Family Fun in Los Angeles and San Diego: A Plan for Excess

Matthew DeJong is the owner of Winding Road Productions, specializing in feature films, documentaries and video game production. Through his travel writing, he encourages  young families to conquer their fears and explore the world with their children. 

Los Angeles is renowned for its celebrities and tinsel-town magic, but it is also packed with family-friendly attractions. Though the city’s vast size and excess of options can make it challenging to navigate, families can plan ahead with these tips to ensure a hassle-free, adventure-filled vacation to the golden coast.

Getting Around

As the second largest city in North America, with a geographical radius of over 500 square miles, transportation should be your first discussion. For example, a gridlocked cab ride from the airport to our hotel in Hollywood cost $80—an amount that would have been better spent renting a car for an extra day or two. If you are an experienced subway rider, Los Angeles has a very good Metro system. Riding the rails from the airport to your hotel is a quarter the price of a cab ride, yet takes twice as long.


Some quick wins for kids include Madame Tussauds Hollywood wax museum and the must-see Hollywood Walk of Fame, featuring the world-famous TCL Chinese Theatre. The infamous costumed characters along this route will delight younger children, but do not ask for a picture if you are not prepared to tip a Spider-Man in an ill-fitting suit.

For the ultimate picture of your family with the Hollywood sign, the Hollywood & Highland Center mall provides a wonderful view, with some other comforts for weary children like Dave and Buster’s entertainment center and Johnny Rockets ‘50s-style diner.

For the money, the best option for our first two days was Starline’s 48-hour hop-on, hop-off tour. This allowed for a guided tour of the city, seeing such legendary sights as the Capitol Records Building, the world famous Whisky a Go Go, the Comedy Store, and other temptations best reserved for the next trip, sans enfant. The tour also includes the option of connecting with several other loops, such as the yellow route down to Santa Monica Pier—a must-stop for families wanting to fish, shop and interact with trained parrots and some not-so-trained reptiles. Starline allowed us to plan the week ahead, adding experiences usually only frequented by locals, like the refreshing celebrity hot spot Millions of Milkshakes and the fan store at UCLA.

As for other must-do experiences with children, Universal Studios is still the number one attraction. Their legendary Studio Tour is better than ever, topped by the King Kong 360 3-D experience created by Peter Jackson, where you will swear monsters are rolling over your tram.  And such rides are plentiful, from the Simpsons big-screen roller coaster ride to Transformers 3-D, Shrek 4-D and the outrageous 3-D Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, all of which eliminate the line between movies and theme park attractions.

For some lighter experiences, The American Girl Place, set in the fantastic Grove outdoor mall, will have your daughter drafting her Christmas wish list. And for that little car enthusiast, head over to Petersen Automotive Museum, a 300,000-square-foot experience featuring 150 vehicles at a time from the collection, as well as The Discovery Center, where children learn about automotive science through hands-on activities.

Lastly, for a truly unique experience not expected in downtown Los Angeles, try the La Brea Tar Pits. A leaking caldron to the present day, it has been a treasure trove of prehistoric fossils that are on display in the conveniently located George C. Page Museum. Recent excavations uncovered saber-toothed tigers, lions and even a mammoth nicknamed Zed.

San Diego Side Trip

If you need a break from crowds, traffic and often smoggy air, a trip to nearby San Diego might just fit the bill. Its beaches, such as Coronado or the iconic Mission Beach, are often less crowded than those in Los Angeles, and its quaint Mexican feel may just fulfill your need to peek across the border.

When in town, make sure you don’t miss the birthplace of California, Historic Old Town. This district presents a living history of the early settlers, from well-preserved houses (one of which is haunted!), hotels and stores, to the Saturday morning artisan market. Among the menagerie of eateries, local Mexican connoisseurs will tell you there is no better restaurant than Cafe Coyote. From the mural detailing the process of tequila making, to the albondigas (meatball) and tortilla soup, you will wish you had one to frequent in your home town. You might even drop by for a post-shopping dessert, and experience the best flans and churros you’ve ever had. Recent controversy aside, SeaWorld is still a place for children to enjoy. From shows by rescued animals to thrilling rides like Journey to Atlantis, this theme park is a wonderful combination of education and entertainment for the entire family.  If you really plan ahead, you can purchase multi-park tickets allowing entrance into several theme parks, for a savings of about $20 per person.


As for hotels, if you have the budget, a night in the legendary Beverly Hills Hotel will cost you $450, while the sprawling, beachfront Hotel del Coronado in San Diego will run you just shy of $400.  For others wanting to save more money for attractions, chains like Holiday Inn, conveniently located off the Walk of Fame or Old Town San Diego, include a pool and a free breakfast that will run you under $200 per night—a plan for the land of excess that will leave you and your little ones glowing like the Southern California sun.

To keep up with Matt and his travels, you can find him on Twitter: @DeJongMatt. Expert Tips

How To Get There: Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) is approximately 16 miles from downtown, and is serviced by over 60 domestic and international airline carriers. San Diego is approximately 120 miles from LA with a driving time of under two hours.
Best Time To Visit: The summer months can be hot, hot, hot – not to mention rather crowded. Plus families on vacation will be visiting the area thus driving up airfares and hotel rates. Consider visiting Los Angeles in the fall or spring when schools are back in session, making for cheaper hotels and airfares. Additionally, the weather is extremely comfortable during those seasons, being in the high-60s to mid-70s range.

Sample Fares: Calendars display lowest roundtrip fares over the next 90 days to Los Angeles from:
* All fares are roundtrip including all taxes and are accurate at time of publication. For updated pricing, conduct a new search on

Featured Image: Hollywood Sign (

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