If it’s not already, Southern California should be high on your bucket list of places to take your kids before they grow up.
You might know Southern California as the place to go for amazing weather, but you might be asking yourself, “What are the best things to do in Southern California with kids?”
Lucky for you, I have the most EPIC, AMAZING list of things that will leave you and your kids saying “This was the best trip ever!”
Here is my guide to the 19 most amazing things to do in Southern California with kids.
Things to Do in Southern California with Kids
From star-studded Los Angeles to stunning Orange County to sunny San Diego, I am giving you the top, most amazing things for the whole family to do.
There’s a little bit of everything here including theme parks, museums, animals in the wild, hiking, and famous landmarks.
Things to Do in Los Angeles with Kids
You might be wondering, “Is Los Angeles child-friendly?” YES, it is! Los Angeles is one of my favorite places we have taken our kids. I love the weather, the atmosphere, and all of the fun, unique things that you can only see and do in LA.
Here are the best things to do in Los Angeles with kids.
1. Hike to the Hollywood Sign
Hiking to the Hollywood Sign is one of the best things to do in Southern California with kids. Hiking is great exercise and fun for the whole family. It’s also the only way to get close to this iconic sign that you have seen so many times in movies and on television.
There are a few different routes that will take you to the Hollywood Sign, but the one I’m going to tell you about is the most popular one, the Brush Canyon Trail. Not only are you going to get so close to the sign, but you will be right BEHIND the sign! How cool is that!
Since the Brush Canyon Trail is so popular, you will see lots of people including families, couples, and groups of friends. You might even come across people on horseback.
I will say it’s a pretty moderate challenging hike because it’s approximately 6.5 miles round trip and has some steep inclines. I would not recommend this particular hike for toddlers and young preschoolers.
My youngest had just turned 6 and did fine, but he did want to stop a lot because he was tired. In fact, I did carry him for a little bit! 🤣
Brush Canyon Trail has some of the most amazing views of the Hollywood Hills and the city of Los Angeles. You will want to stop numerous times to take photos, it’s just that amazing!
At one point when you get closer to the sign, you will get an amazing view of Burbank. You can even see the Walt Disney World Studios in the distance. For us Disney lovers, this was so exciting!
Location: Park at the end of Canyon Drive in Hollywood. There’s a parking lot and a dirt lot for overflow parking. After parking, you will proceed to the Brush Canyon Trailhead.
PRO-TIP: Los Angeles is a big city and no stranger to crime and theft. Our rental car got broken into at the parking lot here. My purse, along with many valuables got stolen. Never, ever leave valuables in a car in L.A.
2. Griffith Observatory
Griffith Observatory is one of the most recognizable places in Los Angeles. Here, you can explore many space and science-related exhibits, look through telescopes and take in some amazing views of Los Angeles and the Hollywood Sign.
If you have any astronomy-loving kids like myself, they are going to love this place.
My favorite thing here was the planetarium. I’ve been to many planetariums, but what makes this one different is the live, engaging storyteller. They have three different shows running every day to choose from.
What’s also great about Griffith Observatory is that it is free to get in! You do have to pay for the planetarium shows, but they are so worth it. Planetarium show tickets CAN NOT be bought in advance. You will purchase once you are there.
Griffith Observatory is definitely one of the best things to do in Southern California with kids.
PRO-TIP: Parking can be a nightmare at Griffith Observatory. Be prepared to walk a long way if you are not lucky enough to get a close parking space.
Location: 2800 E Observatory Rd, Los Angeles, CA 90027
3. Hollywood Walk of Fame
Touring Hollywood is a must when in Southern California with kids and when in Hollywood you have to walk the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
The Hollywood Walk of Fame covers 15 blocks! Yes, 15!! There are more than 2,700 stars on the sidewalks on Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street.
These famous stars recognize the names of the biggest people in the entertainment industry including musicians, actors, directors, and fictional characters.
Click here to see if and where you or your kid’s favorite star is on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. If you are a Disney lover, be sure to snap a picture next to the Minnie Mouse star in front of the El Capitan Theater.
