Four-Day Best of Southern California Itinerary

This four-day Southern California itinerary starts in Los Angeles, explores Santa Monica and Long Beach, and ends in sunny San Diego.

Day 1

Fly into LAX and rent a car for your Southern California road trip. Walk down the star-studded Hollywood Walk of Fame and a stop at the historic TCL Chinese Theatre, where you can find the handprints of your favorite movie stars. Or, for aesthetic stimulation, tour the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. End the day with a cocktail at Sunset Boulevard’s Rainbow Bar & Grill.

TCL Chinese Theatre
TCL Chinese Theatre. Photo © Valentin Armianu/Dreamstime.

Day 2

Grab breakfast The Griddle Café before heading to the coast for a day of culture. Jump on U.S. 101 to I-405 south to visit the world-famous Getty Center. Admire Richard Meier’s soaring architecture before gazing at the magnificent works inside. Continue south on I-405 exiting towards Santa Monica. Enjoy the amusement park rides of the Santa Monica Pier or just take a break on Santa Monica Beach. Stroll along the Venice Boardwalk to take in the bodybuilders, street performers, and alternative-culture types of Venice Beach. After a day gazing at the sea, dine on seafood at Salt Air.

Santa Monica Pier
For the ultimate in SoCal kitsch, you can’t miss the Santa Monica Pier. Photo © Stuart Thornton.

If You Have More Time

Kids (and kids at heart) might prefer to skip the L.A. beaches and spend a full day and night at Disneyland instead.

Day 3

Follow I-405 south, stopping off in Long Beach for a tour on The Queen Mary, an ocean liner now home to restaurants, a hotel, and a museum. From Long Beach, head south on Highway 1 through the North County beach towns of Encinitas, Carlsbad, and Oceanside. Stop off for a surf or a swim, or soldier on to La Jolla Cove to go kayaking or snorkeling. Then satiate that appetite with lobster tacos from Puesto.

La Jolla Caves. Photo © Dollar Photo Club.
La Jolla Caves. Photo © Dollar Photo Club.

Day 4

Easygoing San Diego is a great place to end any vacation. Visit Balboa Park, where you’ll spend most of your time at the San Diego Zoo. Follow a day in the park with a meal in the Gaslamp Quarter, then end your day with a craft beer at one of San Diego’s many breweries, like the giant Stone World Bistro & Gardens Liberty Station.

Balboa Park in San Diego. Photo © F11Photo/Dreamstime.
Balboa Park in San Diego. Photo © F11Photo/Dreamstime.