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3 Best Things to do in San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco

3 Best Things to do in San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco

3 Best Things to do in San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco

By Kay Smythe

The following items are the personal preference of the author. Kay Smythe has been widely published and won awards for her travel writing. Here is what she has to say about the three major cities in California.


Though San Diego is often seen as the dullest of the California triplets, this is a popular misconception of the city. However, there are certain things that will simply not be endorsed on here that you may find on other sites (watch Blackfish for more information).

  1. Balboa Park and Museums

Arguably the best day out in the whole world, bar the Grand Canyon, Balboa Park is a vacation unto itself. With everything from a replica Globe Theatre to one of the best zoos in the world, we highly recommend dedicating a whole day to exploring this vastly underrated part of Californian culture. Back in 1835, the Alta California authorities set aside the 1,400 acre tract of land for public recreation. It is this site where Balboa Park remains today. Though land wasn't officially turned into a park until 1870, it's fate has always been decided.

  1. San Diego Zoo

Okay yes, this is technically in Balboa Park, but this is a whole other day out in and of itself. Home to almost 4,000 animals from more than 650 species, San Diego Zoo is famous the world over. Unlike many other zoos, San Diego was the pioneer in open-air, cageless exhibits that recreate natural habitats for the animals that reside in the zoo. If this wasn't good enough, then the zoo is also one of the few in the world that successfully breed giant pandas!

  1. Beer, beer, and more beer

San Diego is home to so many breweries that it is impossible to find an exact figure. We imagine it is over 100 at this point, but that is probably a conservative figure. Thanks to the joys of Uber and Lyft, day-drinking like Europeans is now possible across the county. Of course we cannot endorse non-stop drinking all day every day, and we certainly don't want to inflict San Diego with all of the drunkards that the world has to offer, but it is a must-do for visitors. Most breweries offer food and other refreshments for friends of Bill. They also give tours of how your favorite micro-brews are produced.


Fear not, this list will not be made up of Hollywood Boulevard and Griffith Park (although this is a favorite). Los Angeles is far from the strictly entertainment-based fandom of visitors, and there are elements of this sprawling county that are relatively unknown to the average tourist. However, these three things are essential for all guests of La La Land.

  1. Driving Mulholland

As well as developing most of the infrastructure that makes Los Angeles a liveable city, Mulholland gave his name to the infamous road that tracts around the hills of LA. The vistas from this road high up above the city will allow you and your tour to see Los Angeles like a king. Look down upon the western side, surveying everything from the Hollywood sign to the Pacific Ocean and embrace the magnitude of the scale. From there, follow the road around to the Valley. On any given day you can watch as the smoke of wildfires billow like an erupting volcano beyond the hills, or look down at where people actually live their day-to-day lives in Los Angeles. For me, this is my favorite thing to do in LA when I have guests.

  1. Venice Canals

Just shut up and relax. Venice is a great neighborhood with loads to offer. You can wander down Abbot Kinney and watch the locals go about their fairly slow and relaxed day. You'll see things you cant un-see on the Boardwalk. Hell, if you're into architecture then Venice should be your one-stop in Los Angeles above all else. The canals (yes, Venice was predominantly canals during it's first incarnation) is one of the most underrated and unobserved parts of the weird little town. Merely a block or so from the main road, the canals are often bathed in silence. Even as an honorary local, it is one of the few places in Los Angeles where I can always be amazed and relaxed.

  1. The Getty

Okay, so this was an obvious one, right? Everything I fly into Los Angeles, I find myself set upon the Getty and the memories it holds. My first Christmas in LA when my parents came to visit. One of my closest friends and clients was one of the eight original architects. This building and the contents it holds is some of the greatest in human history. The art, the views, everything about this building inspires everyone not matter what their demographic. For the youngest children to the oldest pensioner, the Getty is ESSENTIAL for your soul. Go! Go now!

San Francisco

San Francisco is hella awesome. Locals will laugh.

Seriously though, San Francisco is the original California. Who hasn't daydreamed about the Golden Gate Bridge, or whimpered at the horror stories of Alcatraz Prison? This city is rated by many as the best city in the world, and this is a fair statement.

