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Ten for Tuesday: Family Friendly Southern California Vacations

San Luis Obispo, CA (#10)
Ten Southern California family adventures that we love--budget-friendly and great fun with our toddler (many will be enjoyed by older kids too, especially if they love the beach). If you already live in SoCal, many of these can be done in a weekend. Rather than one long, expensive summer vacation, we prefer getaways scattered throughout the year, which work better for toddlers who can get cranky when away from home for too long (or in the car for too long).

Tomol Park-Photo from lotsafunmaps
1. Carpinteria - This little seaside town just South of Santa Barbara has become a favorite overnight getaway. With a beautiful State Beach, a unique play area called Tomol Park (inspired by Chumash culture, a Native American tribe), and Padaro Beach Grill, a restaurant near the ocean that has picnic tables scattered around a giant sandbox, we're hooked. At Padaro Beach Grill, the kids play in the sandbox, and we get to have a meal that almost feels like a date night after a fun day at the beach!

2. Santa Barbara - The first time we went to Santa Barbara (pre-kids), we fell in love with it, and we've been going back regularly ever since. With great parks/playgrounds along the water and public beaches, it is simple and free family fun at its best. There's also lots of great restaurants and art galleries for mom and dad to enjoy, a wonderful street of shops to wonder up and down when you tire of the beach (IF you tire of the beach) and the Santa Barbara Mission. 

3. Underwood Family Farms/Fillmore & Western Railway - Smaller and not stand alone outings, I couldn't leave these these two off the list because our toddler likes them so much. At Underwood Family Farms, kids can pick their own fruits and vegetables, pet and feed animals, and climb on a tractor. Fillmore Railway has lots of old trains to explore. (In April, Thomas the Train stops here, so that's exciting). (Train rides are offered at select times, but are rather pricey). #1,2 & 3 could be part of a 3-day trip. You could add a stop in Ventura along the way.

4. Coronado Island - a ferry ride from San Diego takes you to Coronado Island. The ferry ride in itself is fun for kids and Coronado has so much to offer when you get there -- a great beach and playground areas, plus good restaurants and walking/biking trails. If you're in San Diego, don't miss Coronado.

5. San Diego Zoo - The priciest suggestion on my list, but worth the money as we loved our experience at this premiere zoo. You'll walk a lot, so bring the stroller (or you can hop on their tram). There's also a great petting zoo/children's area. The layout of the zoo and diversity of animals can't be beat. You can bring your own food in, and I recommend it as food is very pricey and not that healthy in its options. We brought trail mix, fruit, honey grahams and sandwiches as well as lots of water and were much happier with that choice.

6. Balboa Park & Belmont Park in San Diego - Belmont Park offers free parking for its beachfront amusement park. You pay for the rides you want (our little guy mainly liked to watch). In addition to traditional amusement park rides, there's also laser tag, surf machines and a wave pool for older kids (then the cost of the outing go up) and an old school wooden roller coaster and carousel. Balboa Park has over 20  gardens and museums (that cost to enter), as well as beautiful grounds you can explore for free (with lots of trails and 5 different playgrounds). There's often lively and fun street performers. A great place to spend a day and have a picnic.  

This video
my hubby made of our toddler's first year features lots of places in San Diego-Belmont Park, the Zoo, Coronado and a beautiful sunset at Sunset Point Park. (I highly recommend a long weekend or even 4-5 days in San Diego to enjoy all the city has to offer.  If you're a baseball fan, also check out a Padres game if you can - they have a great field).

7. Irvine Railroad Park/OC Zoo - The $5 admission fee to get into the park was well worth it. Daddy and toddler took a $4 train ride that went through a tunnel!! Horse and pony rides are also available, and a sweet, little zoo. Perfectly priced at $2, the OC Zoo houses animals native to Southern California that have been rescued and has a great petting zoo area for kids. The park also offers paddle boat and bike/surry rentals. (You can bring in your own food).