Location: Hollywood Boulevard, Vine St, Los Angeles, CA 90028
4. TCL Chinese Theatre
TCL Chinese Theatre, located in Hollywood & Highland is another one of the most recognizable places in all of Los Angeles.
This theatre is probably the most iconic movie theatre in the world, making it one of the best things to do in Southern California with kids.
Not only is this theatre historic and iconic, but it also has the biggest IMAX auditorium in the world! It’s also the home of the best red carpet movie premieres!
There are many handprints located in front of the theatre of famous people. But not just people, there are also imprints of cars, animals and droids! Any Star Wars fans? My oldest son is a big fan, so this made a great picture spot!
If you’re a movie lover, purchase tickets and watch a movie here! How cool would it be to see a movie in this famous place?!
Location: 6925 Hollywood Blvd, Hollywood, CA 90028
5. El Capitan Theatre
Take in a little Disney in Hollywood and go to El Capitan Theatre. El Capitan Theatre is a Disney theatre owned by Walt Disney Company. It’s the venue of most of Walt Disney Studios’ film premieres!
This is seriously the best place to watch a Disney movie. They have a live pre-show before the movie and after the movie, you can go downstairs and check out the costumes and props used in that movie.
We saw Dumbo here when it came out. It was so much fun seeing the live pre-show and checking out the costumes and props used in the movie.
This place is SO much more than a regular theatre. A definite must-do in Southern California with kids!
Location: 6838 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90028
PRO-TIP: The Hollywood Walk of Fame, TCL Chinese Theatre, and El Capitan Theatre are all located in the same area. I recommend parking at Hollywood & Highland Parking Garage. Hollywood & Highland is a shopping, dining, and entertainment destination right in the heart of Hollywood.
6. Santa Monica Pier
You can’t come all the way to Los Angeles and not take a walk on the Santa Monica Pier. The Santa Monica Pier is one of the most photographed places in the world.
Walk down the pier and admire the stunning Pacific coastline, grab some ice cream, shop for souvenirs, ride the Pacific Wheel and play some carnival games.
Location: 200 Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica, CA 90401
Malibu is known for its amazing beaches, stunning views of the Pacific, and the famous celebrities that live there. Seeing Malibu is one of the best things to do in Southern California with kids.
The coast of Southern California is absolutely stunning! I live on the Gulf Coast in Alabama, very close to Florida. We have beautiful, white, sandy beaches, and beautiful water, but the coastline in Southern California is completely different. Beautiful, rocky coastline beaches with mountains on the other side!
I recommend stopping at El Matador Beach. This is a beautiful, stunning beach. It’s perfect for letting the kids run around, play, and explore.
There are some amazing rock formations to get some great pictures of!
Location of El Matador Beach: 32350 Pacific Coast Hwy, Malibu, California, 90265
8. Universal Studios Hollywood
Universal Studios Hollywood is a top family destination in Los Angeles and one of the best things to do in Southern California with kids. This theme park has something for every member of your family.
Harry Potter fans will love The Wizarding World of Harry Potter!
Jurassic World-The Ride is a very popular ride here. The little ones that can’t ride this will enjoy playing at the DinoPlay area here instead.
We’ve been to Universal Studios Florida too, but what makes this park special and unique is the family-friendly Studio Tour. This is a 60-minute tram tour through the largest and busiest motion picture and TV studio in the world!
It’s a real working movie studio, so you never know what famous people you might see! One minute you ride through a set of Jaws, then the next minute you are on the amazing King Kong 360 3-D ride!
Besides the Studio Tour, other fun for little ones under 40 inches include Kung Fu Panda Adventure, Flight of the Hippogriff, The Simpsons Ride, Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, Transformers: The Ride 3D, and The Secret Life of Pets: Off the Leash.
Not just the park is amazing, but also Universal CityWalk. Universal CityWalk is a great place to walk around shop and dine. My kids enjoyed the candy store It’Sugar and the fun sock store, The Los Angeles Sock Market.
Express tickets are a great idea to minimize waiting in line, especially for those with young kids who have difficulty waiting. If it’s within your budget, I highly recommend it.
