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It’s a shame how much you take for granted when you live somewhere. I lived in the Bay Area for three years but never took advantage of all California had to offer. While I did get around to visiting Lake Tahoe and going skiing at Northstar Ski Resort that was about it. Weirdly since moving to the East Coast I’m exploring California more than ever. I got the California road trip planner and have completed two of them, the Family Learning Adventure and now this Southern California road trip exploring Huntington Beach, Oceanside and Anza Borrego Park.
Southern California Road Trip: What City Should You Fly Into?
To kick off this Southern California road trip you can either fly in and out of LAX, in and out of San Diego or into one airport and out of the other. Due to us getting a flight deal (see the best websites for flight deals here) we flew in and out of LAX. It’s also the closest airport to the cities visited on this road trip as you’ll see from the map below.
What’s The Best Time of Year for a Southern California Road Trip?
Fortunately Southern California has great weather year round so you can really do this trip whenever it best fits your schedule. However if you want to enjoy the beaches I recommend the end of May-August for the most warm days, just know they will be more crowded. We did our trip in mid-May and avoided the major crowds while still getting nice weather.
Day Zero: Arrival into LAX
Depending on where you’re coming from you may arrive too late at night to start your road trip, this was the case for us. We took the airport shuttle over to the H Hotel by HiltonH Hotel by Hilton, just five minutes from LAX. As a Hilton Gold member we were able to get free breakfast in the morning at their onsite restaurant which was a major win. Consider getting the Hilton branded credit card for even more perks, there are no annual fee options, review them here.
Day One: RV Pick Up and Drive to Huntington Beach
After a good night’s rest it was time to start our road trip. This road trip was via an RV so first we needed to pick up the one we rented. Like our previous Southwest and Nevada road trips we rented our RV from Outdoorsy. You can sign up here for $50 off your rental.
Once we were situated with our RV it was time to hit the road. While Huntington Beach is only 36 miles from LAX this is LA so expect traffic until you get out of the city. It took us an hour to get to downtown Huntington Beach. When we arrived we had lunch at Pacific Hideaway which was excellent, the wings tacos, fresh guac, everything was great!
After stuffing our faces we walked over to Havaianas where we were able to create our own sandals. This was by far my daughters favorite activity on the trip. She really left thinking she was a shoe maker, well I guess she was. Here you can pick your own sole, straps and a charm to go on the straps. How did ours come out?
Huntington Beach is known as Surf City USA so it’s only right that you check out the Surfing Walk of Fame and Surfer’s Hall of Fame while in town. We fell in love with surfing on our trip to Costa Rica so it was nice to learn more about the sport.
We then walked along the Huntington Beach Pier where there are 50 arts and crafts vendors who you can shop from. My dad and daughter decided to get their caricatures drawn. The pier is also a great place to watch the many surfers catching waves. There are a few stores at the end of the place you can browse but don’t leave before the sunsets, it’s gorgeous from here!
For dinner we ate at Duke’s which is right at the foot of the pier. Make a reservation to get a table by the window for water views. They have a cute shaved ice station along with a menu filled with fresh seafood options.
We booked two nights at the Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort & Marina for our time in Huntington Beach. We absolutely loved this RV park. There are lakefront RV spots, a playground, pool, laundry room, and recreation center with staff who do activities with the kids.
It was also extremely clean with a convenient store and picnic tables at each spot. Even if you aren’t RVing you can dry camp here in a tent or rent a cottage.
Day Two of Our Southern California Road Trip: Surf Lessons and Beach Bonfire
We kicked off our second day with breakfast at local favorite Mama’s on 39. On weekends it opens at 8:30AM and I suggest you get there as soon as they do. Within 30 minutes of us arriving every table was taken and there was a massive wait out the door. Everything we had here was good!
After breakfast it was time for my surf lesson with Toes on the Nose. I had previously taken surf lessons in Costa Rica and most recently in Puerto Rico and was looking forward to improving on my skills. My instructor, Johnny, was absolutely amazing, request him if you can. The water temperature was a far cry from the warmth of the beaches in the previous beaches I’ve surfed at but with the wet suit it wasn’t unbearable. There is no better place than Surf City, USA to learn to surf!
