Go Back  Fodor's Forum > Destinations > United States
Reload this Page > California trip with 6 and 7 year old

California trip with 6 and 7 year old


Feb 3rd, 2011, 04:47 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Feb 2011
Posts: 6
California trip with 6 and 7 year old

Hi there

We are planning our first big trip from the UK. We have 2 weeks at the end of August/beg of Sept.

Here is what we plan...do any of you well-travelled people have any suggestions - are we trying to do too much?

Fly to LA, do Disney and Universal Studios (is Universal Studios worth visiting?) prob 4 nights there.

Drive to San Diego, visit a friend, see Seaworld, prob 4 nights there.

Fly to Fresno and then pick up a car and drive to Yosemite, 4 nights there (is that enough??)

Drive to Monterey, 3 nights there.

Fly from San Fran to London.

How's that? Any tips or suggestions very welcome!

Thanks for your help!

chrissiejames is offline  
Reply With Quote
Feb 3rd, 2011, 05:01 PM
Join Date: Feb 2008
Posts: 11,886
Looks like a good plan. A couple of thoughts/considerations:

* Monday September 5 is Labor Day - which means a 3-day weekend for a lot of people. It is also the end of the summer season, so a lot of people go away that weekend. So keep that in mind in your planning since it looks like your trip may include that holiday. A lot of hotels, esspecially along the coast may have 2-3 night minimums that weekend and lodging will fill up, so make sure you make your reservations soon.

* For SD to Yosemite, look at the time it will take to fly versus drive. SD to Fresno should be about a 5-5.5 hour drive, not including stops. You probably won't save much time by flying once you consider the time at the airport before the flight, picking up the rental car, etc. So consider flying vs driving.

* 4 Nights in Yosemite is great - get your reservations ASAP because lodging in and around the park is always scarce. Consider a house or condo in Yosemite West - that will give you a little more room to spread out and also allow you to cook or at least prepare snacks.

* I see you don't have any time in SF. Is that by design? It is a neat city and definitely worth at least a couple days. You could snag a couple nights from the other destinations and see SF too.
november_moon is online now  
Reply With Quote
Feb 3rd, 2011, 05:04 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 16,099
Sounds pretty good. I'm not sure I'd fly to Fresno from San Diego. It's about a five hour drive. How much time and money do you save doing that?

If you haven't made reservations in Yosemite, start doing that asap. You may have to try for cancellations. You may get lucky as many schools have gone back by then so there are fewer tourists.
Barbara is online now  
Reply With Quote
Feb 3rd, 2011, 07:15 PM
Join Date: Apr 2006
Posts: 447
While in San Diego, don't miss the USS Midway Museum. Aircraft carrier with lots to see and experence. The kids will love it as there is a audio tour designed for children. They can climb in a fighter jet cockpit and hop onboard helicopers on the flight deck. To see it all takes about 4 hours.
dgassa is offline  
Reply With Quote
Feb 3rd, 2011, 08:39 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 2,250
> is Universal Studios worth visiting?

If you are fascinated by the art and technology of making movies, it is worth it. If you are not, then it isn't. I was enthralled to see the sets from Psycho and Animal House, but I understand why others could not care less.

Although I've loved movies all my life, I doubt I would have been excited to see the Psycho house at age six.
PaulRabe is offline  
Reply With Quote
Feb 3rd, 2011, 08:44 PM
Join Date: Nov 2010
Posts: 9,315
You said drive from LA to San Diego. I am assuming a rental car. I've never been to San Diego but I think you could cut it back to 2-3 days to see more further north.
You should return your rental car in Los Angeles where you rented it to avoid drop off charges. There is Amtrak bus service from Los Angeles to Bakersfield which connects to the San Joaquin train to Fresno. I have taken a taxi from the Fresno Amtrak station to the airport to rent a car.
After seeing Yosemite return the car to the airport and either fly or take the train to San Francisco.
I also advise spending at least 1 day in San Francisco before flying home.
tomfuller is offline  
Reply With Quote
Feb 3rd, 2011, 09:26 PM
Join Date: May 2003
Posts: 417
Hi there,

I've lived in California all my life and have a few suggestions.

First, if possible, I would fly to San Diego and then make my way North. That way, you aren't back tracking. You back track a few times now (i.e. South to San Diego and then North again to Fresno; later North to Yosemite then South to Monterey and then North again to SF).

