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Southern California Family Adventure Itinerary

Updated: 7 days ago

Our Southern California Family Adventure Itinerary is being shared with the hopes of making your planning easier. Quality family time and the most scenic views we could get!


young men and mom ready to hike the southern Cali park
Family climb of Mount Roubidoux

On this Spring Break '24 family trip, my 2 sons, (19 and 29) and I stayed with family in Murietta. We missed Josh who is a Junior in Florida Tech and interning with L3 Harris. We missed Jas who is home with a two-year-old working and expecting a new daughter in August!


We drove daily to a cool location to spend quality time with each other and nature. I researched and planned amazing hikes with views, to really appreciate the landscape and beauty unique to this part of the country. I love that they trust me to build a great plan and are willing to follow my itineraries! We've been to Southern California a few times, so this trip was not meant for the usual touristy things, but more to experience the unique landscape and terrain. If you want to see our previous trip which included the San Diego Zoo, Hollywood Stars, and Griffith Observatory, click here.


Family on the Pacific Ocean in La Jolla
Our trip back in 2017, in La Jolla shores

We have visited Cali a few other times so really cool places like the San Diego Zoo (one of the best and most costly Zoos in the country) have already been done. We’ve also been to La Jolla on every trip however this is a free stop where the seals amaze us every time, so we continue to return. Consider this an itinerary for those wanting to hike, explore, and enjoy a week of mostly free (I’ll post any prices) activities. Day specifics below, and graphics for your convenience. Skip to bottom for Quick Itinerary Recap.

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Mom sitting on rocks at LA Jolla with seals
The La Jolla Cave, me, and the locals: Seals

While every trip has a different vibe, this one was a long-awaited adventure. We planned to hike Southern California. I took input requests from my two boys and their 17-year-old cousin who lives there, to keep everyone's voice heard. My oldest was insistent that on this trip we'd check out the Los Angeles Aqueduct. Each trip we run out of time before we get to explore this really cool engineering of moving the water from the Sierra Mountains to LA. My youngest wanted a return trip to Magic Mountain (6 Flags Theme Park). Christina wanted to spend her 17th birthday with family at the Santa Monica Pier. My goal was to combine their top plans with my own which included: La Jolla, Annie's Slot Canyon, and Point Loma/ Cabrillo National Monument along with a few others.


With a central location with family to stay, all of the places were within 2 hours driving distance and felt worth the traffic and drive to experience the beauty. I picked hikes that fit our needs: Nature as Therapy. I planned and replanned this adventure after losing a family member very dear to us and with a lot of added stress I made this trip my escape and refresh. If you are looking for some amazing places to experience, each of these I highly recommend.

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Day 1:

La Jolla (we found free parking - free)

The waterfront wraps the coastline in the most dramatic manner. I really came to see the seals. And seals we did see. Explore each of the areas: the Cove (where you may see nursing seal pups and moms laying on the sand relaxing), park (great place for frisbee or a picnic), and cave (tons of seals swimming in the waves, climbing in the rocks and sunbathing) to take in the beauty before you. A helicopter flew overhead, and all of the seals dove into the water at once. While La Jolla has done some construction here and continues to improve the walkway, it is a California Must see for any trip.


Take time to wander through the surrounding hilly town to treasure hunt murals or just see how the hills and ocean marry each other in sacred agreement. This is heaven to me. This town and the surrounding nature feel like a special blessing that offer so much presence. The ride to Torrey Pines was extremely beautiful. So visually exciting.

 

Torrey Pines (20$ parking)

This is a park that invites hiking along rare pathways through rare trees native to this zone.

Park at the top (if there is space) by the visitor's center and hike down to Guy Flemming's trail and up the overlook stops. The dramatic views of cliff, ocean, and forest invite you to walk through and appreciate what makes Southern California special. This is a perfect place to take deep breaths (it's most likely windy and sunny) and take in the massive land and seascapes surrounding you. The torrey pine trees can only be found in this region.

 

Day 2:

Santa Monica Pier ($12.00 to park in garage for apx. 5 hours)

Catch a break-dancing street show, and walk out to the end to watch the waves wash in.

Ride a roller coaster! Or two. Grab Dippin Dots or pretzels, pizza or a hot dog!

This is a scenic and fun spot to just hang out.

 

We ate lunch at Rusty’s. ($38.00/ 3 people)

Another return spot for us. I am all in favor of trying something new unless the experience checks all the boxes and leaves me wanting more. Rusty’s is in a great location. Good food at a quality and price where you can sit down and be out of the weather (good or bad, sometimes that wind is whipping). Order at the counter and grab a table to enjoy your company. Or watch Tom and Jerry on a tv!

