It’s always a great time to take a trip to Southern California! Whether you’re looking for fun things to do with kids in Southern California, or just simply want to get away, you’ll be able to fill up your Southern California itinerary with plenty of activities.
Over the years, we’ve visited Southern California dozens of times. We come to visit family and enjoy all the fun things to do in Southern California with kids. Besides the California sunshine, we love the beautiful beaches, the vibrant cities, and the exciting attractions that are found throughout the area.
I know that other families will love Southern California too! That’s why I’ve put together this post to share with you all our favorite fun things to do with kids in Southern California. Whether you’re traveling to the region for a week, or staying for a month, this list will help you experience Southern California to its fullest. Get ready to enjoy some family adventures in Southern California!
This post may contain affiliate links. That means I may receive a small commission if you click on the link and purchase something. But don’t worry, this will not result in any extra costs to you.
Things to know for your Southern California itinerary
Before enjoying all the family activities Southern California ideas in this post, take some time to understand some basic information about traveling in Southern California. Knowing how to get to Southern California, where to stay in the area, and how to get around can make it much easier to enjoy all the fun things to do with kids in Southern California.
Getting to Southern California
There are several major airports in the region to make Southern California getaways for families convenient and accessible. These airports service both domestic and international locations.
If you’re planning to fly into Southern California, check out these major airports:
- Los Angeles International Airport, Los Angeles
- John Wayne Airport, Santa Ana
- San Diego International Airport, San Diego
If you’re in the mood for a road trip, you can also drive into Southern California. To orient yourself for your Southern California trip itinerary, I-5 is the major highway that runs north and south in Southern California. I-10 and I-8 also come into the region from the east.
The final option to get to your Southern California itinerary is by train. You can choose to book train rides into the historic Los Angeles Union Train Station or into San Diego’s Amtrak station, the Santa Fe Depot. Taking a train ride is a great way to sneak in some fun things to do with kids in Southern California. Kids love train rides!
Where to stay during a Southern California itinerary
While there are plenty of options for places to stay during your Southern California itinerary, it might be a good idea to stay closer to some of the big cities, and more centrally located to all the fun things to do with kids in Southern California that I’ve listed in this post. Alternatively, you can choose hotels that are closer to the major airports.
Here are some hotels we’ve personally stayed in during our past Southern California family vacation itinerary:
H Hotel, Los Angeles
Hampton Inn and Suites, Anaheim
Ready for a change? Take the first step to living a life of full time travel.
Driving tips for fun things to do with kids in Southern California
If you’re planning on traveling around the area for your Southern California vacation itinerary, the best option is to rent a car (unless you are driving your own car). You can rent a car through Expedia at any of these airports:
As I mentioned, the major highway that runs north and south is I-5. And the major highways that come in from the east are I-10 in Los Angeles and I-8 in San Diego.
When driving on the highways, make sure to go with the flow of traffic. Having a GPS in your car, or using Google Maps or Waze on your phone can help you navigate your way through the mess of multi lane highways with ease.
If you’re visiting Southern California with toddlers or babies, be sure to have a car seat that’s appropriate for their age. Families in Southern California with kids under the age of 8 (or less than 4’9” in height) must have the kids sit in a booster seat when riding in a car.
Learn more about the amazing family travel resources we use for worldschooling!
The best fun things to do in Southern California for a Southern California itinerary
As I was putting together this list of our favorite fun things to do with kids in Southern California, I thought it would help to organize the list by geography. For ease of planning your Southern California itinerary, I’ve grouped the activities by county:
- Los Angeles County
- Orange County
- San Diego County
If you’re limited by time and only have 3 days in Southern California, you can choose one county to visit. If you have more than 10 days in Southern California, you can plan to spend at least 2 days in each county.
I’ve also organized the list in a flow from north to south. So if you’re planning a Southern California road trip, you can use this list to map out where you want to go for your Southern California road trip itinerary.
Southern California itinerary: Los Angeles County
The main attractions in Los Angeles County are found in Los Angeles city itself. But there are plenty of amazing places to go in Southern California with kids outside of Los Angeles.
If you’re looking for ideas for a Southern California 5 day itinerary, you can plan to only stay within Los Angeles County and do one or two things in this portion of the list per day. If you’re looking to fill out a Southern California 1 week itinerary, add in activities from other counties.
1. Highway 1(Pacific Coast Highway)
No Southern California road trip would be complete without a drive along Highway 1. Also known as the Pacific Coast Highway, Highway 1 runs from Dana Point, south of Irvine, all the way up to Leggett, north of San Francisco.
