Last chance vacation in the West: California or Vegas?
March 3, 2015 12:10 PM   Subscribe

We are moving to the East Coast at the end of the summer. We currently live in the West (Canada). This summer will be our last chance to vacation on this side of the continent. Help me decide whether to pick Las Vegas or somewhere in California in the last week of July. Difficulties: must be super fun for our four-year-old daughter. No Disney (too expensive).

The major factors to consider are cost and fun level for a child - keeping in mind that she is easily delighted. And so am I. I'm up for whatever; I just want my daughter to have a great time. I'd like to keep it at or under $3000 everything included, so that rules DisneyLand right out.

If you are wondering where we have already been - we always only ever vacation in Halifax/Cape Breton on the East Coast. Now that we're moving there, we can visit other places! Yay!

Some people seem to think that Vegas would not be fun for a child, but I'm not understanding that (although I've never been). There's the hotel pool and all kinds of crazy neat things to see all over the place and shows - especially Cirque du Soleil and the comedy pet theatre. I'm thinking a 4 night stay there, which is going for $1700 (flight + hotel), leaving us with just over $1000 to pay for food and fun.

I don't know California very well. My husband and I had a great time in San Francisco before little kitcat was born, but I don't think it's the best for a preschooler. I don't know enough about LA to judge. So the place that comes to mind is San Diego. It has SeaWorld and the zoo. 4 nights there with flight will cost $2000, leaving about $1000 for everything else too.

Obviously I'll do more research if we pick either of these spots. In the meanwhile, is there somewhere I'm not thinking of? And if not, which of these two would you recommend that we choose? Finally, if you doubt my pricing, flying anywhere from Canada is seriously expensive for reals. Thanks!
posted by kitcat to Travel & Transportation (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Las Vegas makes me want to shower - both from the sleaze factor and the heat. Please choose San Diego! You've got the zoo, the wild animal park, Legoland, Sea World, the beach... Infinitely more to do with a toddler and much more comfortable from a weather standpoint.
posted by cecic at 12:18 PM on March 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Oh no. I didn't consider temperature at all...we would be accustomed to 75 - 85 at home that time of year.
posted by kitcat at 12:19 PM on March 3, 2015

Are you outdoorsy people? I'd go to any one of the National Parks in California/Oregon/Washington/Montana in a heartbeat. You wouldn't have to camp (though you could!), and I would've loved it when I was 4.
posted by Weeping_angel at 12:20 PM on March 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


Also look into renting an AirBnB or VRBO place instead of a hotel - often the same price or lower cost than a hotel and you can make a lot of your meals instead of going out.
posted by melissasaurus at 12:20 PM on March 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: (not outdoorsy people)
posted by kitcat at 12:22 PM on March 3, 2015

Oh man, Vegas is SUPER BORING for children. Super boring. Like, it's fine for a day or so, but Vegas wears out its welcome fast. In July, it'll be super hot, so you'll just be going from air-conditioned hotel/casino to air-conditioned hotel/casino, and the vast majority of stuff is just emphatically Not for Kids or not at all family fun oriented in a way that will probably get annoying fast. After a day you or your kid will probably be simultaneously overstimulated and bored. Also, casinos are one of the few places left that allow smoking indoors, so every time you walk into one (and you'll be doing that often in Vegas, given that just about every hotel has a casino on the ground floor), you're greeted with a rather overpowering wave of cigarette smoke. Unpleasant, not great for children.

Since Disneyland isn't an option, then go with San Diego. The weather will be more likely to be mild, and there's way more stuff that's fun for adults and children there. There's Seaworld and the zoo as you note, plus there's Legoland nearby, a lot of really nice beaches (I recommend Coronado Island's beach and La Jolla) and gently outdoorsy things (Torrey Pines is worth a trip for a low-key hike), Balboa Park which has a bunch of museums that have some kid-friendly stuff...San Diego just has a lot more to do for the whole family.
posted by yasaman at 12:27 PM on March 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

I went to Las Vegas for a family wedding in August with my 9 month old and we were miserable, I felt so oppressed by the heat, and even though there was an amazing pool at our resort, you can only spend so much time in the pool. And it was so loud inside with all the slot machines everywhere you can put them. Couldn't get out of there fast enough, imo.

Your daughter is the *perfect* age for a road trip through the area just south of San Francisco, i.e. San Jose/Santa Cruz/Monterey. Specific things for preschoolers:

San Jose Children's Museum
Gilroy Gardens
It may actually be kind of hot in July, but if you get there right when they open you'll be worn out and ready for ice cream by the time the heat kicks in. If you are a costco member they sometimes offer deals on tix.