 



Walk or ride down to neighboring Venice Beach. (We rode E-bikes for $20/ per person)

The 2.6 miles in between these locations is better as a walk along the coast than as a drive (how we’ve previously visited both amazing beaches – this time we got smart.) We were planning to walk, but those E-Scooters were too conveniently located. We downloaded the app, paid, and hopped on. I am not one for spending money unless it’s vital to the experience, and this was a definite win. Our ride was a little over an hour. This saved time, since we were going to go walking or riding! Driving would have been the worst way to make this trip as traffic is SLOW in the area.


Also fun because we had some issues. One or two of our scooters along the way ran out of charge, and we had to find new ones. They doubled up riding and their adventurous spirits won the challenge. There are plenty of scooters along the path so that was not a problem. We really felt like real explorers laughing, falling, driving through parking lots and navigating around the sand pits – you will fall if you drive the scooter through the sand. We rode all the way to the skateboarding pit, where we watched the skaters practicing their art. Always a fun spot. We skipped the muscle beach this time and opted to enjoy the scooters. Usually, they race to the top of the ropes or practice their balancing skills. Each adventure is a little different and that’s what keeps us coming back.

 

The vibe of Southern California can't be summed up anywhere else. This is a local hang out. Scenic eye-popping view with Pacific Ocean sea views and lots of activities happening simultaneously. People are playing music, selling art, painting art, locals are walking dogs and roller blading, there is just so much life.

 




Day 3: Magic Mountain/ LA downtown cool landmark exploration ($80/ $0)

This day we split up. I dropped our older teens at the theme park and my oldest son and I went to check out the LA Aqueduct. He is a plumber, and as a pipe and water works guy -this was high on his bucket list. I recommend splitting up if your groups have different wishes that are near each other. Me, I like to drive so I was fine with looping back (the driving we did this day makes no logical sense on paper but I will share the stops anyway).

 

The ride back to LA I was dreading a bit, but there was an accident along the route and GPS rerouted us up through the San Bernadino Mountains. San Bernardino sits at the eastern end of the 50-mile corridor of urban sprawl that extends from Los Angeles through Riverside and San Bernardino counties. This was the scenic route! And I really needed this on this day. While we didn't stop to hike (the crew would have killed me) we did stop and take some beautiful mountain photos along the very not busy roads, and we saw some of the aqueduct piping as well! Good fun drive. While gas is not cheap - this day cost no money except what we spent at In & Out Burger.


Shout out to In & Out Burger who has the best drive through system and even provided us a lap mat to keep us neat while eating in the car. I see why it was considered the best burger in the US for a long time!



Magic Mountain is a one-of-a-kind theme park and as avid theme park goers, my family rates it as #1. We have experienced this previously and it was not on my wish list. I will say for a theme park it is a more affordable option than Disney or Universal, and has the big roller coasters that thrill seekers enjoy most. These kids had a blast! They were practically the last people to leave the park and I sat patiently in the parking lot letting them stand in line for their last ride and make their way out. They rode X2, Full Throttle, Goliath, West Coast Racers, Bat Man, and The Riddler. These thrill roller coasters have some of the most daring tracks in the country. While they ran around and waited in lines, Wes and I explored more of LA and some cool historical spots.

 

While the teenagers felt they needed to visit this park (again) the older crew wanted to see the aqueduct and some other local hot spots.

 

If you opt to do downtown LA here's some ideas:

The Main Landmarks many come to this area to see include the Hollywood Stars, Hollywood sign, Santa Monica Pier, Venice Beach, and the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. If these are your goals, definitely follow the itinerary suggestions from my previous trip where we made all of those stops.

 

If you have people who have played GTA there may be some influence on locations.


Los Angeles building covered in graffiti
Graffiti Building Downtown LA

The Graffiti Building was high on my son’s visit list. Check out this article if you have no idea what I’m talking about: https://www.printmag.com/graffiti-and-street-art/graffiti-tower-downtown-la/

May seem a bit wild, but we love street art and have an appreciation of this. In Los Angeles, an abandoned sky rise quickly became a center piece for graffiti. It is currently fenced off completely so you can’t even get close. However, if you want to photograph the phenomenon you can be creative in your angles and get a good photo. You can google graffiti sky rise and it will come up, for logistics - the luxury apartment high rises across the street from the Crypto.com Arena and LA Live.

 

The Main Landmarks many come to this area to see include the Hollywood Stars, Hollywood sign, Santa Monica Pier, Venice Beach, and the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. If these are your goals, definitely follow the itinerary suggestions from my previous California trip where we made all of those stops.

