The Perfect Southern California Vacation

I had the pleasure of hosting two of my cousins for their Southern California vacation last year. They are both college students, so naturally, they wanted to see all of the cool things to do in SoCal.

I took them around to some of my favorite places not only in Orange County but also in Los Angeles and San Diego. We had such a blast roaming around all of the beach cities!

For this post, my cousin Elizabeth Schill is sharing her experiences about their trip to Southern California for the first time as adults. Elizabeth is an Elementary Education Major at The University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire.

Elizabeth shares all the fun experiences we had, and even the not so ideal situations that can come up! Keep reading to learn all about it!

A 4-Day Southern California Vacation

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Written by: Elizabeth Schill

When Heather was visiting Wisconsin for Christmas last year, my sister, Bridget, and I were just talking and joking about visiting her in California that summer. But soon it was becoming a reality. My mom and aunt started looking at tickets and soon my sister and I had booked our trip!

I had been to Ireland to study abroad spring of 2017 so I knew a thing or two about traveling in airports. Flying from Chicago O’Hare is always an adventure. My aunt and uncle dropped us off and away we went!

The flight was only about 4 hours and Bridget and I sat back and watched some movies. When we landed, we landed at Orange County Airport. This was such a great airport to fly into! It’s so small that it was easy to find baggage claim and Heather came right in and greeted us. We were probably landed and were out of the airport in less than 30 minutes.

Read more: 6 Reasons to Fall in Love with Orange County, California

Waiting at the airport

Bridget and I were so excited to be in California! We had only ever been once before on a family trip to Disney Land so we didn’t really see anything of California that time. After traveling to Ireland and about eight other countries I had the travel bug and I loved seeing new places.

California was definitely different than Wisconsin. There were so many palm trees, which are definitely not in Wisconsin. The landscape was a lot different too. Because of the lack of rain there, it is not very green. Heather was telling us about how the grass can just spark up from a car sitting idly by on the road. I had heard about the wildfires in California but I hadn’t realized how bad it actually was. There was actually a wildfire near Laguna Beach when Heather took Bridget and I to the beach.

Sea Cave at Treasure Island Beach in Laguna

Laguna Beach is so pretty! Bridget is definitely more of a beachgoer than I am but I have to admit, the beaches in California are beautiful! And while the water was pretty cold (I did jump into the water though just to say I did) the sun was hot and we all enjoyed our time just tanning on the beach.

There are so pretty great picture worthy places to take those Instagram worthy photos so this is a must do for someone who wants a lot of beach photos!

Read more: 12 Free Things to Do in Laguna Beach

One day, Heather took us to Santa Monica Pier and Venice Beach. The Pier was really cool and the Ferris Wheel was a must-do. It was amazing being able to see so much of the beach. We also made our way over to Venice Beach, which was a whole different world than the Santa Monica Pier.

Read more: One Day in LA: From Venice Beach to Santa Monica

Venice Street Sign
The heart wall on the Venice Beach Boardwalk
The Canals in Venice, California

We also got to see the Venice Canals, which I hadn’t even known existed in California! But I think the best part of that whole excursion were the Birds.  Not the animals but the scooters.

We had debated getting bikes so we could bike from Santa Monica to Venice Beach but we soon saw the scooters just lying around and Heather had never done them so we decided to give them a try. This is definitely not something that we have in many places in Wisconsin so it was a fun activity to do.

Read more: 7 Things You Have to See on the Venice Beach Boardwalk

Riding the Bird electric scooters in Santa Monica

The San Diego Zoo is huge and most people don’t get through it all in one day. But somehow Heather, Bridget, and I made it through all of it in one day! We saw everything there was to see and it did not disappoint. The zoo has a tram that takes you from one end to the other so of course, we had to take it. You can see a lot from the tram ride and is definitely something I was glad we got to do.

You can get a Go San Diego Pass on Groupon, which gives you access to multiple activities for one price!

Visiting the San Diego Zoo

After our trip to the San Diego Zoo, Heather took us down towards the border to get some amazing churros from an outlet mall.

Churros from El Tigre in San Diego

As we were making our way there Heather showed us the border between Mexico and the US. That was an amazing sight to see. I had never realized what it actually looked like. And to be able to see Tijuana right across the way was a sight to see as well, with all of its rambling houses and all its hills. And at the end of all that sightseeing we had some amazing churros – reminded me of my time in Spain!

Read more: 16 of the Best Weekend Road Trips from Orange County

Main Beach in Laguna Beach, California

The first night we got there, Heather showed us this great beach in Laguna where the waves were amazing! We took a stroll through it and I was once again reminded of the weather. It got to be a little chilly. Definitely a contrast from Wisconsin where the summer heat usually has no break.

