My wife and I recently enjoyed an outstanding week-long family vacation in the LA area with our two sons (16 and 13 years of age).
LA is massive, but with a little planning and a dose of flexibility, we are certain that others can enjoy a wonderful vacation here too, so here is a summary of some 'must-see' sites along with a few key travel tips.
First, plan to stay in the
Anaheim area. This region is home to Disneyland and is full of reasonably priced hotels, a wide array of shopping and many restaurants. It also provides easy access to key highways or
freeways as they are called in California.
The major sites that we wanted to visit in the area are scattered so renting a car was necessary. Have your hotel booked and rental car reserved before arriving at
LAX, the area's major airport. Depending on traffic, which has to be seen to be believed - 6 lanes of traffic both ways, expect a 60-minute drive to the Anaheim area from LAX.
Mornings were comfortable and cloudy until about noon. Afternoons were gloriously sunny with temperatures in the mid-80's with very low humidity. We were surprised by how cool the evenings were during our early August visit, wearing sweaters virtually every evening.
Disneyland California-style has two parks:
Disneyland Park (very similar to the Magic Kingdom in Florida) and
Disney's California Adventure (DCA), the smaller of the two. Our style is to go hard, hit the key sites and move on, so we chose the one-day "park hopper" passes. We were in the park when it opened and stayed until closing time which requires stamina and built-in rest time (usually on the rides), but we all felt like we had accomplished what we wanted to do in the day, not really possible in Orlando at Walt Disney World where the parks are so far apart and immense. The two parks in California are literally a stone's throw away from one another. We shuttled back and forth between them many times during the day to use 'fast-passes' (Disney's ingenious system which allows you to bypass lineups) or hit key shows at certain times during the day.
Our kids really enjoyed the coasters at Disneyland (Space Mountain, Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad), along with California Screamin' at DCA. The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at DCA was a highlight as well.
Be certain to fastpass the evening water show (World of Color) at DCA in order to get the best seats. This show was a definite highlight and a must-see. We also made a trip over to Downtown Disney on another evening and really enjoyed the little shops and boutiques. Be sure to pop into the lobby of the glorious
Grand Californian Disney hotel. Relax in front of the fireplace and soak in the atmosphere - a real treat indeed.
We are sports fans, so a visit to see the LA Dodgers play at beautiful
Dodger Stadium was an absolute must! The Phillies were in town and former Jay ace,
Doc Halladay, was pitching! Outstanding! Dodger Stadium, like Boston's Fenway Park, is a classic, timeless park with knowledgeable fans. The stadium is easily accessible via major freeways and provides stunning vistas - mountains and palm trees visible beyond the stands at the far end of the park.
Unlike cities such as Toronto, Boston, New York or Chicago, LA folks seem to think 'drive first, transit second' and our trip to Dodger Stadium was a perfect example. The parking lot is immense, but traffic flowed both in and out relatively smoothly. We all picked up souvenir baseballs in the gift shop and they were priced inexpensively. We highly recommend adding this experience to any LA vacation.
We cooled off one afternoon at
Knott's Soak City Water Park. The park is adjacent to Knott's Berry Farm Theme Park and is fairly close to the Disneyland Resort area. The water park was spacious and the lines weren't too long, so we were able to go on the main attractions during the afternoon. A highlight was definitely the huge tornado ride (Pacific Spin) where all four of us sat in a raft and zoomed down a chute until coming out in a huge cone where we were shot up one side of the wall and down the other side numerous times! We also thoroughly enjoyed the steep water slides at the back end of the park along with the lazy river. This park would be best visited on a hot day since some might find the water to be on the cool side otherwise.
We also made time to visit the gift shop at both the
Honda Centre (home of the Anaheim Ducks hockey team) and the
Angel Stadium of Anaheim (LA Angels home stadium) and found a wide selection of reasonably priced souvenirs.
We thoroughly enjoyed our 'extreme vacation' and jammed many exciting activities into our family's one week LA visit!
Fred Masters and his wife Kathy reside in Kitchener. Fred has performed technical review work for a major Canadian textbook company. Both are avid "last minute" travellers who have attended three Olympic Games. (Athens in 2004, Beijing in 2008 and Vancouver in 2010)