When taking a vacation as a family of seven—with five kids ranging from 7 to 18—finding activities that everyone enjoys can be challenging. Amber Mamian, who had another baby on the way at the time, decided to delegate. “We let the kids pick their own vacation,” says the mom and creator of the Global Munchkins blog. “We’ve traveled a ton, and [during this trip] I was pregnant, so I said, ‘You pick where you want to go.’”
The three destinations offered one nice perk for a bigger family. “All those places were walkable,” Mamian says, and the SoCal cities were close enough to each other that “the drives were never that long.” She fine-tuned the four-to-five-day itinerary to set the pace. “We did the busy places first, then did more relaxing.”
Since the Mamians live in Temecula, located about 100 miles southeast of Los Angeles, they drove the loop from Temecula to the coast and back. If you’re flying, you could re-create the trip around your choice of airports—perhaps flying into Hollywood Burbank Airport and out from San Diego International Airport. Or, you could fly both in and out of John Wayne Airport, centrally located in Orange County.
Stop 1: Hollywood
Where they stayed: Kimpton Everly Hotel, where many rooms have views of the Hollywood Sign
What they did: The kids all agreed—they wanted to see the big sights of Hollywood. “They loved the Hollywood Walk of Fame—that was a big deal,” Mamian says. “They rode board scooters around the area, and they also wanted to go to Universal Studios Hollywood, even though they had been there before.”
Mamian offers her own hacks for the movie-and-TV-based theme park. Ideally, she says, get the skip-the-line Express passes. “They are worth it, 100 percent. Get there early, too. We do a few rides on the upper lot first, because the lower lot opens after that, then do a few of the lower lot rides before anyone knows it’s open. Then, later in the day, do the rides that tend not to get lines.”
After the park, “there were plenty of places in and around Hollywood where we could take kids—we were surprised by that,” she says, like a festive sit-down dinner they enjoyed at Barton G.. Another crowd-pleaser: The dineL.A. Taco Trek,which features an array of great taco options around Los Angeles County.
Stop 2: Huntington Beach
Where they stayed: The Waterfront Beach Resort, a Hilton Hotel, where rooms feature a surfing theme
What they did: The Mamian family ventured south to the Orange County town nicknamed Surf City USA, about one hour from Los Angeles. Their agenda was pretty simple: relax on the beach. “We love Huntington Beach because it’s super easy,” she says. “The shops are right there, there’s awesome food, and a great beach. They have these easy places to rent surrey bikes and a path along the ocean. And there’s always something going on, like competitions or events.” They rented electric Duffy boats from Huntington Harbour Boat Rentals, and made the most of the resort’s pool and beach access. “The waterslides were a hit,” she says, “with multiple pools and a splash pad for younger kids.”
The family enjoyed dinner at Duke’s Huntington Beach, which Mamian says “was incredible. They gave us a huge round table with a view of the ocean.” For dessert, they headed back to the hotel for s’mores around a beach firepit. “We went right after dinner—it was set up for us,” she says. With a new family member expected in the coming months, there were “a lot of changes coming up for our family, so it was a nice moment, and made a really good memory.”
Stop 3: Oceanside
Where they stayed: The Seabird Resort, a Hyatt boutique hotel across the street from the beach
What they did: Oceanside is just an hour south of Huntington Beach, on the northwestern edge of San Diego County. The town “is an under-the-radar spot,” says Mamian. “It was really quiet. I didn’t realize there was a farmers’ market or a pier.” (Indeed, the 1,942-foot structure is the longest over-water wooden pier on the West Coast.)
The beach town makes a great headquarters for any San Diego vacation, Mamian says. “A lot of family activities are right there, but you can also easily get to LEGOLAND California or SeaWorld San Diego.” The kids played during the day, getting SUP and surrey bike rentals while Amber explored the shops and restaurants in the walkable downtown. Afterward they all reunited for dinner at nearby Privateer Coal Fired Pizza.
Exploring on foot during the day, the family also checked out Oceanside‘s many murals, as well as the California Surf Museum, which Mamian says was a big highlight for her daughters. “They have a section about Bethany Hamilton, and the girls had just watched a movie about her. The people there are really good at getting kids excited about surfing.”
Make the Trip Your Own:
No matter how big or small your family is, everyone can appreciate a streamlined, low-stress trip. Start with these free, kid-friendly things to do in California, and peruse different family-friendly activities in Los Angeles, Orange County, and San Diego.
If you’re headed to Universal Studios Hollywood, consider these tips on how to skip lines at theme parks, and be sure to experience the L.A. park’s newest attraction, SUPER NINTENDO WORLD, which immerses you in the world of Mario and Luigi.
For more outdoor fun in Orange County, plan your trip around its top beaches, whale-watching, and golf. Families can learn to surf in either Orange County or San Diego County, or explore more great San Diego beaches and cool tide pools. Or head inland for incredible wildlife: Oceanside is a short drive from the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in Escondido.
If you’re looking for more family itinerary ideas, check out this Family Road Trip: San Luis Obispo to Buena Park.