One of the fun things to do with kids in Southern California on Highway 1 is to stop for some beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean along the way. A highlight of Highway 1 for a Southern California itinerary is Old Mission Santa Barbara, a practicing mission built by Spanish Franciscans in 1786. Also, don’t miss driving through the city of Malibu for a chance to spot celebrities. And spend some time visiting the nearby parks like Point Mugu State Park, Topanga State Park, and Santa Monica National Recreation Area.
Highway 1 is also a more scenic way to get to the beach cities on this list, such as Santa Monica, Venice, Huntington Beach, and Newport Beach.
If you’re looking for outdoors-themed fun things to do with kids in Southern California while visiting Highway 1, check out this highly rated winery hike in Malibu:
2. Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica
A must-do for fun things to do with kids in Southern California is to take a visit to Santa Monica Pier in the city of Santa Monica. The Santa Monica Pier is located on Ocean Avenue and is actually the end point of the famous Route 66.
The pier has the Pacific Park amusement park, with a roller coaster and Ferris wheel, and a historic merry-go-round. There’s also an aquarium at the pier called Heal the Bay Aquarium. When it comes to kid friendly things to do in Southern California, Santa Monica Pier really does top the list. In fact, the fun family activities at Santa Monica Pier reminded us of the pier we visited in Brighton Beach during our visit to England with kids!
If you’re planning to spend an afternoon at Santa Monica Pier, leave time to play at Santa Monica Beach. You can also rent bikes along Ocean Avenue. And if you’re in the mood for some indoor play, head over to Clayton Children’s Museum, just a few blocks away from the pier.
For active fun things to do with kids in Southern California in both Santa Monica beach and nearby Venice beach, book this highly rated bike tour:
Santa Monica and Venice Beach Bike Adventure Tour
3. Venice Beach, Los Angeles
Named after the city of Venice in Italy, the neighborhood of Venice in Los Angeles is known for its canals, beach, and vibrant street life. Venice Beach has a two mile long boardwalk that stretches along the beach, and you’ll often find kids and adults alike biking, skating, or walking along the beach.
Notable attractions at Venice Beach include Muscle Beach, an outdoor workout area, and the Venice Canals, several blocks of canals that you can walk through. There’s also a fishing pier, for those interested in fishing.
If you’re in the mood for surfing lessons during your visit Southern California itinerary, book this highly rated tour in Santa Monica and Venice Beach:
Shared 2 Hours Group Surf Lesson
4. La Brea Tar Pits, Los Angeles
As a worldschooling family, we love incorporating learning into our travels. The La Brea Tar Pits is a fun and interactive place to sneak in some science learning into a visit to Los Angeles. It’s actually an active paleontological research site where scientists research the bones found in the area’s natural tar pits to learn about the animals that existed here tens of thousands of years ago.
The La Brea Tar Pits is open every day from 9:30am to 5pm. Tickets cost $15 for adults and $7 for kids aged 3-12. If you have a teen (aged 13-17) that has a student ID, they can get tickets for $12. Besides the exhibits, you can watch shows (for an additional fee) or visit a live excavation site.
5. Los Angeles museums, Los Angeles
The city of Los Angeles is thriving with museums. There are so many topics to explore, from science to art, history to the natural world. Besides the La Brea Tar Pits mentioned above, there are a handful of museums that are perfect for a family day out in Los Angeles.
Here are some museums for families to visit:
- California Science Center
- Natural History Museum of Los Angeles
- California African American Museum
- Los Angeles County Museum of Art
- The Hollywood Museum
Read my California posts to learn more about this amazing state.
6. The Grove and The Original Farmer’s Market, Los Angeles
Shopping is a favorite pastime in Los Angeles. And one fun place to do it is at The Grove, an upscale shopping center in the city. The Grove has high end stores and pop-up shops. And there are also several options for dining.
But if you want more down-to-earth dining options, head next door to The Original Farmer’s Market, a historic market adjacent to The Grove. The Original Farmer’s Market has artisan foods, bakeries, and farm-fresh produce. There are also plenty of restaurant choices from hamburgers to rotisserie chicken.
The Grove is open from 10am to 9pm, with Sunday hours running from 11am to 8pm. The Original Farmer’s Market is open from 9am to 8pm. Sunday’s hours are 10am to 7pm.
7. Hollywood landmarks, Los Angeles
No trip to Los Angeles would be complete without a visit to some of the Hollywood landmarks. Most people are familiar with the Hollywood sign, set in the hills overlooking the Hollywood neighborhood. While you can’t go to the actual sign, you can take a hike around the hills surrounding the sign.