Also, personally, I would break the time up differently, especially because of the kids and their ages. Of all of the places you are visiting, San Diego has the most to do for kids. I have twins who are 4 and we took them there about 6 months ago. Some of the activities were a little advanced for my kids, but it will all be perfect for yours. Not only is there Seaworld, but probably the best zoo in the US. The San Diego Zoo also has a separate Safari park that would be great for your kids (we didn't go b/c I thought my kids were a little young). There is also Legoland, which they will love. There are several museums like a natural history museum with dinosaur bones and childrens' museums. There is a huge park with puppet shows and, I believe, a train. There is a boardwalk with rides. When we went it was also only for 4 nights, and I felt like we could've stayed 2 weeks. We will definitely go for at least a week next time even though we already did the zoo, Seaworld and Seaport Village. I know a women with twins the same age as mine, and a 7 year old and they go to San Diego every summer for a week or 2.

Also, I would say that you may have too many days in Yosemite, but it depends on your family and what type of trip you want. Yosemite is breathtakingly beautiful, but there are not really many activities for kids. If they like hiking and that is what you want to do, then it may work out. Personally, I would only spend a couple of nights, especially if it gave us more time in San Diego or the LA area.

I think you also have too much time in Monterey. I assume the main thing you will do there is the Aquarium. There is not much else to do there or to do with kids, unless you just want a couple of days to hang out at the beach, which is fine. Again, I would rather spend more time in San Diego which has better restaurants, more for kids, and more beaches.

I grew up in LA and can say that you could also spend a lot of time there, but it really depends on what you are looking for in a vacation.

I currently live in Oakland and lived in San Francisco for 8 years. It is a beautiful city and I would never dissuade anyone from visiting. But, it seems to me that you have such a packed itinerary already. I would leave it for another time so you can give it the time it deserves (several nights) unless you decide to cut out Yosemite and/or Monterey.

I agree with the comments about perhaps driving rather than flying. By the time you check in, etc. you may not save as much time as you'd like. Flying to SF or Oakland rather than Fresno would save more time.

California is a beautiful state with tremendous diversity. I hope you enjoy it.

daria is offline  
Reply With Quote
Feb 4th, 2011, 03:17 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Feb 2011
Posts: 6
Thank you so much for all your comments. I will re-think the order- it does seem to make more sense to start in San Diego. then LA and perhaps drive to yosemite from LA.

Thank you for the tip re the USS Midway Museum - my 7 year will LOVE that.

And yes we were missing San Francisco deliberately - something had to give and we have been there before (pre-kids).

We were just planning on having Monterey as a base and driving south a bit to see the coast, that's why it's 3 nights there.

And it seems like we could drive it all rather than flying, so that could mean we have less time in Monterey and stop somewhere else along the way between LA and Monterey, seeing the coast that way.

So the order would be London, San Diego, drive to LA, drive north to Monterey maybe stopping along the way, then drive to Yosemite, then San Fran then fly home.

My husband seemed to think it was important to travel north to south to get the best views of the coast road - does it matter if we are travelling south to north?

Thank you all!

chrissiejames is offline  
Reply With Quote
Feb 4th, 2011, 07:08 AM
Join Date: Mar 2004
Posts: 561
I think your trip sounds great. I have done most of the trip you describe with my kids. I have a few thoughts but mostly agree with above posters:

Get your hotels as soon as possible as that may determine your route.

In San Diego, we've stayed in Mission Bay (I think at the Hilton) - close to Seaworld, SD Zoo, Museums; also in Carlsbad at West Inn and Suites (good rates, free breakfast, close to Legoland and not to far to Wild Animal Park but more of a trip to Seaworld and central San Diego); also in La Jolla at the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club which had an amazing location and two bedroom suites with kitchens right on the beach (but expensive). We loved being at the ocean. As others have said you can spend a week in SD with kids and not run out of things to do. On one trip to to SD we did the following: breakfast with Shamu and Seaworld (you could add a museum to this day too as Seaworld doesn't need a full day); breakfast in La Jolla, Scripps aquarium followed by a day at Legoland; a day at the Wild Animal Park (we paid extra for a behind the scenes tour which was terrific); a day at the SD Zoo; brunch at del Coronado hotel followed by a day of beach activities and bicycling. Most days activities ended before 4 so we had afternoons at the beach and pool or going shopping, spas, dinner etc. You can do the Wild Animal Park on your last day in SD, from there drive to Disneyland, play in pool and be ready to hit the park early the next day.

