11 day Southern California Road Trip Itinerary

By on June 1, 2014

By Michele McIntyre –

On this trip to Southern California I’m ticking off spots on my travel bucket list – spots I must see before health, finances or other circumstances prevent me from doing so. This itinerary represents a sampler of what SoCal has to offer: Anaheim and the Disneyland Resort, Catalina Island, Santa Monica, Hollywood, La Jolla and San Diego. Ready for a road trip? Here we go!

Day 1: The Anabella, Anaheim

Day 1 – Sure, you could fly into LAX but who needs the hassle? Alternatively, fly into John Wayne airport in Santa Ana (SNA) for a smaller airport experience. The traffic on the ground and in the sky is much more manageable. Drive to Anaheim and check into The Anabella, a sprawling beautifully landscaped resort and your home for the next two nights, where the overall effect is that of a Spanish hacienda. If you prefer a little extra pampering while traveling, splurge on an L-shaped concierge room that offers a few extras: bathrobes, a King bed and a double bed, a small patio and a classic or continental breakfast for two each morning. It’s one of the best non-Disney hotel locations in town in terms of proximity to Downtown Disney and the Disney theme parks.

Spend the afternoon exploring Anaheim, the largest city in Orange County (and 10th largest in the state) that offers visitors and residents much more than the Disney theme parks. Sports fans flock here for the 43,000 seat Angels Stadium, The Honda Center – home of the Anaheim Ducks hockey team and the training center for the men’s and women’s Olympic volleyball teams. Shoppers will love the variety at the Anaheim Garden Walk and the fun and quirky independent shops on Center Street. Convention business abounds thanks to the 20,000 hotel rooms and five new construction hotel projects in the works. Have a late lunch or a refreshing juiced beverage at Healthy Junk, certainly an oxymoron, and a favorite spot of the health conscious. Ask for a blend of lemon, apple and ginger for a light but energizing pick-me-up on a hot summer day.

As evening approaches make your way across the street to Downtown Disney. If you like jazz, have a cocktail or two in the Flambeaux Room at Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen followed by dinner on Ralph Brennan’s balcony (be sure to make a reservation ahead of time to avoid disappointment). Plan ahead and order the warm chocolate bread pudding for dessert – a rich and gooey decadence that takes 25 minutes to prepare but is well worth the wait. Time your meal right and you’ll have an excellent view of the fireworks over Disneyland Park while enjoying your dessert or a cocktail. You’re walking back to your hotel so imbibe in one of Ralph Brennan’s specialty cocktails. Before retiring for the night purchase a one-day park hopper ticket to Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure and be sure you know what the operating hours of the theme parks are.

Day 2: Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure

1373413899_6212_IMG_1367Day 2 – If you want a leisurely sit-down breakfast, head to The Anabella’s Tangerine Restaurant and use your breakfast coupons or order off the menu. If you’re a grab-and-go kind of breakfast eater, call ahead from your room to place your order and pick up your meal from the convenient take-out window. Have a quick breakfast on your patio and plan on being at the parks when they open or shortly thereafter to get a jump on the crowds. (Weekend crowds in the summer can be fierce; have a plan and use the FastPass system to your advantage.)

Don’t miss the Radiator Springs Racers in the recently opened Cars Land at Disney’s California Adventure. This ride accepts FastPass so head there first and grab one for re-entry later in the day. Stay at the parks until you drop and then head back to The Anabella. If time and energy allows, take a refreshing dip in one of The Anabella’s two pools (one for everyone, one for adults)

Day 3: Catalina Island

Day 3 – Check out of The Anabella by 8:15 for your drive to Long Beach’s Downtown Landing. You’ll experience a fast and efficient 9:00 am check-in for your 10:00 Catalina Express Ferry to Catalina Island. You’ll want to board early to snag a window seat for the best views as you approach Avalon where your ferry will dock. The fast, sleek and comfortable ferry boats will transport you to Catalina in just an hour. On board you’ll enjoy indoor and outdoor seating options, a snack bar and a professional crew. It’s 11:00 am when your ferry reaches the dock.

1373414286_5349_IMG_1416This small island – just 22 miles long and 8 miles at its widest point – is located just 22 miles from mainland California yet it’s worlds away. People flock here for good reason – it’s drop dead gorgeous. You’ll think you’ve been transported to an island in the Mediterranean; the pace of life slows as you disembark and climb ashore wheeling your suitcase behind you. The primary mode of transportation is golf carts and on foot. There are cars on the island but it’s not how most people get around. Taxi cabs meet each arriving boat but it’s much more adventurous to make your way on foot to the pedestrian areas along the waterfront lined with beaches, watersports rentals, shops and restaurants.