Once back in the Hollywood neighborhood, head over to Hollywood Blvd, where you’ll spot the Hollywood Walk of Fame – a sidewalk with star shaped placards of famous movie stars – and TCL Chinese Theater, where movies premier. Don’t forget to take a visit to the Hollywood Bowl, a popular concert venue.
Take one of these tours for your Southern California itinerary to get more insight on the Hollywood landmarks:
Shared 3 Hours Los Angeles VIP Tour
Grand City Tour of Los Angeles
8. Universal Studios Hollywood, Universal City
While we’re on the topic of Hollywood, why not splurge and also visit Universal Studios Hollywood? While this park is much like other theme parks, with roller coasters and rides, it also offers families a chance to immerse themselves into the world of movies.
Take a day to immerse yourself into the movie worlds of Jurassic World, King Kong, Secret Life of Pets, or Despicable Me. We especially enjoy the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. It reminds us of taking the Harry Potter studio tour while we were in London!
We also like doing the backlot tour while we’re at Universal Studios. Since it’s still technically a ride, there are some gimmicky elements, but we like being able to see reconstructions of movie sets from real movies.
Universal Studios is open all year round. And tickets start at $109 per person, which you can buy from their website.
9. Grand Central Market, Los Angeles
If you’re looking for a great lunch spot in Los Angeles, you can’t go wrong with a visit to Grand Central Market. Opened in 1917, Grand Central Market is Los Angeles’ oldest and largest public market. Today, Grand Central Market’s 30,000 square foot space sells food from the city’s many immigrant populations. As the market’s website states, it’s a “microcosm of the historic immigrant communities that have shaped Los Angeles.”
Grand Central Market is open Monday through Sunday from 8am to 9pm. While you’re at Grand Central Market, be sure to check out some of these vendors:
- Sari Sari Store (Filipino food)
- McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams (ice cream)
- Ramen Hood (vegan ramen)
- Tacos Tumbras A Tomas (Mexican food)
After a visit to the market, head across the street to the Angels Flight Railway, and take a cheap ride on the funicular up the hill. Angels Flight Railway has been in operation since 1901. The rail cars are open every day from 6:45am to 10pm. Tickets cost $1 per person for a one way trip.
Get weekly worldschooling tips sent to your inbox with my Worldschooling Wednesday email series.
Southern California itinerary: Orange County
Los Angeles County isn’t the only spot for fun places to visit in Southern California with family. Orange County has its share of entertainment too!
If you’re planning to spend at least 5 days in Southern California, be sure to make time to visit the theme parks of Orange County, as well as the beaches. While parks like Disneyland and California Adventure are well known, smaller amusement parks like Knott’s Berry Farm, Adventure City, and Balboa Fun Zone are also worth a visit.
Take a look at my suggestions for fun things to do with kids in Southern California in Orange County.
10. Anaheim Packing District
For a fun food experience while in Orange County, head to Anaheim Packing District. This food hall is packed with vendors serving up all kinds of cuisine. We enjoyed sampling Japanese ramen, along with fish and chips.
While at Anaheim Packing District, be sure to visit these vendors:
- Zabon Ramen (Japanese ramen)
- Mini Monster (Boba tea)
- Georgia’s Kitchen (Southern soul food)
- Crepe Coop (Japanese style crepes)
- The Chippy Fish and Grill (British style fish and chips)
11. Disneyland, Anaheim
If you’re in the mood for a treat, spend the day in Disneyland. Visiting Disneyland is one of the essential things to do with kids in Southern California, and should be part of any Southern California trip. Hey, I’m not afraid to admit I love theme parks!
Located in Anaheim, Disneyland is a sprawling theme park with over 60 rides based on Disney movies and cartoons. From classic rides like the Mad Tea Party to new park areas like Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge, you will have a great time exploring the park. There are many options for your Disneyland itinerary.
Disneyland operating hours are from 8am to 12am, so visitors have plenty of time to explore the park and have unforgettable experiences. Tickets start at $104 for a one day pass, or $415 for a five day pass. Discount tickets are available for Southern California residents. Lines for the rides tend to be long, so be sure to plan ahead for the rides you absolutely want to go on.
12. Disney California Adventure, Anaheim
While you’re at Disneyland, you definitely don’t want to miss a visit to Disney California Adventure, just across from Disneyland. It’s a fun spot for families to visit on a Southern California itinerary.
With over 20 rides, shows, games and attractions, there’s something for kids of all ages. We really enjoy the thrilling rides like Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT!, Radiator Springs Racers, and the Incredicoaster. And being Marvel fans, we love the immersive experience of WEB SLINGERS: A Spider Man Adventure and eating lunch at Pym’s Test Kitchen.
