Updated January 24, 2019
Disneyland itself will keep you busy for days, but there is SO much more to do in Southern California.
Check out a post I wrote a while back detailing an ideal 7 day trip plan to give you an idea of how to work all of these fun options into your vacation.
And, follow me to find more on these locations and other options to explore in this gorgeous state.
In this article
The Best Beaches Near Disneyland
Crescent Bay and Balboa Island are my favorite beaches near Disneyland, but for very different reasons. Crescent Bay is simply gorgeous and one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve come across in this part of the country. It’s secluded and simple…..but with far fewer amenities compared to Balboa Island.
Balboa Island encompasses so many iconic California experiences, which makes it a favorite for me. Take a ferry over to the island, walk for blocks and blocks taking in the cute real estate, visit the pier, play arcade games, ride small amusement park rides, dine, play on the playground and spend time on the beach. There’s so much to do on this tiny island.
I share more on each of these options and 3 other beaches within 30 minutes of Disneyland in this post. Take a look to see what else is out there.
L.A. is exactly as you are expecting it to be. Busy, bigger-than-life, and exciting to visit.
The beaches in Los Angeles are different than those in Orange County, as detailed above. There’s more to do at most of them with the famed Santa Monica Pier and Venice Beach being highest on the list of how to keep busy.
You can see the Hollywood Sign in various ways, take a tour looking for celebrities, see where Walt once sat while he dreamed up Disneyland, and so much more in the city of angels. Check out this post for all there is to do.
I live in Oceanside, which is the northernmost suburb of San Diego. It’s growing up quickly all of the sudden, but has for decades been known as a down-to-earth, sleepy surf town. Our city boasts a lovely harbor and also the West Coast’s longest municipal pier.
San Diego, itself, will keep you busy for days. This is my favorite city that I’ve ever visited and I encourage you to see all you can. The San Diego Zoo, La Jolla, Coronado Island, Balboa Park, Legoland, Seaport Village, The Maritime Museum, the U.S.S. Midway, and Old Town are just a few of my favorite stops.
Visit the sea lions, look for sea life in the tide pools, kayak, ride a surrey along the sand, snorkel, and more at any of our beautiful beaches. Visit this post for all the details.
I can’t say enough good about San Diego. For 5 years after moving here, we would STILL randomly catch ourselves saying, “I can’t believe we get to live here”, at times.
Other Ideas in Southern California
Consider a few other ideas for Southern California.
Legoland is perfect for kids up to around age 12. If you have little ones and want to see this park, go sooner than later. We let go of our season passes quickly after my oldest turned into a tween.
Explore more of Orange County, beyond the beaches. Whale watch, visit San Juan Capistrano and our favorite guinea pig farm – Zoomars. We LOVE San Juan Capistrano, as it’s just off the train route and requires no additional Uber once you arrive. Review one of our visits here, too. Tour Knotts Berry Farm and more.
Snow ski at some nice resorts about 2 hours from Disneyland. We love Big Bear, Mountain High and Snow Valley. These resorts are just under 7,000 feet in altitude. You actually can surf in the morning and ski in the afternoon in SoCal. Find ski rentals, lessons, and everything else you need for a day in the snow on site. Our season is shorter than other areas, typically lasting from December to March.
Visit Julian, California for fall fun and four seasons in the mountains. We go each year to pick apples and/or visit the downtown area in search of pumpkins and all things related to fall since our coastal life robs us of 4 seasons. Find our most recent visit to see all you can do.
Go into the San Bernardino Mountains for the darling SkyPark at Santa’s Village for year round activities. This park actually opened 6 weeks prior to Disneyland in 1955. It reopened in 2016 with big plans for expansion coming. We can’t wait to go back. Take a look at our trip to this park – and my review of – from its big weekend back in business.
Ojai is about an hour and a half (maybe more) north of Los Angeles and is absolutely lovely. This used to be a lesser known California getaway, but its popularity is growing fast.
SeaWorld is changing. I’m hoping to visit again, soon, to share what all they’re doing.
Palm Springs and surrounding desert towns are old school fabulous and we love escaping to them. Tour the Movie Colony homes, visit downtown, take the Aerial Tramway, golf, swim and more. Also, find the dinosaurs out in the desert from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. (It’s as awesome as you’re expecting.) Make sure your hotel is amazing because you’re going to spend a lot of time at the hotel pool. We love La Quinta’s Waldorf Astoria for everyone because it has 41 pools on site (41!), in between little villages of rooms. The spa is nice, too. I recommend the Omni Ranchos Las Palmas for families because they have tons of activities, lots of water slides and a lazy river. Bring your sunscreen. You’re going to need it. There is no heat like desert heat, yet, we go back again and again.
San Francisco to San Diego
Not long ago, my family set out on a trek so ambitious even Clark Griswold would be impressed. We drove from San Francisco to San Diego in two weeks, stopping at every possible spot to explore the central coast of California.
San Francisco, Napa Valley, Muir Woods, Half Moon Bay, Santa Cruz, Monterey, Pebble Beach, Big Sur, San Simeon, San Luis Obispo, Pismo Beach, Solvang, Santa Barbara, Malibu, Santa Monica and Marina Del Rey.
The experience was one of those you talk about for decades to come. Sometimes in therapy. Sometimes at a fun, family dinner. I might have overdone it on this journey, but we all lived to tell about it.
Find all the cool stops along the coast in this post.
Don’t show up to the beach empty handed. Rent beach gear and so much more to make your visit easy. This company delivers and picks up at your Anaheim hotel at your convenience. Find beach gear, strollers, car seats, and so much more.
Know what a Sig-Alert is before you set off on your adventure outside of Disneyland. Check out the area in which you’re driving through for traffic notices. AM 640 is my favorite station for SoCal news and information.
Be aware of California Toll Roads. Orange County Toll Roads take up 20% of highways and they are NOT cheap. I learned this the hard way when I pulled up to pay $8 for the toll after being accustomed to paying $.75 a pass through growing up in Dallas. If you’re using GPS on a mobile device, you can often just skip on by the Toll Road options as they come up and you’ll be redirected. But, it’s a good idea to know your general route before starting. Driving in Southern California is no joke.
Skip all of the traffic fuss and tolls and hire Lansky to take you where you need to go. They provide private, high-end cars with car seats and boosters as needed in and around Southern California. Ask for a free quote for where you want to go.