Southern California vacation and Golden Gate Bridge

11 Tips for Planning Your Southern California Vacation

February 8, 2023 • By Amy Jo Robertson


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After taking years off of travel, more and more people are eager to hit the road in 2023. Are you one of them? If so, consider a sun-soaked getaway to Southern California! Boasting an abundance of must-see destinations, this region is the perfect place to satisfy your travel cravings. To ensure a seamless trip, read our 11 expert tips before you plan your vacation this upcoming year. 

1. Dress in Layers

California has a dynamic type of weather with temperature swings from chilly mornings to hot afternoons. The key to staying comfortable is to dress in layers, so you can easily peel off or pile on as needed. 

Opt for long pants and layer a short or long sleeve t-shirt with a jacket. As the day warms up, you can shed the jacket, but don’t forget to keep it with you, as the evening can bring a sudden drop in temperature. 

Pack your jacket in a backpack or tie it around your waist for easy access. Keep in mind that the weather varies across California, so make sure to pack accordingly for your destination, whether it’s Santa Monica or San Diego.

2. Don’t Pack Beach Gear

If you plan to stay near the beach, locations like Malibu or Laguna Beach are ideal. But before you arrive, be sure to ask your host what beach-related amenities, like towels and water toys, their home may have.

Likewise, if you’re staying at a resort, many offer convenient rentals for items like beach chairs, umbrellas, and more. This way, you can make the most of your luggage space and bring back memories, not just beach gear.

beach gear for Southern California vacation

3. Choose Your Restaurants Before You Travel

For those who prefer to plan ahead, securing restaurant reservations before your trip is likely a top priority. In fact, you might already have reservations for the restaurants that you want to go to.

On the other hand, those who prefer to go with the flow may enjoy the spontaneity of dining decisions on the spot. However, in bustling Southern California, it’s best to make plans in advance to avoid long wait times at popular restaurants. 

To ensure a seamless dining experience, consider pre-selecting a few must-try restaurants and making reservations ahead of time. You can always keep a few nights open to try out local restaurants. Santa Barbara has some great options! Just be aware that you may have a slight wait at some restaurants in the area.

4. Maximize Your Time at Southern California’s Theme Parks

For families, theme parks are one of the biggest draws for a vacation in Southern California. But with so many attractions and rides to enjoy, you’ll want to maximize your time at the parks.

To do this, you should check out the theme park’s website before you go. A lot of them offer tickets online. This way, you don’t need to wait in line to buy tickets the day you get there. 

There are often options to get an express pass to skip the lines for the rides, ensuring you can hit more rides during your day at the park.

Disneyland in Southern California

5. Rent a Car

California is a very large state. It’s so large, in fact, that you might not be able to grasp its size until you visit. It’s important to remember that there’s more to this state than the iconic Hollywood sign, which is why we recommend renting a car to experience the most you can in Southern California on vacation.

By renting a car, you will not feel locked into staying in one specific spot. You can visit multiple cities in one day or take day trips from where you’re staying. If you stay in San Diego, for example, you can drive 1 hour and 15 minutes north to Laguna Beach!

6. Plan Extra Time

When visiting Southern California, allow for ample time in your itinerary to account for the inevitable traffic on the roads. But that’s not the only reason to be flexible with your schedule.

Unplanned detours and unexpected discoveries are part of the fun of travel. By giving yourself a cushion, you can fully immerse in the experience without feeling rushed.

And even for planned activities, it’s wise to factor in a little extra time, just in case things take longer than anticipated. This way, you can truly savor every moment of your trip without feeling rushed.

7. Go Hiking

If you rent a car, you’ll be able to go on a day trip from whatever city you’re in. On that day trip, we recommend going hiking. Consider looking up a few near San Diego— there are plenty of hiking areas to keep you busy!

California has nine national parks throughout the state. That means you are bound to find one (or two or three) that you would love to visit. To make the most of your travels, consider investing in a national park pass for just $80, giving you access to all the breathtaking scenery and adventures these parks have to offer.

Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California

8. Vacation in Southern California During the Off-Season

If you want to save time (and even possibly money), consider visiting California during the off-season. The shoulder season for Southern California means that you will have fewer crowds and cheaper prices.

You should go in April or May or wait until the fall, from September to October. 

If you are willing to go during the winter season, prices in crowds will drop even more from November through March.

If you are unable to go during the shoulder season because of other things you have going on, there are ways to beat the crowds.

For starters, it is best to visit popular spots on the weekdays. For instance, if you want to go to Disneyland, choose to go during the middle of the week. You will beat the crowds this way. 

9. Budget Accordingly

California offers a wealth of experiences and attractions, and while it can be a more costly destination, a little planning can help you make the most of your budget. 

Keep in mind that parking fees, attraction costs, and gas prices may be higher compared to other states, and dining out or grabbing a drink may also add up. But by being mindful of your spending, you can create a memorable trip that fits your budget and still enjoy all the state has to offer.

 Consider budgeting beforehand and prioritize the experiences that mean the most to you.

10. Plan a Long Enough Trip

If you want to see more than just one thing that Southern California has to offer, you need to make sure you plan a long enough trip. While a weekend jaunt may provide a taste of what the region has to offer, it won’t allow you to truly take it all in.

To see and do as much as possible, consider a week or two-long stay. However, even with this amount of time, you’ll have to pick and choose what you were able to do. 

Luckily, you can just plan another trip back over to the West Coast to see why you couldn’t before!

Newport Beach Southern California

11. Bring an Extra Bag

Southern California is a shopper’s paradise, so if you’re hoping to bring back some souvenirs or indulge in a little retail therapy, make sure to pack wisely.

Consider bringing an extra bag to ensure you have enough space for all your purchases, or alternatively, plan ahead and either bring a larger suitcase or purchase a new one while in California.

Trust us, you don’t want to miss out on the opportunity to take home some of the unique finds this shopping hub has to offer.

Southern California vacation

Now that you have read through these tips when visiting Southern California, you are ready for a SoCal trip of a lifetime!

Now it’s time to start planning!

If you’re interested in trading your home to do a home exchange for your trip, you can reach out to us. At ThirdHome, we want to help you plan your trip to stay at one of the most luxurious properties you can find.

Curious to know how it works? Reach out now!

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