I admit that I love the west coast. From Washington to California, it’s full of fun. One of my favorite things about Disneyland is it’s close proximity to so many other activities. When you head to Southern California for vacation, you can do more than just theme parks! Here are my thoughts on how to make the perfect one week Southern California itinerary, including a visit to Disneyland!
Southern California Itinerary for 7 Days
Thank you to Visit California for hosting me on a recent press trip to the Southern California area. All thoughts and opinions are my own. (affiliate links included)
Planning to fly in and out of different airports is one of the best ways to maximize your vacation to Southern California. One way airline tickets are often the same pricing as roundtrips.
The only problem with this comes with the need for a one-way car rental. This type of car rental can add on some hefty drop fees or one-way charges. Make sure you check various booking sites and look for car rental coupons that could help you avoid those fees.
For my sample one week Southern California itinerary we’ll plan to fly into the LAX area and depart out of San Diego. In my best Disneyland tips post I share about the airports near Disneyland. My favorite is SNA (John Wayne), but LAX has great prices and car rental deals.
If you’re looking to explore Southern California I highly recommend renting a car and planning for parking fees while at Disneyland. If you’re just traveling to Disneyland I would recommend avoiding a car, but this is a plan for a Southern California vacation, so a car is ideal.
Southern California Itinerary Day 1
Arrive in Southern California (LAX or SNA) – If you want to use your travel day for attractions, fly in early. If you want to take it easier on arrival, plan to arrive at your hotel around check in time. It’s always nice to be able to go straight to your room and freshen up before kicking off your vacation.
Hollywood [OPTION 1]: Fly into LAX as early as possible. Explore some of the popular attractions of Los Angeles. My thoughts are either to spend the day at Universal Studios Hollywood, or visit a couple of spots like the Chinese Theater, Madame Tussauds Hollywood, or the Hop-On Hop-Off Double Decker Bus. Consider a GO City Card for Los Angeles, and these fun things to do in downtown LA.
After a full day exploring Hollywood, head to Anaheim. I recommend getting the driving done at night after your busy day in order to keep you from hitting rush hour traffic in the morning, and to allow you an early & full day at Disneyland.
Anaheim [OPTION 2]: If you’re not interested in the Hollywood scene and would rather take it easy on your first day, head straight to your hotel by Disneyland. I definitely recommend staying within walking distance, even better if you can stay onsite at one of the Disneyland hotels.
Use your arrival day to have fun at your hotel, take a swim in the pool. This is also a great time to deal with any ticket purchases or problems you might need to visit the ticket booths for. The booth lines are normally pretty empty in the evenings versus at night. I also recommend a stop into a local Target or Walmart to purchase some snacks for park days.
For dinner, I highly recommend driving to Buena Park and attending the Pirate’s Dinner Adventure. It’s a fun show for kids, with a little adult humor and love stories for the grown-ups. Otherwise you can walk through Downtown Disney and grab a bite to eat there.
Related: Southern California CityPASS Card
Southern California Itinerary Day 2
Disneyland Park and/or Disney’s California Adventure
If you’re staying at a Disney hotel, you will have the option to enter one of the parks an hour before the general public. Be sure to check online to see which park is offering the early entry for that day. Plan to start heading towards the park entrance about 30 minutes to an hour before the opening time to maximize your time. This will let you get through security and the turnstiles early, giving you a full hour in the parks before the general public.
TIP: you can mobile order a coffee with the Starbucks app at one of the Downtown Disney locations and pick it up on your way towards the parks!
Enjoy the parks, and be sure to read my best fastpass tips so that you can maximize your park time if you like many of the popular rides. Unless you’re an avid foodie family, I highly recommend planning on quick service meals and saving your time for rides and shows.
Southern California Itinerary Day 3
Disneyland Park and/or Disney’s California Adventure
Alternate Option: Thrill ride lovers might want to skip an extra day at Disneyland and instead visit Knott’s Berry Farm.
(read this post about getting cheap discounted Knotts Berry Farm tickets.)
Again, if staying onsite at a Disney hotel, you’ll have magic morning hour early entry to one of the parks, most likely the other one from the one that was offered yesterday. Use the early morning to maximize your park time.
Depart the parks around dinner time, unless you have a strong desire to watch the evening parade or fireworks.
OPTION 1: Stay for evening shows at Disneyland and stay another night in your Disneyland hotel, or drive late at night to your next stop.
OPTION 2: Depart Disneyland around dinner time and head to Huntington Beach.
Check into the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort & Spa. This is a great hotel with an amazing spa that will please adults, plus some fun pools, perfect for the kids.
Enjoy a campfire on the beach, this is a great time to talk about how your trip is going.
If you’re looking to explore more of Anaheim, check out these 10 things to do in Anaheim beyond Disneyland.
Southern California Itinerary Day 4
Enjoy Huntington Beach
No visit to Southern California could be complete without a visit to the beach. Huntington Beach is a great place to visit. The downtown area is a great spot to stroll and eat. Plus, being Surf City USA, it’s the perfect spot to try to hang ten with a surf lesson.
Southern California Itinerary Day 5
Leave Huntington Beach for a drive along the coast.
Option 1: enjoy sightseeing along the coast, including coastal towns like Carlsbad and La Jolla.
Option 2: Visit LEGOLAND California.
Plan for arrival at San Diego that evening. I recently stayed at the Catamaran Resort in San Diego. It’s located on Mission Bay, and a lovely property. The grounds are filled with lush plants, and a nicely sized pool. Plus it’s bayfront property. Waterview rooms look out on the bay and the beach chairs and tables that the resort sets up.
Their onsite restaurant, Oceana Coastal Kitchen, features an amazing view and a jellyfish aquarium in the restaurant. Highly recommend this spot for a seafood dinner, or plan to enjoy breakfast with a view.
Save money in southern California with the Go San Diego Card
Southern California Itinerary Day 6
Depending on what you’re most interested in, this day can be filled with a lot of ideas. If you love animals, you might consider a trip to the San Diego Zoo. It’s located in Balboa Park which also features a lot of great museums, such as the Science Center and Natural History Museum. If you have little kids you can also consider visiting the carousel and miniature railroad.
If you love aquariums and want some more rides, consider visiting SeaWorld. My daughter loved the Manta roller coaster, and I have to say that the Atlantis ride was a shock for me! Consider booking a Behind the Scenes Tour if you’d like to see some of the conservancy and animal care efforts SeaWorld is working on.
For some old-fashioned oceanfront fun, wrap up your San Diego Day at Belmont Park. It is like an old fashioned fair and arcade, plus is located directly on Mission Beach. It’s the perfect spot to catch an amazing sunset.
If you are a Belmont Park, consider having dinner at Draft. It’s located on site and features 69 beers on tap! Plus, a delicious menu that features some fun dishes that represent southern California well.
My friends have some other great posts to help you plan what to do:
Southern California Itinerary Day 7
I recommend another taste of the beach for your final day of your one week itinerary to Southern California. Drive across the bridge and enjoy your final hours enjoying this beautiful coastal town of Coronado.
Depart from San Diego Airport.
Of course, there are many, many more things to do in Southern California. This is just a taste of how I would organized a one week trip itinerary to Southern California based on my family’s previous visits. This plan helps you maximize all the great big name attractions, plus enjoy the wonderful Southern California beaches.
Resources for Planning your Southern California Itinerary
Get Away Today – great spot to score discount Southern California vacation (use the code StuffedSuitcase to get a $10 discount on your 2+ night booking!)
CityPASS discount cards for attractions
GO City Cards for San Diego and Los Angeles for attraction savings