Top Things to Do in Southern California



 Magic Awaits

The long-awaited Wizarding World of Harry Potter opens April 7 at Universal Studios Hollywood in Universal City. The themed land features rides, restaurants and replicas of locales from the beloved books and movies, including the signature 3-D ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and the park’s first outdoor roller coaster, Flight of the Hippogriff. Authentic British – and Hogsmeade – specialties at the Hog’s Head Pub and Three Broomsticks include bangers and mash, fish and chips and, of course, Butterbeer (both traditional and frozen). Buy dated, advance tickets online for one-hour early entry.

 

 Don’t Miss the Diamond Celebration

It’s not too late to celebrate Disneyland’s 60th anniversary, with special entertainment and more through Sept. 5. Among the highlights are the Disneyland Forever fireworks show and Paint the Night parade in Disneyland and World of Color in Disney California Adventure Park, featuring the story of Walt Disney and his legacy projected on walls of water, with dancing fountains, pyrotechnics and more. Several attractions in Big Thunder Ranch have closed permanently, and others temporarily along the Rivers of America, to make way for construction of the new Star Wars Land, which broke ground in January. Until it opens, Star Wars fans can get a taste of what’s to come at the rebranded Hyperspace Mountain and Star Wars Launch Bay, an exhibit of movie props, costumes and more. 

 

 Getting There is Half the Fun

Planning to drive to Los Angeles or beyond? Check out these highlights along the way:

Highway 99

• Grab a bite at the A&W All American Food at 14th and G streets in Modesto. Carhops on roller skates will deliver your food and root beer.

• Visit Forestiere Underground Gardens on Shaw Avenue in Fresno and roam through the mazelike complex of underground rooms and gardens.

Highway 101

• Get a taste of Denmark by visiting Solvang’s windmills and Danish bakeries.

• Follow the old El Camino Real to see historic missions including Old Mission Santa Barbara and La Purisima Mission State Historic Park.

• Stop in San Luis Obispo for a meal and a visit to Bubblegum Alley.

• Take in Santa Barbara’s beaches and zoo.

Interstate 5

• The most direct route south isn’t all boring fast-food chains. Sample an abundance of beef at Harris Ranch Restaurant in Coalinga.

• Stretch your legs at Fort Tejon State Park for a historic stop.

 

An Oasis in the Desert

While Palm Springs can be an adult playground of world-class golf, swanky shopping and mid-century modern architecture, it also has lots of family-friendly attractions that make it worth the trip, about an eight-hour drive from the Bay Area. Highlights include:

The Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert: Young children will have a blast at this hands-on (and air-conditioned) museum in Rancho Mirage with more than 50 exhibits. Shop in a mini grocery store, go on an archeological dig, climb a rock wall or navigate a rope maze. 

Joshua Tree National Park: Hike through bulbous boulders and famous spiky trees. Fourth-graders and their families can get a free pass to Joshua Tree and all national parks, through the Every Kid in a Park program. 

The Living Desert Zoo & Gardens: Ride a camel, feed a giraffe, get up close to a butterfly in a new 2,500-square-foot habitat and more at this 1,200-acre wildlife and botanical park in Palm Desert. 

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway: The world’s largest rotating tram cars take passengers 2.5 miles up from the valley floor onto Mount Saint Jacinto, which may be snow-covered even as the valley bakes below. 

 

Building Blocks of a Great Trip

If you’ve got a little builder, LEGOLAND in Carlsbad makes for a terrific trip. LEGO Friends fans will delight in Heartlake City, opened in 2015, with horse stables and a carousel. Those who prefer Ninjago can test their reflexes and balance in another new area of the park. You can also marvel at the LEGO replicas of famous buildings from the Empire State Building to the Las Vegas Strip in Miniland, USA, as well as Star Wars characters and ships. Kids can switch between building their own creations, taking in mostly mild rides and enjoying the seasonal water park.

 

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