Our Favorite Southern California Itinerary

It's a Small World @ Disneyland

Our first trip to California as a family was back in 2014. Our daughter was 3 years old at the time and we wanted to mix relaxation with a visit to Disneyland. In all the vacations we’ve taken over the years, this vacation was my favorite! Maybe because it was after the hardest year of my life or maybe all of the stars were aligned just perfectly.

This Southern California itinerary is perfect for families who want to visit Disneyland, but also want to completely unwind with some luxury!

Day 1 – Disneyland Hotel

We arrived in California after driving from Colorado. Yup, one HUGE roadtrip. A roadtrip that we’ve actually done a total of three times! We planned for a full day at the Disneyland Hotel prior to heading into the park the next morning. This gave us time to indulge at the pool, relax, and dine with Goofy at Goofy’s Kitchen. 

Click here to read more about our stay at the Disneyland Hotel!

  • Tip: Scheduling a character dinner prior to your park visit gets you in the 'Disney spirit' without using up your park time!

Day 2 & 3 – Disneyland

On this trip, we were Disneyland newbies! We didn’t have a clue about all the planning efforts many people put into a Disneyland vacation. Thankfully – as we found out – Disneyland can be accomplished effectively with or without detailed planning. 

For this first trip, we decided to get a 2-day park pass and only visit Disneyland. For us, this worked perfectly and it was a stress-free visit. We had plenty of time to explore the park and meet characters, while having enough time to head back to our hotel for a dip in the pool and a nap. In fact, we had almost accomplished all of our ‘must do’ items by noon on the first day. The remainder of the trip allowed for us to ride our favorites again or just soak up the Disney magic.

Here are some tips for a Disneyland trip:

  • Buy your tickets before the 1st day at the park.
  • Plan your 'must do' rides and shows prior to visiting the park.
  • Get in line at the gates at least 30 minutes prior to opening.
  • Try to accomplish your 'must do' items on Day 1.
  • Catch the afternoon parade.
  • Take a break back to your hotel - swim, eat, nap, etc.
  • Make reservations for dinner in the park.*
  • Watch the firework show in front of the castle.

*Note: Book your in park dining options 60 days prior to your park visit. You can do this at Disneyland’s website.  

Day 4 & 5 – Marriott Laguna Cliffs Resort

After two wonderful at Disneyland, we drove 40 minutes south to Dana Point/Laguna Beach. This area was very scenic with vast ocean views and high sea cliffs. It’s also a tourist area, so you have plenty of activities, shops, and restaurants.

The resort itself was fantastic! The pool had plenty of space and a splash pad for younger children. It was also within walking distance to the beach. We had fun exploring both areas. 

Adding this hotel onto our trip allowed for us to unwind and just enjoy each other’s company. 

Click here to read our full review on the Marriott Laguna Cliffs Resort.

By combining a very active Disneyland visit with a relaxing beach hotel, we were able to achieve a great family vacation itinerary! This Southern California vacation will always be remembered fondly by our family; not just because it was perfect for us – but also because it spawned a love and appreciation for family travel.

Looking for a relaxing Disneyland trip? Click here to read about our favorite Southern California itinerary! Here you can combine Disneyland with a beach vacation! #beach #socal #california #disneyland

Advertising Disclosure: As with all content on Travel + Family, this review was based on my own opinion. This post may or may not contain affiliate links, which if you click on, will give me a small commission at no cost or risk to you.


  1. This sounds like a great vacation! We’ve been looking for a Disneyland vacation, while seeing some of Southern California as well. Originally we thought about staying on the beach and driving into Disneyland, but this sounds like a much better plan! Thanks!!

  2. Disneyland looks awesome! I didn’t make it there when I was in LA, but I’d like to go at some point. Your tips are really useful too!

  3. The memories of taking our daughters to Disneyland are some of my favorite of all time. The pure joy they had meeting their favorite characters is unforgettable. We also had the opportunity to go tide pooling by Laguna. The ocean is so beautiful there and the life that gets exposed during the extreme low tides of winter is like snorkeling without ever entering the water.

    1. I think my favorite vacation memory will always be our fist trip to Disneyland. Loved seeing the magic through her eyes.

  4. We are currently planning our Southern California trip! We hope to go in early June 2019. Disneyland is definitely on the itinerary, and I want to go to San Diego. We plan to drive, so I am starting to plan everything we want to see along the way. I will be taking a look at your blog posts for sure!

  5. We made all the wrong choices when we first went to Disneyland – we showed up late, bought our tickets at the door, and walked around the different sections on a whim. But we plan to go back in the future – this itinerary will be very helpful. I didn’t even know you could do a character dinner.

    1. I hope your next trip to Disneyland is easier! You can book character meals outside of the parks at Disney resorts – this is at Disneyland and at Disney World.

  6. Disney is always a good way to seal the deal. I can remember visiting Epcot Center a few months after it opened. Although we just passed through Anaheim on our way to L.A. last week, I hope to visit the west coast Disney some day…

  7. That sounds like such a fun filled family trip! It reminds me a lot of our family trips to Orlando when I was a kid, those things really stick with you and create such happy memories.

  8. I grew up going to Disney World as I live in the southeast. However, I did live in LA for 4 years and had the pleasure of being able to visit Disneyland whenever I wanted. Your tips are spot on (especially booking character dining way in advance and planning to get your “must-dos” done on day 1). Also taking a break during the day to eat/nap is a great idea. Build back up energy for round two at night!

  9. I have to confess that I never been to Disney land even though there’s one close to where I live now. Your daughter will have some wonderful memories of this trip!

  10. Disney with young kids is a special kind of magic! They are so amazed by everything and yet so easily overwhelmed too. My kids were always afraid of anyone in a costume and it would lead to tears!

  11. We hope to do a second road trip south to California with our kids, so will make sure to check out the Marriott Laguna Cliffs, I love that it is low key, family friendly and walking distance to the beach. A perfect way to unwind after Disney!

  12. Disney! I have never been but will be going early next year and I can’t wait! This itinerary looks great, and such a fun trip to do with kids 🙂

  13. I haven’t been to California yet – but it’s definitely on the list. Not sure if this itinerary is really for me, as I don’t have kids – but it’s good to get a few ideas! x

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