 

Los Angeles Aqueduct:

An engineering innovation, this is a landmark that can be seen in many places, none more recognizable than the Cascades, but more appreciated when seen at multiple sites. Two places I recommend are very spread out and depending on your other stops along the way may pair well with your inventory. I don’t recommend seeing them back to back. However, if you are going to Magic Mountain, the Cascades is just a couple of miles away - it can be seen while driving along I5, but a quick hop off the exit allows better viewing.


The Los Angeles Cascades
The Cascades in LA sunset

The Cascades: Built into the mountain side are water pipes which direct the water of the Los Angeles Aqueduct. This historical location is gates but visible from the road, and the neighborhood just passed the front view of the cascades themselves. We pulled in, parked and hiked the short but cool trail around the magnificent structure which holds so much history (and water). 


The 6th Street Bridge (also known as the Sixth Street Viaduct) is a 3,500-foot bridge in Los Angeles connecting historic Boyle Heights on the east with the Downtown Arts District on the west. The bridge crosses over the LA River and the 101 Freeway, a few roads, and 18 railroad tracks. The older and well known viaduct on this site, built in 1932, was closed for demolition in January 2016, and rebuilt into this new innovative project. We saw lots of joggers and training going on while we were here. This is well made for public access.


Crossing the 6th Street Bridge to experience LA
Wes, the 6th Street Viaduct Bridge LA

After this we drove around LA, exploring some of the cool districts including the Arts District, China Town and Little Japan. Driving North to meet the Theme Park goers, we were mostly stuck in traffic and considered stopping to hike the Hollywood Sign, or swing by Griffith Observatory on our way up Interstate 5, but decided against it. We loved the Aqueduct experience and seeing some of the places shown in so many movies!


If this is your first trip to LA: This will help you see all the main go to places: https://www.savvysinglemamatravels.com/post/exploring-california-our-first-time-to-the-west-coast

 

Day 4: Annie's Slot Canyon (free)

YES!!!!! If you pick one thing – pick this.

We drove through Solana Beach, which is the cutest neighborhood where there are lots of places to eat and plenty of green space for enjoying the views.

Side note but you need to know – there are no public restrooms around the hiking trail. With no rest rooms at the hiking location, we drove into town to find a place to use the bathroom. There were many port o pottys around, I am not sure if those were meant for people like me, but I needed plumbing. There are free bathrooms at Solana Beach, a couple of miles away.



Annie’s Slot Canyon is a unique hike because of how much diversity you experience along the trail. You find free parking at the end of Solana Hill Drive. This is a picturesque residential street with some amazing homes. Walk to the fenced dead end and turn right. The trail leads you downhill towards San Elijo Lagoon, where you have two options for looping to the slot canyon, Whichever way you take going, take the other route returning. I recommend walking along the lagoon to get there. This is a little farther around but doesn’t add much time. At the slot canyon traffic is all one way in and out. You will climb up into the canyon and proceed through the narrow corridor. It is a little strenuous but only for a short time. Then you walk/ climb up through the canyon, climb up the ladder into the upper level and wow! The view at the top is breathtaking. You’ll walk down the studded steps into a wooded area along the Lagoon. This hike offers woods, views of the lagoon, and the rocky slot canyon ruggedness.


While we definitely needed both hands to climb, parents of little kids helped the children and even small dogs were there who could be lifted up or carried.


Such a cool hike - Inside the canyon you come to a split, make the short detour to the left and see the grotto of the mushroom cave. Then you'll retrack the steps back to the canyon and continue. It's just a fun place to explore.


Beautiful views at the top of Annie's Canyon
The top of Annie's Canyon

Public bathrooms with showers and free parking. Great grassy area for a picnic with beautiful cliffs and Ocean. Also, there is a playground and basketball court, several parks close by in walking distance. The little surrounding town is walkable and has so many places to eat. We didn't dine here but would have enjoyed any of these locations I am sure!


On this day, Wes met up with an old neighbor who is in the Navy and they toured the 4 bases, including some of the awesome helicopters, including this black hawk.

 

Point Loma/ Cabrillo National Monument ($20/ car or $10.00 walk in per person)

1800 Cabrillo Memorial Drive

San Diego, CA

 

Cabrillo National Monument is located in Point Loma, on the southern tip of the peninsula. This park is really land set aside to take you back in time to see how San Diego looked in its native state. Left very natural, this park is a look back in time, as well as simultaneously overlooking the modern ingenuity of today. Once you drive in to the gate, you have some options as to where you go and what you do. There are some amazing hikes. The tide pools are great for treasure hunting. On this March Day, it was very windy, and the cool air and long days had us a little tired. We bounced around to the Visitor Center and walked to the monument to see the bay and ocean.



