California eye roll
June 18, 2010 7:46 AM   Subscribe

Planning our vacation to California for the end of August and looking for suggestions on what will impress our 16 y.o. son and 13 and 12 y.o. daughters. We'll fly in to LA and out San Francisco, or vice-versa, and rent a vehicle for the week. So far, Alcatraz and Universal are on the list, but I'm not sure what other plans to make. What can you recommend?
posted by maloon to Travel & Transportation around California (28 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Redwood Forrest
posted by cestmoi15 at 8:03 AM on June 18, 2010

Just off the top of my head: Hearst Castle, Monterey Bay Aquarium, Big Sur, Disneyland.
posted by phaedon at 8:12 AM on June 18, 2010

This depends a lot on your route from LA to SF. I-5 = Nothing impressive. At all. Unless you like vast stretches of nothing and cows. Up the coast = beautiful but long. As phaedon noted: Hearst Castle, Monterey Bay Aquarium, Big Sur. I'll add Carmel, Pebble Beach, and Discovery Bay. In SF - Academy of Sciences, the Exploratorium, Golden Gate park in general.
posted by Big_B at 8:32 AM on June 18, 2010

Those kids seem too old for the Academy of Sciences/Exploratorium in SF.

It would help if we knew what kinds of things your kids like to do.

I recommend making sure that everyone brings a sweatshirt or sweater. Not sure where you're coming from, but August can be freezing cold in SF.
posted by purpleclover at 8:36 AM on June 18, 2010

I would also echo phaedon's recommendation for Hearst Castle. In the Los Angeles area, there are a number of food joints that teenagers would enjoy. Pink's Hotdogs has been around since the 1930s. It's a famous local (and cheap) place to grab a bite if you are in the Hollywood area.

Instead of Universal, I would recommend Knott's Berry Farm, an amusement park that provides a more unique experience (they'll be doing a Rock Band (the game) festival in August.

Enjoy your trip!
posted by johnxlibris at 8:44 AM on June 18, 2010

When planning a trip to San Francisco last year, I came up with the following list of possible places to visit in the local area (helped by MeFi!):

I only made it to a small number of the locations, however stand-out attractions were the Exploratorium, Academy of Sciences, Monterey Bay Aquarium, Muir Woods and Chabot Space Centre. The drive to the coast from Palo Alto and then up to Half Moon Bay was nice.

I was largely interested in entertaining my 6 year old, however the list above covers most age ranges.
posted by oclipa at 8:45 AM on June 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

You could take 101 north from LA. It'll take a little longer than I-5, but not as long as Hwy 1, and the scenery is great.

Also, The Tech Museum in San Jose.
posted by Gusaroo at 9:04 AM on June 18, 2010

Thanks for the ideas and keep them coming please! I think Redwood looks great. Not sure about Hearst Castle though. We live near Newport RI and have dragged them through mansion tours before. Also have done Boston Aquarium and Mystic Aquarium a few times. Golden Gate Park will be on our list. I thought Universal would appeal to their TV-brains.
The girls are wannabe stars and like pop music, and son likes rap, hip hop, reggae and rock, and working out.
Pinks Hotdogs looks great!
posted by maloon at 9:05 AM on June 18, 2010

I'm not sure where you're coming from or what your local city has to offer, but at the age of 13 to 16 I was far less interested in traditional museums and natural wonders than I am now as an adult. We are from the Southern California area and we did a "California trip" from San Diego to San Francisco when I was 14. Although we took 2 weeks and a few different routes around the state. My favorite stops included:

The Ripleys Believe it or Not Museum in Hollywood

The Hard Rock Cafe in San Francisco

The Fisherman's Warf in San Francisco

Hearst Castle

Things I did not enjoy and that inspired much eye rolling:
Missions - I found this to be very boring at that age and after seeing one I was pretty much done, same went for Science and Natural History Museums.

Looking at trees - as a teen I was not very interested in the great outdoors and by the time we got to the Yosemite area I was done with looking at trees and rocks (although I love that kind of thing now and drag my own kid out to look at it) Not sure how into nature/hiking, etc. your kids are though.

My dad trying to find parking in San Francisco - It took forever, every one was pretty stressed, and we spent a good part of the day doing this.

Things I wish my parents had taken us to do:

Magic Mountain - The cost may be a little high for a family of 5 and you may have something like this near your home town, but I would have had a great time as a break from all the driving and my parents' preferred museums and national parks.

The Jelly Belly Factory - was one of my favorite candies at the time, I really wanted to stop there, but time did not allow for it.

Although I did my fair share of teenage complaining during parts of the trip, it is a very fond memory for me and I'm so glad my parents took the time to take me and my brother and sister on these kind of trips. Have fun!
posted by Palmcorder Yajna at 9:14 AM on June 18, 2010

Be sure to do all of your beach site-seeing in LA and not in San Francisco. The preferred beachwear north of San Luis Obispo is a windbreaker. Malibu or Santa Monica are traditional choices; the whole family can do surfing lessons.