If you want both Disneyland and Universal you might consider two hotels or at least stay on resort property or near Disneyland the first night, take advantage of an early arrival and then move to a hotel closer to your other LA activities. I think LA is more fun if you are not criss-crossing town in traffic so consider what you most want to do and then pick a hotel closer to most of your activities. For example, if you want more time at the beach, Santa Monica Pier, Getty center, Beverly Hills, La Brea Tar Pits and LACMA (Art Museum) - consider a beach hotel or west LA. If you think you want to do Hollywood, Universal Studios, studio tours, downtown museums (Science Center, Natural History, LA Live), MOMA (modern art), hiking, LA Zoo, Travel Town and Gene Autry Western Museum - consider a hotel in Hollywood or even the valley (near Universal) or Pasadena. I often recommend a day in Pasadena as it can sometimes be overlooked as a destination but it has lots of activities that my kids and I love (Kidspace, Huntington Library and Gardens, Gold Class Cinemas in old town, a giant Flea Market at the Rose Bowl on the second Sunday of each month) and museums (Norton Simon, Asia Pacific) and cool architecture (tour Gamble House). It is also within 30 minutes of the studios in the valley, the Zoo and downtown. In addition to museums, downtown LA also has Union Station (great architecture), Olvera Street (a Mexican style plaza), Chinatown.

Lots of threads are currently going about Yosemite, the main theme is get your hotel early. We stayed at Tenaya Lodge, south of the park and loved it as a base but most people will recommend that you stay in the Village or closer to the main action. We spent 4 nights in Yosemite and had plenty to do each day. Our highlights included: Yosemite Valley waterfalls and Yosemite village, dinner at Ahwahnee, Sugar Pine Railroad, hikes near our hotel, breakfast at Wawona and meadow hike from there, Mariposa Grove and tram, and swimming in the hotel pool most afternoons. We drove from LA and stopped the first night in Fresno (Four Points by Sheraton), visited the Chafee zoo and then headed into the Yosemite.

There are also lots of current threads on the coast drive and Monterey. Allow several days to really enjoy it with stops along the way. I think the ocean views are spectacular either direction. Even better if there is time to stop at the beach for a walk. Do not approach any colonies of seals or sea lions. Do consider Cambria and Hearst Castle for an overnight. Monterey is wonderful fun but agree you probably don't need three nights. Maybe two - to visit Aquarium, go kayaking, get ice-cream in Cannery Row, drive 17 mile drive, day trip to Carmel.

If you do have time for a day in SF, my kids loved the Golden Gate Park museums - Academy of Science, deYoung art museum, and Japanese gardens which are all close to each other, and that same day we also rode a Cable car, and had a fancy late afternoon treat in the Fairmont lobby.

Have fun planning and a great trip.
POlson is offline  
Reply With Quote
Feb 4th, 2011, 10:12 AM
Join Date: Nov 2008
Posts: 24,154
The ocean views are spectacular in either direction and there are plusses and minuses to going one way or the other. On the one hand, north to south you can easily pull into roadsode "vista spots" --harder to do when heading south to north. On the other hand, heading north to south, the driver better keep his eyes on the road and not on the views (that's true south to north, too, of course, but at least you have to cross southbound traffic to go over the edge LOL).
sf7307 is offline  
Reply With Quote
Feb 4th, 2011, 11:21 AM
Join Date: Oct 2005
Posts: 59,828
You have received lots of terrific info/advice so far (except for the bit about bus to Bakersfield, train to Fresno, taxi, rental car to Yosemite, fly to SFO. That would take forever, cost a ton, and complicate things beyond belief)

Just one quick comment -- if you live near (or travel to) the south of England -- there would be no need to go to Legoland, since there is one in Windsor. The kids might enjoy it to compare -- but otherwise, don't take your limited San Diego time away from the zoo, animal park, etc.

Try to book a room at Yosemite Lodge ASAP since it fills up months in advance. 3 - 5 Sept is Labor Day weekend. Like the August Bank Holiday weekend in the UK -- EVERYTHING will be booked up the nights of 2, 3 & 4 Sept. Also most places on the coast would require a 2 or 3 night minimum that weekend. So I'd look at your exact dates and see where you'll be at that time-- it may mean you need to juggle the order of things just a bit.

