Growing up in sunny Southern California, I could never remember whether Memorial Day or Labor Day signaled the start or the end of summer. Because in SoCal it almost always feels like summer.
Maybe it was Memorial Day, but it also could have just as easily been Labor Day...or even the 4th of July. I vividly remember one family summer vacation in Avila Beach, Calif., as a child. Spending a week collecting seashells, strolling to the local ice cream shop and taking a dip in the Pacific became the backdrop for one of my favorite family memories and vacations.
After joining the U.S. Military as a war correspondent and working for NBC News, and later the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which took me around the globe, it’s easy to remember that Veteran’s Day is always in November. But, I’m still a bit fuzzy on Labor Day signaling the end of summer, fiercely believing it’s a great idea to wear white year round, and finally realized that although California has eternal summers, in most parts of the US, and around the world, February isn’t the start of spring, and summer must—eventually—come to an end.
Now, living in Northern California, in the Bay Area, I’ve discovered that, sometimes, summer in in San Francisco...isn’t. So, this year, just before Labor Day, I decided to take my 3-year-old twins on a seemingly endless summer adventure.
From SeaWorld to Santa Monica, we packed a summer’s worth of memories into our two week trip. If summer is your favorite season and you don’t want it to end, don’t fret. In the following spotlight on fun endless summer finds, you can wear white and pretend like it’s summer all year round.
Summertime is when people take long chunks of vacation, but often the luxury of taking weeks off at a time gets eaten up too early in the year. In “The Golden State,” there are quite a few areas that make you feel like you've left the state—and sometimes even the country—with relatively little cost, time, or expense.
These family-friendly Southern California staples don’t care that Labor Day signals the end of summer for most of the United States. Check out these Southern California towns and activities you can enjoy in any season, taking you right back to the carefree days of summer.
Head South To San Diego
With 70 miles of beaches and world-class attractions, San Diego is consistently rated one of the finest family destinations in America and it’s full of kid-friendly resorts, activities, restaurants and attractions.
San Diego feels remarkably like Hawaii with its blue waters—and dolphins, if you take a stop by SeaWorld. It's the perfect start for summer vacation, and (even in spite of all the controversy) there's no denying that SeaWorld is a dizzyingly magical, happy place for young and old alike. Sitting in the “splashzone” in the sun, it's hard to feel like summer has come to an end when you’re gathering the family for fun and enjoying roller coasters, quintessential family activities and soaking up the San Diego sunshine.
At 3-years old, the touch tank, face painting and rides made London and Miles incredibly happy. And it remarkably was the perfect venue for adding in grandparents and cousins of all ages, with more than a few attractions for everyone to enjoy.
Further north, at the Forbes Triple Five Star and AAA Double Five Diamond Fairmont Grand Del Mar in San Diego, entering the magnificent grounds feels like stepping into a piazza of Venice, Italy. The attention to detail at the resort is remarkable and there’s rarely any luxurious stay that stands up to the Fairmont brand.
The suites are so luxuriously appointed that it’s hard to want to leave the resort and experience all the San Diego has to otherwise offer, especially with the royal treatment and attention to detail guests are greeted with.
Once on the property, the friendly and knowledgeable staff offer families a variety of activities every day of the week, including a few dedicated just to Summer: Dive-In Movies under the stars, Wild Wonders Animal Visits, Sand Castle Building Workshops, s’mores roasting, and a Family Par-3 Course are exclusive to summer, but there are many more activities to enjoy year round. The Fairmont also offers a fully complementary Grand Beach Service, which includes transportation to and from the Pacific, towels, water bottles, chairs and umbrellas. Also available are various hikes, bike rentals, an equestrian center, and a Kid’s Explorer’s Club. Some of these activities (like building sand castles on the beach) come to an end, but to enjoy an endless summer getaway, fun at the Fairmont Grand Del Mar is a magical escape that will leave you feeling refreshed and renewed—as though you’ve spent an entire summer vacation gliding through stunning Venetian canals.