Also, I second or third the Exploratorium in San Francisco. Fisherman's Wharf is touristy, but I bet your teens will really like the street performer with the bush.
posted by desl at 9:23 AM on June 18, 2010

My father thought that, age 13, I'd be thrilled to go see the actual Cannery Row.

Reader, I was not.
posted by Jofus at 9:35 AM on June 18, 2010 [3 favorites]

Hard to top 101 for first timers, and I dunno what kids like, but I always encourage people to consider heading east to 395 and the Eastern Sierra and crossing over at Tioga Pass (Yosemite) or further north, say Sonora Pass (108) or Luther Pass (89) (Lake Tahoe).

Bananafish offers a nice itinerary. And here're more LA-to-SF-not-via-PCH ideas.
posted by notyou at 9:37 AM on June 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Eh, but don't follow bananafish all the way to Mt Rushmore.
posted by notyou at 9:40 AM on June 18, 2010

Universal is great for the backstage studio tour if nothing else. Also: Warner Bros. does a backlot tour that is much more a real tour around a working backlot than Universal, which is 30% real and 70% amusement park. It's expensive, though. I've never been on the WB tour, although I've often seen the little trams drive by when I'm on the lot. Universal also has lots of rides and stuff, and King Kong will have just been added to the studio tour when you get there.
posted by incessant at 9:46 AM on June 18, 2010

We went to LA this spring with my 12 yo dau and 15 yo son. I thought their TV-addled brains would like Universal as well, but they both lobbied strongly for Six Flags on the strength of its coasters, and they loved the heck out of it. Both also enjoyed the classic meander around Grauman's Chinese theater and shopping at the Hollywood and Highland mall next door. Even if it has exactly the same chain stores as you have at your local upscalish mall, there's a certain "we're shopping in HOLLYWOOD!!1!" cachet for adolescent mind.

Also: driving around the residential neighborhoods in Beverly Hills and driving up and down twisty mountain roads in the Santa Monica mountains between LA and Oxnard.

The biggest shocker for me, though, was that we ALL ENJOYED the Pirate's Adventure Dinner Theater (think sort of like Medieval Times, only with pirates). It's in the vicinity of Disneyland. Yes, it is cheesy and tourist-y and overpriced and they have about a thousand different ways to separate you from your money and I was thoroughly prepared for it to be a mistake--but we had a blast, including my 12-yo, who is normally shy and suffers from non-trival social anxieties, and yet managed to get up on stage and dance around like a fool with a bunch of other kids as part of some audience participation bit. She was grinning ear to ear, I have the $20 photographic evidence to prove it, and it was worth EVERY PENNY.

However, the most important choice I think I made was to involve them as fully as possible in the planning process. This meant drawing up a fairly exhaustive list of something like 60 possible activities and asking them to vote for their top 10, in order of preference. They wound up being more tolerant than usual of activities that were chosen to satisfy the grown-ups' interests (the Griffith Observatory, hiking) because they knew that their interests were going to be satisfied as well. And it turned out to be the Best Vacation Ever.
posted by drlith at 9:49 AM on June 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Not sure about Hearst Castle though. We live near Newport RI and have dragged them through mansion tours before. Also have done Boston Aquarium and Mystic Aquarium a few times.

Hearst Castle is not your average mansion. It is a crazy monument to unfettered ego matched with equivalent wealth and utter lack of restraint. It is unlike any traditional WASPy Newport mansion. Warning: the grotesque excess therein may bring out your inner Socialist.

Also, Monterey Bay Aquarium blows Mystic out of the water, no pun intended. If your kids don't have an interest in aquatic stuff at all, then skip it, but seriously it's pretty amazing, and the Pacific is a completely different ecosystem than the Atlantic anyway.

If you are driving between LA and SF, do at least part of it on the coast. Slower than I-5 but the drive itself is stunning. Bring some Dramamine along though, because it's twisty.
posted by ambrosia at 10:14 AM on June 18, 2010

We visited So. Cal. when I was a teenager, and I liked seeing where the famous people hang out - Malibu, Rodeo Drive, etc.

Any chance you could get in the audience for a game show taping? That might be fun.
posted by Sukey Says at 10:51 AM on June 18, 2010

If your girls are anything like me at that age you should take an afternoon to go downtown Hollywood. It's crowded and touristy, but it's free to look at the footprints at the Chinese Theater and the Walk of Fame. If they have specific favorites they can look the addresses up ahead of time.

The Farmers Market is another great way to spend a morning or afternoon. Maybe you could do the market in the morning and then Hollywood in the afternoon.

Then go to Beverly Hills and drive up Rodeo Drive. Just so they can see it. Traffic will be awful, but if they're into celebrities they'll enjoy it. Big brother will be bored to tears.

