Planning a California Vacation: You Can Do It All!

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There are so many options for a California vacation! See how my family did Disneyland, camping, hiking, kayaking, and skiing all in one trip!
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When someone tells you they want to plan a California vacation, you never really know what they have in mind. California is one of the most diverse states in America in terms of weather, geography, and things to do. From Disneyland to Hollywood, camping to skiing, and national parks to wine country, you can do it all. And you can often do it all in the same trip!

Take for example, my family’s recent California Adventure. We hit Disneyland, Hollywood, camping, hiking, kayaking, and skiing – all in our one-week trip! Here’s an itinerary to help you plan your own California adventure.

Day One: Disneyland

We only had one day in Disneyland, so we arrived before the gates opened at 8am and went full steam ahead until about 10pm at night! We made a beeline to Radiator Springs Racers, the ride we most wanted to experience and got a fast pass. Then we were able to ride 2 more rides before returning to Racers. We explored Cars Land and the CA Adventure side of Disneyland.

Lightning McQueen is on hand for photo ops at Disneyland.
Lightning McQueen is on hand for photo ops at Disneyland.

At mid-day, when the park was crowded and the sun was its hottest, we enjoyed lunch at Wine Country Trattoria. This is one my Disney tips – make LUNCH reservations. The menu is about the same, but the prices are cheaper. Plus you can take a nice break mid-day and cool off when the park is busiest and hottest.

We are frequent visitors to Disney World, so we enjoyed seeing the differences between Disneyland and Disney World. Rides I liked better in Disneyland? Space Mountain and Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blaster. But my favorite ride at Disneyland was definitely Radiator Springs Racers!

We stayed at the lovely Hills Hotel in Laguna Hills, CA. On a Sunday morning, the drive to Disneyland was about 20 minutes – a quick shot up I-5 with no traffic!

The Hills Hotel in Southern California is ideally located between LA and San Diego.
The Hills Hotel in Southern California is ideally located between LA and San Diego.

Day Two: Beverly Hills and Hollywood

There’s a ton to see and do in Beverly Hills and Hollywood, especially if you like movies and TV and music! Our plan was to visit the Paley Center to see an exhibit based on the show American Horror Story. There were costumes and props from the show.

This is one of my daughter’s and my husband’s favorite shows. I like it, but some of the gory, scary stuff is a little too much for me. I still enjoyed the exhibit, but more importantly loved seeing my daughter so excited and happy.

Any good Southern California vacation should include some stops related to your favorite TV shows or movies. Like this exhibit from American Horror Story!
My daughter and “Twisty” from American Horror Story.

After the exhibit, we had a nice lunch and drove around the area – Rodeo Drive and Beverly Hills Boulevard are iconic streets that have been featured in many TV shows and movies.

Driving down Santa Monica Boulevard in Beverly Hills.
Santa Monica Boulevard in Beverly Hills.

Then we headed toward Hollywood for another American Horror Story sighting. Fans of the show may recognize this house from season one – Murder House! It’s the real-life Rosenheim Mansion located at 1120 Westchester Place in Los Angeles.

Sightseeing in L.A. - The "Murder House" from American Horror Story.
The “Murder House” from American Horror Story.

We saw the famous Hollywood sign up in the Hollywood Hills and drove by the Paramount Pictures studios. No celebrity sightings, but it was fun to just drive around and explore the area.

After our sightseeing it was time to head to the mountains for camping! We drove in a JUCY campervan from Los Angeles to Visalia, CA. It’s a gorgeous drive that took us about 3 hours. The KOA Visalia is just 2 miles off California highways 99 and 198. We arrived late and set up camp for the night.

Day Three: KOA Visalia and Sequoia National Park

In the morning, we explored the Visalia KOA. The staff were friendly and provided all the details we needed. The store is large and stocked with tons of food and camping needs. My daughter made a beeline for the handy “s’mores kits” they sold, which are a great idea for small families that don’t want to buy a big box of graham crackers or entire bag of marshmallows!

I took advantage of the self-service laundry, which is a must if you are taking a longer camping trip. I was also glad to have a hot shower in their clean bathrooms.

The KOA Visalia is a great location for families visiting Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.
The KOA Visalia is a great location for families visiting Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.

The KOA Visalia has a great pool and a game room with a ping-pong table and a few video games. They have a volleyball court, horse shoes, a playground for smaller children, and a K9 dog park. Yes, the KOA is pet-friendly. Free wi-fi is available, too, but we tried to limit our tech use and just enjoy the great outdoors!

The KOA Visalia has options for all types of campers. For RVs, they provide grassy, shaded, pull-thru sites with cable TV and wi-fi. Their tent sites were large enough for our campervan, and all sites have picnic tables and fire rings.

Tent and RV site at the KOA in Visalia, CA.
Tent and RV sites at the KOA Visalia.

This campground is easy to get to if you’re driving from anywhere in southern California. Just 30 minutes from the entrance to Sequioa National Park, this KOA is the perfect spot for campers to set up home base.

After breakfast, we drove into Sequoia National Park and hiked the Big Trees Trail. The hike is 1.4 miles and relatively flat. It’s an easy, educational hike where families can get an get an introduction to the park. Then we spent some time looking over the park map and planning our hiking for the next day!