We didn’t make it to La Jolla this trip, but high on my #endlesssummer bucket list is The Empress Hotel in La Jolla, CA. In the heart of downtown La Jolla, being able to explore and enjoy all that La Jolla has to offer on foot is key, and with about a six-minute walk to the La Jolla Children’s Pool, kids can experience seals and sea lions.
The Catamaran Resort, Bahia Resort and Paradise Point Resort, located on the beaches of Mission Bay, are a few more favorite resorts for families with kids, and the Corvette Diner is one of the most family friendly restaurants in San Diego, according to the San DIego tourism authority.
A trip to the Wild Animal Safari Park is always a summertime staple in San Diego and can bring back the feeling of summer year round. The Get Your Guide app is an easy way to sort through what feels like and endless amount of endless summer fun in San Diego.
Other top attractions nearby include the San Diego Zoo, Safari Park, LEGOLAND California, SeaWorld and Belmont Park beachfront amusement park. Get a San Diego Museum Media Pass and have complimentary admission to 40 museums throughout the county, including the New Children’s Museum, Maritime Museum, USS Midway and all of the museums in Balboa Park (Natural History Museum, Aerospace Museum, Museum of Man, Fleet Science Center, etc.). Here’s a map to 13 fun realms to explore in San Diego, and the 6th Annual Kids Free San Diego Month is coming up in October, with 100+ free deals for kids all month long. No end of summer in sight here!
Eat On The Outdoor Patio
Nothing says summer like sipping a beer, enjoying a meal while sitting on a patio soaking up the fun. San Diego’s beautiful beaches, perfect weather and delicious cuisine offer the best in SoCal summertime excitement. Nestled in the heart of America’s finest city are two must-see local favorites spotlighting child-friendly fun and food: Old Town’s Bazaar del Mundo Shops and the neighboring Casa Guadalajara restaurant.
Casa Guadalajara in Historic Old Town, San Diego offers an amazing and authentic blend of delicious Mexican food, freshly made flour tortillas, and fresh, strong margaritas served up with delicious seafood. Sitting on the patio year round can make you feel like you've taken an escape and found that some summer fun is never-ending.
The core is original festive and authentic, with phenomenal food, media chicken and gelatos, delectable tequila-lime shrimp and a very accommodating staff. Even on a cool day the alternators keep you warm on the open air patio, set next to the very colorful and inviting Bazaar del Mundo.
At Bazaar del Mundo in Old Town, cobbled streets and colorful storefronts transport newcomers to the center of an old Mexican market. The Shops are made up of various boutiques, each offering unique gifts from all over the world, home accessories, handcrafted jewelry, arts and crafts, fashion and more. Little ones will enjoy discovering fun toys and treasures, serving as a mini history lesson on the talents and artistry of Latin America. Parents will love The Kitchen Shop, where authentic Guatemalan woven fabrics are sold for tablecloths, napkins and more.
Award-winning Casa Guadalajara is just one member of Diane Powers’ Bazaar del Mundo family of restaurants throughout San Diego County, which also includes Casa de Bandini in Carlsbad, Casa Sol y Mar in Del Mar and Casa de Pico in La Mesa. While the four restaurants are slightly different, they all showcase the true spirit of Mexico and authentic cuisine that both locals and visitors love.
At cozy Cafe 222—a perfect place for families to fill their bellies—located in the Marina District only steps outside of the Gaslamp Quarter, discover the signature waffles and peanut butter and banana-stuffed french toast they’ve served for 25 years.
Indoors, or out, there are so many windows and it’s so airy and bright inside, that even on the rare cold day in December, if the sun is shining you can enjoy a delicious blueberry cornbread waffle and pretend summer never came to an end.
Sitting in the bright orange seats with windows surrounding you and light airy music playing in the background, sipping fresh, unfiltered apple juice and orange juice, homemade maple syrup, and bold, strong café Moto coffee, you might actually forget it's not summer if you come here in December. The food is healthy, delicious and fresh, engineered to delight your taste buds with crispy turkey bacon and signature waffles. My favorite was the blueberry cornbread, but the pumpkin waffles tasted like a moist pumpkin pie.
