San Diego, Joshua Tree, Newport Beach Itinerary

March 30, 2016

California is a popular destination for families but outside of the San Diego Zoo, Legoland and Disneyland, it can be difficult to plan a trip or itinerary which combines fun for the kids with a bit of adventure and exploration.  Of course, this trip is not a drive from where we live (Texas) which meant we had to fly either Southwest or American Airlines.  But luckily, using some of the advice from The Points Guy (a blog or twitter account we highly recommend following –, we were able to easily earn enough Southwest points to cover free airfare for four to and from California.

My husband has also spent a lot of time in California with his company so he wanted to find a way to explore some of the less visited areas.  After a lot of research, we decided to traverse the state starting in San Diego; then over to see Joshua Tree and Palm Springs; and then back again to stay in the Newport Beach/Laguna Beach area with a final day of sightseeing in Los Angeles.  This meant a trip which included the beach, the desert, the mountains and then the beach again – ending with a day in Hollywood.

As always, we encourage families to adjust any of these plans, lodging, activities and days to fit their preferences – but we hope this will add some creative ideas to your vacation in Southern California.

Day 1 – Fly to San Diego – surfing

• Coronado Surfing Academy – Afternoon surfing lessons ($$)

Eat: Burger Lounge ($) – Lunch; Brigantine ($$) – Dinner (Wok Charred Ahi, Fish Tacos)
Stay: Hotel Del Coronado – “The Del” – ($$)

Day 2 – San Diego – zoo

• San Diego Zoo – Pandas, Koala Bears, Polar Bears
• Evening at the hotel

Eat: Albert’s Restaurant ($$) – Lunch at San Diego Zoo; Leroy’s Kitchen + Lounge ($$) – Dinner
Stay: Hotel Del Coronado – “The Del” – ($$)

Day 3 – San Diego- balboa park

• Balboa Park – Fleet Science Center, Air and Space Museum, Shaved Ice
• Coronado Island – Shopping, Sightseeing

Eat: Snooze an A.M. Eatery ($) – Breakfast (OMG! French Toast, Pancake Flights); The Prado ($$) – Lunch
Eat: Burger Lounge or Islander ($$) – Dinner (Fish and Chips); Nado Gelato – Desert ($)
Stay: Hotel Del Coronado – “The Del” – ($$)

Day 4 – Julian, Joshua Tree

• Apple Alley – Pick up sandwiches, Caramel Apple Pecan Pie and cinnamon ice cream
• Have lunch on the picnic tables at William Heise County Park
• Julian Mining Company – Panning for gold ($)
• Volkswagen VW Beetle Spider – Palm Springs – Photo Op
• Enjoy a desert evening at the house

Eat: Apple Alley – Lunch ($); Pie for the People ($) – Pizza Delivered – Dinner
Stay: Airbnb; Find a unique house in Joshua Tree or Palm Springs.  We stayed at Rancho Loco (

Day 5 – Palm Springs, San Jacinto Mountain

• Ride the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway to the top of Mount San Jacinto – hike, lunch ($)
• Or visit the Indian Canyons for a quick hike and lunch in Palm Springs
• Shopping in Joshua Tree, Palm Springs and Twentynine Palms

Eat: Crossroads Café ($) – Breakfast; Pappy and Hariett’s ($) – Dinner
Stay: Airbnb; Find a unique house in Joshua Tree or Palm Springs.  We stayed at Rancho Loco (

Day 6 – Joshua Tree – hiking

• Hike Ryan Mountain as early in the day as possible
• Drive to Cholla Cactus Garden for quick walking path
• Visit Noah Purifoy Outdoor Museum (outdoor art installments)

Eat: Open – Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner
Stay: Airbnb; Find a unique house in Joshua Tree or Palm Springs. We stayed at Rancho Loco (

Day 7 – Idyllwild, Newport Beach

• Scenic drive up to the mountain town of Idyllwild
• Lunch at Gastronome or Cafe Aroma
• Idyllwild – Shopping
• Back down the mountain to Hemet and on to Newport Beach
• Relax at the pool or beach

Eat: Gastronome or Café Aroma ($$) – Lunch
Stay: Resort at Pelican Hill ($$$) or Crystal Cove Beach Cottages ($)

Day 8 – Newport Beach, Laguna beach – sailing

• Pick up food and white wine for sailing trip
• Newport Beach Sailing Charters – Day Trip ($$$)
• Afternoon shopping in Laguna Beach
• Dinner at Sunset – The Deck
• Gelatto in town

Eat: The Waffle Affiar ($) – Breakfast; The Deck ($$) – Dinner
Stay: Resort at Pelican Hill ($$$) or Crystal Cove Beach Cottages ($)

Day 9 – Newport Beach – beach

• Breakfast and Bloody Mary’s at The Beachcomber Café in Crystal Cove
• Walk the beach in the cove and swim in the ocean
• Beaches House – Photo Op
• Spend time by the pool or beach

Eat: The Beachcomber Café ($) – Breakfast; Pelican Grill ($$$) – Dinner
Stay: Resort at Pelican Hill ($$$) or Crystal Cove Beach Cottages ($)

Day 10 – Los Angeles – driving tour

• Hollywood Sign – Photo Op
• Hollywood Bowl Overlook – Photo Op
• Mulholland Drive, Laurel Canyon
• Sunset Strip (Whisky a Go-Go; Viper Room, Chateau Marmont, etc.)
• Rodeo Drive, Beverly Wilshire
• Pink’s Hot Dogs – Lunch
• Shopping on Melrose – Funky and eclectic (East of Fairfax); Higher-end (West of Fairfax)
• Fly back home out of LAX

Eat: Pink’s Hot Dogs ($) – Lunch
Stay: Your own bed (-)

And for more details on surrounding areas see other itinerary for Ojai, Catalina or destination notes for San Diego, Joshua Tree/Palm Springs, Newport BeachLos AngelesOjai, Catalina Island and Disneyland.




VRBO – HOuse



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