Like Disneyland, tickets to Disney California Adventure start from $104 for a one day pass to $415 for a five day pass, so it’s definitely a bit of a splurge. Also, similar to Disneyland, you can get discount tickets if you’re a Southern California resident. But if you’re looking for an engaging day of play with your kids, then you definitely need to add this park to your list of fun things to do with kids in Southern California. California Adventure Park is open from 8am to 10pm every day.
13. Discovery Cube, Santa Ana
A great way to sneak in learning while you’re looking for fun things to do with kids in Southern California is to head to Discovery Cube in the city of Santa Ana (there’s also one in Los Angeles, if you want to add that to your list!). This children’s museum offers exhibits that help kids learn about the world, through physics, the natural world, exploring how cities work, and the world of illusion. Discovery Cube is a great place for families to learn together about different aspects of science and social studies.
There are two locations for Discovery Cube in the Los Angeles County/Orange County area. Discovery Cube Los Angeles is located in Sylmar (off of I-210) while Discovery Cube OC is located in Santa Ana (off of I-5). In Orange County, Discovery Cube OC’s close proximity to Anaheim makes it a great supplement to a Disneyland itinerary!
Admission costs are $19.95 for adults and $14.95 for children ages 3-11. Discovery Cube is open from 10 am to 5 pm daily. The museum has a cafe, so if your kids get hungry, they can grab a quick snack and then go back to their learning fun!
14. Huntington Beach and Pier, Huntington Beach
Like other parts of Southern California, there are some great beaches to visit in Orange County. If you want to get your fill of beach time during your Southern California itinerary, be sure to include Huntington Beach on your list of fun things to do with kids in Southern California.
Located southeast of Los Angeles, Huntington Beach is known for its surfing. In fact, you can learn all about the city’s surfing history at the Huntington Beach International Surfing Museum, open Tuesdays through Sundays from 11am to 5pm.
Alternatively, you can book surfing lesson at Huntington Beach to learn how to surf:
2 Hour Private Group Surf Lessons
Spending an afternoon playing in the surf and sand at Huntington Beach is definitely a great way to spend a day in Southern California. But while you’re at Huntington Beach, don’t forget to visit Huntington Beach Pier, one of the longest piers in the United States, at 1,850 feet in length. While it doesn’t have an amusement park, like at Santa Monica Pier, Huntington Beach Pier is a great place to fish or catch the sunset.
15. Newport Beach surfing and cruises, Newport Beach
For more beach time, head to nearby Newport Beach. Just like at Huntington Beach, Newport Beach is known for being a surfing destination. You can book this surf lesson at Newport Beach to continue filling your vacation with fun things to do with kids in Southern California:
Private Surf Lesson Newport Beach, California
Besides surfing, Newport Beach is also a great place to enjoy a whale watching marine cruise. Boats come in and out of Newport Harbor, a semi-artificial harbor created in the early 1900s. If you’re interested in booking a whale watching cruise, book one of these highly rated cruises:
Ultimate Whale and Dolphin Watching in Newport Beach
Private Dolphin and Whale Watching Tour in Newport Beach
Alternatively, splurge on this brunch cruise during your Southern California itinerary to experience the Pacific coast in style:
Premier Brunch Cruise from Newport Beach
Learn how to ethically see animals when you travel.
Southern California itinerary: San Diego County
One of our favorite kids activities Southern California places is San Diego County. We go to San Diego quite often to visit extended family, and when we do, we try our best to explore new-to-us places in the area.
If you’re planning a 5 day Southern California road trip, consider including a drive down to San Diego County. The drive from Los Angeles to San Diego takes 2-3 hours, so it’s easy to do a day trip from either city. And if you have more than one week in Southern California, then definitely build in a full day or two in San Diego county.
Here are some Southern California itinerary ideas for fun things to do with kids in Southern California in San Diego County.
16. LEGOLAND California, Carlsbad
While in San Diego county, spend an afternoon visiting LEGOLAND in the city of Carlsbad. LEGOLAND is an international chain of theme parks based on the popular toy bricks, LEGOs! At LEGOLAND California, there are over 60 rides and attractions to enjoy, making this park a great choice for fun things to do with kids in Southern California.
We enjoy the LEGO Movie and Ninjago themed rides. But we also love the rollercoaster rides too. And one of our favorite parts about LEGOLAND is MINILAND, a replica of the United States and other landmarks around the world, made from LEGO bricks.
LEGOLAND California is open Monday through Friday from 10am to 5pm. On Saturdays and Sundays, the park is open from 10am to 6pm. Tickets start from $89 per person.
17. Eagle Mining Company Gold Mine, Julian
One of the unique and fun things to do with kids in Southern California is to visit a gold mine. And you can do this at the Eagle Mining Company gold mine in the town of Julian. This town has a wild west town feel to it, and is famous for its pies!