2013 is the year to get to Avalon thanks to a 100th birthday the city is throwing itself. Speaking of birthdays, the birthday boy or girl can take advantage of the “Free Ride on Your Birthday” promotion this year.

Check into The Avalon Hotel located a 10-minute walk from the ferry dock on hilly side street. If you’re room isn’t ready yet they’ll store your luggage for you while you get out and explore. Grab lunch at Coney Island West. The fish and chips and warm roast turkey sandwich are hearty and satisfying.

At 1:00 you’ll meet up with your guide from the Santa Catalina Island Company for the East End Adventure. If you’re lucky, Charles will be your tour guide and he’ll spend the next two hours expertly driving you around the dusty roads high above the coastline in an open air Hummer (with covered seating for shade). The tour showcases unique plant and animal species that are found nowhere else on earth. Interestingly, there are American Bison on the island – left behind after a movie filming in 1924. We saw two of the massive beasts along with red tail hawks, island fox and soaring bald eagles.

First land, then sea. At 4:00 you’ll head to the waters edge to Santa Catalina Island Company’s Undersea Expedition. You’ll spend 45 minutes in a semi-submersible submarine with crystal clear views of bat rays, barracuda, schools of calico bass and the bright orange garibaldi fish that make their home in these waters. Lucky visitors may spot a rarely seen sea turtle. The giant sea kelp forests can grow an astonishing two feet a day in the right conditions; they’re massiveness is like nothing you’ve ever seen before.

For dinner, choices abound. Fairly good pizza and Italian American specialties can be found at Antonio’s. Even better than the food is the waterfront location, an ideal spot to sip a sangria cooler. Although there is a nightlife scene on Catalina, you’ll find it more rewarding to climb up to the rooftop terrace at The Avalon hotel for million dollar views of Avalon harbor at sunset and the surrounding island rising sharply up the hillside behind you. Rooms 101, 201 and 301 boast large balconies, prime corner locations and tranquil views.

Day 4: Catalina Island

1373414379_8187_IMG_1395Day 4 – After a restful sleep on the super comfortable memory foam mattress and luxurious linens, you’ll be ready for your 9:00 Lions and Leopards Kayak Tour with Catalina Island Expeditions. In two hours, you’ll paddle a total of six miles along the Catalina coastline in search of bald eagles, sea lions and leopard sharks. These sea creatures can be elusive at times but the scenery is unbeatable nonetheless. But first, fuel up on the hearty continental breakfast beside the Koi pond before departing The Avalon Hotel for the 10 to 15 minute walk to Descanso Beach where you’ll board your kayak.

You’ll have the afternoon free to wander the streets, beaches and shops of Avalon before boarding your 3:45 ferry back to the mainland. The Avalon Hotel will gladly store your luggage for you after checkout and invite you to stop back throughout the day for refreshments or a place to relax as you wait.

You’ll arrive back in Long Beach around 5 pm for the short drive to Santa Monica, your home for the next two nights. Check into the super hip and trendy Shore Hotel with ocean views (worth every penny) and a prime location directly across from the entrance to the Santa Monica Pier. Oceanfront and ocean view rooms are situated around a central courtyard that houses a pool and whirlpool. You’ll feel like a Hollywood star as you’re greeted with a glass of champagne at check in. Head on up to your soothing guest room and slip into the plushest bathrobe to ever brush against your skin. Head out to your balcony and enjoy the view. At first you might be surprised at some of the modern amenities in the bathroom – like the glass-enclosed shower designed to take advantage of the views. But don’t worry because privacy is yours at the touch of a button. (You have to see this design element to believe it.)

1373414575_1464_IMG_1426Day 5: Santa Monica, The Shore Hotel

Day 5 – Just a few blocks away from your hotel is the adorable French-inspired Café Crepe. The house specialty is a waste line busting dessert-like crepe filled with Nutella, banana, hazelnut and Grand Marnier. It’s a decadent breakfast that’s worth every calorie. Skip the tour bus and tour the Santa Monica/Venice Beach area on two wheels instead by renting a beach cruiser for a fun way to get the family fit and active (and to burn off those breakfast calories). Perry’s Café has nine locations along the bike path that offers bike rentals, bike repairs and cafes. The location at Blazing Saddles is on the Santa Monica Pier closest to your hotel. You can rent bikes by the hour, by the day or by the week. Bike rentals include locks and some bikes are equipped with a basket. Spend the day cruising up and down the shoreline path stopping for a swim at Santa Monica State Beach, lunch at one of Perry’s Café locations or to walk along the pretty canals of Venice (a far cry from the seedy Venice Beach area itself which may not be worth your time).

