Los Angeles and San Diego With Kids!

by Sophie Vokes-Dudgeon on 20 November 2015, 15:11PM

Sophie Vokes-Dudgeon (@sophiestarstrck) returns to her former California home town, but this time with young kids in tow.....


I used to live in Los Angeles, back when I was footloose and fancy free, working as a journalist in the entertainment capital of the world. So I was surprised to find the butterflies mounting in my stomach as the departure date for our big family holiday of the year (a trip back to California with my husband and two sons, Finn, 9 and Noah, 6) approached. The thing was, as much as I knew the destination we were jetting off to, I had little knowledge of what constituted a ‘child-friendly’ experience in Hollywood. And while my heart might have been yearning for a night of celeb spotting at Sunset’s Mondrian hotel, my head knew the boys were unlikely to be willing accomplices.


If I’m honest though, most of my butterflies were about the flight itself. We hadn’t flown long haul since becoming parents, and that had been a conscious decision. Were we ready to handle whatever jetlag nightmares an 11 hour flight and 8 hour time difference could throw at us? Or would we live to regret this for a long time to come?!

Happily, my worries were misplaced. Nobody got much sleep (my upgrade to a sky couch in Air New Zealand’s economy cabin, which converts a row of three seats into a kind of bed, was worth it for the comfort, but the screaming baby two rows ahead was out of everyone’s control).

But the great thing about long haul to the West Coast is that you arrive at bed time, so exhausted children is a bonus. And after a couple of days of early mornings we were all back on schedule.

One word of advice: get a taxi from the airport. Cars are a necessity in Los Angeles (nobody, and I mean nobody, gets the bus in LA). But the feeling of dizziness I had on touch down at LAX, and the reviews citing hours-long waits at the car hire offices, none of which are on-site, made me delighted we’d opted to  climb into a bright yellow cab.

We’d made the decision to split our time in LA with a mid-week stint in San Diego, hoping to miss the crowds at San Diego Zoo and Sea World by avoiding the weekend. This meant we spent the first couple of days in the city of Angels, taking it easy and finding our feet while we adapted to our semi-familiar surroundings. Culture shock hit for the boys within hours of waking on the first morning (the fuss the news programs were making about a bit of over-night rain was a hilarity for the kids) – but by the time they’d discovered diner breakfasts they were sold! America was awesome.

A common complaint from visitors to Los Angeles is that there isn’t a centre, and it’s a fair comment. It’s a hard city to get a handle on, particularly if you know nobody there. The truth is though, it really doesn’t matter where you go – all parts of LA are perfect, self-contained little centers.


We stayed in West Hollywood. but whether you opt for Hollywood, Santa Monica, or even Beverly Hills, they all have everything you’ll  need to allow your kids to indulge in some seriously American adventures. For my boys, breakfast at Mel’s diner, complete with pancakes, bacon and a personal juke box, followed by a trip around Ralph’s supermarket for some road-trip provisions (and a chance to marvel at spray cheese, marshmallow breakfast cereals and gallon pots of ice cream) was the perfect start to the holiday.

We hired a car (having said a car is a necessity, Uber have become so established in the city now, if you’re not going on a road trip, you could definitely make your way around town with that app). Our ambitions of a convertible mustang were quickly abandoned in favour of enough boot space to get our cases back to the airport (such is life with children!) but our white Nissan did the job, and came with sat nav which was a definite bonus (although you might want to opt to avoid freeways for the first day or two if you’ve never driven in the US before!)


So just two days after landing we were off again, in search of San Diego and the child-friendly delights on offer further down the coast.

We took the scenic Highway 1 which is slower and more coastal, and enjoyed lunch in Del Mar, before arriving at the Mission Bay Hilton mid-afternoon. The Hilton is literally minutes from Sea World (you can enjoy the park’s fireworks from your balcony in season) and wonderfully set up for kids – whether it’s the super-friendly concierge, Gordie, who provided my two with safari-style sun hats which saved my SPF worries while we were in town, or the evening entertainment of making s’mores (melted marshmallow sandwiches that are so good you always want s’more!) in firepits on the beach.  If you’re lucky and your stay coincides with a dive-in movie session, mum and dad can even escape for a peaceful evening meal while the kids sit on beanbags and watch a film round the pool, while scoffing on pizza and popcorn!


The delights of San Diego, sadly, took second place to the kids’ agenda but it turned out a mid-week, mid-October schedule was really unbeatable in terms of crowds and weather at the city’s top two tourist attractions. Still warm enough to enable you to dry off quickly when you got soaked at the dolphin show at Sea World, but not too hot to sit on the top deck of San Diego Zoo’s tour-bus (definitely the best spot!), the weather was perfect. And crowds at both attractions were minimal. I asked the boys which they’d recommend if they could only pick one, and opinion was split, both are definitely worth a trip. And it’s worth mentioning that in October, kids go free to both attractions! Half term holidays are certainly the way forward.



Our trip back to LA was quicker – we did it in just under 3 hours and took the 405 which is an adventure on its own. The carpool lane was fun (and effective, too) and before we knew it we were back in West Hollywood to continue our adventures in La La Land.

Here, a bit of local knowledge did come in handy. For top pics of the Hollywood sign (and a to get a taste of real LA life) head to Runyan Canyon and hike the hilltop trail. Semi-clad Adonis’ and hot-pant-wearing model-types pound the paths all day long at this popular park which gives you sensational views of the whole city.

Hollywood Boulevard is best done first thing, before the crowds are so many that pictures by Mickey Mouse’s star become impossible. And something to note: parking at the Hollywood and Highland parking structure can be validated at the little tourist booth on the ground floor – it’s a big saving.

Harry Potter fans – make your way to the TLC Chinese Theatre where Harry, Ron and Hermoine’s hands, feet and wands have left their mark. And see if you can spot Captain Jack Sparrow’s calling card while you’re at it.

The beach, and Santa Monica, are an absolute must. Jumping in the waves while the Baywatch-style lifeguards watch on (and do push ups on the platforms of their little huts) is a special experience (seemed Pamela Anderson was having a day off, sorry Dad!) And rollerblades can be hired for a few bucks an hour right by the pier. Bliss.

We ate Mexican food, sunbathed, snooped at Malibu beach houses during a trip to Paradise Cove and browsed an amazing array of can’t-be-got-back-home clothes at Target (a department store like no other, don’t miss it!). But without a doubt the highlight of our LA trip was Universal Studios, and again, in October, we were blessed with both sun and no crowds.

The Minions have moved in for an amazing simulator ride experience and the stunt shows delighted the children. Adults can’t fail to be excited by the backlot tour (which is so high-tech these days that the kids loved every minute too) and come spring 2016 the new Harry Potter ride will be open and it looks simply amazing! A whole Hogwarts in miniature has already been constructed and is so enticing even my roller-coaster-phobic eldest child is prepared to put his fears aside if only we can return.

Any worries I’d had that LA wouldn’t be set up for kids went out the window the moment I arrived, and sadly we ran out of time for everything on our to do list. But as I told the kids as we arrived, long-faced, at LAX’s car hire return, The Getty Center (and it’s cool, free, monorail ride) and the dinosaur fossils at La Brea Tar Pits will give us an excuse to plan a return trip in a few years time. So long for now, Los Angeles, but we’ll be back soon!

To book your next American adventure click here.

For information on Universal Studios click here.

For information on Sea World click here.

For information on San Diego Zoo click here.


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