My daughter was too young to take lessons here but she and my dad had a great time hanging out on the beach. They were able to play in the sand and watch me fall off my board all at the same time!
After my one hour lesson we dined at Pete’s Sunset Grill across from Toes on the Nose. Lunch was included with my lesson and there was a pre-fixe menu to choose from. There were able choices and it was a nice touch with the lesson. My dad and daughter ordered from the main menu.
Since the beach water was too cold for my daughter to enjoy after lunch we went back to our RV site to enjoy the pool. We swam and played with the many other families here. She enjoyed the company of the other kids which is one of the things we love about RVing.
When she was tired of the pool we changed and enjoyed the playground at the RV park. She had a blast running around and going on the slides. She was too young for the activities and game going on in the rec room but they also had staff doing arts and crafts with the kids or they played ping pong.
For dinner we headed to Ola Mexican Kitchen located in the Pacific City outdoor mall. Serving tex mex flare food it has gorgeous views of the ocean. We enjoyed our meal even though my daughter fell asleep 5 minutes after sitting down and her adventures in the pool.
After stuffing our faces we made the ten minute walk to the pier to check out the sunset. It’s one of the best spots to see it in Huntington Beach. Be sure to arrive a little bit prior to sunset time to get a spot along the pier without having to stand behind someone.
Once the sun set we headed to the beach space in front of the Hilton for our beach bonfire and S’mores. This was one of my favorite activities during the trip. The staff had chairs set up for us, brought out a table with a s’more pack, a cooler with drinks, got the fire pit going and provided blankets. When the fire got low they replenished the wood for us but other than that they were out of our hair to enjoy the evening. The s’more pack came with everything we needed and it was so relaxing sitting on the beach with the cool sea breeze and warm fire.
Day Three: Huntington Beach to Oceanside and Boat Ride
After preparing and eating breakfast in our RV it was time to leave Huntington Beach and head to Oceanside, CA. Fifty-five miles south depending on the traffic you can expect the drive to be about an hour. We checked into Paradise by the Sea RV Park which was amazing and there more details on it further down the article.
We headed to Oceanside Strand Boardwalk by the pier and rented surrey biked from Wheel Fun Rentals. Riding up and down the boardwalk we stopped to run along the beach, play at the multiple playgrounds along the route and got some shaved ice.
It was time for lunch at Hello Betty Fish House. Right on the coast they have a rooftop with views of the beach. Serving an array of seafood and non-seafood options they also have a great drink menu!
Why visit Oceanside without getting all the ocean adventures. After lunch we headed to Oceanside Boat Rentals where you can rent your own little boat and explore the bay. There are plenty of sea lions hanging out on the dock and swimming which are fun to see. We got a powerboat but they also rent electric boats, kayaks, stand up paddle boards, jet skis, and pedal boats.
Be sure to check out any local events going on during your time in Oceanside. We came across a surfing competition while we headed back to our RV. We’d never seen a surf competition before and it was great to watch. Unfortunately it was coming to an end but had we known about it we would have rearranged our schedule.
As a small business owner myself (you can buy my children’s book here), I love supporting fellow small businesses. For dinner we ate at Privateer Coal Fire Pizza, owned by Charlie Anderson, a longtime local and surfer. He makes sure all of his ingredients are locally sourced, closely working with Oceanside’s Cyclops Farms.
After sleeping through our entire boat ride my daughter was wide awake after dinner. I found Altitude Trampoline Park advertised in the pamphlet our RV park gave us and decided to take her there to burn off some energy. She had a great time bouncing all around.
Day Four: Whale Watching Tour, Oceanside to Anza Borrego Park
For breakfast we ate at Beach Break Cafe another locally owned restaurant best known for their cinnamon-laced coffee cake. My dad who is apparently a coffee cake connoisseur says it was the best one he’s ever had. They also have huge four-egg omelets which are big enough to share and if you love bananas and french toast you have to get their banana crunch french toast!
