Travel with Style: Road Trip to LA and Oceanside
It’s the last month of winter, which means spring—and spring break—is on the horizon! Itching to get away without breaking the bank in some far-flung destination? A visit to SoCal never disappoints—the weather typically plays nice, there are plenty of family-friendly activities, and it’s within driving distance. Pack the car (and plenty of snacks) and follow my itinerary for a five-day road trip to Los Angeles and Oceanside, with where to stay and play, plus a plethora of pro tips to help you save time and money.
Interstate 5 may not be the prettiest drive through Cali, but it’ll get you down south in just over five hours (if you time traffic right). Speaking of, I recommend departing at dawn or dusk to avoid the bumper-to-bumper madness that typically begins around 2 p.m. and lingers well into the evening hours before beginning again around 5 a.m. For a warm welcome (in case the sunny skies and balmy temps aren’t enough), grab a room at the Kimpton Everly Hotel, sited within walking distance to the buzz of Hollywood Boulevard but far enough away you’ll still get some peace and quiet. Though known for their hip, urban-inspired design, hosted evening social hour, and cool-meets-comfy rooms, Kimpton also offers a less-talked-about Kids Program that features cribs and playards upon request, kiddo-approved snacks, family-friendly dining options (served with a side of highchairs and booster seats), hula hoops, a children’s Happy Hour, and more.
Tempting as it may be to stay perched at the property’s too-cool-for-school Ever Bar and eat every meal at the airy Jane Q cafe, you’re in the city of angels—so spread those wings and explore your surrounds with a stroll down the Hollywood Walk of Fame; or to the world’s largest independent record store, Amoeba Music; the Museum of Death (guaranteed “to make people happy to be alive”); and Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, the most iconic movie palace in the world.
Pro Tip: This particular area of LA can be pretty touristy, especially on the main drags, but venture a few blocks from the hotel (toward the Hollywood Sign; under Highway 101) for dinner at the best, most authentic, and affordable, albeit cash only, Thai restaurant I’ve been to outside of Thailand: Thai Pepper. Full disclosure: It was so good, and the owner was so sweet, that I returned the following night for round two of the to-die-for, made-from-scratch yellow curry, pad Thai, and egg rolls.
Rise and shine with a complimentary coffee, and grab one of the hotel’s loaner PUBLIC bikes for a ride to LA’s Original Farmers Market for a two-and-a-half-hour food and history tour with Melting Pot Food Tours. Hopefully you’re hungry, because eating is on the itinerary. As you meander through the market—hearing the tales behind the butchers, bakers, candymakers, and people who have made the landmark so legendary—you’ll also get to sink your teeth into decadent donuts, Brazilian fare, tacos, a falafel fritter plate, and the menu goes on (10 stops total). You’ll be happy you biked, because this is one satisfying, and satiating, experience that won’t leave you hungry for more.
Once afternoon hits, check out the under-the-radar, hipster ‘hood of Los Feliz—home to craft cocktail bars, boutiques, a historic theatre, and mix of mid-century and multi-million dollar homes. As sunset sneaks in, make your way to Griffith Observatory at Griffith Park for sweeping views from the Pacific Ocean to DTLA, plus a planetarium and telescope. The park itself boasts over 4,210 acres of chaparral-covered terrain and landscaped parkland and picnic areas—making it one of the largest urban parks in North America—and is where you’ll find the Greek Theatre, Hollywood Sign, Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens, and more.
Pro Tip: Driving and parking are both a pain at Griffith Observatory; save yourself the stress by jumping on public transit. From Los Feliz Village, hop on the low-cost DASH Observatory bus, which will drop you off front and center to the action. Running every 20-25 minutes, seven days a week till 10 p.m., with a price tag of only $.50 (exact change needed), it’s an easy peasy way to add this literal part of La La Land (True story: The beloved scene where Mia and Sebastian dance to “A Lovely Night” was filmed here) to your trip.
Disneyland may be the “happiest place on Earth,” but Universal Studios is equally chipper...and a whole lot easier to get to. The film studio and theme park is probably best known for their behind-the-scenes Studio Tour and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter attractions, but there’s heaps more in store, too. Enter the world of The Simpsons as you visit downtown Springfield, catch the Special Effects or Animal Actors shows, get catapulted 45-miles-per-hour in virtual darkness while on Revenge of the Mummy, or take in the sights at CityWalk—home to unique shops, restaurants, nightclubs, a 19-screen theater, and more. From kiddos to grown-ups, it really is universally loved by all.
Once you’ve had your fill of thrills, make the one-hour-forty-minute trek south to Oceanside—San Diego’s smaller, less expensive, and closer-to-get-to (but just as sunny) sister city. Check in to the surf-inspired SpringHill Suites by Marriott Oceanside/Downtown for “ocean-side” views, a rooftop pool, kids’ game room, easy access to the town’s main drag, and a 30-second saunter to the sea. The adjacent restaurant, Hello Betty Fish House, has a beachy vibe and serves Baja-inspired staples like fish tacos, ceviche with plenty of creamy avocado, and bacon-wrapped jalapeños that are stuffed with cheese and smothered in saucy goodness.
Pro Tip: When it comes to Universal Studios, the Universal Express pass, which includes one-time express access to each ride, attraction, and seated show, is definitely worth the splurge and will make your experience umteen times better. To make up for the extra cost, BYO food and refillable water bottles into the park.
Though oftentimes hotel breakfasts are worth sleeping through, you’d be wise to wake up for this one. Waffles, bacon, eggs, fresh fruit, cereal, yogurt, and coffee (so much coffee) all await. After fueling up, walk along the wide sandy beach till you reach the yacht-filled harbor that’s enveloped by laid-back restaurants with fish-forward menus, gift shops, ice cream shops aplenty, and a bevy of bars. Literally dip your toes in the water by renting a kayak or SUP at Oceanside Boat Rentals for a mellow morning exploring the marina and bay, where you can get up close and personal with sea lions, egrets, and plenty of fish in the sea.
Trade the paddles for pints with a visit to the west side (and possible best side) of San Diego’s “Hops Highway.” Within walking distance, you’ll find award-winning craft breweries, including local fave Breakwater Brewing Company and newbie but goodie Bagby Beer Company. To soak up all those suds, I recommend dinner at 608. Their constantly changing menu—meant to be shared and priced right—rotates based on what local purveyors can pick, but diners can always count on creative, colorful, internationally inspired plates, including a burger made with dry-aged beef, melty cheddar, pickles, crispy onions, and a house-made chili aioli crafted from house-fermented chiles.
Pro Tip: Swing by the California Welcome Center—Oceanside for souvenirs, maps, complimentary brochures, and a variety of discount attraction tickets and special offers, including a Go San Diego Card, an all-inclusive pass to over 40 top attractions throughout the region.
After checking out, it’s time to bid the sun, sand, and surf adieu, but before you do, treat the fam to a little more fun. Whether paying a visit to the California Surf Museum, which houses rotating exhibits and a permanent collection that chronicles the history of surfboards and wave-riding, or taking a surf lesson (O’side is referred to as “one of Southern California’s most consistent surf spots…,”), this is one spring break your kiddos won’t soon forget.
By Megan Wiskus