The Universal Back Lot tour is fun, but I've heard really great things about the Warner Brothers one. If your kids want coasters then go to Six Flags instead. Just be aware that Six Flags is very hilly and August will be hot and humid, bring twice as much water as you think you'll need.

Venice Beach is fun, especially if you rent bikes. Santa Monica pier is fun, but it doesn't really 'open' until after dark.
posted by TooFewShoes at 11:18 AM on June 18, 2010

The girls are wannabe stars and like pop music

They will probably love a quick stop at Millions of Milkshakes.
posted by dogwalker at 11:22 AM on June 18, 2010

I recommend the taping of something other than a game show, if you can. I found game and talk shows far more tedious than sitcoms (though 3rd Rock From the Sun did have an especially good cast in terms of being funny even between takes.).

I also second asking the kids to help decide. And consider doing a walking tour of SF (far more interesting than LA on foot, and I speak as an Angeleno.)

As a kid my favorite area of LA was the museum area near USC, and I loved missions and deserts (I was also pretty nerdy.) If you do Disney, consider splitting up so the ones who like speed more than nostalgia and theming can spend the day at DCA. Definitely get park hopper tickets.

If anyone in the group is into the early glamor of Hollywood, see a movie at the Chinese, El Capitan, or Egyptian.
posted by SMPA at 11:53 AM on June 18, 2010

Depending on when you're here, plus musical tastes, budgets, etc. there's lots of music in SF.

Outside Lands in August.
Stern Grove (free) They Might be Giants, Aug 22.

Free films outdoors

Roller derby.
posted by gingerbeer at 1:38 PM on June 18, 2010

(Also check the wiki)
posted by gingerbeer at 1:41 PM on June 18, 2010

I have spent my entire life travelling through California and there isn't much in the way of tourist sights that I haven't seen.

Things I have loved at all ages:
The Academy of Sciences in SF
The Exploratorium in SF
Monterey Bay Aquarium in SF
The Mystery Spot
Stinson Beach
Point Reyes
Muir Woods

Things I hated as a kid but love now:
Hearst Castle
Angel Island
The Legion of Honor
Conservatory of Flowers
De Young Museum
Japanese Tea Garden
Arboretum/Botanical Garden
Most things on the 49-Mile Scenic Drive

Things I loved as a kid but hate now:
Knotts Berry Farm
San Francisco Zoo
Marine World (it used to be a wildlife park with a few rides, now it's an amusement park with a few animals)
Lombard Street
Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley
Berkeley in general

Things I have always hated:
Universal Studios
Hollywood Boulevard
Six Flags
Fisherman's Wharf/Pier 39
Ghirardelli Square
Santa Cruz Boardwalk
Cable cars
Union Square
Chrissy Field
Any Hard Rock Cafe

(Disclaimer: I hate amusement parks and I've always been a nerd. And I'm from NoCal so I think everything south of Bakersfield is crap. ;) )

Also if you're not into driving all the way up Hwy 1, you can always drive up 101 instead of 5. However, you'll end up missing the best bits!

And definitely do any beachy stuff before you head north of Pismo. You should totally visit the Central and North coast beaches because they're far more beautiful than the warmer beaches, but you should bring a jacket and not expect to really get in past your knees.
posted by elsietheeel at 3:20 PM on June 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Thanks everyone! Can't mark best answer yet, there are too many.
posted by maloon at 1:32 PM on June 19, 2010

Hearst Castle is really boring for kids. Trust me.

However, Winchester Mystery House in San Jose is awesome. I went when I was maybe 12 and it was really fun!

Like elsietheeel, I'm from NorCal (not NoCal silly!) and generally dislike anything south of Santa Barbara. That said, there are some fun things in SoCal.

When you do Universal, make sure you take the tram tour. It's a little cheezy but the kids will love it. Okay I went last summer again and loved it too. If you go on a weekday there is a chance you might spot a famous person, since it does go through a real movie/tv lot. Also go through the Special Effects Stage that's really fun too! They do have some fun coasters as well (well according to my cousin they were fun - I have a weak stomach).

It might depend on your kids, but I went on the Warner Bros Tour when I was 19 and it was sooooo cool. I would love to go back (I'm 27)! It's a little pricey but I think it's worth it because it's a *real* studio tour (although the Universal tram tour does take you through real lots, some of the stuff is recreated or decommissioned). I recommend going on a weekday because there will be more going on. I remember seeing the Friends set, the Goonies ship (a model of course), Harry Potter props, and the ER ER entry.
posted by radioamy at 11:50 PM on June 19, 2010

Hearst Castle sucks for teens.
posted by k8t at 1:21 PM on June 20, 2010

radioamy makes an excellent suggestion for the Winchester Mystery House. It slipped my mind completely. I was thinking of South Bay attractions and the only place my mind went was One Infinite Loop, which is incredibly boring for most people.

And I'm sorry, but NorCal sounds hella lame. :P
posted by elsietheeel at 3:22 PM on June 24, 2010

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