Things To Do in SoCal
The beach, the amusement parks, Hollywood- when you start planning your visit to Southern California, it’s easy to start getting overwhelmed by everything that sunny SoCal has to offer. From the classics (hey Mickey!) to the road less traveled (we’re looking at you, Pretend City!), there are literally HUNDREDS of family-friendly activities in Southern California to choose from. But don’t get bogged down in tons of recommendations. Take it from these local mamas- THESE are the top family-friendly activities in Southern California.
Amusement Parks in Southern California
When you visit Southern California with kids of any age, a trip to Disneyland is probably at the top of your to-do list! It’s going to be busy, it’s going to be pricey, and it’s going to be WORTH IT. Nothing quite compares to the magic of Disneyland- as long as you temper your expectations just a touch (How to Have a Successful Day at Disneyland)
2. Knott’s Berry Farm
If your family is a little more into high-speed thrills, you may want to opt for a trip to Knott’s Berry Farm. With 13 high-speed thrill rides, including Ghost Rider, the longest, tallest and fastest wooden roller coaster on the West Coast, you’ll have a blast! For younger visitors, you won’t want to miss Camp Snoopy – 6 acres of rides brought to you by the man himself, Charlie Brown. There’s something for everyone at Knott’s – and don’t forget to try some of Mrs. Knott’s famous fried chicken!
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For kids that love Lego, they’ll love you for taking them to Legoland. Perfect for younger adventurers, Legoland is a feast for the eyes as everything appears to be built of, you guessed it, Lego! Legoland boasts some fun rides for the whole family as well as opportunities to dig for dinosaur bones, ride giant slides, cool down at the Swabbie’s Deck splash pad, and of course, build with Lego and Duplo.
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4. Universal Studios
Got a Potterhead in the family? You’re going to need to visit Universal Studios Hollywood. The new Hogsmeade area of the park is sure to delight anyone who loves Harry Potter, with immersive rides and honest-to-goodness Butterbeer.
Also featuring studio tours and other characters- think the Simpsons, Minions, and Transformers- older kids and their families will get a lot of bang for their buck here.
You may also like: 7 Tips When Visiting Universal Orlando
5. Great Wolf Lodge
If your kids love the water, they’re going to LOVE Great Wolf Lodge. This water park resort features themed bedrooms, kids’ activities, and- of course- an EPIC water park. With giant slides for the big kids and a splash pool for the little ones, your entire family will find something to love at Great Wolf Lodge in Anaheim.
You may also like: 10 Great Tips to Save Money at the Great Wolf Lodge
Zoos & Aquariums in Southern California
1. San Diego Zoo
This is the crème de la crème of zoos. You simply will not find a prettier, better kept, and exciting zoo than the San Diego Zoo. With beautiful walking trails, exotic animals, and personalized experiences, your family will be able to see the animals up close and personal.
If you’re interested in seeing animals in their (more) natural environment, the Wild Animal park is just a hop down the road. You can visit animals in a traditional zoo environment, but won’t want to miss the Safari Tram.
Included in your admission, this tram ride takes you through amazing field exhibits designed to resemble the African plains. For an additional fee, you can get an even closer experience to giraffes, rhinos or even cheetahs! Worth every penny for your favorite animal lover!
2. LA Zoo
Located in Griffith Park (and right next to some other awesome museums), the LA zoo is a great option to visit the animals if you’re staying in LA proper. It’s the full lion, tigers, and bears experience for families who are looking to take a walk on the wild side during their stay in Southern California.
3. Orange County Regional Zoo
If you’ve got little ones that want to walk on their own, but aren’t up for a full day zoo, the Orange County Regional Zoo is perfect! Small enough that even the littlest legs can walk the entire zoo, but still featuring some big animals, like bears and mountain lions!
Plus, your little ones will love brushing the goats and seeing the peacocks that stroll the grounds.
If they tire of the zoo, a miniature railroad, pony rides, bike rentals, playgrounds and a little cafe are all within easy walking distance.
4. Santa Ana Zoo
Locally known as “the monkey zoo,” this is a great zoo if you’ve got a primate loving kid! With a few rides (our kids LOVE the train), a small farm, and a WHOLE lot of primates, the Santa Ana Zoo is the perfect way to spend an afternoon or morning in Southern California.
5. Aquarium of the Pacific
Kids and their families will LOVE this sneak peak into the underwater world at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach. With touch tanks, animal husbandry shows, and lots of colorful exhibits, kids will learn all about sea life in an environment that is focused on animal care and education.
6. Cabrillo Marine Aquarium
Located in San Pedro, the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium is right next to a series of walkable (and explorable!) tidepools. And with just a $5 suggested donation for admission and free guided walks of the tidepools, it’s a super accessible way to get hands-on with local ocean life.
1. California Science Center
Often overlooked in lists of the top family-friendly activities in Southern California, the California Science Center is not to be missed. With rotating exhibits, hands-on activities, and a space section featuring the Endeavor Space Shuttle, families will find something to love here no matter what they’re most interested in.
— CA Science Center (@casciencecenter) May 19, 2019
Exploration rooms are available for younger kids to explore the sciences, while the habitat exhibits teach about everything from underwater life to the trops. And the best part? Admission is by donation only.