Day 6: Hollywood

1373414879_2710_IMG_1461Day 6 – Starline Tours will pick you up at The Shore hotel at 9:00 am for your 10:00 Hollywood Stars’ Homes Tour. The two hour tour will have you drooling over the multi-million dollar mansions of Hollywood’s rich and famous including drive-by’s of the extreme shopping on Rodeo Drive, views of the Hollywood sign, the Hollywood bowl and the famed Sunset Strip. After the tour, the most scenic way to return to Santa Monica is to take StarLine’s City Sightseeing Hop-On, Hop-Off narrated Tour. Take the red route to the yellow route and you’ll disembark just a block from the Shore Hotel near the Santa Monica Pier. Retrieve your car and luggage from the Shore Hotel and head to La Jolla.

Traffic leaving the LA area is a bit of a nightmare and the 2-hour drive will probably take closer to 3 hours. By the time you reach The Lodge at Torrey Pines, you’ll breathe a sigh of relief to be out of the traffic. You’ll be staying here for the next two nights and you’ll quickly realize it won’t be enough. You’re greeted by a doorman attired in kilted Scottish dress and the bellman who assists you with your luggage will be wearing traditional bellman uniform from the early 1900’s. But don’t be put off by the formality; The Lodge at Torrey Pines is one of the most unpretentious five diamond accommodations you’ll ever step foot in.

After unpacking, have a casual dinner at The Grill overlooking the practice putting greens of the Torrey Pines Golf Course. If it’s a warm evening dine outdoors on the patio.

The meal begins with an addicting starter of house made onion dip with a modern twist and homemade potato chips. You can rectify some of the damage by opting for the simple and straightforward heirloom tomato salad, bursting with the bright flavors of chimichurri sauce, blue cheese and local tomatoes. Truthfully, any menu item you get will be a winner.

Day 7: The Lodge at Torrey Pines, La Jolla

1373415067_5961_IMG_1463Day 7 – Begin your day at The Lodge at Torrey Pines with a walk or run along the recreation path at http://www.torreypine.org. You can join up with a paved walking path just outside the front doors of the resort that leads you to the gate at the beginning of the trail. It’s mostly flat for the first two miles followed by a steep hill that rewards your quads with Torrey Pines State Beach and breathtaking views of the Pacific.

Head into La Jolla for breakfast outdoors at the always-packed Brick & Bell Café on Silverado Ave. The post-workout crowd flocks here from nearby fitness centers and yoga studios for their morning repast but it’s a tourist favorite as well. Bakery cases explode with tempting giant muffins, scones, cookies and other pastries. For a more angelic way to fuel your day try a granola salad – homemade granola bursting with dried fruit and nuts, topped with yogurt, strawberries and bananas. Either way you’ll be glad you started your day with some exercise. Take home a few goodies for later.

After breakfast spend the day wandering around the charming and picturesque village of La Jolla and La Jolla Shores, making frequent stops anywhere that piques your interest. A few suggestions: Walk out onto the breakwater for an up-close view of the seals and sea lions on the beach or offshore on Seal Rock in La Jolla Children’s Pool, stroll along the sandstone cliffs high above the waters edge, duck in and out of La Jolla’s high end shops.

As the sun makes its decent toward the horizon, this is your signal to return to The Lodge at Torrey Pines to spend some much deserved time in the infinity-edge hot tub. With views of the Torrey Pines Golf Course in the foreground and the Pacific Ocean in the background, you won’t want to miss this! A dip in the pool will reward you with classical music piped in through underwater speakers. About an hour before sunset is the perfect time to stroll along the walking path at the Torrey Pines State Reserve. Just be sure to be off the trail at sunset when the park closes.

Day 8: The Spa at Torrey Pines, Loews Coronado Bay Resort

1372484364_6031_IMG_1493Day 8 – It will be difficult to leave The Lodge today, but your tour of SoCal continues south. Remember, this is a sampler itinerary created to give you just a taste of each destination. You’ll have to come back to this region after you decide on your favorite spots.

