591
Cost: $15 wine tastings (five pours)
If we can suggest visiting a resort casino as a family, we’ll go a step further and suggest checking out what Temecula is also known for – wineries. Longshadow stands out as one that caters to the family crowd, because it has a small playground, horses, an alpaca and a goat to feed, and a grassy picnic area for kids to run around. There are plenty of shaded areas too, which is nice, as Temecula can get quite hot. Longshadow also goes out of its way to offer family-friendly special events such as barbecues.
Pennypickle’s Workshop, Temecula Children’s Museum
42081 Main St., Temecula 92590
Cost: $5 admission
With the mission of helping kids “discover science through play,” this is a place full of gadgets that kids can play with and use their imagination. There are multiple themed rooms packed with “Professor Pennypickle’s cool stuff” such as his inventions and lots of items related to time travel. There are also black-light Maze and Perception rooms.
Temecula is usually an hour’s drive from most of Orange County, off Interstate 15. It’s due east from Dana Point, but there’s no direct route; you must take the 91 freeway or Ortega Highway to the 15, or if you are farther south, go down into San Diego County and take Highway 76 to Interstate 15. The Pechanga resort is about five miles southeast of downtown Temecula.
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