Disneyland holds a special place in the hearts of many – there’s just nothing quite like the magic of Disney. And while millions of families make the trek each year to spend their valuable vacation time (and money) at Disneyland, a few days of lines, crowds, rides, theme park food, and tired kiddos can make you ready for a little change of pace. Luckily, there are numerous family-friendly day trip options that’ll give you a break from the mouse.
You could easily spend more than just a day in San Diego – there are plenty of options here. Kids especially will love the San Diego Zoo. Regarded as one of the best zoos in the world, the San Diego Zoo is one of the few zoos in the U.S. to house pandas – including a newbie, Xiao Liwu, who was born in July 2012. If you’re looking for a low- to no-cost option, check out The Big Bay – 27 miles of waterfront featuring bayside parks, marinas, hundreds of shops and restaurants and miles of promenades and bikeways. Or, visit La Jolla Cove,one of the most spectacular natural settings in the world, known for its magnificent sunsets.
Santa Monica Pier
A renowned Southern California attraction and landmark, the Santa Monica Pier is home to Pacific Park, an amusement park with rides and attractions for kids and adults, including the only over-water ferris wheel in California. (Have you ever watched the sun set over the ocean from a ferris wheel?) The pier also has a carousel from the 1920s, an aquarium, shops, entertainers, an arcade, a trapeze school, a pub, and restaurants ranging from high-end to cotton candy.
Santa Monica Pier
There are lots of star-studded options in Hollywood. Check out the hand and foot imprints of famous celebrities in the Forecourt of the Stars, in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theater. Wander among the “stars” on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Get free tickets to be in the audience of a sitcom, talk show or game show. Cozy up to familiar faces at Madame Tussauds Hollywood wax museum. Or, take your pick of one of several Hollywood tours, such as the Starline Movie Stars’ Homes Tour, or the Hollywood Behind-The-Scenes walking tour.
If you are traveling with just adults, or with older kids, there are some fantastic art museums in the L.A. area that you might want to visit. The Getty Center is one of the most visited museums in the U.S, specializing in pre-20th-century European paintings, drawings, illuminated manuscripts, sculpture, and decorative arts, and 19th– and 20th-century American and European photographs. The building itself is a work of art, and the views of L.A. are some of the best you’ll find.
There’s also the Getty Villa, which houses 44,000 Greek, Roman, and Estruscan antiquities dating from 6500 B.C. to 400 A.D.; it also has amazing gardens and an outdoor theater. And again, the views, this time of the Pacific Ocean, are fantastic.
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, or LACMA, contains more than 100,000 works in 21 collections focusing on art from all parts of the world, plus contemporary art, decorative art, modern art, photography and more. Throughout the year, the museum hosts temporary exhibits; upcoming ones include Stanley Kubrick, Henri Matisse and James Turrell.
Finally, for a fun and funky time, consider Venice Beach, well known for its unique style and quirky characters. Street performers include musicians, singers, jugglers, acrobats, mimes, comics, magicians, prophets, fortune-tellers, and other various entertainers. People-watching doesn’t get much better: tricolor hairdos, painted faces, weird tattoos, and outlandish clothing give you plenty to gawk at. Check out the serious iron at Muscle Beach, where bodybuilders put on shows of strength. And there are plenty of fun shops and restaurants, too, if you want to grab a bite to eat or do some shopping for that unique souvenir for Mom.
Alicia Russo works for CityPASS. There is so much to see in southern California, but one way to see some of the top theme parks for less is with CityPASS. You’ll get into the Disneyland Resort, Universal Studios Hollywood, and SeaWorld San Diego for less with CityPASS.