  1. Ride on a cable car

You haven't actually done San Francisco unless you've spent time on one of these historically marvellous contraptions. Unlike other modern transport, cable cars are a social experience as much as they area mode for commuting. Even if you're only going five blocks, please ensure you check out these excellent machines.

  1. Alcatraz

“Why would I want to spend the day in a prison?” Is the response I often receive to this recommendation. There are SO MANY reasons to spend even just half a day at this epic monument to the hideousness of American history. If we do not remember our past, then we are doomed to repeat it. Imagine how the inmates felt looking out at that beautiful skyline on 4th of July. Picture the short history of the Golden State, a beautiful home that is still in it's infancy. Alcatraz, like Hearst Castle or Grant Grove or the Hollywood Sign, is one of the most culturally explicit parts of American history and should be learned about by all visitors of California.

  1. Chinatown

Most cities have one, but San Francisco's is special. The architecture, the food, the scents and smells of Chinatown culminate in a belief that you really are in China. The bustling nature of this enclave makes crossing the road an all-new dangerous pursuit (because the road becomes a sidewalk unto itself). If you're looking for gifts for your loved ones, random items to decorate your home, bizarre ingredients for a new meal, or just about anything else, it can be found in Chinatown. Take time to hang out here. You'll see things you can't unsee.

10 Dreamy Beaches for Kids in California!

10 Dreamy Beaches for Kids in California!

10 Dreamy Beaches for Kids in California

Kids, plus sand, and water are a natural equation for hours of fun for everyone! This list has it all for the water babes in your life: from picnicking to exploring or carnival rides and cotton candy! Choose your favorites and set a plan to visit one, or all of them! Plan ahead by checking the seasonal openings of each before hitting the road… Many of these are California state parks!


Hearts Desire Beach, Point Reyes Cove, San Francisco Bay Area-


A photo posted by Tara Miller (@hikergirl) on


On the eastern side of the Point Reyes National Seashore, Hearts Desire faces gentle Tomales Bay and the hills of Marin County. Your kids will enjoy the freshwater stream running along the shore and into the bay, and the walk down through the beautiful trees to get there. While not warm waters, the lack of waves make for great wading and swimming and certainly warmer waters than the nearby Pacific! Easily find a hiking trail that leads to a neighboring beach. Parking can be tricky on weekends and holidays, carpool with family or friends when possible. Cellphone service isn’t reliable, so make plans ahead of time to meet and coordinate.

Carmel Beach, Carmel, California, Monterey Peninsula-



Carmel Beach offers up its gorgeous, soft sand in an enchanting setting. The abundant cypress trees frame the adorable downtown district perfect for strolling, grabbing an artisan pastry from a local bakery, and shopping too! Your kids will love to build sandcastles and splash in the surf that is typically tame along the one mile crescent-shaped beach. Bring your canine- Carmel Beach is great for dogs and kiddos alike! Hours of fun can be had with your furry pal and kids tossing a ball and chasing waves. Be sure to check the local weather- during the summer, you will sometimes find fog during the day that burns off into the afternoon.

Crystal Cove State Park in Laguna Beach, Orange County-


Magic hour 🌙

A photo posted by Meg Eissagholian (@megg__eissa) on


Feel free to stretch out and explore along the 3.2 miles of oceanfront sprinkled with tide pools and secret coves! Fly a kite, play in the friendly surf and beach comb for natural treasures. Hike along a network of trails that head inland but offer sweeping views of the pacific. There are popular routes for biking, hiking and horseback riding! Hungry after all of that activity? Head to the Beachcomber restaurant that sits on the sand and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. Or, check out Ruby’s Shake Shack on PCH overlooking Crystal Cove for a delectable milkshake that will have you returning on your next visit!

Natural Bridges State Beach, Santa Cruz-


#naturalbridges #beach #latepost #santacruz #stanimalexplores

A photo posted by Stan (@stanimal_official) on

With its namesake natural rock bridge that sits just offshore, Natural Bridges Beach offers an abundance of unique features that make it a must see! Make a point to visit during October through February to view the 100,000 Monarch Butterflies that are naturally attracted each year to the milkweed plants off a nearby grassland trail. Your junior naturalist will be captivated by the fascinating finds in the tide pools, in the Monarch preserve and by the dozens of pelicans making their perch on the rocks. Picnic on the sand or tucked away in the pine and eucalyptus trees. Also a great breezy spot for flying kites and catching a colorful sunset on the right day.

