Southern California is one of the prime vacation destinations for both American and foreign tourists. The region has amazing weather any month of the year and some of the most gorgeous beaches in the Americas. What makes Southern California even more appealing, however, is the endless list of fun and exciting things to do that will appeal to everyone in your family.
From national parks to theme parks and cultural attractions, Southern California has it all. Furthermore, the region encompasses a wide range of different geographical features, from inland deserts to snow-capped mountains and, of course, the Pacific Ocean. Getting around Southern California is simple because of the extensive highway system, so you should rent a car and try to see as much of the area as possible while there. Some of the most iconic things to do in Southern California include:
Runyon Canyon Park
Southern California boasts a wide range of different, amazing hikes, but Runyon Canyon offers one of the most special. While following the trail, you’ll get great views of the Hollywood sign and the Los Angeles skyline, not to mention the towering mountains in the distance. The photo opportunities are nonstop during the entire hike. Besides the beach, Runyon Canyon is one of the best and easiest ways to experience nature in LA and take in some great views. In addition, free yoga is offered daily in the park, so if you want to take some time to relax in nature, check out the instructors’ Facebook page for class schedules.
San Diego Zoo
People who love animals should definitely check out the San Diego Zoo, which is regarded among the best in the world. The zoo is home to a number of animals, including the giant panda, that can only be seen in a few other places, as well as fun activities like the Skyfari tram. You’ll also be impressed by the lush landscaping of the zoo, which encompasses 100 acres of Balboa Park and serves as a botanical garden. Visitors should plan to spend at least four hours walking around the zoo, if not more. In addition, keep in mind that people tend to line up outside before opening, especially on weekends—so plan to arrive early to beat the thickest crowds.
If you’re a bike rider, make time for an excursion along The Strand, a paved trail that stretches for 22 miles along the coastline, from Torrance County Beach in the south to Will Rogers State Beach in the north. Over the course of your ride, you’ll pass several beach towns where you can stop for food, drinks, or sightseeing. Some of the highlights along the way include Manhattan Beach Pier and Santa Monica Pier. The path also goes through Venice Beach, which offers a number of different attractions. Here, street performers tend to congregate to offer some truly unique shows and lively entertainment.
La Jolla Cove
One of the most picturesque beaches in Southern California is La Jolla Cove in San Diego. Because of the two sandstone cliffs that border the beach, it is a great spot for photography. However, the beautiful landscape and turquoise water aren’t the only reasons to visit—you can also watch sea lions sunning themselves on the rocks along the beach. The morning hours, when the animals come out in droves, are the best time to see them. Picking up breakfast in La Jolla and eating it on the beach makes for a lovely, relaxing start to the day before the afternoon crowds arrive. Of course, La Jolla Cove is also an excellent spot for other beach activities like snorkeling, swimming, and collecting sea glass.
Shoreline Village & Aquarium of the Pacific
Not far from downtown Long Beach is Shoreline Village, a shopping and entertainment destination that overlooks Rainbow Harbor. Within walking distance is the top-rated Aquarium of the Pacific, which is home to more than 11,000 animals representing upwards of 500 marine species. The exhibits focus on the different regions of the Pacific Ocean and include the Shark Lagoon, where you can see zebra, sand tiger, and whitetip reef sharks, and touch bamboo and epaulette sharks in three shallow touch pools. The aquarium is also home to a small colony of 20 Magellanic penguins native to South America.
Meanwhile, Shoreline Village contains charming shops and waterfront restaurants with outdoor seating that serve incredible seafood. There’s also an antique carousel and arcade with more than 70 video games, skee-ball, air hockey, and other fun activities. In addition, you can book a harbor boat tour or rent a bike to cruise along the waterfront.
Many people consider Griffith Observatory one of the must-do attractions in Los Angeles. Hiking up to the observatory on Mount Hollywood involves a few miles of trails that can be quite steep, but the reward is getting up close and personal with the Hollywood sign. You’ll also catch great glimpses of the city and surrounding foothills. At the top, you’ll enjoy even better views while learning about the unique history of the observatory, which dates back to 1935. Consider heading to the observatory after dark to soak in some of the best views of the city.
Known as the surfing capital of the world, the city of Huntington Beach in Orange County provides a unique opportunity to see athletes perfecting their performance. Watch from the pier as pro surfers take on big waves, or try your own hand at the sport and sign up for a lesson. The city also features miles of walking and biking paths, as well as award-winning restaurants, although it manages to maintain the laid-back feel of a sleepy beach town. In addition, many people know Huntington Beach for its fun annual events, such as the US Open of Surfing.