Before getting on the road again, pop down to The Spa at Torrey Pines. It will feel remarkably indulgent to have the 140-minute Spa at Torrey Pines Signature Ritual. Yes, that’s 2 hours and 20 minutes of remarkable indulgence. Every bit of this treatment is infused with the spas custom- blended lemongrass and sage products. Your ritual begins with an exfoliating Coastal Sage Scrub followed by a private soak in a steamy hydrotherapy tub with colored lights, massaging jets and bubbles. Your therapist is an expert in the art of draping and is trained to respect your privacy, so don’t worry even if you’re a little modest. The icing on the cake is a customized full body massage. Warning: Have someone else do the driving immediately after this treatment; you’ll be a puddle.

Bid a fond farewell to this splendid property; you’re probably ruined forever after your all-too-short stay. On your way out of town you’ll visit two sights: The Torrey Pines Gliderport, known as the mecca of free flight in the US, and Mount Soledad. If you’re really brave you’ll try a tandem flight with an experienced pilot at the Gliderport, but casually observing is fun too. It’s not a bad place to grab lunch of gourmet sandwiches at the Cliffhanger Café as you watch the paragliders and hang gliders take flight. Million dollar views of La Jolla and the surrounding area can be found at Mount Soledad, the sight of a Korean War memorial and Mount Soledad Cross.

As you leave La Jolla behind and approach the City of San Diego, the skyscrapers come into view. You’re not staying downtown though so you’ll soon see the tall buildings in your rearview mirror as you cross the sensational 2.12 miles San Diego-Coronado Bridge that connects mainland San Diego with Coronado Island. Traffic may be heavy through downtown Coronado but you’re just passing through for now. There will be plenty of time to explore Coronado later by foot.

In about 5 miles you’ll reach the full-service Loews Coronado Bay Resort. The lobby might be bustling with conventioneers but don’t worry. There are plenty of open spaces and uncrowded cozy seating areas left to enjoy and many of them come with a view. This is the final leg of you’re journey and you’ll be here for three nights, so get comfy. Splurge on a room with at least a partial bay view so you can soak in San Diego Bay from your private balcony.

What’s that you hear? It’s the sound of the pool complex calling you. Give in and take a seat around one of the three pools and two whirlpools. Don’t resist the temptation to order a cool drink from La Cantina from one of the friendly servers circling the pool deck. You have just enough time for a quick dip before returning to your room to get ready for dinner and time to explore Coronado.

Loews offers a free shuttle to town that leaves the hotel hourly from 9am to 9pm and returns at quarter past the hour. If you catch the 6pm shuttle, you can spend three hours in Coronado before catching the 9:15 shuttle back. This is plenty of time to grab dinner at one of the 70 restaurants and cafes in town. Don’t settle on the first spot you see – walk up and down Orange Avenue a few blocks in each direction and you’ll find most types of cuisine. Burger Lounge and Island Pasta are very popular. If time allows, spend some time exploring the architectural wonder of the historic Hotel Del Coronado; the hotel is even more magical at sunset.

Day 9: Balboa Park and The San Diego Zoo

1373415371_2780_IMG_1514Day 9 – This is your day to explore all that San Diego has to offer but not until you’ve spent the morning at the 15,000 square foot Sea Spa. Your signature Sea Spa Massage is fantastic, but the spa patio courtyard with Jacuzzi is the properties’ best kept secret. You’re free to use the facilities all day – including the fitness center – so try to squeeze in some time to come back and enjoy the relaxation sanctuary or the steam room and sauna.

Your next stop is Balboa Park, home to 15 major museums, renowned performing arts venues, beautiful gardens and the San Diego Zoo. On a hot summer day you can cool off in one of the air-conditioned museums before visiting the zoo (open till 9pm in the summer). The San Diego Natural History Museum is a kid and parent favorite for being bright and airy, manageably sized, clean and friendly. Purchase a Go San Diego Card that includes admission to 45 popular attractions including the Natural History Museum and the San Diego Zoo. Available in increments from one to seven days, this attractions pass offers savings up to 55% off gate prices. If you plan to be in the San Diego area for a few days and want to hit the most common attractions it’s an excellent value. The card is activated at the first attraction you use it at and remains valid for that day plus the number of consecutive days that you purchase the pass for. It’s super easy to use at the point of sale at each attraction.