What are your arrival/departure dates? Depending on that it might even make sense to reverse your trip into SFO and out of San Diego. Generally cities like San Diego are easier over a major holiday than places like Yosemite.
janisj is online now  
Reply With Quote
Feb 4th, 2011, 11:35 AM
Join Date: Feb 2008
Posts: 11,886
I just wanted to comment on the length of stay in different areas. I think a lot depends on what type of travelers people are.

People who like to be on the go and have lots of activities may find 4 nights in Yosemite to be too much, for example. However for others who like a more laid-back approach, it is perfect. 3 days gives you a couple days in the valley and one for either the high country or the south end of the park. Yosemite might not have a lot of activities specifically for kids, but I think a lot of people underestimate the fun of just hanging out in the woods.
november_moon is online now  
Reply With Quote
Feb 4th, 2011, 11:51 AM
Join Date: Oct 2005
Posts: 59,828
" Yosemite might not have a lot of activities specifically for kids, but I think a lot of people underestimate the fun of just hanging out in the woods."

Plus there are lots of ranger led nature walks -- mostly geared to kids and/or families
janisj is online now  
Reply With Quote
Feb 4th, 2011, 03:41 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Feb 2011
Posts: 6
THANK YOU SO MUCH EVERYONE! I can't believe how helpful everyone is - thank you for taking the time to make so many great suggestions. And I hadn't factored in Labour Day, so I definitely need to make sure we book accommodation.

We will probably start our 2 weeks on 20th August.

As to length of stay in different areas, our family have different priorities - kids want Disney, Seaworld, husband wants to drive a lot and see the natural beauty of California. I want to relax in a nice hotel! So we will make sure we do something for everyone.

And yes we have been to Legoland in UK so will miss that out.

Thank you so much!

chrissiejames is offline  
Reply With Quote
Mar 20th, 2012, 02:02 AM
Join Date: Nov 2011
Posts: 11,375
Sounds like you have a good plan - and you can drive from Monterrey over to Yo (thinking 4 hours?) - and then from there - wind up in SF - another 4 hours. Check this webpage for car rentals - and you probably shouldn't have to pay too large of a drop off charge if you rent in San Diego and drop off in SF. www.carrentals.com,

And I think the kids would like a tour of Hearst Csstle, http://www.hearstcastle.org/ and check out the options for staying in cute, nearby Cambria. There are other blogs in here on that.

Also - a couple of miles north of the entrance to Hearst Castle (which is north of the little San Simeon) - is a beach with the big Elephant Seals (although the huge big bulls - up to 5,000 lbs may be at sea) - and there are convenient parking lots you can pull into for overlooking the beach, but as noted, don't try to climb down to pet those sweet looking critters. http://www.bigsurcalifornia.org/elephant-seals.html
Tomsd is offline  
Reply With Quote
Mar 20th, 2012, 02:13 AM
Join Date: Nov 2011
Posts: 11,375
Actually - it's more like 5 hours driving from Monterrey over to Yo - but on good roads.

And don't think anybody has mentioned Nepenthene on this thread - which is a great stopping off place for coffee/a snack and an incredible view of the Ocean below - as you come into Big Sur. http://www.nepenthebigsur.com/

And as for Yo - if you have a hard time getting into a hotel - the kids would probably love staying at the tent cabins in Curry Village - and just ask if they can put you in one of the quieter locations. They also have a great pool for kids, and you can look up at Glacier Point.

The tent cabins have beds in them btw - but you do have to walk a little bit to the community showers (which have private stalls).
Tomsd is offline  
Reply With Quote
Mar 20th, 2012, 02:21 AM
Join Date: Nov 2011
Posts: 11,375
And here is a pretty good map/pdf of the Big Sur area - from Hearst Castle/San Simeon - all the way up to Carmel/Monterrey, and this is the most scenic part of the drive up the California Coast.

Tomsd is offline  
Reply With Quote
Mar 20th, 2012, 07:55 AM
Join Date: Oct 2003
Posts: 5,760
Their trip was LAST year, Tom.
tracys2cents is offline  
Reply With Quote
Mar 20th, 2012, 11:47 AM
Join Date: Apr 2007
Posts: 7,465
ANOTHER old thread???
tenthumbs is offline  
Reply With Quote
Mar 20th, 2012, 12:54 PM
Join Date: Nov 2011
Posts: 11,375
Dang. I hate it when that happens.
Tomsd is offline  
Reply With Quote

Thread Tools
Search this Thread
Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is On
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are On

All times are GMT -8. The time now is 01:54 PM.