A Family-Friendly Trip to Southern California | Cooking With Jade

A Family-Friendly Trip to Southern California

A Family-Friendly Trip to Southern California
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So I visited Naveen out in SoCal recently and it was an awesome trip! Three things happen whenever we get together: 1. We laugh an obnoxious amount. 2. We eat even more. 3. We get real nostalgic for our childhood. Luckily, Southern California, with all of its family-friendly activities, is a great place to relive your childhood. Even if the family in question is just your highly energetic dog and even more energetic brother. Here’s where we went in Naveen’s new home state. 

Naveen and Chef Jade at Southern California


Of course, no family-friendly trip to Southern California is complete without a trip to Disneyland. Opened in 1955, the original Disney theme park predates Disney World by 16 years! Since Disneyland is not dog-friendly (except for trained service animals) we dropped Zelda off at a trusted doggie daycare and took Disney by storm. The park opens at 8 am (and closes at midnight) which means we were waiting outside the gate at 7:30. Normally I’m not a morning person, but Naveen told me that the early morning is the best time to hit all the rides, due to the short wait times. Boy, was he right! I’m not ashamed to admit I rode Space Mountain three times in a row (it’s always been my favorite). 

And here is another pro-tip: while there is plenty of food to be had in the park, I recommend taking a break and exploring Anaheim for lunch or dinner (reentry is permitted, as long as the park doesn’t hit capacity). Anaheim is a diverse town with a lot of great food options and offers much more bang for your buck than an in-park meal. But no matter where you go, make sure you’re back in time for the nightly fireworks show at 9:30–it’s one of my favorite spectacles at the park!

California Disneyland

Santa Monica Pier

After our Disney excursion, we headed west – Zelda in tow – to the Santa Monica Pier. The famous endpoint of Route 66 offers fun for all ages. Aside from a gorgeous panoramic view of the beach and ocean, the pier is full of street performers, snack shops, and even a mini amusement park. And when the weather is nice – which is often – you can count on it being packed with people. Naveen and I had a great time people watching, while Zelda soaked up the sun and attention. 

And while you’re at the pier, I recommend checking out the Heal the Bay Aquarium. It’s a relatively small aquarium, but it houses over 100 species of local marine life. And at $12 per ticket, it’s a good bargain. And best of all, your ticket will be supporting a helpful nonprofit devoted to keeping California’s coast clean and healthy!

South California Santa Monica Pier

California Science Center and Natural History Museum

Exposition Park, near the University of Southern California, is home to both the California Science Center and the Natural History Museum. Talk about a two-for-one deal! Admission to the Natural History Museum is $18 for adults (just $7 for kids) and includes access to the Dinosaur Hall, Gem and Mineral Hall, Butterfly Pavilion (my favorite), and beautiful nature gardens. And if you get the chance, I highly recommend taking in one of the Dinosaur Encounters shows, featuring life-sized dinosaur puppets. It’s certainly one of the coolest puppet shows I’ve ever seen.

The California Science Center has an even better admission price: it’s free! The museum is perhaps best known as the permanent home of the Space Shuttle Endeavor. Unfortunately, the famous shuttle is off display for the next few years, while the museum undergoes a state-of-the-art expansion. No worries–there is still plenty to see and do here! I loved the “Ecosystems” exhibit, while Naveen (brave soul that he is) couldn’t get enough of an imaginative exhibit called “Goosebumps! The Science of Fear.” Part of me thinks he loved it so much because it reminded him of the classic R.L. Stine children’s series, which was always a hit at our house. Suffice it to say, there is something for everyone here.

_SoCal_California Science Center and Natural History Museum


For our last two stops, we headed down to San Diego, which is always a fun place to visit. First, we went to Legoland, at Naveen’s insistence (our floors were always strewn with his Legos growing up). I’m so glad I went though! Just picture the most elaborate Lego set you’ve ever seen, mixed with an amusement park. Legoland has roller coasters with cars that look like Lego pieces, shows featuring Lego ninjas – sorry, Ninjago – and pirates, an aquarium, a ride through Dino Valley (complete with giant Lego dinosaurs), and awesome Lego displays, including a scaled model of L.A.’s SoFi stadium. The park even gives Lego buffs of all ages a chance to exchange some of their pieces (if only Naveen still had his). Legoland was a great place for both of us to reconnect with our childhoods.

South California Legoland

The San Diego Zoo

Just like we couldn’t visit Orange County without going to Disneyland, we couldn’t visit San Diego without a stop at the San Diego Zoo. Located in beautiful (and very central) Balboa Park, the San Diego Zoo is one of the country’s most famous and beloved zoos, and for good reason. With nearly 3,000 animals representing over 600 species (not to mention over 700,000 plants!), it’s certainly one of our largest zoos. Unfortunately, Zelda wasn’t one of those animals, as the zoo doesn’t allow pets. It’s probably for the best–I don’t think she could have handled seeing other animals hog the spotlight. Some of my favorite exhibits included the Gorilla Forest, the Elephant Odyssey, and the koalas. 

It’s worth mentioning that the zoo also runs the Safari Park (formerly the Wild Animal Park) in nearby Escondido, CA. Naveen and I got a San Diego Zoo/Safari Park ticket bundle for $124 per person. Steep, yes, but totally worth it, we both thought. With open-air truck tours and plenty of space for the animals to roam around in, it felt like a true safari. The highlight for me was watching the cheetahs run at full speed. I’ve never felt so slow in my life!

South California The San Diego Zoo

A Trip To Remember

It was really cool catching up with Naveen and going on an extended nostalgia trip in a place that – let’s face it – is way more fun than our childhood home of rural Illinois. It’s not all restaurants and bars for this gal: I’m already making a list of cool family-friendly places to take him when he visits me here in New York. Stay tuned!

If you enjoyed this article or have suggestions on how we can improve it, please leave us a comment below. Also, make sure to check out other articles I’ve created or stories I’ve written about food culture – here.

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