At the mine, a tour guide leads you through the tunnels of the mine, and you can see how miners mined gold in the 1800s. At the end of the tour, you can also practice panning for gold in a trough filled with sand, water, and gold dust. Admission to the gold mine tour is $15 for adults and kids over 13 years old. Kids aged 5-12 cost $8.
18. La Jolla, San Diego
Beach time is always a great option for fun things to do with kids in Southern California. And in San Diego County, a perfect place to include in your Southern California itinerary is La Jolla Shores. Swimming at this beach is one of our favorite fun things to do in San Diego with kids. The waves are gentle enough for young kids, but still fun to splash around.
La Jolla Shores is located in the La Jolla neighborhood. The beach runs about one mile long and is open all year long. There are also a lot of restaurants nearby, so you’ll have plenty of options for places to eat after a long day of beach play!
If you’re looking for more adventure on the water, check out this highly rated kayaking tour in La Jolla:
19. Balboa Park, San Diego
While in San Diego, don’t miss out on a visit to Balboa Park. There are always fun things to do for kids in Southern California at Balboa Park, from museums to hiking.
Balboa Park is the largest urban and cultural park in the country, filled with gardens, theaters, museums, and many activities you can enjoy during your family trip to San Diego. There are a few picnic spaces, a cactus garden worth visiting, and inspiring museums located throughout the park.
Some of the best museums for your San Diego itinerary with kids include:
Although Balboa Park is free to visit, the museums at the park do have admission fees. Fortunately, you can buy a Balboa Park Explorer Pass, which is good for one week. This will get you and your family into many of the museums at Balboa Park for the whole week.
If you want to visit the San Diego Zoo, you’ll have to purchase tickets separately. You can book tickets on the zoo website or get a 1 day pass using the link below:
San Diego Zoo 1-Day Pass Ticket
20. Old Town State Historic Park, San Diego
For a bit of history while in San Diego, head to Old Town San Diego. This is also another of our favorite fun things to do with kids in Southern California whenever we go to San Diego.
We love visiting historical parts of the towns and cities we visit. They help us learn about the history of a city, and give us a feel for what it might have been like being in that city in the past.
Old Town San Diego has a handful of points of interest for families to explore. There are at least 22 historic sites within the area to visit. Old Town also has a lot of restaurants for families to choose from. Our family enjoys walking through the Old Town State Historic Park. The area has been remade to look like San Diego in the 1800’s, including old style shops and businesses!
21. Hotel del Coronado, Coronado
For a final activity on your list of fun things to do with kids in Southern California, head to the historic Hotel del Coronado in the city of Coronado. This hotel was opened in 1888 and is a great example of a Victorian beachside resort.
Notable guests of the Hotel del Coronado include movie stars, presidents, and other A-list celebrities. And one of the hotel’s guests, Kate Morgan, has never left the hotel! In 1892, Kate Morgan checked into the hotel and died three days later. Her ghost is rumored to haunt the hotel to this day!
If you’re into ghost stories, you can book a haunted tour of Hotel del Coronado to learn about the ghostly tales of the hotel. We did a similar activity at the Stanley Hotel while exploring kid-friendly Denver activities and we loved it! If you’re not into scary tales, but still want a tour of the hotel, you can take a regular historic tour. Hotel tours cost between $30-40 dollars and last 40-45 minutes.
The Hotel del Coronado is also available for stays. If you’re in the mood for a splurge, book a night here:
Making memories with all the fun things to do with kids in Southern California
Taking a Southern California itinerary with kids is sure to provide memories that will last a lifetime. From outdoor adventures, educational sites, and amusement parks – the possibilities are truly endless.
Whether it’s visiting one of Hollywood’s legendary attractions or relaxing on a beautiful beach with no agenda, you can’t go wrong when visiting here. Take advantage of the amazing food, culture, and scenery that this part of the country has to offer. Allow yourself to be immersed in an area unlike any other!
So if you are planning a family vacation getaway anytime soon, don’t forget to consider Southern California. And use this list of fun things to do with kids in Southern California as your guide to the perfect Southern California itinerary.
Need help thinking through how to budget for a family trip? My Travel Budget Worksheet is just the tool you need! Click here to receive your free copy by signing up for my newsletter.Want to connect with me on social media? Find me on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter. And for those of you who are dedicated to traveling more responsibly, sustainably, and ethically, join over 200 like-minded families on my Facebook group, Responsible Family Travel. This post may contain affiliate links. That means I may receive a small commission if you click on the link and purchase something. But don’t worry, this will not result in any extra costs to you.