The humidity was also almost nothing in California, which makes sense for how dry it is there. But myself and my hair were equally happy about that fact. Wisconsin has way too much humidity to sleep comfortably unless you have air conditioning, which my college house does not so I was very happy with California’s almost humidity-less air.

Kayaking in the Newport Back Bay
Kayaking in the Newport Back Bay

Heather and her husband Oscar also took Bridget and I kayaking one day.  We had been kayaking before but never in the ocean! This was so much fun! We first started off just kayaking in a little bay but soon we started kayaking in a marina and the boats were huge! But soon we all got tired and we raced back to the shore, which I would like to happily boast that Bridget and I won that race.

You can get a great deal on Newport Beach kayak rentals on Groupon!

Read more: How to Experience the Best of Orange County on a Budget

View of the Hollywood Sign from Lake Hollywood Park

Heather also took us out to see the Hollywood sign and Beverly Hills and Hollywood itself. LA is so busy and the traffic was astounding! Hollywood was nothing at all like I ever imagined it to be. It was so much dirtier than I have ever seen it portrayed.

The Hollywood sign definitely lived up to its name though! We actually got super close to it, closer than I would have thought possible. We had to go through a bunch of winding hills through a lot of different neighborhoods but we finally made it! And I got that picture that I’ve always wanted!

Hollywood sign from Lake Hollywood Park

On the very last day, Heather took us on a hike near her apartment. It was breathtaking!  The scenery was so different than that of the Midwest. A word of advice: Do not talk about mountain lions stalking you while on a walk through mountain lion territory.  You’ll be paranoid throughout the entire hike.  But in spite of that, it was a beautiful walk and a great way to end this trip.

Read more: 12 Easy Hikes in Orange County with an Amazing View

Hiking Red Rock Canyon Trail in Whiting Ranch

And finally, one crowning moment of the whole trip was getting to see sea lions and seals all at one beach and all in one night.  I had only ever seen these animals in zoos but I had never heard sea lions bark!  And the seals were so cute just lying there on the beach.

Another great way to experience the sea lions in La Jolla is by taking a kayak tour!

Seals in La Jolla

Heather did an amazing job of showing my sister and I around California!  She showed us a lot of So Cal and it was definitely a trip of a lifetime!  I saw so many things that I never even knew California offered.  I hope that I’ll be able to return to California soon to see even more!

Laguna Beach day

Have you experienced any of these cool things to do in Southern California? What’s your favorite?


Southern California Bucket List

Packing Guide for a Southern California Vacation

The Best Weekend Road Trips in Southern California

6 Reasons to Visit Orange County, California

The Perfect Southern California VacationThe Perfect Southern California Vacation

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18 thoughts on “The Perfect Southern California Vacation”

  • Laguna Beach sounds like a place I would enjoy visiting. I’m particularly intrigued with the rocky landscape of the beach. There’re plenty of Instagram worthy photos for sure. Kayaking in California sounds fun, but I’ll probably stick within the little bays area. The last thing I want is to collide with big boats lol. I’m also impressed how close the sea lions live to human population. That’s something worth seeing.

    • Laguna is my absolute FAVORITE. The beaches are so pretty. Like you said, the rocky/cliffside landscape is gorgeous. Tons of Instagram spots that’s for sure! There’s a great place called the Newport Back Bay which is good for kayaking. No big boats and you are in nature. I was also amazed that the sea lions are so close, you could literally touch them. My husband actually helped Sea World carry one off the beach (it was injured), that was quite an experience!

  • Southern California! the sunshine, the relaxing vibe, and the seashore are just fantastic. It’s a good place for a student trip because it has a rich culture, great hikes, lots of natural wonders and interesting attractions. Glad that you had a great time there, and now I want to get back there very soon! @ knycx.jouneying

  • Your cousins really had the blast. I am amazed at how one can see and do so many things in just 4 days. They were able to do Kayaking, explore the beaches, went to Beverly Hills, Hollywood and what not. I would like to know how they managed to do it without tiring themselves.

    • Haha great observation, it is tiring! 4 days wasn’t too bad, I once toured my father around SoCal for 7 days…not THAT was REALLY tiring! I am working on a post which will include an “easy” itinerary for 6 days in SoCal…stay tuned 🙂

  • So many cool things to do in Southern California within 4 days!!! Loving all the fun photos together. Indeed your cousin got some great experiences with all 🙂

  • Loved reading your article. My favorite spots in southern california are definitely the Laguna Beach, Venica Beach and the Cantina Island.

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