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Grand Tour of Southern California in 8 Days

Guest post by karenj

Map tips: each color represents a different day. Click a marker to learn more about the spot, and click the star in the map header to save the entire map under Your Places in Google Maps.

Day 1: Newport Beach

Flew from Cleveland, Ohio to Orange County, California. Our home base for the week was in Newport Beach.  While this trip did involve a lot of driving to various locations (and driving through LA is quite a treat!) Newport Beach was a good base location to see it all. You just have to be willing to spend a bit of time in the car.

Day 2

  • La Brea Tar Pits
  • Santa Monica Pier
  • Venice Beach
  • Redondo Beach

Our day started by visiting the La Brea Tar Pits. I thought they were fascinating and I liked visiting the museum as well. Next we drove to Santa Monica and visited the pier and Venice Beach. I would consider Venice Beach one of those “glad to see it once but never again” type of experiences. Later in the evening we drove to Redondo Beach, saw some of the filming locations of the TV show The OC, and then went to a comedy club to see Jay Leno perform.

Day 3: Beverly Hills

Our morning was spent in Beverly Hills. Window shopping through Rodeo Drive was fun, but, of course, real shopping was out of the question. In the afternoon we went to a taping of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno (yes, this was a couple years ago).

Day 4

  • Newport Beach
  • Balboa Pier

The next day we spent hanging around Newport Beach. We took the car ferry to Balboa Island and also explored the pier and the beach. The afternoon was spent on a whale watching excursion (didn’t see any whales, but did see a lot of dolphins).

Day 5

  • Warner Brothers Studio
  • Chinese Theatre
  • Hollywood Walk-of-Fame
  • Hollywood Museum

If you’re ever in Southern California and you’re into TV and movies the Warner Brothers studio tour is  MUST DO. Definitely one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had. They let the tour group vote on which sets to see, and since my sister and I were loud and obnoxious we got to see our favorites (The Big Bang Theory, Pretty Little Liars, Gilmore Girls, and, of course, Friends – specifically Central Perk). Learning about the filming and the sets was amazing. So many shows and movies have been filmed there! In the afternoon we went to downtown LA, visited the Walk of Fame, and the Chinese Theater. Do not do a tour of the Chinese Theater! While there’s some history included in the tour basically you’re just looking at a movie theater in current operation. While the Walk of Fame is fun for a few minutes, the number of people is overwhelming. We took a break by visiting the Hollywood Museum. It was fun seeing some movie costumes and props, but I would only do so if you’re looking to kill some time (as we were doing before having dinner at Spago in Beverly Hills).

Day 6: Pacific Marine Mammal Center

The next day we explored Laguna Beach! We ate at a great restaurant on the beach for breakfast (The Beachcomber). Then my sister and her husband took a surfing lesson while my husband and I watched from the beach. We also made a brief stop at the Pacific Coast Marine Mammal Rescue Center to see some seals and sea lions.

Day 7: Catalina Island

A day trip to Catalina Island is definitely worth doing when in southern California. Be warned: the boat ride to Catalina Island is intense. Even in perfect weather the water is choppy and the boat is rocky. Catalina Island itself is beautiful. We took a bus tour of the island, and even got to see the famous bison. Bison aren’t indigenous to the island, but they were brought there for a movie shoot and when the shoot was over the animals were left behind! Lunch and shopping filled out the rest of the day before the boat ride back.

Day 8: San Diego Zoo

After packing up from our hotel in Newport Beach we headed to San Diego. We went to the zoo (which, obviously, if you’re in San Diego you must go – totally lives up to the hype) and then walked around San Diego a bit. We stayed in the Gaslamp Quarter so it was easy to walk around and see some sites, but we left the next morning so we didn’t get to see too much. Luckily I had been to San Diego previously.

Traveled in May 2011

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