Location: 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City, CA 91608
Things to Do in Orange County with Kids
Orange County is the region that lies between the cities of Los Angeles and San Diego. You might have heard of Orange County from one of the many television shows that have been filmed here. It’s also known all over as being one of the best places to live in the United States.
Well, here are the best things to do in Orange County with kids.
9. Visit Laguna Beach
Laguna Beach is a small, charming beach town located about 50 miles south of Los Angeles. If you’ve seen the MTV show Laguna Beach back in the day, you might be familiar with it.
We did a quick stop in Laguna Beach when driving between San Diego and Los Angeles. I fell in love with this town.
If I were a millionaire, this is where I would live. The charm of this town, its location on the breathtaking Pacific Coast, along with the beautiful homes on the cliffs make for a perfect place to live or visit.
I recommend visiting Narrative Gallery, an art gallery that features Dr. Suess’ and Charles Schulz’s (Peanuts creator) artwork.
The whole family will enjoy looking at the beautiful artwork with famous, recognizable characters such as Cat in the Hat, Fox in Socks, Charlie Brown, and Snoopy.
We were told by the friendly man working in this art gallery to check out Alta Laguna Park (Top Of The World) and all the beautiful homes headed up there.
Alta Laguna Park is such a great place to take kids. There’s a fun kiddie playground, basketball courts, tennis courts, picnic tables, and hiking trails. But what makes this place so great are the stunning views of the ocean and mountains. This place is definitely a must when in Laguna Beach with kids.
Location: Laguna Beach, CA
10. Disneyland Resort
It goes without saying that Disneyland is one of the most amazing things to do in Southern California with kids. Disney is located in Anaheim, about 26 miles from Los Angeles.
Disneyland has two parks: Disneyland and Disney California Adventure. If you’ve ever been to Walt Disney World, I’d compare Disneyland with Magic Kingdom and Disney California Adventure with Hollywood Studios.
We are big Disney people, but we did not go to Disneyland because we had just returned from Walt Disney World a few weeks prior and I couldn’t justify spending the money. We did however go to the Downtown Disney District to get a little bit of that Disney magic.
Downtown Disney District is a shopping, dining, and entertainment district. Here we had a yummy Mexican lunch. We enjoyed the stores, especially the LEGO Store and World of Disney. Then we got some ice cream for dessert.
So even if you don’t go to Disneyland, still make a stop at Downtown Disney District and enjoy everything it has to offer!
Location: 1313 Disneyland Dr, Anaheim, CA
11. Knott’s Berry Farm
Looking for a fun theme park for your kids other than Universal Studios or Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm might be the park for you!
Knott’s Berry Farm is known as “America’s First Theme Park.” There are many rides, shows, and attractions for the whole family. For the littlest ones, there’s Camp Snoopy, a Peanuts-themed kiddie ride area.
Knott’s Berry Farm also has a waterpark called Knott’s Soak City Waterpark. They have many waterslides, a family raft ride, a wave pool, and a fun interactive water play area for kids.
Knott’s Berry Farm is a very popular attraction in Orange County, making it one of the best things to do in Southern California with kids.
Location: 8039 Beach Blvd, Buena Park, CA 90620
Things to Do in San Diego with Kids
A common question people ask is “How far is LA and San Diego?” LA and San Diego are about 120 miles apart; about a 2 hr drive.
San Diego is one of the most popular destinations for family vacations. It’s known for its beautiful beaches, amazing weather and multitude of activities.
Here are the best things to do in San Diego with kids.
12. Hop-On Hop-Off Trolley Tour of San Diego
I highly recommend the Hop-On Hop-Off Trolley Tour. This is a great way to see the city of San Diego and not miss a thing.
There are 11 stops, some of which include the Gaslamp Quarter, San Diego Zoo, USS Midway, and Little Italy. Hop off whenever you like and hop back on whenever you are ready to leave.
The tour guides are awesome too. They have great stories to share and you’ll learn so much about the city of San Diego.
13. See the Sea Lions & Seals in La Jolla
Seeing the sea lions and seals in La Jolla is by far one of the best things to do in Southern California with kids.