Point Loma is a peninsula in San Diego that houses two military bases, a national cemetery, a national monument, and a university. Inside of the park area stand a light house which is now a museum connected to the monument, tide pools, and sandstone cliffs. The lighthouse stands 462 feet above sea level and was once considered the highest light house in the world. The geography here allows for views of both the San Diego Bay and the Pacific Ocean. This park is a place for spotting wildlife and even whaling! Although I initially envisioned climbing the light house and learning more of the history, walking around outside and just being here ended up being what we needed. The views of San Diego are amazing from here.



 

Day 5: Mount Rubidoux (free)

In the middle of Riverside, CA, this hike with paved walkways and great boulders has lots to offer and is worth a visit. Free parking is available right down the street at Ryan Bonaminio Park. This 3.2-mile loop to the top and down are a unique was to spend a few hours. A steadily gradual incline, it winds up to the top of Mt Rubidoux, where you are well treated to panoramic views. Once up there, enjoy the cool relics to explore. The Serra Cross, giant American flag, and the Peace Bridge all cool places for photos and taking in the moment. Each has interesting history.


Mount Roubidoux landmarks
The Peace Tower and Friendship Bridge

The Peace Tower and Friendship Bridge constructed in 1925 with insignias of allied nations of WW1, this stands 40 feet off the road and 10 feet in diameter. Built to honor Frank A Miller who was a local visionary and strong advocate for world peace. This cobble stone tower and bridge are now a local landmark and recognizable spot in the skyline.



Sitting on the stone steps at the base of the serra cross
Great seating at the top of Mt. Roubidoux

These stone steps at the top of Mount Roubidoux are well placed and while we were here a Good Friday church service was practicing. Known for their Easter Sunday sunrise services, there are plenty of seating areas wrapping around the center stage area. Well-built and envisioned as a usable space. If there is no service, this is an excellent spot to sit after climbing to the top!

 

Sitting on top of Mount Roubidoux
At the Serra Cross top of the mount!

The Serra Cross is another awesome spot for photos and exploring. Especially popular for sunrise and at Easter, where they've celebrated the 100th sunrise service!


Also, the American Flag which waves high above the top of the mount can be seen for miles all around the county.


This is a park on top of a mountain with a great view!


While us girls stuck to the path the majority of the climb, the boys took many boulder passageways, finding cool tunnels, caves and cut out for wandering. They came back to us and helped us climb across to this graffiti grotto area, which is pretty well hidden from the main path back behind the Serra Cross. I felt like Spider Man as I leaped over a ravine to get there and was greeted by a spider man painting! Christina was excited about the Hello Kitty art. We watched a bunch of private touring planes taking off and landing while we were in this little graffiti cut. Enjoyed the birds taking flight, wind blowing, and feeling of being so elevated.



Hanging at the top of Mount Roubidoux
A peaceful spot to sit, the Serra Cross above

We all agreed the only thing that would make this scenic hike better was Italian ice and hot dogs at the top! There is a vender selling some goodies by the parking lot below. We all left starving. This was a night where we stopped at Wing Stop on the ride home to make life easy.


**Many reviews of this hike complained about dog poop along the path. We did not see any. Recent rains may have been in our favor or made the timing work out great, but this beautiful scenic park had lots of active people running, pushing baby strollers, cycling, and even pulling a wagon up the walkway. We did see leashed dogs, but no dog mess!


Day 6: Mom's Day Out: Winery (anything but free) ($100+ for brunch and wine samples)

 

We chose: Fazeli’s Wine Cellar – on the De Portola Wine Trail – the famed ‘Wine Row” of Southern California’s spectacular Temecula Valley wine country – Fazeli Cellars soars as a state-of-the-art winery. Yes, the brunch choices are fresh and delicious Yes, the wines are so good. Yes, the views are breath taking. We were there on a drizzly day and took advantage of the gray day to find some indoor fun. I ordered the gyro salad. It was different and delightful. Nollie ordered a breakfast burrito which I tasted and can say is yummy. We also looked at some local 2nd hand shops although we did not find any treasures. I did find a cute dress.



Well, our final day of the trip was all about sharing photos, eating at home, washing clothes, packing, organizing and spending our last few minutes together. We flew on Alaska Air (BEST FLIGHT EXPERIENCE IN A LONG TIME) from San Diego back to MCO. We caught a morning flight and left at a good time where we didn't hit any traffic.