Arroyo Burro Beach, Santa Barbara-


#douglasfamilypreserve #santabarbara #arroyoburrobeach

A photo posted by Eric Satterblom (@esatterblom) on

Come for the safe swimming, amateur surfing, and the opportunity to cast a line here at the spot also known as Hendry’s Beach. Play around on the sunny sand, break at the shady picnic area and enjoy the playground. You and your kids will want to explore trails and stop at the Watershed Resource Center which offers educational highlights about the importance of protecting California’s beaches and shores.  

Crissy Field, San Francisco-


Just like the kids, the action at Crissy Field is always ON. Bring the family dog, they can romp off leash here. The inviting waters edge of the San Francisco Bay offers Golden Gate views, picnic space on grassy open spaces, and room to romp. Check out the expert surfers as they ride waves under the bridge or kite surfers catching a breeze. An ideal spot for views of Alcatraz, watching sailboats and freight liners, and admiring California’s most iconic bridge. Bring a thermos with hot cocoa, sit back and enjoy the national parkland that was once a paved-over airfield for The Presidio.

Coronado, San Diego-



A photo posted by Alberto Olaya (@alberto_olaya) on

An island getaway that is easy to reach, Coronado Beach is easy to explore and enjoy in an ultra-family-friendly environment. The small island feels like a private enclave wrapped with soft sand beaches and a historic hotel- the Hotel Del Coronado. Enjoy a delicious Sunday brunch, and views of the pacific, and then explore by rented bike. Pedal past mansions with tended gardens, or visit Orange Avenue dotted with shops, theaters, restaurants and galleries.

Silver Strand State Beach, San Diego County-

#coronadobeaches #silverstrandstatebeach #visitcalifornia #visitcoronado #californiadreaming lifornia

A photo posted by Jennifer Palm (@lv2bnsf) on

Why not try surfing in the friendly breakers with the Coronado Surfing Academy? Kids will love splashing around on the calm waters on the San Diego Bay side, or learning to hang ten on the Pacific side. The side known as Crown Cove offers sand around warmer waters conducive to running around and building a bon fire on the beach with the family. The heart-pounding, wide blue surf of the Pacific side, is the perfect opportunity to have the best of both. To access the bay side, you will access pedestrian tunnels- be prepared to carry your gear from the parking area to your chosen spot. Pavilions, picnic tables, grills and fire pits are available.

Santa Monica Pier & Beach-

Catch the sunset while strolling on the iconic Santa Monica Pier as the twinkling lights of the amusement park create a nostalgic feeling against a pastel sky! Pacific park offers the perfect setting perched on the edge of the pier to make lasting memories of fun for the whole family! Not too-scary rides and coasters will have the kids grinning and giggling with delight. Don't forget to dazzle your senses with the incomparable views while riding the pier’s solar powered ferris wheel. Check out some 100 species of fish and aquatic life at the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium under the pier. Lastly, but certainly not least, the broad expanse of yellow sand will beckon the entire family to its 3.5 miles of coastal greatness. Rent a paddle board to explore off the shore and get a VIP experience with your own Perry’s on the Beach Butler Service.

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk-

Freezing time, we should try that sometime. oh wait, every time. ⏱

A photo posted by @amycuii on

A popular beach stop for California families since the 20’s, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is a smorgasbord of entertainment options for the entire family. Add to that a perfectly splashable shoreline, rides, food galore, beach volleyball and arcades, you may never get the family to leave for home! Within the countless attractions, the Big Dipper, a giant, burly, wooden roller coaster has been drawing thrill seekers since it’s first days. When the squealing fun has become too much to tolerate, relax high above it all on the overhead Sky Glider, offering drone worthy views of all the action, surf, and nearby mountains. In the summer, make a plan to catch a free outdoor movie on the sand- Wednesdays or free concerts- Fridays on the beach! Be sure to make the short walk to the wharf for fresh seafood, clam chowder in a bread bowl and salt water taffy!

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