It’s such an amazing experience to see sea lions and seals in their natural habitat. The Children’s Pool and Boomer Beach are the best spots to see these amazing mammals.
Since this is one of the most epic things to do, I wrote a complete guide on seeing the sea lions and seals in La Jolla. For the complete guide on everything you need to know about seeing the sea lions and seals in La Jolla, check out my guide How to See the Sea Lions and Seals in San Diego: The Complete Guide.
Location of Children’s Pool: 850 Coast Blvd, La Jolla, CA
14. Balboa Park
Balboa Park is one of those must-see places in San Diego. It’s a 1,200-acre urban cultural park that houses the San Diego Zoo, several museums, and theatres. It’s also just a beautiful place to walk around with many beautiful walking paths and gardens.
What I love about Balboa Park is the architecture of the many different buildings. The Spanish Village Art Center is very unique in that it was built to look like a Spanish Town.
Train lovers will enjoy the San Diego Model Railroad Museum. Other fun places for kids here include the Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theatre, San Diego Air & Space Museum, Balboa Park Carousel, Balboa Park Miniature Train, Pepper Grove Playground, and Fleet Science Center.
Balboa Park is definitely one of the top things to do with kids in San Diego.
Location: 1549 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101
15. San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park
San Diego Zoo is part of Balboa Park, but it deserves its own post. It is consistently ranked as one of the top zoos in America, making it one of the best things to do in Southern California with kids.
San Diego Zoo is world-famous for a reason. It’s just a beautiful zoo with just about any animal you want to find. Your ticket to San Diego Zoo also includes a double-decker Guided Bus Tour, Kangaroo Express Bus, and Skyfari Aerial Tram. There’s a fun 4D show for an additional cost.
There are a few different play areas for the kids to run, jump and explore.
Location of San Diego Zoo: 2920 Zoo Drive, San Diego, CA 92101
Looking for a different way to see animals, try the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Here you will ride an open-air vehicle and feel like you are a million miles away in Africa.
Location of San Diego Zoo Safari Park: 15500 San Pasqual Valley Road, Escondido, California 92027-7017
16. LEGOLAND California
“Everything is Awesome” at LEGOLAND California, especially for lego-lovers. Going to LEGOLAND was a must for my youngest. His dream was to swim with LEGOS at the LEGOLAND hotel pool. I do recommend staying at one of the LEGOLAND hotels for a complete experience.
LEGOLAND is definitely geared more towards younger children under 12 because of the mild, kiddie rides.
Although, if you or someone else is a LEGO enthusiast they will love this place too. There are many amazing LEGO sculptures throughout the park.
They have an area that has huge miniland versions of cities such as New Orleans, San Francisco, New York, and even Southern California.
They also have an aquarium and a water park for an additional charge to the basic ticket.
My youngest was about in tears when it was time to leave LEGOLAND! So, this is a definite must-do for your younger LEGO-loving children in Southern California.
Location: One Legoland Dr, Carolsbad, CA 92008
17. Little Italy
When in San Diego, you must go to Little Italy. What kid doesn’t like pizza and gelato right? Little Italy is the perfect place to grab dinner, dessert and walk around.
You must also get a picture of the kids in the big red chair!
Fun Fact: San Diego’s Little Italy is the largest in the U.S!! It covers 48 blocks.
Location: India St and Date St, San Diego, CA 92101
18. SeaWorld San Diego
SeaWorld San Diego is another fun theme park in Southern California. The park is half rides, half animals. At SeaWorld San Diego there are rides for the whole family, from adrenaline thrillers to the mildest kiddie rides.
My favorite thing about SeaWorld is the orca show. I think these animals are just magnificent. If you sit on the lower level, be prepared to be splashed.
SeaWorld San Diego is just an all-around fun family place, making it another one of the best things to do in Southern California with kids.
Location: 500 Sea World Drive, San Diego, CA 92109
19. Sesame Place San Diego
Sesame Place San Diego is Southern California’s newest theme park. This park features many family-friendly rides and live character shows. There’s also a fun interactive Sesame Street Neighborhood to explore.