With an impressive selection of craft brews, Harbor Town Pub offers the perfect mix of open air seating indoors, offering protection from the harsh summer sun, or the deal of summer on those rare days in December when San Diego isn't as balmy. Delicious tostada salads, a meaty harbor town burger with cheesy robust flavors, and a delicious basil vinaigrette served up over fresh salad greens—the food and beer will take you back to summer. At Harbor Town in Point Loma, they even have a poster on the wall referring to the movie, “The Endless Summer.” Enough said.
All of the locations we enjoyed in San Diego served up two high-chairs with a smile, and didn’t seem to mind when my 3-year-olds behaved as twin 3-year olds occasionally will. The perfect spots to fuel up for more endless summer fun, anytime of year.
Go Fly A Kite
At the moment, my twins are obsessed with the beach, building sandcastles and they love to fly kites. When I heard about the new kite concierge at the newly-renovated Hotel Karlan in San Diego, I knew we had to check it out.
Dan Venable, 62, serves as a manager as will as the kite concierge. After a successful career in the military and retiring as a federal agent, Venable keeps 3 kites in his car at all times.
"I love endless summers in San Diego,” said Venable. "Here you can enjoy flying kites all year round, even in the winter."
The so-called kite concierge has had 6 children and is getting ready to become a grandfather for the 15th time. He helps guests check out and select from the wide kite inventory the hotel invested more than $20 thousand dollars for the idea to take flight.
From Box Kites to Dragon Kites, Venable will help you pick out the best one for your desired kite flying adventure. You can also consult the concierge for the best time and place to fly your kite. Standing barefoot in the soft grass with a kite soaring in the sky above you will take you back to summer any time of the year.
Escape to Las Vegas (well... sort of)
If Las Vegas is closer to your idea of an ideal summer vacation, but you don’t want to leave the state, SoCal has a variety of casino options that will make you feel like you've stepped into another state.
At Pechanga Resort & Casino in Temecula, The Great Oak Steakhouse has won the AAA Four Diamond award since 2012 and has been recognized by Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast for its exceptional wine list. Blazing Noodles has been featured in LA Weekly, Umi on EXTRA (Chef Kiyo Ikeda is a self-taught chef and has been making sushi since he was 10 years old!) and Chef Marlene’s (food court chef) fried chicken was named 9 of the Best Fried Chicken joints not in the south by ShermansTravel.com. Kelsey’s Bar & Grille has 48 beers on tap, and all are local craft brews with the exception of three domestics.
The restaurants are family-friendly and there’s endless summer fun for kids here, too. The Pechanga Buffet has more than 200 items with 20 featured desserts at once, all delicious and made from scratch.
Journey at Pechanga offers Tiny Tees—weekly golf lessons—or an exclusive family lesson where you can all learn to swing together. On a more historic note, the Pechanga Tribe offers tours once a month of the sacred Great Oak Tree as well as the Cove (reenacted tribal village).
There’s a spa that offers everything from deluxe massage to express mani-pedi’s, perfect for a mommy-and-me endless summer date or something a bit more adult.
And then of course, there’s nothing like endless summer fun in soaking up the sun at the pool! The spa and poolside cabana at Pechanga offers enjoyable family-friendly options for mommy and me parties—though the casino also offers babysitting for adults-only fun.
Orange County Amusement
There aren’t many things as synonymous with summer as amusement parks, and Southern California has no shortage. From the obvious choice of Disneyland to the less-traveled Knott’s Berry Farm, there are endless ways to spend the summer enjoying roller coasters, funnel cakes, and, at Knott’s Berry Farm, boysenberry lattes to infuse a bit of fresh fruit into the mix, and offer a delicious option for those looking for a refreshing summer experience all year round.
“It is our mission to show visitors coming to our destination all we have to offer, including Disneyland and beyond. If you're looking for family-friendly activities or love theme parks, we recommend spending a few days at the Disneyland Resort and then heading over to Knott's Berry Farm to experience the perfect theme park vacation,” said Tania Weinkle, Visit Anaheim Communications Director.