Santa Cruz & Roaring Camp Railroad

Monterey Bay Aquarium
Incredible playground in Salinas
posted by snowymorninblues at 12:36 PM on March 3, 2015 [5 favorites]

I remember Vegas as a child being super stressful (and I was older than 4, maybe 8 or 9). So many loud noises, flashy things, people, etc. Obviously people/kids vary, but I found it to be way too stimulating. (In contrast, as an adult I find Vegas pretty fun...I think a lot of it was that so many of the crazy things in Vegas were just so NOT was like all these crazy, loud adult things happening that was so stressful.)

I think San Diego will be a blast...mild weather, beach time, the zoo is fantastic (way better than other zoos I have been to). Just be aware the zoo is not cheap (I think it might be as much as Disney), although you could limit that to one day and mix in cheaper/free options like beach time the rest of the visit. Strongly recommend driving over to Coronado beach, which is close to the city and beautiful, plus a really cute town to check out/walk around.
posted by rainbowbrite at 12:44 PM on March 3, 2015

Vegas is horrible with kids and horrible in the summer. Another vote for San Diego all the way.
posted by makonan at 12:54 PM on March 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

San Francisco may be fun - it'll be pretty comfortable in July (maybe even cooler than you were expecting) and will have all sorts of funky, "different" things to look at for a kid: Chinatown, the cable cars, a super-crooked street...

San Francisco is actually within a days' drive of Monterey, so you could check out the aquarium, and there are also cool things in Berkeley and the Bay Area, so you could take a week and do a whole little mini Grand Tour: start in San Francisco for a couple days, drive to Berkeley and check out what's the what there, then Sausalito to see the houseboats - that's another "hey, look at that!" thing for the kid to check out - then to Monterey to see the aquarium...basically, just drive around and check out what looks cool.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:56 PM on March 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

I was in Vegas in mid-August a few years ago, and it was really really hot during the day. (A dry heat to be fair - we were coming from humid east coast - but 100+ degrees and oppressively sunny.) Also, many (most?) of the pools are not kid-friendly in my experience. We stayed at a casino not known for its pool party scene and I still found the pool fairly scene-y, full of drunk twenty-somethings and loud dj music pretty much all day. I don't think it would be much fun for a litttle kid, and I can't recall seeing any children there.
posted by Caz721 at 1:03 PM on March 3, 2015

Seconding Santa Cruz/Monterey/Carmel! By the ocean, it likely will not be very hot in July. Take a ride on the Roaring Camp train between the redwood forest and the Santa Cruz boardwalk, where there are rides and cotton candy, and the beach. The Monterey Aquarium is awesome, and the beach at Carmel-by-the-sea is beautiful.

Yosemite is stunning and beautiful, and I love staying at the Tenaya Lodge (just outside the park entrance, about 45 minute drive from Yosemite Valley). Tenaya is very kid-friendly, lots of activities, pools, etc. BUT I have never been there in the summer, only winter/spring, so you might want to get advice on how crowded it gets in the summer - there is not a lot of capacity on the park roads for cars, so you might end up in a traffic jam trying to get in and out of the park.
posted by Mallenroh at 1:06 PM on March 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Wow, thank you for saving us from Vegas! I think San Diego it is, and I'd never even heard of Legoland. I knew I could count on you guys. If there are other suggestions and/or San Diego tips I welcome them too.
posted by kitcat at 1:09 PM on March 3, 2015

San Diego resident here. We have a BLAST in the summer - kids of all ages! My friends' kids spend time on the beach, at parks (there's a newly built mini water park downtown that has fountains for little kids to play in for free), Legoland, Coronado Beach, SeaWorld and the museums.

I haven't used it, but the Passport to Balboa Park (valid for multiple days) apparently offers a good deal for all of the attractions there are here, including the Zoo and Safari Park. You probably want to find a hotel downtown because most attractions are walking distance or a very cheap cab ride away.

Balboa Park has various vendors and shows and concerts and performances throughout the summer. It rarely gets warmer than 85 degrees for most of the summer until about late August, humidity is negligible. There's definitely crowds and traffic and lines to contend with at the beaches and parks, but get there early enough and you'll be fine. Food is cheap and everywhere - bring water wherever you go. Many restaurants and breweries are kid-friendly, so your options are pretty plentiful.

If there's one place in the country you won't regret visiting in the summer, it's San Diego - it's impossible NOT to have fun! Last year was my first summer here, and I didn't go a single weekend for about four months without being by the water - there's sea lions that you may see, tide pools to explore, mild hikes along the coast... we live where the rest of the world vacations! You'll love San Diego... this endorsement not paid for by the city of San Diego :)
posted by Everydayville at 1:24 PM on March 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

San Diego County is gorgeous and everything is accessible via public transit. In addition to LEGOLAND, something kid-friendly that might interest you:

The Geisel Library at UCSD -- as in Theodor Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss. In the summer, sometimes part of the Dr. Seuss collection is on display. It is open to the public for free. It has a statue of Dr. Seuss and the Cat in the Hat out front. It has unique architecture.