This park is perfect for younger kids, especially Sesame Street fans. They also have many water attractions including a huge wave pool.
Location: 2052 Entertainment Circle, Chula Vista, CA 91911
Where to Stay in Southern California with Kids
There are so many wonderful places to stay in Southern California with kids! The following recommendations are places where my family of 5 stayed.
I do lots of research and am extremely picky with any hotel I stay at. I highly recommend all of these!
Hotel Recommendations in Los Angeles with Kids
1. Springhill Suites Los Angeles Burbank/Downtown
We stayed at the Springhill Suites Los Angeles Burbank/Downtown for our time in Los Angeles. I loved, loved, loved this hotel.
The rooms were clean, modern, and spacious. The hotel has a beautiful, contemporary Hollywood theme and is in a great close location to the best attractions in Los Angeles. It’s only 5 miles from Griffith Park and 6 miles from Universal Studios.
They offer a complimentary daily breakfast. They also have a washer and dryer in case you need to wash something. I actually had to do this one time.
The outdoor pool area is amazing and the views from the pool are beautiful!
Not only is there an outdoor pool, but a large chessboard and a large Jenga game!
Location: 549 S San Fernando Blvd, Burbank, CA 91502
2. Residence Inn Los Angeles LAX/Century Boulevard
Residence Inn Los Angeles LAX/Century Boulevard is the perfect hotel to stay at when wanting to be close to LAX.
We stayed here the night before our early flight. It’s only 1/2 mile from the LAX airport entrance. We were able to return our rental car after check-in since the hotel offers a 24-hour shuttle to/from LAX airport.
This hotel would also make a great hotel for an extended stay because the rooms are super spacious and offer a complete kitchen with a microwave, full-size fridge, and stove-top.
A complimentary breakfast is offered in the morning. There are also three restaurants onsite including Jersey Mike’s, ZPizza, and Starbucks.
But the coolest thing about this hotel is they have a robot butler named Wally! We all get such a kick of it! If you need towels, sheets, or items from the market, Wally will bring them! Wally goes on the elevator and down the halls to the rooms all by itself. It is the coolest thing ever!
Location: 5933 W Century Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90045
Hotel Recommendation in San Diego with Kids
1. Springhill Suites San Diego Downtown/Bayfront
During our time in San Diego, we stayed at Springhill Suites San Diego Downtown/Bayfront. This is a beautiful, clean modern hotel offering great views of the bay. It’s in a convenient location and an easy drive to all of San Diego’s best attractions.
This hotel has a great complimentary daily breakfast buffet and a great rooftop pool!
Location: 900 Bayfront Ct, San Diego, CA 92101
Hotel Recommendation for Legoland California
1. LEGOLAND Hotel & LEGOLAND Castle Hotel
During our visit to LEGOLAND California, we stayed at the LEGOLAND Hotel. There are 2 hotels on the property; LEGOLAND Hotel and LEGOLAND Castle Hotel. Staying on property is really the best way to do LEGOLAND and get the full experience.
The rooms are all LEGO-themed. We picked a LEGO NINJAGO room, but they also have a pirate, LEGO Friends, Kingdom, and Adventure rooms. The kids have their own sleeping area, which is so fun for them!
The hotel also has a fun welcome treasure hunt for the kids. The kids will search for clues in the hotel to find the secret combination to unlock the treasure chest in your room. Inside the treasure chest, is a special surprise bag of LEGOs for each kid in the room.
A free breakfast buffet is also offered daily. After you eat breakfast, walk out the door and you’re at the main entrance to LEGOLAND!
Now, I can’t forget about the awesome pool! Playing in the pool with LEGO bricks was my 6-year-olds dream!
Location: One Legoland Dr, Carlsbad, CA 92008
The Wrap-Up: Things to Do in Southern California with Kids
As you can see, Southern California will for sure be one of the most epic family vacations.
I hope you have enjoyed my guide 19 Most Amazing Things to Do in Southern California with Kids. I would love to hear how I helped plan your vacation. Send me a message at email@example.com.
READ NEXT: For more Traveling Swansons adventures, check out 21 Best Things to Do in Miami with Kids!