Once our bellies were full it was time to check in for our whale watching cruise with Oceanside Adventures. The tour lasts two hours with multiple start times throughout the day and is offered year round. In the months of November – April you can potentially see Gray Whales, Minke Whales, Humpback Whales, Fin Whales, All 4 species of Dolphins, Sea Birds, Sea Lions. May – October it’s possible to see Fin Whales, Blue Whales, Minke Whales, Humpback Whales, all four species of Dolphins, Sea Birds and Sea Lions. Unfortunately we didn’t see any whales on our tour but we did see over 300 dolphins who followed our boat and put on a show, jumping in and out of the water, over and over again.
In the harbor as soon as you come off the cruise there are restaurants and shops. The menu at Lighthouse Oyster Bar and Grill looked great so we decided to have lunch there. We sat outside which had beautiful views of the harbor.
It was now time to head to Anza Borrego which sits 80 miles East of Oceanside. Depending on traffic plan for the drive to take anywhere from 1 hour 45 minutes to 2 hours. Since our time in Oceanside was short we weren’t able to do everything but other recommendations we received were to visit the:
When we arrived we checked into The Springs at Borrego RV Resort. It’s a luxury RV and Golf Resort and one of the nicest we’ve stayed at. With gorgeous views of the mountains of Anza Borrego it also has a pool, playground, dog park, grills, laundry room and more.
If you’re visiting Anza Borrego from October-May I highly recommend having dinner at Rams Hill Golf Club. Not only does it have gorgeous views with an amazing sunset, the food is excellent. I especially loved the risotto
Day Five: Galleta Meadows, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Badlands Adventure Tour
After breakfast in the RV we kicked off our day viewing the Galleta Meadows along Borrego Springs Road. There are 130 metal sculptures created by artist Ricardo Breceda spread along Borrego Spring Road. You can easily just pull over at each sculpture that interests you, walk around it, take pictures and get back in your car to explore more.
After viewing the Galleta Meadows we drove to the Anza Borrego Desert State Park Visitor’s Center. Parking is $10 and they have designated RV parking spots! It’s a small visitors center but it is interactive. For those traveling with little ones your kids will enjoy the Discovery Lab. There are puzzles to put together of the animals that inhabit the desert, magnifying glasses and microscopes to look at smaller animals, and moldings of animal tracks. For older kids and adults there is a walk through area giving more information on the animals in the desert and different plants you will see. The desert gets extremely hot so the Visitor’s Center is the perfect place to go midday when it may be too hot to hike, etc.
It was time for lunch so we headed to Carlee’s, a local favorite. When you pull up you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time with its retro facade. Once you open the door it’s a diner feel with casual food. We got sandwiches and wraps and the fries were so good!
When we were full we headed back to our RV park to relax and enjoy the amenities. My daughter and I splashed around in the pool, enjoying the great weather. She also burned off some more energy playing in the park. After, we got ready for our next adventure, exploring the Badlands.
We visited the Badlands with California Overlands on their 4×4 Badlands Adventure. The tour was 2.5 hours, making four stops along the way. These included Vista del Malpais overlook, Font’s Point (California’s Grand Canyon), and the badlands/slot canyons and mud cave. You can book the tour here.
For dinner we headed to Red Ocotillo. The restaurant is organic garden-to-table and they have their own garden adjacent to it. Our meal was excellent and we loved the small vibe of the space. It was our last dinner on our Southern California road trip and served as a great farewell.
The next day we drove the 170 miles to Los Angeles to return the RV and head to LAX. We had an amazing time exploring parts of Southern California we weren’t familiar with. If you’re looking for more California adventures check out our itinerary for Santa Barbara and our Northern California road trip. If you want more RV trip itineraries be sure to read our Southwest RV Trip and Nevada RV Trip articles. Found this article helpful? Please share it on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest!
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