 

Quick Itinerary Recap:

Day 1: Alaska Air flight, Land in San Diego

*Eat at Phil's BBQ (we arrived prior to opening at 11am and were second in line. By 11:15 the line was down the sidewalk to get in! Delicious food.

*Head to La Jolla, enjoy the entire waterfront area, Cove, Park, and Cave. Enjoy the town and Murals.

*Drive to Torrey Pines, park by Visitor Center, Hike Guy Flemming Trail for great views and fun path through scenic trees and some variation in elevation

** Drove home to Murietta


Day 2: Family Day! Rest, regroup, food shop, cook, eat (adjust as you need)


Day 3: We were celebrating a 17th Birthday! This day was the B-Day Girl's choice -we met family at the Santa Monica Pier. Watched break dancers. Walked to the end.

*Pacific Park is a ticket-based theme park along the pier, allowing visitors to pick and choose what they want to experience. Rode two: West Coaster and Inkie's Wave Jumper.

*Ate at Rusty's (good choice!)

*Rented Electric Scooters and rode the path to Venice Beach (highly recommend)

*Enjoyed Venice Beach sights and laughed a lot!

*Drove home to Murietta


Day 4: Back to LA! We split up.

*Drive through San Bernadino Mountains (scenically delightful)

*Visited the LA Aqueduct including the Cascades and 6th Street Viaduct/ Bridge


Day 5: Annie's Slot Canyon, Solana Beach, Point Loma, Cabrillo National Monument


Day 6: Mount Roubidoux Hike



Day 8: Flew Alaska Air back to Florida


Ideas of things to do in Southern Cali
Southern California Itinerary Cheat Sheet

Family ratings:

 

This was not our first California rodeo. We're on our 4th visit to the west coast and we usually stay a week to 10 days with family who live there, and are happy to share all the local perspective.

My favorite venture was by far: Annie's Slot Canyon. I loved the diversity of this hike and all the perspective.

Westley's favorite stop of the week was: Mount Rubidoux bouldering. He loved climbing and exploring in a way this park can only offer

Darrien voted Magic Mountain as #1 (again) as this was his bucket list item and he loves this place the way I love La Jolla. I will never go to Cali and not go sit on the rocks watching the seals.

Christina's favorite was watching the seals playing in the water at La Jolla! Hard to top that!

We’ve been to both the Pier and Venice Beach before this trip, and they were high on our return to list just for the vibrant energy of the whole area. What made this time different: Renting the

 

Tips:

**Stay somewhere central to all of the many diverse parks and hikes available.

*If revisiting places you've been, add something unique to the return spot to spice it up

**Memories matter - take the photos no matter what you look like!

*Plan one or two events in a day, then enjoy the ride and process, traffic is a given in Cali- expect it to take longer than you think it will  

**Good sneakers make all the difference in the world

*Bring a portable phone charger!

**Definitely bring your own water and lots more than you think, SoCal is dry! and some of those altitude changes will make you extra thirsty

*Car cooler stocked and some good snacks will keep the long drives fun

**Keep some cash on hand, some par entry or parking prefer this

*To save $$, bring your picnic lunches and eat in scenic locations

**ChapStick (or something for lips) is needed.

*Got a drone? Bring it. We lefts ours home and regretted it!

**Gas is more expensive here than most other places you can drive. Check apps for better prices, it adds up!

*Pick your priorities. They can't all be #1. Order and then adjust as needed.

Rainy Day? Don't let it get you down - click here for things to do when it rains on your vacation.


The Aqueduct from the 6th Street Bridge
The 6th Street Aqueduct View of water

How many movies have you seen of a car race scene which speeds through the tunnel and then emerges into this canal swooshing up the sides of the viaduct while drivers allude police in a shoot off... Terminator, True Lies, Grease, Drive, The Mask, To Live and Die in LA, SWAT (to name a few). While they revamped the bridge with 10 huge concrete arches, the vibe is still there. Total score checking this bucket list stop!


Until next time, travel safely and in peace :-)

Enjoy all your travels, and home in between

Thank you for joining our journey, and I'd love to be a part of yours. Please share your trip tips and favorites. ❤


Mz. Savvy


The LA Cascades
The Cascades coming down the side of San Gabriel Mountains

A note from the editor:

The information in this article was accurate when published but may change without notice. Confirm details when planning your trip. I hope this makes it easier for your planning process.

Thank you for stopping by today! Please share your thoughts and experiences, we are all on this journey to live and love together. I welcome your travel tips & tricks :-)

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