So Long, SoCal
We moved to Southern California knowing it would be temporary. Just a few years, tops. What we didn’t know is how significant it would be for our little family. California is where our son had all of his big firsts! It’s where he took his first steps, attended his first daycare, made his first friends, and (barf warning ahead) ate his first dead lizard. Yum!
Around six months before our big move to Spain, I began to panic! We still have so much to see here in California!!! We can’t leave yet! We haven’t even been to DISNEYLAND!! I dedicated our remaining weekends to day trips within Southern California. Dan was still deployed at this point, but I was committed to see as much as I could – toddler in tow! My wonderful sister-in-law, Ailis, even joined us for a few of them. Keep reading for a few of our favorite day trips in Southern California.
Carlsbad Flower Fields & Oceanside Pier Beach
One of the most beautiful day trips we took while in Southern California was to the city of Carlsbad. Carlsbad is located between San Diego and Los Angeles and (fun fact) is the home of Tony Hawk. Seriously, how do you get more SoCal than that? While most families visit the city for LEGOLAND California, the Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch were at the top of our list. The flower fields boast over 50 acres of Ranunculus flowers that are best viewed from mid-March to mid-April. They do charge for admission, but children under 3 years of age are free! Danny had a great time running along the paths and jumping from flower to flower. Find more information on the flower fields here. Once you burn off some energy at the flower fields, head over to Tip Top Meats, a European delicatessen and meat market, for lunch.
After our morning at the flower fields, we made the short drive to Oceanside Pier to relax at the beach. We didn’t stay long before heading back to avoid Los Angeles traffic. If you have more time in the area, check out the California Surf Museum along Pier View Way.
Pasadena and KidSpace
For Danny’s first birthday, he received a gift certificate to Kidspace Children’s Museum in Pasadena (big shout out to Uncle Mike and Aunt Dana for that one). We loaded up for Pasadena and spent the morning exploring all that the museum had to offer. Danny was one of the younger children at the museum, but there was something for all ages. The campus is home to an outdoor adventure area where kids can climb rocks, ride bikes, test the laws of physics, explore water features, cross bridges, build forts, discover local flora, play music, and play in the mud! Inside the main building you will find a learning space for fossils, rocks, minerals, and plants, climb up the climbing towers, explore a larger than life sized ant hill from the inside, settle in for story time, or make a visit to the early childhood room for the youngest of visitors. Danny’s love of the outdoors, balls, and all things that move kept him entertained for hours at only 13 months old!
Solvang Danish Village
Solvang is a cute little Danish town in the Santa Ynez Valley of Southern California. It is packed full of family fun, culture, wine, and pastries. Omigosh the PASTRIES. Danny and I took multiple day trips here while Dan was on deployment. Mostly to walk around and sight see, but secretly for the pastries. I stuffed that kiddo full of dough and sugar at Birkholm’s Bakery, then set out to explore the town! There are plenty of shops to wind in and out of, but be sure to hit up our favorite spots.
- Birkholm Bakery – Order the cheese Danish. Trust me on this one. This recommendation comes straight from the bakers themselves. It was Danny’s very first sweet pastry (he takes after dad on this one).
- Copenhagen Sausage Garden – You can never go wrong with a good biergarten. They offer nearly a dozen different kind of sausages, including the Danish Rød Pølse, and we have been impressed with them all!
- Mission Santa Inés – We are suckers for a good history lesson. The Spanish mission is one of 21 in the entire state of California. It also has a beautiful garden with stations of the cross within the church grounds.
- Hans Christian Anderson Park – There are plenty of spaces to let kids run around in Solvang, but this park takes the cake! It has a great playground, endless green space, and a picnic area.
- Wine Tasting Rooms – One thing the Santa Ynez Valley is known for is its wine! Luckily for parents of human children and furry children alike, there are a few family friendly wine tasting rooms in Solvang. Our favorites were Lucky Dogg Winery and Carivintas. Both had small areas for children to sit and play.
Enjoy these beautiful family photos. Guess which one is my favorite? Hahaha. #photogenic
This is the holy grail of all toddler-friendly day trips in Southern California. If you know me, you know that I love theme parks. The hustle, the bustle, the food, the people-watching, and of course, the rides! I love it all. Danny might have been too young to get excited about the trip to Disneyland, but I was bursting at the seams with excitement. Unfortunately for me, I married the most anti-theme park man in the world. I still love you, Dan!! It all works out, though, because my sister-in-law is as big of a fan as I am. She came for a visit and Disneyland was the number one must see on our list. The entire day was a whirlwind, but a few things definitely made the trip easier!
- Baby Carrier – For the love of all things Disney, if your child is under two years old, bring a baby carrier! You do not want to deal with an escape artist when you are 45 minutes into the line of Peter Pan’s Flight, or wrestle to keep a water loving toddler on the boat in It’s a Small World. Bring one that is small enough to store in the basket of your stroller and put it on when it is go time!
- Plan Your Adventure Wisely – There are plenty of tips all over the internet on how to minimize your wait times for certain rides. Or you can find tips through an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner. More on that later. For us, this meant arriving as early as possible, and going straight to Fantasyland (first stop: Peter Pan’s Flight). We saved our FastPass for later in the evening and used it at the Haunted Mansion.
- Download the App – It tells you everything you need to know. What the wait times are, where characters are going to be, events happening in the park, and more. It was a huge time saver for us!
- Mark Your Stroller – Find a way to mark your stroller so it is easy to find in the stroller parking lots. Just because you left your stroller in a certain location does not mean it will be there when you get off the ride. Yes, it will be in the general area, but the cast members move them around to save on space. Marking your stroller with bright tape, or even a balloon purchased when you arrive, will save on time.
- Snacks and More – Just like any long day out, be sure to bring plenty of snacks and a refillable water bottle. Keep your diaper bag packed with the necessities, including extra clothes (Southern California can get chilly in the mornings and evenings), extra shoes (yep… we lost a pair on the merry-go-round within an hour of being at the park), a few small toys, and extra wipes!
Our quick trip down to Disney could not have been a success without the planning tips and assistance from my good friend Megan Lebre of Pixie Dust Vacations. If you are planning a trip to Disney, going through an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner like Megan is not only free, but it will save you the headache of long wait times and lost opportunities and will maximize your time having FUN! Check out her Facebook page here. Thanks again for your help, Megan!
Dodger & Angel Stadium
Okay, okay… I know what you’re thinking! We were promised day trips. What gives? The truth is, when traveling with a toddler, sporting events almost always turn into day trips. By the time you drive to the stadium, find a place to park, unleash the demons (…erm, children), get to your seats, go find food, and find your seats again, you’re already hours in! It’s totally worth it, though. With a one year old whose favorite word is “ball” and whose favorite pastime is eating, baseball games are always a home run for our family. We’ve been to both Dodger Stadium and Angel Stadium and, despite my child-of-the-90s-level love for Angels in the Outfield, the Dodgers came out on top for this family. Pro Tip: Buy tickets with pavilion access for all you can eat Dodger dogs!
We have moved on from California for our next adventure – living in Spain! Comment below with your favorite spots in Southern California. It’s never too early to plan a trip back!