Then hit the mall in downtown San Diego -- Horton Plaza, a 5 level outdoor mall. Dr. Seuss lived in La Jolla (where the Geisel Library is) and no doubt visited this mall, which iirc precedes his children's books. Seeing the trees and architecture out here is a treat for anyone who ever read Dr. Seuss and thought he was just doing too many drugs and totally making it all up. No, no, he was not. Like any artist, he was fictionalizing and exaggerating, but you can see the inspiration for some of his work in the flora and fauna and architecture out here.

Also, it tends to be about 70 to 80 degrees in summer here, versus the fry-an-egg-on-the-sidewalk temps in Vegas, which I won't talk further trash about since you have wisely ruled it out.

Also, look up Torrey Pines State Park. It is in the La Jolla area, so very accessible if you go to see the Geisel. It is free to enter during the day and very wholesome -- beaches, hiking, ecological preserve, etc (just read the signs and skip the nude beach -- I never went to that one and it is easy to avoid).

Feel free to memail me. I have been in San Diego County for nearly three years.
posted by Michele in California at 1:31 PM on March 3, 2015

Former San Diegan, huge advocate - as long as you stay within about 5-7 miles from the ocean, you will miss the random heat waves that start hitting in July. It really is a great place, fantastic for kids, definitely go to Legoland - I actually usually advise folks with kids to stay in Carlsbad-Cardiff-Encinitas as their base, as it's a slower-paced area where actual people with kids live, and I like the North County beaches a lot better. You can probably find a condo or apartment if you'd rather do that than a hotel.

(Though I say skip Seaworld.)
posted by Lyn Never at 2:45 PM on March 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'd definitely do San Diego over Vegas, but you've made that decision already. Another reason to feel good about that choice: Vegas is sneaky-expensive. Hotel rooms are cheap, but you have to pay to do just about anything, and the price for everything is pretty jacked up. I think 2 hot dogs, fries and a soda cost me $13 ten years ago.

You'll get the most bang for your buck in Balboa Park. The zoo is there, as well as a bunch of museums that essentially cater to kids (model railroad, natural history, science, aerospace). There's also a number of kids programs, like puppet shows; and there's an international village that has open houses where they sell food or treats on Sunday afternoons.

The zoo isn't exactly cheap, but its still about half the cost of Disneyland, which went over $100 for an adult this year. Addmission includes a few other things and is $53 for an adult. Food is overpriced, but you can bring in your own. Parking is free, since its in the park.

The Safari Park offers a unique zoo-type experience, but is more of a gouge than the zoo. The last time I went it felt like they were trying to monetize every aspect of going there and it was kind of a drag. Parking is not free. But I say that as someone who's gone there 50 times.

Sea world has basically been nothing but a monetization scheme for decades, and I've found it sort of depressing even prior to Blackfish.
posted by LionIndex at 3:39 PM on March 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

There was a previous question about tips when visiting Legoland that you might find helpful.

(I second the advice given above about looking on AirBNB, the Sheraton I mentioned in the Legoland question is pricey).
posted by jamaro at 4:19 PM on March 3, 2015

You could go to San Diego and even come up to L.A. for a day, maybe come to Santa Monica and spend the day at the amusement park at the pier. There would be tons of low-cost or free things to do around L.A. for one day with a kid, but Santa Monica would be a straight shot. You could even rent any number of bicycle combinations (depending on abilities) and all take a casual ride around the SM Bay area along the flat bike path at the beach.
posted by Room 641-A at 5:57 PM on March 3, 2015

I work for Disney and can spare two single day park passes that would shave ~$200 off of a Disneyland or Disney California Adventure day trip, if that helps to make it work. If the third ticket/marginal $100 would really make the difference, I might be able to trade for a third with a co-worker, as I have a couple of tickets that are expiring June 7th and might be able to deal for one with a later expiration date. I can't promise that I'd be able to do that, but it's possible.

MeMail me if this is something you're interested in exploring.
posted by Kwine at 7:09 PM on March 3, 2015 [8 favorites]

In San Diego, both snorkeling in the La Jolla lagoon and tide pooling at Cabrillo National Monument are magical experiences. Plus exploring the Hotel del Coronado.
posted by visual mechanic at 9:01 PM on March 3, 2015

Response by poster: Wow Kwine. Just - WOW. I had to run upstairs and wake up my husband to tell him how amazing and thoughtful and generous you are. I love this community so hard. I didn't even realize Anaheim was such a short drive so I never considered a day trip (when you live in Canada you never assume a short drive anywhere between cities!). I originally wanted to do Disney World from Halifax in August, but priced it out and it's not feasible this year. We intend to do it next year, so don't worry guys, we'll get there. Still, I'll think about this and definitely MeMail you. Wow.
posted by kitcat at 6:12 AM on March 4, 2015

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