One of the most emailed, IG messaged or tweeted questions we get is about how to fit several SoCal destinations into one short trip. It usually goes something like this: Hi, Jade! We are coming to SoCal this month for a long weekend and would love to visit the beach (maybe a bonfire!), Disneyland, and shop our butts off. Can you suggest the perfect itinerary?
Up until recently, I struggled with how to craft the perfect itinerary that makes that trip doable and fun. One where you actually get to enjoy each part of your vacation and not spend all your time in the car. The solution: a multi-city jaunt in the capital of SoCal fun, The OC. Orange County has over 42 miles of wide sandy beaches, with some of the best surfing on the West Coast, an incredible harbor scene, culinary options from around the world, shopping that is second to none and plenty of arts and culture to round out the perfect itinerary. Whether you’re traveling with kids, exploring with your girlfriends or on a romantic getaway, we have the itinerary for you. First up is how to experience it all with kids in tow.
This three day itinerary allows you to visit the beach, a children’s museum, Disneyland and squeeze in some shopping. We added tips on how to extend the trip and where we would spend more time if you have more vacation days. Now start planning!
Located across the street from the beach, the Hyatt has the perfect location for sunset viewings overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The rooms (especially the bathrooms) are very generously sized and designed, and the breakfast at Watertable is perfect for al fresco dining.
Start the trip in Newport Beach on a Duffy Boat tour of the harbor, keeping your eyes peeled for sea lions on the docks. A tour of the harbor will give you in-depth knowledge about the area, history that will connect the area to Disneyland and the celebrities that call Newport home, plus an overview of the area before you set out to explore on dry land. A ride or two around the ferris wheel is another fun way to start the day before biking around Balboa Island. You can easily take the short ferry ride (less than 5 minutes) from the island back to the peninsula to pick up your car or continue your bike ride along the beach. (Have more time? Plan a full day in Newport Beach, and check out our guide for dining and more shopping options).
Driving over to Irvine, stop by Pretend City to let the kiddos imagination do the playing. From dressing up like a pilot, planting a garden, steering their own ship or checking other little one’s groceries as a store clerk in a Trader Joe’s, kids 1-5 will love Pretend City (where everything is touchable and at their height!). For dining, your options at Irvine Spectrum Center consist of everything from an Italian to Cuban foods, and each restaurant is designed to feel as if you stepped out of Orange County and into the country- feel like you’ve bee whisked away to Italy or Cuba! Afterwards, take the kiddos over to the Giant Wheel or Ice Skating Rink before heading back to Huntington Beach.
Back at the hotel, grab some additional layers and head over the walkway towards the beach for a sunset bonfire. This is the perfect way to end the day- and with Waterfront Adventures bonfire concessionaire package, you don’t have to mess with bringing all the firewood and s’mores- it will all be set up for you! I’d suggest arriving about an hour before sunset and walking down to the pier for some photos before settling in at your bonfire spot and roasting marshmallows as the sun finally dips below the horizon. This was one of the most fun adventures we’ve had as a family and will totally make all your friends jealous once you post the photos on social media! 🙂
I always think the best days start with a walk on the beach, and with over 42 miles of beaches, you’ve come to the right place. We ventured over to Crystal Cove State Park (one of three state parks on the beach) to watch the waves roll in and crash along the rock coastline. One thing that I love about Orange County is the variety of beaches and landscapes- there is something new to see around every corner. The state park is HUGE and could easily be an entire day or more of hiking and surfing and playing but we opted for donuts and the ocean, two of my favorite things, before venturing off for the day. (Have more time? Make this a full day excursion or head back to the hotel to learn to surf!)
Costa Mesa is known for their world class shopping opportunities within South Coast Plaza. To make your experience extra special (and not worry about carrying any of your purchases around all day) sign up for the concierge service, with special perks during your visit. The center is more than a traditional mall- with amazing dining and even a carousel, you could easily spend a full day there! But, we’d suggest only spending half a day and going to see a show at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in the evening. (Upcoming performances include The American Ballet Company’s The Nutcracker and A Christmas Carol) If you have a few minutes before the show, walk over to Isamu Noguchi’s sculpture garden, adjacent to the theatre.
Day three is all about Disneyland in Anaheim! Highly suggest grabbing a quick breakfast at the hotel before beating the traffic and the lines at Disney to get in right when they open. The lines are shorter before lunch time and really ramp up around 5pm- so get in your favorite rides and attractions before the crowds arrive. The top Disney tip that we picked up was buying the Max Pass and downloading the app. We were able to get fast passes to all our favorites from the app, identify key attractions like the bathrooms!, and all our character photos were automatically synced to our phones. It was amazing and well worth the $10 bucks.