Day Four: Hiking in Sequoia National Park

Our first hike of the day was the General Sherman Tree Trail. The General Sherman Tree is the largest tree by volume in the world. It’s not necessarily the tallest or the widest or the oldest, but by sheer volume of wood, it’s the biggest tree in the world!

The General Sherman Tree in Sequoia National Park is the largest tree in the world by volume.
The General Sherman Tree in Sequoia National Park is the largest tree in the world by volume.

The hike to get to the tree is 0.8 miles on a wide, paved surface. It’s downhill getting to the tree, then all uphill getting back up. But the park offers lots of benches to sit and rest along the way, and your kids will have fun stopping to pick up gigantic pine cones found along the side of the trail!

After lunch at the Lodgepole Visitor’s Center, we headed for the Tokopah Falls Trail which follows alongside the Kaweah River. This was my favorite hike. With the Sierra Nevadas getting so much snow last winter, the river was rushing with beautiful, ice-cold water. We stopped at the edge and dipped our feet in for just a few seconds. That’s all we could bear although it felt so good on my hot, hiking-weary feet! At the top of the trail was Tokopah Falls, a gorgeous spot to sit and soak up the beauty and the roar of the waterfalls.

Tokopah Falls in Sequoia National Park.
Tokopah Falls in Sequoia National Park.

That evening, we set up camp at Dorst Creek Campground inside Sequoia National Park. I highly recommend this campground. We had a beautiful spot – a spacious camp site with lots of trees and boulders.

Our campsite at the Dorst Creek Campground in Sequoia National Park.
Our campsite at the Dorst Creek Campground in Sequoia National Park.

Day Five: Drive to Lake Tahoe

I like to build in a little down time in my road trips, so I usually schedule a travel day where we can sleep late, drive to our next destination, then get a good nights sleep. On day five it was time to leave the National Parks and head up to Lake Tahoe!

As we drove out, we had time for one more quick hike on the Big Stump Trail in Kings Canyon National Park. We loved this trail and had the fortunate experience to meet a woman celebrating her 92nd birthday. She was accompanied by her grandson and his wife and she was an inspiration. She kept commenting how she wore the wrong shoes and calling back to us to be careful when she hit a particularly bumpy part of the trail.

It's always a special experience to meet people while traveling.
It’s always a special experience to meet people while traveling.

After we finished the hike, she made her grandson show us pictures from his phone of her adventures in nearby Yosemite National Park. She laughed about her hair blowing straight up in the wind near Yosemite Falls, then commented to her grandson, “Don’t deplete those pictures!” (She meant delete of course.) I could only think how much I hope my grandkids will take me hiking in a National Park for my birthday when I’m old.

Day Six: Hiking and Kayaking in Tahoe City

We spent day six in north Lake Tahoe. Originally, we headed to the Vikingsholm Trail (which I highly recommend), but it was mobbed. Unable to find a parking spot, we moved on. There is no shortage of gorgeous hiking trails in Lake Tahoe!

D.L. Bliss State Park, just up the road from Vikingsholm, has excellent trails, beaches and camping. We took the Lighthouse Trail. It’s a moderate hike with a lot of changes in elevation – you’re constantly going up and down. The whole trail is a 2.3-mile loop, but we hiked in about a mile or so to see the lighthouse and then went back. The views were phenomenal!

Gorgeous views of Lake Tahoe from the Lighthouse Trail at D.L. Bliss State Park.
View of Lake Tahoe from the Lighthouse Trail at D.L. Bliss State Park.

Having been to Lake Tahoe before, we wanted to revisit one of our favorite beaches – Commons Beach in Tahoe City. We hung out on the grass near the playground until we noticed the kayak rentals.

Kayaking on Lake Tahoe.
Kayaking on Lake Tahoe.

What a brilliant idea to set up a kayak rental right on the beach that charges hourly. Tahoe City Kayaks made it so easy for us to jump in a kayak and paddle around for an hour. We loved it!

The view of Commons Beach in Tahoe City from our kayak.
The view of Commons Beach in Tahoe City from our kayak.

After checking in to our hotel and cleaning up, we had dinner at Caliente in Kings Beach, CA. This Mexican restaurant has always been one of my favorite places to eat in Lake Tahoe. Their chimichangas are big enough for 2-3 meals!

Giant chimichanga at Caliente restaurant in Kings Beach, CA.
Giant chimichanga at Caliente restaurant in Kings Beach, CA.

Day Seven: Skiing at Squaw Valley

Believe it or not, we got to ski on this trip, too! Yes, skiing in July is possible at Squaw Valley – the Spring Skiing Capital of the World!

Skiing in a bathing suit? Not me, but you could at Squaw Valley in July!
Skiing in a bathing suit? Not me, but you could at Squaw Valley in July!

After skiing, we enjoyed the village at Squaw Valley, shopping and eating at one of our favorite places, Fireside Pizza.

We even fit in two games of mini golf at Kings Beach Mini Golf after dinner. It’s one of the most unique courses I’ve ever played!

Lots of unique play options are Kings Beach Mini Golf in Lake Tahoe.
Lots of unique play options are Kings Beach Mini Golf in Lake Tahoe.

And there you have it – our 7-day California itinerary! We packed a lot in, but it was a fantastic trip. I hope this gives you some ideas for your next California adventure!

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