In October, the park has a pumpkin patch, face painting hay rides a hay maze and another seasonal activities that we certainly enjoyed. However, the park is also much more crowded during that time, especially on the weekends. Still, we enjoyed the park during our second visit with the additional activities for October. (Below, enjoying the hayride).

8. Newport Beach/Balboa Island - Another opportunity for a ferry ride and beach time. Balboa Island also boasts a couple of fun arcades for kids, boat/kayak rentals and great ice cream shops. (We recently enjoyed a one-night getaway and did Newport Beach/Balboa Island on Saturday and Irvine Railroad Park and the OC Zoo on Sunday.) Crystal Cove State Park at Newport Beach is quite scenic, but $15 to park for the day - there may be free parking nearby, but we couldn't find it.

9. Botanical Gardens - The beauty of the Botanical Gardens in Pasadena blew us away when we went and offered lots of great photo opportunities (like the one below from a bamboo hideaway). Bring the stroller and enjoy all that this beautiful area has to offer. (You can picnic right outside the grounds, but not inside). 

10. Morro Bay/San Luis Obispo - A bit further up the coast (about 3-4 hours from Los Angeles), the beautiful drive and scenic finds made this worth the trek for us. San Luis Obispo has great beaches and Morro Bay has this amazing rock and more gorgeous coastlines to explore. We also loved the small aquarium in Morro Bay where Sky got to feed rescued sea lions.

Did you notice that Disneyland is not on the list? Here's why: LINES (no good for an inpatient toddler), COST (of admission and merchandise on every corner), THEME PARK. We love the natural beauty of Southern California, so spending family time at a theme park doesn't interest us--that's also why you don't see Legoland, Universal Studios or Seaworld on the list. I hope you'll check some of these places out if you're in or visit Southern California, and I hope this list inspires you to look at your own area differently and see what great budget-friendly getaways you might find within an hour or two of home! 

Sharing at: All Year Round Carnival: Summer, Super Summer Saturday

Also, if you want specific tips on inexpensive places to stay and eat, leave a comment with your question or message me via Facebook. Blog Star: Hi, I'm Jenni.

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  1. I have the travel bug. I WANT TO TRAVEL..ANYWHERE. And no Disney World. Ha :)

  2. I'm just stopping by to say hello From The Blog Star Blog Hop!

  3. some fun places that i'd love to visit! thanks for linking this up to tip-toe thru tuesday!

  4. These looks like wonderful places to explore! I wish I lived on near enough to check them out.

  5. What a great list! I'd love to make it to Southern California with my kids one day!

  6. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your link at Tuesday's Travels. Southern California looks like a great place to vacation.

  7. Great list! I'd love to visit each of these places this summer.

    I'd love to feature this post on our San Diego-based site. Email me for details. :)



  8. What a great list. California is our favorite place for a road trip and we always find something fun to do there.

  9. Where do you stay in Santa Barbara? One of the biggest reason we haven't been is that the cost of hotels is so high!

  10. Camille (and others) - we often stay in Carpinteria instead. It's just about 15 miles South and much more affordable. We actually stay at the Motel 6. There are 2 in Carpinteria. We prefer the one that is slightly closer to Santa Barbara and on the right side of the highway as you head North. Nothing fancy, of course, but it's always been clean, and we're never in the room that much. I also like it b/c there is a park to take the kids too that is within walking distance. We usually pay $55/night.

  11. California seems to be a great place. This post has definitely inspired me to further explore my area. Maybe I'll do a similar list. Thanks for stopping by my site. Looking forward to reading more.

  12. Loved your video!! How sweet. :)

  13. The Irvine Park Railroad looks awesome! I know what we're doing on our next family day. ;)

  14. Great list! Hopefully we'll be able to take the boys down to So Cal sometime soon, so this post will come in very handy! Thanks for sharing at the Sunshine Kids blog hop!

  15. I love that video of you and your little one. So sweet!

  16. Thanks for this! We would love advice on where to stay in both San Diego and Cambria/ San Luis Obispo area in September 2016. Going for a wedding but are going to make a trip out of it. We have a 2.5 yr old. Thanks!


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