Water parks may seem like something squarely for summertime, but the recently opened Great Wolf Lodge Southern California near Anaheim has found a way to keep this summer tradition all year long. With nightly dance parties at 7:00 p.m., and storytime every night at 8:15 p.m., Great Wolf Lodge boasts eight different water slides, indoor and outdoor water parks with activity pools and kiddie pools, a wave simulator and floating lily pads. The Lodge also hosts a Scooops Kids Spa with a fun mommy and me package called Sprinkled in Scooops. There’s no shortage of amazing summertime water fun here for kids and adults alike.
Stay Young In Santa Monica
In Santa Monica youth is eternal and summer never ends. Strolling the 3rd Street Promenade, renting bikes, and supporting local artists, what was old is still new.
The main difference between summer and winter, or any season here is that instead of wearing sandals, you might opt for boots instead of, or sometimes to pair with booty shorts, which are everywhere.
We stayed at the family-friendly Courtyard Marriott, nestled right in the core of trendy Santa Monica boardwalk where the whole family had room to spread out. We could keep milk in the room’s fridge, make coffee every morning and walk out to the vibrant beach and boardwalk in less than two minutes.
It was a great launching pad to explore all of the nearby sights and activities. The Marriott is also adjacent not only to the most vibrant parts of downtown Santa Monica, but also to the nearby Expo Light Rail, giving visitors access to L.A.’s many arteries without sitting in the parking lot known as the 405. Modern and crisp, the small but stylish pool and simple cabanas aren’t overcrowded with most guests stepping out to the nearby sand.
Other nearby hotel options include The Shore Hotel and Hampton Inn & Suites by Hilton Los Angeles/Santa Monica. All of these hotels are ideal for the budget-conscious traveler and family, as many offer special promotions and they’re all walking distance from the Santa Monica Pier, which is home to Pacific Park.
Santa Monica is a perfect summer, or endless summer destination—the pier is so iconic Southern California! The ocean is pretty impressive on it’s own, but digging around in the sand with the Pacific Park Ferris Wheel in the background creates a lasting endless summer memory any time of year.
While you’re there, these three delicious, mostly nutritious uber family-friendly restaurants that filled our bellies are worth checking out:
Flower Child: Along 2nd Street, this place has a super fun, Bohemian feel that makes it great for the whole family. They serve nourishing colorful dishes complete with veggies, grains, and even actual meat proteins. We opted for wine and the daily greens fresh pressed juice but they also have house-made lemonades you can mix and match to pair with delicious, healthy bowls, and wonderful walls that are an Instagrammer’s dream. I felt satisfied, but not overstuffed and continued to crunch on the leftovers for longer than I care to admit. This might be my new favorite restaurant.
Plus, today, they actually have a Labor Day pack that’s ready for you to take to go and bring with you to the beach or anywhere else your adventures might take you. The meal includes: Smoky BBQ Chicken, Sweet Corn Quinoa, Kale Coleslaw and Watermelon Slice, plus a Lemonade or Iced Tea for $12!
North Italia: This restaurant just opened in May and has a beautiful patio (again, very SoCal!) and delicious house-made Italian food that parents and kids will enjoy (not to mention wonderful cocktails for the adults). From the grilled artichoke to the chicken and ink squid, all of the food we served was fresh, deliciousness and satisfying, full of flavor and served up with a smile.
Beaming Cafes: Founded in 2012, Beaming is an organic superfood café and lifestyle brand with a mission to inspire, encourage, and empower people of all ages to experience greater health, happiness and vitality. With seven locations across Southern California, the menu is brimming with an abundance of superfood smoothies, power shots, nourishing entrées and salads, delicious gluten and dairy free baked goods, soups, snacks and cold-pressed juices—everything is organic, made fresh daily, plant-based, gluten and dairy free, and non-GMO.
Whether you’re a California native, transplant or tourist, the list of of summer activities you can enjoy all year round in the southernmost part of the state is endless.
Turns out, summer does have to come to an end. We had so many options to try and squeeze in we missed out on a trip to Catalina Island, the Central Coast, Palm Springs and SO much more. Check out more of our travel adventures and let me know in the comments, What’s your favorite #endless summer find?
Until next time,
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Note: While some of the activities, events and experiences listed were hosted as part of our travel review, all views and opinions expressed are my own.
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