You could spend all day at the enormous San Diego Zoo but arriving around 3:00 pm and spending the late afternoon and evening hours will reward you with temperatures that are cooler and fewer crowds. Familiarize yourself with the massive zoo by taking a 35-minute narrated tour on a double-decker bus that covers about 70 percent of the exhibits. When the tour ends, hit the ground running. The zoo offers 9 counter-service and one full-service restaurant plus numerous snack shacks and carts. Stop for dinner at the Sabertooth Grill featuring California cuisine fresh from local farms. Any menu item that includes Point Reyes blue cheese is a winner.
As the sun is setting, hop on board the Skyfari® aerial tram. It’s a transportation option from one end of the park to the other – your tired feet will thank you – but the aerial views of the exhibits and botanical elements of the park are the best reason to take flight.

Day 10: Brunch at Hotel Del Coronado

1373415491_1173_IMG_1542Day 10 – Start your day with San Diego’s best brunch at Hotel Del Coronado. It’s a mighty extravagance at nearly $80 per adult but worth every penny and every decadent calorie. Some of the high points: Mimosas and Bloody Mary’s are included, the Crown Room – where brunch is served – is architecturally magnificent, seven interactive dining stations ranging from breakfast favorites to a carving station to the generous seafood station that is a guest favorite. You may not need to eat again all day!

This is your last full day and you’ll want to schedule in time for relaxation before making the long trek home. Spend time at the pool or nearby Silver Strand State Beach or both. Loews makes beach going easy. Just board the beach shuttle (an oversized golf cart) in front of the resort and a friendly driver will shuttle you across the busy road through a pedestrian tunnel. Your driver will drop you off at a kiosk staffed with another friendly Loews employee (friendliness is a theme here!) who will offer you towels, beach chairs, umbrellas and boogie boards. It’s a beautiful stretch of beach frequented by locals with restrooms, showers, a snack bar and lots of parking.

When you’ve spent enough time in the water it’s time get on the water. A quick drive into San Diego brings you to the docks of Flagship Harbor Excursions for your one hour Harbor Tour. You can choose the North or South routes (or both; 2 hours). You’ll travel 12 miles on a clean, comfortable and stable vessel past the North Island Naval Air Station, Harbor and Shelter Islands, the Naval Sub Base and the Cabrillo National Monument. It’s a great way to see San Diego Harbor in a limited amount of time. Indoor and outdoor seating is available. An alternative to driving is to take the Coronado Ferry from Coronado Island directly to Flagship’s docks and pick up your harbor cruise there. Your Go San Diego Card entitles you to a one-hour harbor tour daily.

For your final hurrah before boarding your flight home tomorrow morning, opt for drinks and light fare on the terrace at Cays Lounge overlooking San Diego Harbor (right at your hotel). You’ll enjoy sweeping waterfront views with excellent gourmet burgers, a nice kids menu and inventive pasta dishes with a comprehensive wine and cocktail list. Linger a bit past dark to enjoy the warm ambience and the glow of the tabletop gas fireplaces. Gracious but busy servers offer their take on menu favorites and will light the patio heaters for you if the air is chilly.

1373415713_2913_IMG_1537Day 11: Parting shots; heading for home

Day 11 – Head to the airport in plenty of time to relax and grab breakfast (or lunch) before your flight home. Loews concierge, Elizabeth Markling, won’t steer you wrong when she suggests departing for the airport 3 hours before your flight. Be aware that some of the rental car agencies (Enterprise, for example) are located offsite from the airport and can be a little tricky to find. You’ll need to take a free shuttle from the rental car agency to the airport and lines at the rental car return can be long, especially if you aren’t expecting a wait. Enjoy your flight home!

Originally posted on Examiner.

Michele McIntyre

About Michele McIntyre

Michele McIntyre is a freelance writer who covers spas, travel, fitness, wellness, beauty and healthy living/eating. She is happiest when lying face up on the treatment table, writing about her spa and travel experiences or testing new products to share with her readers. She lives near Syracuse, NY with her husband and son. Michele is a regular travel contributor to LivingBetterat50+ and has written for Today’s Central New York Woman Magazine and online at Tripology, TripAtlas, and Splash Magazines Worldwide. Michele blogs about the spa and travel industry, and anything else she can think of, at everythingspa.wordpress.com. When she isn't writing about or visiting spas, Michele loves traveling, hiking, skiing, camping, yoga and reading. If any of these pursuits can be combined with a visit to the spa, even better! Michele can be reached at [email protected]

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11 day Southern California Road Trip Itinerary