2. Discovery Cube Orange County
Discovery Cube is geared towards kids of all ages, and it shows in the way I have to drag mine out when it’s time to go! They get the opportunity to learn science through a play grocery store, a backyard where you can play insect investigator, even a full size Zamboni you can climb on in their amazing science of hockey exhibit! Don’t forget to check their website for their excellent rotating exhibits that are always a hit!
3. Columbia Memorial Space Center
This small space museum is something you won’t want to miss if you’ve got a tiny aerospace enthusiast. Featuring the only public robotics lab in Los Angeles, your children will love all the hands-on opportunities available at the Columbia Memorial Space Center.
From paper airplanes to a rocket launcher to a drop tower, there’s a little something for everyone. And don’t forget to go upstairs where there’s a play area for little ones as well as Andy the Astronaut – a replica of a real NASA space suit your kids can try on!
Children’s Museums in Southern California
This kid-centric museum in Pasadena lets your littles go hands-on with their learning. KidSpace Exhibits are outdoors and feature mud, sand, and water, so expect a fun day of messy play. Best for kids 10 and under.
2. Pretend City
Pretend City in Irvine is by far one of the top family-friendly activities in Southern California. If you’ve got children aged preschool through early elementary, they’re going to LOVE exploring this children’s museum.
Set up like a small city, children are able to engage with all aspects of the town. From grocery shopping to farming, and from the beach to the stage, kids will truly feel like they are part of this beautiful little town. (Pretend City Tips to Make Your Visit Amazing)
3. La Habra Children’s Museum
This local hotspot features hands-on exhibits for kids to interact with. With a stage area, STEM center, and art studio, kids can engage with the La Habra Children’s Museum at all levels.
A year ago, Los Angeles had no football teams to call it’s own. All of a sudden, we are swarming with them! Whether you’re a Chargers fan or you’re here for the Rams, there are professional NFL games in town all year long.
You want basketball? We’ve got you covered! Head to a Clippers or Lakers game to get your NBA fix.
From the Dodgers in Los Angeles to the Angels in Anaheim, you can take the whole family out to the ball game. We like the family-friendly nature of Angels stadium, which boasts a small playground, easier parking, and a feel-good vibe that makes it one of our top family-friendly activities in Southern California.
Hockey fans visiting Southern California won’t be disappointed. The games are action-packed, and sure to keep the attention of kids of all ages. Take your pick between the LA Kings and the Anaheim Ducks- and don’t forget your sweaters!
If you’re not sure your kids can sit through a professional game, Southern California has some amazing college teams to watch. Christine loves taking the kids to USC Football games whenever they’re in town, and Jaymi cheers for the Dirtbags, Long Beach State’s baseball team. Tickets are affordable enough that you don’t have to stress if your kids don’t make it through to the end.
Best Beaches for Families in Southern California
If you’re looking for that hippie California Vibe, you won’t find anywhere better to see it than Venice Beach. With a promenade to walk down, you’ll see the diversity, arts, and laid-back-beach culture that California is known for.
2. Santa Monica
Want the classic beach experience? With a pier full of attractions and a beautiful beach to walk along, Santa Monica will give you the Beach Movie experience you’ve always dreamed of.
3. Seal Beach
Need a more laid back, accessible beach? We recommend heading to Main Street in Seal Beach. With easier parking (including a $10 paid lot and street parking), you’ll be on the beach in minutes. There is also an adorable main street with shopping and restaurants and a playground for the kids.
4. Mother’s Beach
If you’re hoping to actually swim in the ocean, your best bet is heading to Mother’s Beach in Long Beach. It is situated in a bay, meaning that there are very few waves but lots of beautiful sand.
The beach slopes very gradually so even the youngest kids can play in the water with less fear. During the summer months, lifeguards are on hand to help make sure that everyone stays safe as they experience one of the best beaches for families in Southern California.
5. Huntington Beach
Surf City USA’s beach often features exciting beachfront events, like beach volleyball tournaments and even surfing competitions. Eat at the pier overlooking the water, or take a stroll through the shops featuring the best surf gear SoCal has to offer.
Water and Beach Rentals
If you’re hoping to get some water sports in during your stay in Southern California, consider heading to Sunset Beach. There, you’ll find lots of rental shops offering surfboards and lessons, paddle boards, and water bikes to rent.
A short drive outside of the major cities, you’ll find Tanaka Farms in Irvine. Offering wagon rides and pick-your-own produce, it’s a chance for Southern California families to see how real farms work and to learn a bit more about where their produce comes from. (And all-you-can-eat veggies on the wagon will entice even the pickiest of eaters to try something new!)
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Whale Watching Tours
Nothing says Southern California like a glimpse of the big blue sea- and what could possibly be better than spotting a whale while you’re at it? Whale Watching tours depart daily in season from Long Beach and Newport Beach, so you’ll find a tour departing near you no matter where you’re staying. Don’t forget to pack your binoculars so you can see the whales so close!
Planning a vacation to Southern California can be a big undertaking, but no matter which family friend activities in Southern California, it’s going to be a trip you cherish forever. With surf, sun, and lots of fun? We guarantee you’ll have a good time here in SoCal.