Southern California Family-Friendly Road Trip

Enjoy sandy beaches, coastal wetlands, island zip lines, and an eco-friendly balloon ride at the first great metropolitan park of the 21st century.

Trip length: 5 days
Total distance: 126mi/203km

LAGUNA BEACH. Linger over buttery brioche French toast at luxe Montage hotel while your kids take part in the property’s activities-based Paintbox program. For toddlers (ages 2-5), there’s Paintbox Petite. Teens? The beach is right out front. INFO Laguna Beach Visitors Center ; 949/497-9229

NEWPORT BEACH (11mi/18km; 19min). Get back to nature in the Upper Newport Bay Ecological Preserve . Guided kayak tours are offered every weekend morning, and trails—perfect for walking, jogging, or biking—loop around one of Southern California’s last remaining coastal wetlands. INFO Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce ; 949/729-4400

BALBOA (3mi/5km; 8min). Take in harbor and ocean views from atop the iconic Ferris wheel at Balboa Fun Zone , then ferry across the channel to Balboa Island for sweet treats at family-friendly Wilma’s Patio . INFO Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce; 949/729-4400

HUNTINGTON BEACH (8mi/13km; 16min). Walk in the footsteps (and handprints) of legendary surfers like Kelly Slater along the; the Hollywood-style Surfing Walk of Fame—it begins, appropriately, literally in the shadow of Duke Kahanamoku, whose towering statue is on the corner of Main and Pacific Coast Highway (PCH). Get a bird’s-eye view of live action from atop Surf City, U.S.A.’s iconic pier. INFO Huntington Beach Marketing and Visitors Bureau ; 714/969-3492

SEAL BEACH (9mi/14km; 15min). Stroll the wooden pier then hit the playground—they’re located side by side. Show your kids the real meaning of “old-school” at nearby Bay Theatre , a ‘40s-era throwback where the haunting sounds of pipe organ accompany silent movies. INFO Orange County Visitors Association ; 949/336-7210
LONG BEACH. (7mi/11km; 17min). Pet friendly sharks at Aquarium of the Pacific , where interactive exhibits offer up-close encounters for all ages. Crawl below the new Penguin Habitat to watch its comical residents dive and dart. Voyage back in time aboard historic Queen Mary . Once a world-class ocean liner, the former grand dame of the high seas is now one of California’s most unique hotels.. INFO Long Beach Area Convention & Visitors Bureau ; 562/436-3645

CATALINA. (22mi/35km; 60min). Cross the channel on the Catalina Express , then join older kids to soar over the hills framing Avalon on the island’s new Zip Line Eco Tour . Go on an Undersea (only five feet deep) Expedition in a semi-sub, the next generation of glass-bottom boats. INFO Catalina Island Visitors Bureau ; 310/510-1520

WESTMINSTER (22mi/35km; 25min). Make a “pho” of yourself in Little Saigon, California’s unofficial capital of Vietnamese culture. No place does the traditional sweet drink known as che better than Thach Chè Hien Khanh (9639 Bolsa Ave., Ste. A, Westminster, CA 92683; 714/839-8143; cash only). INFO Westminster Chamber of Commerce ; 714/898-9648

IRVINE (20mi/32km; 26min). Go green at Orange County Great Park , an ultra-sustainable metropolitan park of the future. Let little hands get dirty at kid-oriented gardening workshops, then take to the sky in a tethered helium balloon. INFO Destination Irvine ; 949/660-9112